Mo-cap on a budget: Halo 4 ‘Terminals’

The release of Halo 4 by Microsoft’s 343 Industries presented a unique opportunity for The Sequence Group to amp up its contribution to the popular ‘Terminal’ sequences in the game, where players have a chance to learn more about the Halo universe. In particular, the Vancouver-based studio took an innovative approach to the animation using accessible means of facial and motion capture.

The mo-cap data acquired from Sequence Group sitting on a chair with a Kinect on the ceiling.

Faced with fully 3D characters to animate, the studio chose to by-pass traditional motion capture methods with an ingenious, and far less costly, solution – Microsoft Kinect infrared sensors. “It was a low-budget approach that still gave us natural movement,” says Sequence president Ian Kirby. “You set up two Kinects and you calibrate your room, and you can get a bone structure that you can plug into Cinema4D. It’s pretty phenomenal that you can do this home made motion capture solution.”

The Sequence Group’s Jessica Rivers performed the facial capture.

Ultimately, the Kinect solution was so successful that the studio used it also for an in-game Halo 4 cinematic called ‘Librarian’. One scene called for abstract animations of people running and floating into the air. The mocap was obtained by literally taping a Kinect sensor to the ceiling and having staff sit on a chair faking a sense of zero gravity. The mocap data depth maps were captured with Brekel Kinect, a freeware product. After Effects was then used to control the look of the pixelated forms.

In addition, dialogue for the characters in Halo 4’s Terminals relied on a combination of facial motion capture recorded in-house, and partnering with facial animation vendor Cubic Motion. “It’s fun to do those kind of hacks to pull shots off,” notes Kirby, who also approached the Terminals work as much more of an artistic and painterly venture. “We chose to go into this painterly 3D world – just because we thought it really appealed to the gamers in the sense that it was a concept art style world, which helped to tell the back story.” The full body motion capture for the Terminals scenes made use of iPi Soft’s markerless iPi Motion Capture software, in conjunction with the Kinect set-up. Several main character performances were captured, then integrated with key-framed animation created using Cinema4D.

Watch the Terminals work and Librarian cinematic below: