Funded! This project was successfully funded on July 28, 2013.

Update #40

Dev Diary #02

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Greetings Agents!

Pre-production is moving along nicely and we are creeping up on that next stretch goal! We’re nutting out the basic building blocks of the world at the moment, trying to create a solid foundation on top of which we can build the actual game. This is an incredibly important part of production, and is often cut short in many project schedules, which always causes issues further down the line. It’s great to finally have the chance to have a really solid pre-production period without having publishers breathing down our necks. We will show a bit of what we are doing in our next dev diary (it will be a much shorter wait this time), but for today, we’ve got something a little more on the technical/informative side for you all. Mitch has put together a run-down on his animation workflow for Satellite Reign. Check out the video, and if you’re still keen for a little bit more detail, there’s a write-up accompanying it too.

Animation Pipeline

Hi everyone, Mitch here, the one responsible for all things animation at 5 Lives. Something we’ve seen raised a number of times around the internet is the fact that our game is fairly ambitious for a small team, which is a fair point. Essentially, what this means is we each have to be as efficient as possible in order to achieve our goals. The five of us are currently in pre-production, figuring out our individual pipelines, which basically means we’re working out how we each go about getting our ideas out of our heads and into the game, minimising headaches further down the line. Today, I’m going to give a rundown on how I’ll be approaching the animation aspect of Satellite Reign.

Animating an entire city population is no small task, especially when your entire animation team consists of one person. So, in order to get through the amount of work in front of me, I need a method to quickly create large volumes of animation. Animation is an incredibly time-consuming task, so animation-heavy games often have reasonably large animation teams. We’re on a very limited budget, so that isn’t really an option for us. This is what made me start looking at motion capture.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, motion capture (also referred to as ‘mocap’) is a process in which animation data is captured from real-life actors. You may have previously seen images or videos of people in funny looking lycra suits covered in dots, like this:

This is Andy Serkis performing in The Lord of the Rings as Gollum. The little dots all over his suit reflect infrared light, which are recorded and isolated by an array of cameras (numbering in the dozens) surrounding the entire stage. With this data, a software package can track the dots from all of the cameras in 3D space, which in turn is used to control a 3D character, sort of like a puppet.  

The great thing about motion capture is you can get huge amounts of incredibly realistic movement as quickly as it can be acted out. It’s never quite perfect, as the actor’s proportions usually differ from the that of the 3D actor, but an animator can fairly easily make the necessary adjustments much quicker than creating the animations from scratch. 

But of course, this sort of setup doesn’t come cheaply. Not only does it require a lot of expensive specialised equipment and software, but you also need a fairly generous amount of room, which is another limitation we have. But, there’s an alternative.

Back when the five of us were throwing around our first ideas for the Kickstarter, I starting looking into what was being done with the Xbox 360 Kinect sensor. Some very clever people had managed to get their PCs to take the depth-data from the Kinect, and use it with standard 3D animation packages to produce homebrew mocap software, without the need for big stages or silly lycra suits.

And so, I jumped on my bike and set off to Dean’s house to borrow his Kinect. I took it home, blew the dust off, plugged it into my PC, pointed it out my bedroom door, and walked down the hallway. The software showed a 3D depth recording of my motion, which it was able to analyse and use to drive a character skeleton. Below is an example of a capture I did at a friend’s place (his house had a little bit more room to move than mine).

I was fairly impressed. The motion of me walking was viewable in 3D on my PC in a matter of minutes. However, there was a noticeable lack in quality compared to a professional mocap package. The feet were sliding around on the ground, and anything the Kinect couldn’t see (e.g. my far arm when turning side on) would flip out and go crazy.

But, the software I used (called iPi Mocap Studio) has the capability of using two Kinect sensors at the same time, meaning I could have a second one offset by about 90 degrees to the first, so there would always be line-of-sight to all of my limbs. Brent loaned me his Kinect to give it a go.

Unfortunately, calibrating the two Kinects to work together wasn’t as reliable as expected, and the final results weren’t much better. Performing actions on-the-spot were fine, but as soon as I wanted to take a few steps, the Kinects would quickly lose sight of my feet and head, due to a combination of the limited range of the depth sensor, narrow field of view, and me being rather tall (I’m 196cm). It was enough for me to get away with for the Kickstarter video, along with a free-for-use mocap library from the internet, but it wasn’t going to cut it for actual production.

Fast-forward to post-Kickstarter, once we’d finally moved into our office. There was another option I had been planning to investigate. iPi Mocap Studio also allows for the use of standard webcams, from which it can analyse regular old video from multiple cameras to extract 3D motion data. It sounded iffy, since the whole reason the Kinect is able to track motion is due to its depth sensor. Regular cameras have no way of knowing how far away anything is from the lens, so how could it possibly produce 3D animation?

Regardless, I decided to give it a try. As it turns out, PlayStation Eye cameras are not only cheap (I got them for about $18 AUD each), but they’re actually significantly better than your standard webcam. They have great light-sensitivity, they record at up to 60 frames per second (many webcams are capable of less than half that), and they’ve got a nice wide (and adjustable) field of view.

Calibration isn’t quite so easy as with a single Kinect (which was pretty much entirely unnecessary), but it still turned out to be fairly straight-forward. Once I placed the four cameras around the office in a semi-circle arrangement, calibration was as simple as moving a bright light around the capture area. The software can easily pick the light out from the rest of the video, and by analysing its movement, it can determine each camera’s position relative to one another in 3D.

The green trail is the final result of the calibration process. It’s a 3D representation of the path the flashlight took around the capture area. The lowest points are so the software can determine the location of the ground relative to the cameras. Below, the grey 3D film-cameras represent the locations of the PlayStation Eye cameras.

And from there, it’s ready to go. The actor (myself, in this case) then performs whatever motions are required, and the video streams are processed by iPi Mocap Studio. It wasn’t all clear-sailing, however.

The lack of depth information means the PlayStation Eyes are much more sensitive to environmental factors. The actor needs to contrast obviously from the environment, which proved doubly difficult for us, since our carpet is dark blue (like jeans), and our walls are white. The actor needs to wear clothes which contrast obviously from both. Either that, or you make the floors and walls the same colour. That was easy enough to achieve by buying some cheap white sheets to lay across the ground. Below, you can see one of my earlier tests. The floor and walls are light, and my clothes are dark, allowing me to contrast well from the environment.

The pink lines over me are called a skeleton. When 3D characters are animated, whether it’s for games or movies, what’s actually being animated is this skeleton, which the polygonal character model is attached to. The bones in the skeleton are placed in more or less the same places as in a real skeleton. As you can see, the software had no issues positioning the skeleton correctly, which it will then do for every frame of video, until you have a complete animation. However, the white-sheets brought on another issue. Sheets on carpet lack friction…

The sheets worked well as long as I didn’t have to do any big, fast movements. But big, fast movements are what we want, so some more experimentation was required. That’s where my “Christmas clothes” came into it.

While the pants aren’t quite as “contrasty” against the floor as I’d like, they get the job done, and with this, there’s no need for the white sheets on the floor. The socks still aren’t ideal, but it still gives enough traction to move around. And with that, I’ve got data to transfer onto our placeholder in-game agent.

 With some minor adjustment here and there, the animations are ready for export into the game. This is where animation begins to move from the creative end of the spectrum towards the more technical side of things.

As of release 4.0, Unity has a cool new animation system which they’ve named “Mecanim.” Basically, it gives animators complete control over how and when their animations play in game, rather than a programmer having to manually trigger every animation via a script. Now, Chris and Mike simply just tell the animation system basic bits of information about the character, like current speed, direction, health, currently equipped weapon, etc. I take that information and use it to control animation playback.

So, when the agents spawn, they start in their default “idle” state, which is just an animation of them standing there, looking around. From there, I can transition to various other states, based on the previously mentioned values (speed, direction, etc.) Here’s a basic example:

  • Once the “speed” value goes above zero, the agent will start walking.
  • If the speed value continues to rise, they’ll transition into a “run” animation.
  • If their direction changes while running, they’ll blend into a “turning run” animation.
  • If their speed suddenly goes back to zero, they’ll play a “stop running” animation, which then transitions back to their default “idle” animation.

Above, you can see what the Mecanim editor looks like. The boxes represent animation states, and the arrows between them are where I control the transition conditions. This is all handled by me, without Mike or Chris ever having to worry about the animation system. It also means that as they update the way the agent movement is handled, the animations will automatically adapt to their new changes. It takes a significant amount of work off of the programmer’s plates, while simultaneously allowing for much more fluid animation playback. It’s a win-win!

I hope this has been an interesting insight into the animation pipeline, and helps give an idea about some of the things going on here at 5 Lives. The other guys will give a run-down of their processes in the over the course of Satellite Reign’s production, and you’ll likely start to see where our disciplines overlap.

Take care!

- Mitch and the 5 Lives Team

Comrade Suhov, Andrew Irvine, and 144 more people like this update.

Comments

    1. 8bitspock_avatarwide.small

      Creator Andrew Coyle on October 27

      Excellent work, Mitch. Superb diary. Extremely helpful, intuitive, and interesting. And also not just about explaining about how you set up the mocap room, but also why you didn't eventually use kinect.
      Can't wait to see more. You've set the benchmark for the rest of the teams dev diaries :-)
      Thank you.

    2. Silver.small

      Creator Silver on October 23

      Great dev diary! Looking forward to seeing more of these. :)

    3. Missing_small

      Creator Iain on October 19, 2013

      Mitch that was an incredible dev diary! Thanks very much for sharing such interesting and intimate details of your pre-production process. I'm amazed at the quality of the mo-cap you managed to get out of just a few Playstation Eyes.

    4. Image.php.small

      Creator tarasis on October 19, 2013

      *sigh* another affected by the missing audio. Must try and watch it on a comp rather than my iPhone/iPad.

      Otherwise it was a fascinating update, it's amazing what things like the Kinnect/Playstation Eye can do for you.

    5. Marzhin_sro.small

      Creator Julien Pirou on October 18, 2013

      That was enlightening. Thank you for sharing this vid!

    6. Missing_small

      Creator Lorenz Jugel on October 18, 2013

      That was an awesome video. I particularly liked the glimpse at (and explanation of) tasks involving Mecanim.

      Also, that MoCap setup is amazing! Who would've thought a bunch of PSeyes and (comparatively!) cheap software could deliver that amazing result.

      Also, I hope you didn't hurt yourself when friction failed you, Mitch. Love the sense of humor, props for that.

    7. Missing_small

      Creator Elliotte Bagg on October 17, 2013

      Pretty awesome dev diary, glad to see motion capture is getting to be so available to indie developers! Thanks for the video, it has pumped up my already edgy excitement for this game!!

    8. Nameless_fun.small

      Creator Steve Dozniak on October 17, 2013

      Yay, thanks for this awesome update guys!

    9. Missing_small

      Creator ninjaman999 on October 17, 2013

      ASDFGHJKLQWERTYU THAT WAS AWESOMEEEEE
      Please keep the videos like the one above coming. They are amazing insights into your development process @u@

    10. Methanoid_portrait.small

      Creator Methanoid Pete on October 17, 2013

      superb update and very informative for us not in the know about such things. and yeah looks like a simple/cheap alternative, being on budget doesnt always mean worse results than the expensive stuff, this seems the perfect example.

    11. Avatarbadge_04.small

      Creator suppafoxe on October 17, 2013

      Cool stuff!! Really interesting update thanks

    12. Squirrel.small

      Creator ThomasN on October 17, 2013

      Awesomesauce!

    13. Minininja-.small

      Creator 6R3ND3L on October 17, 2013

      Excellent info, very innovative and creative. I bet this spurs some ingenious home use with this low tech. Thanks for the update, look forward to this whenever it's polished and ready to go.
      :)

    14. Missing_small

      Creator Fry on October 17, 2013

      Cool update, thanks.

      Should those of us who still haven't received an email be concerned?

    15. Missing_small

      Creator Mats Sibelius on October 17, 2013

      Love these kinds of videos. Could prove very helpful ;) Thank you very much

    16. Avatar4.small

      Creator Tommaso Baldovino on October 17, 2013

      Thanks for the update, it's really interesting. Please continue publishing this kind of updates, I love to follow the game development!

    17. 1353575405522.small

      Creator Björn Magnusson on October 17, 2013

      That's pretty impressive and very informative.

      Hope to hear more from you guys soon.

    18. Image-210118-full.small

      Creator Chris Conley on October 17, 2013

      5 Lives -- perhaps if you offset one channel or the other by 0.05sec or so that could solve that?

    19. Wb80.small

      Creator Thrashie - Degenerate of SoSR on October 17, 2013

      Awesome update.. cool to see effective solutions at low cost in action :)
      Any chance of recording trained dogs so you could have guard dogs ingame maybe? :D
      Some birds and cats in the city would also be nice.. but that's maybe stretching it.

    20. Missing_small

      Creator Sleet on October 17, 2013

      That's an awesome example of how you guys can get the job done on a budget. Thanks for sharing, this is just the kind of thing I like from my Kickstarters.

    21. Louis_deguerre_512.small

      Creator LuckyLuigi on October 17, 2013

      Extremely impressed with this creative and innovative approach. Feeling very confident this project will turn out great !!!

    22. Rem_cover.small

      Creator Tobi (Crusader Kickstarter pls!!) on October 17, 2013

      LOL, ok, no prob... first world problem anyway -> "oh noes, now i have to plug in a different headset" ;)) thx for the reply!

    23. Logo_512.small

      Creator 5 Lives Studios on October 17, 2013

      @Tobi
      Unfortunately, it turns out our directional mic records audio on both channels, but 180 degrees out-of-phase. This is fine when listened in stereo, but when the two channels get combined into mono, the voice-track gets cancelled out.

      We're sorry about this, we've not recorded with this mic before, and we had no idea this would happen when played in mono (our PCs and apparently everyone we sent the link to for testing had stereo). YouTube doesn't let you edit the audio in any significant way after it's uploaded, so it's only able to be listened to in stereo, unfortunately.

      At least we know now for next time. Sorry, again.

      -Mitch.

    24. Turk.small

      Creator Turk on October 17, 2013

      no problem here with the video or playback. Keep up the good work, i seen the insanity of game budgets due to animation , motion capture and marketing

    25. Rem_cover.small

      Creator Tobi (Crusader Kickstarter pls!!) on October 17, 2013

      oh my god pls don't tell me you put the music on one channel and the voice on the other channel? so when i listen with my mono-headset i can't hear the voice????

    26. Missing_small

      Creator fawaz alnaimi on October 17, 2013

      I experienced the same, only the music background :\

    27. Rem_cover.small

      Creator Tobi (Crusader Kickstarter pls!!) on October 17, 2013

      am I the only one where the video is broken? it has garbled sound at the beginning, then background music, but no voice from the developer!

    28. Tex2.small

      Creator Andrew Tuckett on October 17, 2013

      I think what you guys are doing given the budget you have is quite frankly amazing!

    29. Pa_profile_2.small

      Creator Darkling on October 17, 2013

      Great read did you think about trying this with the xb1 kinect coming in a month ?

    30. Image.small

      Creator Senchaholic on October 17, 2013

      Loved this update! Thank you!

    31. Missing_small

      Creator fawaz alnaimi on October 17, 2013

      sorry I meant this video "IpiSoft Testing (4 PS Eyes) - Clothing" which might solve the motion capture problems.

    32. Missing_small

      Creator Robert Kemp on October 17, 2013

      An interesting solution to a typically expensive problem, I like it!
      Heck, if you can get results with $70 of cameras, I can imagine a few reading this might be tempted to give it a try ;)

    33. Missing_small

      Creator fawaz alnaimi on October 17, 2013

      great update, I use ipi soft as well for my 3D animation project, check this video out in youtube, it helped me calibrate the cameras and capture more accurately, I hope it will help you guys as well. "Ipisoft testing (4 PS Eyes) - Camera Set Ups"

    34. Derp_avatar.small

      Creator Richard on October 17, 2013

      It's the limitations that bring out the best in us.

      Watching you use those limits to replicate the work of bloated AAA budget teams gives me a warm buzz about the future of games.

      A small talented team can produce something hoards of programming minions fail to get right.

      Great work!

    35. Mandate.medium.small

      Creator Lupercio on October 17, 2013

      Great update, interesting insights, thanks! :)

    36. 14467_1075681832089_1305719_n.small

      Creator Bo Lehmann on October 17, 2013

      Very intriguing and cool. Not only an awesome video but it was a fantastic read. Thanks :D

    37. Missing_small

      Creator Teoes on October 17, 2013

      That was a most interesting read, thank you all. Love the insight into your team getting things done within your restrictions.

    38. Whoops-asteroid2-png.small

      Creator Styggron on October 17, 2013

      Fantic update guys ! Love it.

    39. Image-262739-full.small

      Creator Tiernan on October 17, 2013

      Really enjoyed the video. Pretty cool adaptation with the PS Eyes!

    40. Fb_profile_picture.small

      Creator Stavros Tsiakalos on October 17, 2013

      Thanks for the update Mitch. Very interesting.

    41. Avatar20596_46.small

      Creator Brain in a Jar on October 17, 2013

      Great update. Fantastic insight into your dev process, and what a cool solution to mocap! =)

    42. Fb_profile_picture.small

      Creator Andrew Irvine on October 17, 2013

      Very interesting, thanks. Maybe you should convince a couple of the guys to get an Xbone? The new Kinect might be even better than the PS cams.

    43. Missing_small

      Creator Khellian on October 17, 2013

      Very interesting, thanks!

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    USD $7801* - THE BIG BOSS ============================== Your Name and Likeness as the Evil Corporate CEO! (Replaces Your Name and Likeness as a VIP NPC) ============================== + Associate Producer Credit + Meet the Developers + 4x Satellite Reign Oil Paintings by Duncan Mattocks + Design and Name a Weapon + Signed Hard Cover Book + Hoodie or Polo Shirt + Weapon Skin and Agent Skins + Alpha Access + T-Shirt + 2 copies of the Game + In Game Support team + Special thanks in the credits + Access to Beta + Downloadable Soundtrack + Digital Art Book + Access to BACKER-ONLY Forum + Exclusive BACKER Wallpaper

    Estimated delivery:
Funding period

- (30 days)