Like A Rolling Stone
Issue: Volume 33 Issue 10: (November 2010)

Like A Rolling Stone

Earlier this year, following the 2008 film release of Quantum of Solace, a $586 million hit, director Sam Mendes was set to roll on the next James Bond movie: the tentatively titled Bond 23. But in April, franchise co-caretakers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, announced they were suspending production indefinitely as the near-bankrupt MGM struggled to stay alive. Approximately $4 billion in debt, the once-mighty studio behind Gone with the Wind and Doctor Zhivago is still trying to restructure, but until a deal can be worked out, has precious little to bankroll an action juggernaut on the scale required by a 007 flick.

To make matters worse, the playing field has been overcrowded of late with superspy look-alikes, from Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne to Angelina Jolie’s Salt, all duking it out in the multiplexes. As 007 remained in limbo at the cash-strapped MGM, Broccoli and Wilson needed a way to put the main attraction back in action … and fast.

To that end, they turned to Liverpool, England-based developer Bizarre Creations, architects of the epochal Project Gotham Racing 4 and this spring’s racing hit Blur. Charged with producing a game that has all the star power, production value, and escapist mixture of romance, humor, andadventure of the Bond films, the result is this month’s 007 Blood Stone forthe Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

Scripted by veteran Bond writer Bruce Feirstein, the brains behind Tomorrow Never Dies, GoldenEye, and The World is Not Enough, James Bond 007: Blood Stone is an action-packed tour de force filled with car and boat chases, international terrorists, an over-the-top villain, Ken Adams-inspired production design, and exotic locales stretching from Athens to Istanbul, Siberia to Bangkok, and even the South of France.

The Plot
Of course, the game wouldn’t be complete without the iconic Bond girl. In Blood Stone, she’s Nicole Hunter, played by singer Joss Stone. A socialite and diamond expert resembling a posh, more cerebral Paris Hilton, Hunter becomes embroiled in a diamond trafficking ring that draws the attention of new Bond supervillain Greco. Together, Bondand Hunter try to find a missing researcher feared dead in an international conspiracy that may land the UK’s new secret biochemical weapon in Greco’s nefarious hands. As they race to foil his plans for world domination, Bond and Hunter navigate a plot that not only includes diamond smuggling, but threads genetic engineering and globalism into its complex narrative weave.

For Blood Stone, we wanted “total immersion in the world that is Bond,” says longtime Bond custodian Wilson. Indeed, the breadth of the collaboration between Bizarre and EON—the production company behind the films—was considerable. EON availed Bizarre of most of the Bond production crew to plug holes in their skill set. Bond stuntman Ben Cooke choreographed the hand-to-hand combat for thegame’s fight sequences, while Bond costume designer Lindsay Pugh tailored the game’s digital clothes.

Actors Daniel Craig and Judi Dench also reprise their roles, lending both their voice and digital likeness. Joss Stone, along with the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart, composed the game’s theme song, “I’ll Take It All,” which plays over a splashy opening credit sequence featuring silhouettesfighting and posing against DNA strands composed of diamonds—the quintessential Bond film opening.

“It was hugely important for us to present a cinematic experience that will appeal to both Bond fans and gamers alike,” says Bizarre producer Nick Davies. The goal from the outset, he says, was not only to immerse the player in the Bond experience, but, particularly, to capture the pacing of a Bond film. Indeed, the variety and intensity of the action in the pre-credits opening sequence is incredible—moving rapidly from parachuting, racing speedboats and cars, to on-foot, run-and-gun, and hand-to-hand combat sequences that seamlessly incorporate cinematics.

Opening in the skies over Athens, the game begins with Bond— perched in the loading bay of a jet aircraft—parachuting onto a heavily

On water or on land, Blood Stone's digital James Bond chases down baddies with as much zeal in the gaming world as the actors who have assumed the coveted roles for cinema. The CG Bond was created from reference scans of actor Daniel Craig, the box-office's latest 007.

defended yacht where Greco is closing a deal. Bond kicks a guard into the water as a firefight, mixed with hand-to-hand combat, erupts across the deck. The action unfolds in third-person perspective, making the most of Cooke’s choreography and Craig’s brutish physicality; he applies choke holds, pulls off stealth takedowns, fires headshots with his P99 semi-automatic, all the while diving and rolling for cover.

Later, Bond gives chase in a speedboat, racing through an Athens harbor cluttered with ocean liners and ferries. Under fire from Greco, Bond dodges RPG fire from a helicopter that brings a lighthouse and other waterside buildings crashing down amid spectacular water effects. Bond shoots some gas tanks, bringing the chopper down in the explosion with some amazing physics- based destruction courtesy of Bizarre’s newly revamped game engine, Horizon. Eventually, Bond’s boat launches onto the pier, and a runand- gun segment between parked cars culminates at a yacht club mansion. Inside, Bond tosses Greco through a plate-glass window before realizing that his target—a bomb of some kind—is aboard a passing SUV. Bond finishes the chase in his Aston Martin, racing through tunnels and on a cliff-hugging, hillside road.

“The pre-credits sequence is a big splash that showcases a wide variety of interactions in a short space of time. Pacing is so important to any movie experience, and we wanted to apply that to the game,” says Davies. “Obviously, it calms down after that as the narrative leads the player through the adventure with opportunities for stealth as well as high action. The driving sequences are a great way to punctuate the story with intense, high-octane thrills, in much the same way as they do in the movies.”

“This is the closest we’ve ever come to putting you in the driver’s seat of a Bond action-chase sequence,” says David G. Wilson, Michael’s son and Bond’s marketing vice president of business strategy. Indeed, Bizarre’s experience on Blur lent itself perfectly to Blood Stone’s chase sequences—on road and on water. Bizarre’s Horizon engine, designed around multiprocessor hardware, provides physics, lighting, and other core technology, as it flexes its muscles in the chaotic, physics-based destruction accompanying the car chases through the busy cities, as well as with the spectacular lighting effects gracing the neon wonderland of Bangkok.

Production Design
Awe-inspiring production design has always been a foundation of the Bond experience, forged brilliantly in the past by legendary designers like Ken Adams in The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice (see “Bonded” on to learn how the developer achieved a cinematic flair to the game’s cinematics.) “We definitely looked long and hard at the production design of both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, taking general lighting cues and feel from both. Of the two, we erred toward Quantum’s production design, feeling it was more in line with the brutal Bond we wanted to convey in the game,” says studio art director Neil Thompson. The team also kept M’s office set the same, to show some continuity with Quantum and to help root the game in the film’s universe. By the same token, Thompson says, the artists weren’t “slavish” to the last two films.

Blood Stone features expansive sets, populated with many structures and objects that facilitate gameplay and provide cover during firefights.

“As an artist, the opportunity to play in the Bond universe is an opportunity too good to miss, particularly when it comes to Ken Adams’ amazing set designs from the ’60s/’70s,” Thompson says. The group paid homage tohim in the climactic battle sequence at the Burmese Dam in Bangkok, with areas carved from solid rock at a grand scale, in a nod toYou Only Live Twice’s volcano base. The dam’s grand scale was also influenced by cathedrals. “Living in Liverpool, the city has two magnificent examples we looked at: particularly, the Anglican cathedral, which has a touch of Adams about it,” Thompson adds. In order to achieve a huge sense of scale and not just make the dam another uninteresting industrial facility, the crew decided that it should comprise an array of large, thin-vaulted entranceways with spinning fan blades above, acting like stained-glass windows as the light reflects off them. They also made the primary water-flow pipes act as buttresses, while another section has a beautifully curved ceiling with the lines accentuating other areas of the dam.

“This sense of grandeur informs the player that this is the climactic battle, as Ken Adams had done in the past,” explains Thompson.

The production design was also hugely informed by Blood Stone’s cover-based gameplay, which the title exploits to its maximum potential; like Craig’s Bond, the player is constantly ducking behind bulkheads, pillars, and walls. This style of gameplay depends on very carefully planned environmental design. “Ultimately, the main goal of the level designers and artists is to create contemporary spacesthat function as cover combat areas while remaining aesthetically pleasing to the player,” says lead level designer Phil Nightingale.

“Combat areas need to meld perfectly within the look of the environment, so the level designers worked extremely closely with the art teams to reach the best balance,” Nightingale continues. The crew also drew up concept sketches and mood boards early on in the development cycle to create a visual guide for each level. These boards covered all aspects of a level, from lighting and architecture, to inanimate objects and objects intended for gameplay. “It’s important that gamers can formulate a strategy when engaged in combat encounters, and have options on how to tackle each of the many firefights, so we made sure the placement of cover in these areas was eminently readable,” he adds. It was also vital that these cover objects fit visuallyand practically within the overall space, so that everything made sense and didn’t break the boundaries of an environment’s innate reality.

Greek Playground
According to Thompson, Athens proved to be one of the most challenging environments to model, texture, and light because the player transitions through so many different

Bizarre Creations, with help from the mocap team at Audiomotion, generated the game's brutal hand-to-hand combat moves.

scenes—the parachute jump, the landing on the yacht, the boat chase across the harbor, the fight through the yacht club, and the final car chase—all in the space of 15 minutes.” Artists used Autodesk’s Maya to create the majority of assets and scenes, relying on Pixologic’s ZBrush for high-poly props and environmental detailing. ZBrush’s power is on full display inside the yacht club, particularly with the distressed walls and old buildings adorned with period details. “Without ZBrush, we could never have achieved the level of fidelity we required,” says Thompson.

For the yacht, however, artists wanted more of a hard-surface feel: cold and precise, to reflect the villainous owner, Greco. Therefore, they employed subdivision surface modeling for the high-resolution models and added lots of cube maps, giving the ship a high-gloss, high-end feel that echoes Quantum of Solace’s MI6 set. “This approach, however, had ramifications on the lighting, making it difficult to balance it with the cube maps, and requiring a lot of tweaking of diffuse color, cube-map brightness, and lighting intensity and positioning,” says Thompson.

The Athens scenes also required a sophisticated water shader that captured the feel and deep-blue palette of the Aegean—the evershifting shades of cobalt, turquoise, and jade green. “In most games, they would just use a cube- and normal-map combination; we initially tried that but found it looked off, and the multitude of moored yachts and boats in the harbor didn’t look grounded,” says technical effects artist Nigel Middleman. “Rather, our central tech team had developed a real-time reflection road shader for Blur, which we were able to adapt for real-time water reflection.”

Because Athens and the other locales involve two types of gameplay—third-person combat and driving—they required two different art sets to accommodate the varying speeds at which the player travels. Keeping those switches in art seamless was a big technical challenge. “In Athens, originally all of the five locations were part of a seamless whole, but it soon became apparent we couldn’t store or process the amount of geometry, shaders, and light maps required,” says Nightingale, “so we broke the environment into three separate loads hidden by cut-scenes.”

This solved the majority of the problems, but the group was still left with a lighting issue for the first area, where Bond lands on the super-yacht. It’s third-person and, therefore, required high-density light maps. The ensuing chase in the speedboat takes place in the same scene, which is approximately two square miles, and memory constraints meant the artists couldn’t have high-density light maps. As a result, central tech devised a solution that allowed the art team to vary light-map densities on a per-poly basis. So, in conjunction with a global setting for each environment, the team could increase the light-map detail on the yacht set to be strong enough for a third-person camera without adversely impacting the memory budget. (See “Wake Effects” on for details about the creation of the water and the ensuing wakes.)

Worldly Sets
In Istanbul, the most graphically complex scenes unfold in the Basilica Cistern, a complex of sixth century underground chambers supported by a maze of columns. Featured prominently in From Russia with Love, artists had to make the cisterns a lot larger to squeeze more gameplay out of them. Using Maya, the team built a few column assets that could be placed around the set without looking too repetitive. ZBrush was then used to create the intricate touches, such as the structure’s ornate, Byzantine details and visage of Medusa. “ZBrush enabled us to get the fine details needed to show things like cracks and crumbling in the stone,” says senior artist Derek Chapman.

Because the area was underground, the columns and the rooms had to have a damp feel. To achieve this, the group used basic specular maps and created two shaders specifically for the task: The first was a flow shader, which simulated water flowing down the sides of the walls; the second was a caustic shader. The rooms still had water in them, and the artists wanted the water to cast the ripples onto the walls and ceilings. The final challenge proved to be the lighting of the cisterns: They were completely underground, so the lighting artist had to provide enough illumination for the player to see, but also retain enough shadow to suffuse the chamber with an ominous, murky feel.

After Athens and Istanbul, the adventure whisks Bond to the polar desert of Siberia. Its frigid ice-water lakes are the setting for a chase between a hovercraft and an ekranoplan: a swift surface-skimming, ground effect vehicle. “It took a long time to get the scenery scrolling properly and with the sense of speed we wanted. We were basically faking [the scenery] to work within the tight streaming restrictions of the level. Some assets, like icebergs crashing against the vehicles, had to be sacrificed in order to maintain the speed of the level,” explains senior designer Matt Cavanaugh.

For the hovercrafts and the ekranoplan, artists built shaders from scratch in Maya, painting textures for shrapnel damage, scratches, bullet holes, and scorching details in ZBrush. The team also used Maya, along with two in-house Maya-based tools—Actor Studio and Debug Viewer—to perfect the gameplay in the Siberian tundra. Developed for editing game data within levels, Actor Studio allowed Bizarre’s artists to set up all the gameplay elements within a level using a 3D view. Debug Viewer is a tweaking tool that exposes all the debugging elements in the game—including wireframe mode, test code for new features, tools for overriding the sun direction, disabling the AI, and so forth—and lets the artists control them from a Windows application, whether running console or PC versions of the game.

Bizarre wrestled with two difficult maps in Bangkok: one for the rooftop scenes and another for a section titled Bangkok Escape. “The most challenging thing about Bangkok Escape was the sheer size of the map, and the complexity and visual richness of the assets that made it feel believable,” says Cavanaugh. “We wanted a dirty, unhealthy-looking environment, and, similar to the palette of the opening [Bangkok] section, we pursued a proliferation of warm grays, ocres, and soft yellow- greens.” Maps this big usually have much more of a monotone theme. To reduce the size of the library, the group reused some of the core sections developed for earlier Bangkok levels to produce the bulk of the rest of the level, only adding new objects in selected areas to break the uniformity.

In slight contrast, Bizarre wanted the rooftop level to be dark with splashes of warm colors and harsh neons, woolen with smoke, and teeming with rain and people— evoking a thick, dense atmosphere. The artists used Maya, ZBrush, and Actor Studio to create and orchestrate the complex animated scenes, including the people and ubiquitous neon signage.

Choreographed Chaos
Like the lighthouse that disintegrates under RPG fire, crashing down into the water in a cloud of smoke and rubble, most of Blood Stone’s destruction is carefully choreographed, despite most of the scenery objects having built-in physics. A lot of the environmental destruction unfolds in set pieces, which, says events team manager Mike McTigue, allowed Bizarre to design, choreograph, and position these events to deliver the maximum Hollywood-style impact one would expect from a Bond movie.

“We adopted a white-box process to create these set pieces, meaning we were able to test and perfect an effect using lower-detailed versions of the models first,” McTigue explains. “Once perfected, we produced the final result. For example, the topology of the lighthouse was built to make it fall in a specific way, so once we were happy with the timing, the animation would be baked out and handed to one or more effects artists who would then layer in elements, such as the explosion, smoke, and debris.”

To construct the sets, the team took a partial virtual warehouse approach primarily for elements that were placed using Bizarre’s inhouse editor and within Maya itself. Warehousing all the props to be accessible for each level proved impossible because most of them had to be set up with damage and physics effects specific to the surrounding gunplay and environmental explosions. Thus, the artists custom-built most of the props for the environment in which they were located. “Since we had a wide variety of locations, there was a limit to our ability to share assets across set construction,” says Anthony Felice, events team art director.

Using SpeedTree, the artists initially tailored the plant life—trees, grass, and shrubbery—to be specific to each environment, but as time went by, the crew realized it would be more beneficial to have them designed for a global context, which would also make them more useful for future projects.

Character Creation
Bizarre re-created each of actors’ models using Maya and ZBrush, referencing scanned data for Daniel Craig and Joss Stone. Utilizing ZBrush’s ZAppLink 3 editing plug-in, the artists projected various reference photos of the actors onto the head model. Afterward, they knitted together the projections in Adobe’s Photoshop to form one seamless texture. “We also used various tools and techniques in Photoshop to eradicate any lighting information that was present in the photo reference. We then went through a further process of evening out the skin tone so that it was suitable for use with our in-game skin shader,” says Nolan Rowles, senior character modeler. “The main challenge in creating these textures was striking the correct balance between photographic and retouched details to achieve the right level of realism while retaining a movie-star quality.”

Modeled in Maya and textured with extensive normal mapping, the character meshes varied in complexity based on their importance and proximity to the camera. A typical enemy minion might weigh close to 4000 polygons, whereas one of the Bond variants would typically use three times as many.

True to Ian Fleming’s vision, the game’s characters are dressed to kill, in tailored suits, gowns, and dresses, and dazzle in the glamorous fashions on display at a ritzy party on the steps of the Acropolis. Working from costume designs by Lindsay Pugh for Bond, M, and Nicole Hunter, modelers fashioned the cut of each garment in Maya, and then turned to ZBrush to refine them with folds, creases, and seams. “We extracted normal maps from ZBrush, and developed the diffuse and specular maps in Photoshop,” explains Rowles.

To capture the texture of the fabric, Bizarre coded special shaders in-house that were then implemented through Maya. These fabric shaders employed micro-normal maps to bring out the grain of the material when in close proximity to the camera. “We also had specific shaders for skin, hair, and eyes. All our shaders featured diffuse, normal, and specular maps. Some shaders also were enhanced with additional maps specific to a particular surface; for instance, our skin shader sported [sub-surface scattering] maps as well,” says Rowles.

The modeling and mapping of Craig’s face turned out to be an excruciatingly exacting process, undergoing endless rounds of iteration in order to meet Bizarre’s standards, but more importantly, that of Danjaq, LLC, the holding company responsible for the Bond copyright.

Effective FX
Bizarre parlayed its experience and technology into Blood Stone’s high-speed chase sequences. Get behind the wheel of an iconic Aston Martin DB5, DB9, or DBS, or a Koenigsegg, and let the thrill ride begin.

“It’s always challenging to accurately model something as well known and iconic as the DB5, or even the DBS and the Koenigsegg,” says senior artist Derek Chapman, “especially when you’re unable to secure detailed reference for some of the vehicles.” This situation for the new Bond game was further complicated due to the necessary legal approval from the car manufacturers, which want to make sure their vehicles were faithfully represented. In one instance, Aston Martin reps requested some edits to the front lights of the virtual DB5 featured in the game.

When building the cars, the artists made three versions of each vehicle: one pristine, another with heavy damage, and one with light damage, along with multiple LODs for each version.

One driving sequence, in particular, features Bond gunning his Aston Martin out of an exploding Siberian oil refinery—racing through a pyrotechnic light show with concussive blasts hurtling toward him like rolling thunder. “What’s unique about this effect animation,” says Middleman, “is the fact that more than half the level is a mammoth chain-reaction explosion, which combines object animations, particle effects, camera effects, and on-screen effects to create some of the most exciting, intense, and challenging moments you would expect in the best Bond movies.”

According to Middleman, the team worked from a white-box design, just as it did for the pre-credit action sequence in Athens, where the artists would flesh out their ideas to see what impact the explosive events would have on the difficulty of Bond’s escape. They would then proceed to create an array of explosions, working out the source of the explosions—from a flammable liquid to a missile, and so forth. Next, they would design its visual representation within Autodesk’s Maya, creating interesting shapes, colors, and values, while still keeping with the realms of reality.

“Triggering the events at the right moments was very important, both to amaze the player’s eye and to keep the escape challenging and thrilling,” says Middleman. “We used a variety of techniques, implemented through Horizon’s physics engine, to make the player feel as if the refinery was crumbling around them. For example, we’d trigger explosions that would send towers collapsing one or two seconds before the player reached them, creating a sense of anxiety and anticipation. “We really wanted players to feel as if they needed to speed up to make sure they wouldn’t be caught in the devastation,” he adds.

Once the Aston Martin has fled the refinery, driving away comfortably with the receding refinery imploding in the rearview mirror, “we would then trigger explosions far ahead, in areas you know you’d be traveling toward. These would be huge explosions visible from a couple miles away that would be still smoking and erupting once you drove past, with fireballs and debris raining down onto Bond’s car, making the player feel as if loss of life would be imminent,” Middleman continues. “Maintaining this level of intensity for so long was challenging without the level feeling too over the top and becoming unfair.”

Effects artists created the explosions for this and other scenes with layers of particles and dynamic lights simulating the blast. Then, they used an animated mesh with a refracted shader to create a shockwave that visually simulates the force of the blast. “Next, using Horizon’s physics engine, we set the surrounding objects’ behavior to react to the blast accordingly, providing some spectacular physics-based destruction,” says Middleman. To finish off the effect, artists layered in debris and smoke, using the particle system, to finalize the blast. —Martin McEachern

To construct the sets, which teemed with destructibility, the crew used Maya, along with Bizarre’s in-house editor. The high-end vehicles used in the high-speed chase scenes were built in Maya and then received the manufacturer’s stamp of approval.

For Greco’s henchmen and other NPCs, Bizarre flirted with a complex system, called The Club, that randomized several base meshes with clothing assets, heads, and textures. “However, we found that this was too random, because there was as much chance for bad aesthetic combinations as there were for good ones,” notes Rowles. “On Blood Stone, we wanted to avoid twins in crowds and groups but keep some control over how they looked, maintaining everyone at a certain quality and still recognizable to their archetype.” The requirements for each character type depended a lot on grouping, frequency, and the rate they were spawned, so a global method wasn’t practical, according to Rowles.

Utilizing the same core system, the group employed varied methods for differing situations. In some instances, the selection of assets was more controlled, whereby complete, preassembled outfits and heads would be chosen, and then given an additional level of color or texture variation. Other scenes could afford a more random approach, mixing tops, trousers, textures, and heads that were then assembled to be aesthetically effective.

Stunt Work
Craig’s Bond is one of brutal physicality, and that contemporary vision could only be realized through close collaboration with Cooke and the motion-capture team at Audiomotion in crafting the hand-to-hand combat for both the in-game animations and the cut-scenes. “We would have a clear idea of what we needed our Bond to do, and then we’d work with Ben to get that result,” says lead animator Will Hallsworth. “For example, while working on the cover takedowns, we knew we wanted the moves to be quick, brutal, and efficient, and, where possible, exploit the environment. Moreover, we needed these moves to start and end in a cover position. This would allow Ben to be extremely creative with his moves.”

Audiomotion (Oxford, England) acquired the mocap data and plotted it onto the base skeletons. Bizarre’s animators then worked with this data in Autodesk’s MotionBuilder to create final in-game cycles. Bizarre also has its own small motion-capture facility consisting of six Vicon MX-3 cameras running Vicon’s iQ2.5 software. Bizarre uses this facility for both prototyping and some final captures; animators label these animations in iQ before importing them into MotionBuilder to create final in-game cycles.

“Our rigs,” says lead rigger Darren Vaile, “work on the primary principle that it is better to calculate than to store. Our rig consists of a simple, animatable skeleton (excluding the face) of about 22 body bones, augmented by 30 finger bones. All the muscles and clothing are calculated on the fly in-game using a combination of constraints, set-driven keys, and our own selection of dynamic bones.”

The hand-to-hand combat and melee takedowns were particularly difficult to animate; with two skeletons interacting so closely, the animators had to search for the right connections, weight, and timing. All told, the group authored more than 5000 animations during the development of Blood Stone. The Bond character alone boasts over 3000 cycles, including full-body animations, layered (or partial-body) animations, and facial animations. In addition, Bond can execute more than 60 individual hand-to-hand takedown moves, all of which are context-sensitive to weapon, location, emotion, and direction, and can be split up further into various submoves for player control.

With so many animation cycles at Bond’s disposal, the challenge was in developing a blending system to knit them together fluidly during gameplay. “Animators have to understand technically what drives the character from a code-gameplay perspective as well as from a design perspective, and what actions the characters need to perform in-game. This involves close collaboration between animators, designers, and gameplay programmers,”

The action unfolds within several levels, from Athens to Siberia. The locales involved two types of gameplay: third-person shooter and driving.

says principal animator Kristjan Zadziuk. The result was a new animation tool system that gave animators control and visual feedback of how their animations blended together. The group also used a layering system to break up the repetitiveness of cycles and give more life to the character. As an example, Bond leans into turns and reacts believably to nearby bullet impacts and explosions.

“A lot of time went into creating the movement system for Bond, making 007 move fluidly and feel responsive to the player control,” says Zadziuk.

Compounding the complexities of animating close-quarter combat, the animators dramatized Bond’s moves by framing with the use of heroic, cinematic camera moves developed in Motion- Builder. “These camera moves meant more parts of the animation would be under closer scrutiny by the player; we had to take extra care animating hands, making sure we retained strong poses in the fingers because there was very little we could get away with,” says Zadziuk.

The facial rig for Bond, Greco, and the other actors is strictly bone-based and free of blendshapes. For the cinematics, Bizarre did facial motion-capture sessions at Audiomotion; the artists could have used blendshapes for the cinematics, but, says Hallsworth, “we found that by carefully placing the bones under the surface rather than the traditional method of on the surface, they could be utilized more effectively for suggesting skin sliding and rolling over bone and muscle. In contrast, blendshapes always work by the most direct line.” In addition, Bizarre had two systems for lip-syncing: one for captured animation that applies the correct inflection and nuances, and the second, the studio’s incidental in-game lip-syncing, which uses Bizarre’s real-time automatic lip syncing to determine the desired mouth shape based on the audio file.

The Living Daylights
Unifying the game’s five settings is a cold, hard color scheme reflecting Craig’s harder-edged Bond. “We wanted quite a desaturated palette, and to achieve this, we used [color look-up tables] as the final step in the postproduction once the final lighting was in place,” says Thompson.

To handle the lighting effects, the studio optimized its Horizon engine to take advantage of the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 platforms. Horizon is responsible for a vast array of lighting techniques throughout the game, including realtime reflection mapping, high dynamic range, as well as a gamma-correcting rendering pipeline that allows a variety of post-processing effects, such as motion blur, dynamic color grading, and screen-space ambient occlusion. “We used a light pre-pass system—similar to the one developed for Blur—that allows us to have a large number of dynamic lights in the scene,” says senior programmer Mark Craig. Light pre-pass rendering involves rendering everything needed to perform lighting calculations in a first pass, performing the lighting in image space, and then compositing this during the rendering of the main view in a second pass.

The big advantage of light pre-pass rendering is that it decouples the shading cost of the lighting from the scene complexity, allowing artists to increase the volume of the dynamic lights. “The [pre-pass system] has many of the same advantages of a fully deferred renderer, but doesn’t limit you to a small range of materials,” says lead programmer Oscar Cooper. “With the light pre-pass system, we get the advantage of having a lot of dynamic lights, but can still have a flexible material system. This means we can implement specific shaders and effects when needed. For example, we spent a lot of time on specific materials and lighting effects to improve the look of skin, cloth, eyes, and hair.”

All the exterior scenes are lit by a dynamic sun, while some interiors employ dynamic lights for atmospheric effect, most notably in Istanbul’s cisterns, where lanterns sway gently and throw interesting light patterns against the walls. “We also used them for dramatic effect. In the dam level, for example, we have an enemy guard assuming a threatening pose, while his looming shadow is thrown large against the wall via a dynamic light,” says Cooper. “While there are also fake volumetrics in several locations, we’ve tried to go a step further than the traditional alpha-blended cone by adding particle dust motes for more substance.”

Since dynamic lighting is memory expensive, Bizarre was cautious in its use, but its full power is on display in a modern Bangkok aquarium. “We applied a shader to the water in the fish tank that simulates light scattering and light shafts. This not only gives the water a lot of depth, but also the impression of a strong light shining into the water from above the tanks,” describes Craig. “Coupled with this is a real-time caustic effect, which is used on the floor and walls of the tanks and projects out of the glass and into the room. When you look through the tanks and up and out of the water, you can see the lights of the room above refracted through the animated water surface.”

Blood Stone is Forever
Along with its physics and lighting capabilities, the Horizon engine also features a powerful weather system for real-time, atmospheric weather simulations. Using particle effects, artists could introduce snow flurries, great slanting sheets of rain, real-time dynamic lightning flashes, and distance fog to set the mood, all of which unfold dynamically through the game engine.

Blood Stone doesn’t mark the first time a studio has turned to a video game to defibrillate a franchise back into the public consciousness. Last year, Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum helped Warner Bros. catapult Batman back into the limelight with the same commercial and critical acclaim as The Dark Knight (see “Dark Matter,” October 2009).

At this time, MGM’s lenders have given the studio a reprieve, extending its debt repayment period. Craig has returned to work on Bond 23, with Sam Mendes set to shoot in mid- to late-2011. Regardless of the film’s fate, Blood Stone should be destined to become far more than a placeholder in the public consciousness; rather, an important, lasting entry in Bond’s storied canon.

Martin McEachern is an award-winning journalist and contributing writer for Computer Graphics World. He can be reached at