Issue: Volume: 29 Issue: 6 (June 2006)

CSI in 3D


In the top-rated television drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, the crime-solving team of John Grissom and his group of criminalists use the latest tools and methodologies to solve some of Las Vegas's most perplexing crimes. Similarly, for the Ubisoft/Telltale Games CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder PC title, based on the TV show, CG artists and animators applied the latest digital techniques that enabled them to bring the crime story into the interactive space.
 
Although the third interactive iteration of CSI, this title is the first to bring the gameplay into the full 3D space, and asa result, mimics the television show more closely than the previous releases for a more immersive experience. In the game, players use the latest forensic science and crime-solving equipment—including Mikrosil casting material, magnetic powder for enhanced fingerprint analysis, and Luminol for detecting traces of blood evidence—as they work alongside Grissom and the cast to solve five cases with deep plot lines. To discover the truth behind the crimes, players must visit the scene, interview suspects, and collect and analyze physical evidence using puzzle-solving and interrogation skills to establish a relationship among the suspect, the victim, and the crime scene.
 

The game CSI: 3 Dimensions of Murder brings the characters from the hit
television drama CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, including supervisor John
Grissom, into the interactive 3D space, enabling players to solve crimes.
 
With the game’s new 3D graphics, players can move around the crime scene and zoom in for a close-up look at relevant hot spots in the game and are not limited to doing so simply within the same axis. However, they will not be able to walk around the space freely in the game space in the style of a first person shooter. Still, all the objects and scenery are fully modeled and rendered in real time, so players can walk around the crime scenes at will, and the gamers advanced interactivity makes it seem as if players are actually using the tools for collection and detection of the evidence. As a result, it feels as though players are actually solving the case, rather than having the computer solve it for them. And, if they are successful, they can then make an arrest.
 
It’s the Way that You Move
Further supporting the game’s realism are the motions of the characters. To accomplish this, Telltale Games teamed with mocap studio House of Moves, which recorded approximately 75actual motions involving an array of props—knives, guns, jars, books, garbage bags, and so on—that lent some authenticity not only to the cinematic sequences, but also to the in-gameplay. These movements were acquired via single- and multiple-person capture with a100-camera array of 4 megapixel, grayscale Vicon MX 40motion-capture cameras. 
According to David Felton, production manager at Telltale Games, using full body motion capture enabled the group to record a set of specific, believable actions.“Especially in our cut-scenes and reconstruction sequences, where you see scenarios of what happened or might have happened, the characters ‘talk’ with their bodies rather than with words,” says Felton. “Using motion capture allowed us to have our 3D characters communicate through their actions.”
 
As Felton explains, it was important to capture realistic human motion, especially for the game’s cinematic sequences. Because motion-capture animations come from real human motion, there is a lot of subtlety in the data that cannot be as easily achieved with hand animation.
 
All the cinematic sequences in the game were almost entirely mocapped. These were primarily crime re-enactments accompanied by a voice-over, so the character's body language had to convey the action. The rest of the game used hand-animated suites that were designed to blend with the characters’ idle poses. Yet, the group did work in some of the mocap data for some of the character idles, as well.
 
 
Body language is often the key to uncovering the truth from suspects (left); for realistic and
subtle character motions, the crew used a great deal of motion capture. Mocap data also
enhanced some of the hand-animated movements of the investigators themselves (right).
 
Most of the mocap data, however, was for specific, complicated, full-body character acting. “It doesn’t make sense to hand animate this sort of thing because it would take a long time, and you probably would not have as much detail. In addition, it would be a lot of work for something that would only be used once,” explains Felton.
 
As Christopher Bellaci, production manager at House of Moves, points out, the group captured everything from gestures and idle motions like leaning on a table, sitting, and walking. The crew also mocapped specific sequences of action that were later applied to a character who, for example, is hit with an object and then gets up, or a person wielding a knife in a threatening manner. This was done within a capture volume of 35 by 40 feet.
 
In all, Felton estimates that the animators achieved a 5:1 time-savings using mocap data instead of hand animation.“We captured all the mocap animations that we used for the game in one day. We then had two animators ‘clean’ the data in a little less than a week. This was to adjust the generic character size of the mocap data to the specific proportions of the final character models it was being applied to,” he says. “ It would have taken two animators about five weeks to accomplish the same thing by hand.
 

Although the game is the third based on the TV series, it is the first to bring the gameplay into the full 3D space, resulting in a far more realistic and immersive experience..
 
Once the mocap data was acquired and cleaned up, it was delivered as Autodesk Media and Entertainment Maya scene files, where marker information was applied to Maya skeletons; the characters were modeled in Maya and textured in Adobe’s Photoshop to look like the actual actors in the show. This was accomplished by “revisions,” says Felton.“Actually, we used reference photos provided by the show to model all the CSIs. Some of the characters were easier to get[correct] than others. LVPD detective Jim Brass, Dr. Al Robbins, and investigator Nick Stokes came together very quickly. We revised investigator Warrick Brown about four times before we were happy.”
 
Yet, the biggest challenge in terms of the content creation and aesthetics was achieving a realistic look while at the same time keeping a low minimum spec(the game does not require a high-end PC), since the more polygons that are onscreen, the lower the game’s performance. So, the art team had to convey a lot of realism without using a lot of details.
 
“This game was going for gritty realism, and using motion capture provided a way to add a level of hyper-realism to the character animation,” says Bellaci.
 
Like in the television show, technology and teamwork helped solve the case.
 
Karen Moltenbrey is the chief editor for Computer Graphics World.
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