Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 6 (June 2000)

Going for the Gold

Console game features authentic world-class track-and-field action

By Karen Moltenbrey

Are you the fastest person in the world? You can find out by racing against sprinter Maurice Greene, who became the fastest human on Earth when he shattered the 100-meter world record in Athens, Greece, last year. Greene will be facing off against other world-class speedsters during the 2000 Summer Olymp ic Games this September in Syd ney, Australia, and you'll have a similar opportunity by immersing yourself in the ESPN International Track & Field game for the Sega Dreamcast, which will be released in time for the opening ceremony. A PlayStation2 version will be released in October to coincide with the platform's US rollout.
Using Avid's Softimage, animators created 3D models of the track-and-field performers, to which they mapped the authentic movements motion-captured by House of Moves.

Developed by Konami America, the game will feature the authentic action of top track-and-field athletes, motion-captured by House of Moves (HOM; Los Angeles) and incorporated into the skeletal structure of photorealistic 3D game characters. "Our objective was to make the most realistic track-and-field simulation ever, and to do that we felt that we had to motion-capture Olympic-caliber track-and-field athletes," says Konami's Craig Howe. "Having so many top-notch athletes participate really adds to the game's credibility."

House of Moves, which had conducted motion-capture sessions for Sega's NFL 2K, NHL 2K, and NBA 2K sports games as well as for the blockbuster film Ti tan ic, initially planned to shoot the action at a soundstage or similar location, as the company typically does. "However, once we learned Konami was using all these world-record holders and top-notch athletes, we realized that we'd need a more professional setup," recalls Jarrod Phillips, HOM's vice president of sales and marketing.
Working with HSI sports management, Konami America signed up world-class track-and-field athletes, including sprinter Maurice Greene, whose movements were captured and incorporated into its ESPN Track & Field 2000 game for the PlayStation2 and Dreamcast.

As an alternative, the group scheduled three days for preparation and shooting at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, which hosts annual track-and-field events. "We negotiated for the exact setup used for those meets," Phillips says. That meant setting up a long-jump pit, which required trucking in more than a ton of sand and renting pole-vaulting gear from the University of Southern California. "We had everything, including the circle for the hammer throw," he adds. "In essence, we had our own virtual track meet."

Because the athletes performed on familiar surfaces, their movements were more natural than they would have been using a gymnasium or soundstage. "Most motion-capture sessions traditionally have been restricted by the limitations of the surface and space used," Phillips says. "When we're able to do motion capture on the actual surfaces, it really enhances the quality of the performances."

Capturing the dynamics of six Olympic-caliber athletes with unique abilities-such as running, jumping, and throwing-was extremely challenging and time-consuming, according to Phillips. The eight staged events were so different in terms of the space needed to capture the motion and the unique gear being used for each event (such as the hurdles and the pole for vaulting), they affected the placement of the motion-capture cameras and where the reflective markers were placed on the athletes' bodies. As a result, the HOM crew had to spend several hours setting up and calibrating the equipment-including the 15 Vicon 8 (Vicon Motion Systems; Oxford, England) optical mocap cameras-for each session.
Strategically placed reflective markers helped House of Moves capture the intricate nuances of the athletes in action. The mocap company also captured the track stars' pre-race rituals and post-race celebrations, to add more authenticity to the animat

"Typical shoots for a sports game involve one or two athletes performing a limited number of 'signature' moves in a confined space," Phillips says. "This was more like eight shoots in one. Usually, the featured talent comes in, does his stuff, and leaves. But most of these guys were on location for the two days of shooting and were extremely patient," he says. In fact, if the take wasn't good, adds Howe, the athletes insisted on doing it until they felt their performance was the best they could give.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in capturing the motion was keeping up with the athletic prowess of the performers working within the confines of the cameras. For Sega Dreamcast's NFL 2K game, HOM used a 30-foot space to capture the movement of a professional running back "who covered a lot of ground very quickly," Phillips says. "These guys [the runners] are even faster, so we extended the capture volume [track] to about 50 feet, and we still had to break up the shots into pieces to allow their full performance to unfold."

Capturing the entire performance of the sprinters, for instance, required HOM to shoot the beginning of the run separately. Capturing the participants at full stride required a different shot in which they started their run outside the capture area so that when they entered the capture-volume space, they were moving at full speed. "There is no technology out there that can effectively capture the full performance of these guys. They are just so unbelievably fast; they're superhuman," Phillips ex claims.

To capture the move ments of Jeff Hart wig, the US rec ord-holder in the pole vault, required HOM to set up its largest mocap volume area yet at 50 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 25 feet in the air by placing cameras 20 feet high. That was twice the volume of a typical mocap space (about 20 feet by 25 feet by 10 feet), "and the data came out great," says Phillips.

In a thrilling pre-Olympic virtual challenge witnessed by only a few attendees at the motion-capture shoot, Maurice Greene raced head-to-head with Ato Boldon, winner of the bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games for both the 100- and 200-meter dash. Although there wasn't enough capture-volume space for the runners to complete their match, the outcome of that race in the game will depend on the player's gaming skills.

Within the game, players can "create" their own virtual participant from just about any country in the world and race against the likes of Maurice Greene, or be Maurice Greene and race against the challengers created by Konami.

Those game characters were modeled and textured by Konami artists using Avid's Softimage running on Windows NT workstations. Because HOM processed and delivered the motion data as native Softimage files using its Dominatrix software, the Konami artists maintained complete control over the character animation. "We used Dominatrix to map the data that was captured from a performer to a skeleton and character setup created by Konami with its own custom-control structure," Phillips explains. This enabled the animators to modify the data, "as if they had keyframed the whole thing," giving them all the benefits of traditional inverse kinematics in an environment in which they are used to working.
To make athletes such as hurdler Larry Wade feel as comfortable as possible and to achieve optimal performance, House of Moves riveted motion-capture sensors to each participant's preferred type of footwear prior to the shoot.

"The character motions you will see in the game are dead-on to what you'd see in real life," Howe contends. "The only thing that's missing is the pressure of hundreds of thousands of people in a stadium cheering you on." In fact, Howe believes the character movements in the game will be exactly what viewers will see on TV while watching the Olympics coverage. "In September, when we turn on our televisions, a lot of the guys who participated in the motion capture are probably going to end up on the victory podium-and maybe later on a Wheaties box."

Vicon 8, Vicon Motion Systems (