UNCHARTED 3: A Peek Behind the Digital Curtain

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UNCHARTED 3: A Peek Behind the Digital Curtain

The blockbuster success of James Cameron’s Avatar proved what many gamers and game developers already knew: Motion capture is the future of performance. The film’s groundbreaking use of mocap technology caught the attention of Hollywood and the game industry, raising interest in perfecting the nascent craft with a combination of new technology, refined processes, and good old-fashioned acting chops.

”We’ve developed a unique process for motion capture and performance capture for games,” UNCHARTED 3 Creative Director Amy Hennig explained during a recent tour of Naughty Dog’s cutting-edge new mocap studio in Culver City, California. “We’re kind of ahead of the pack.” Hennig described the evolution of the UNCHARTED series’ motion capture technology, beginning with the humble stage used to record UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune. It was an outdated, uncomfortable place to perform, equipped with a camera array that painted the room with eye-searing red light. And its poor acoustics made dialog recording impossible, so in-game speech had to be added later.

UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture Scene

“We cast very carefully, that’s step one in any project. If you cast hastily or badly, you’re screwed forever. If you cast well, you can write any piece of crap and they’ll make it sound wonderful. Trust me, I’ve done it!”
— Amy Hennig, Creative Director, UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception

Following UNCHARTED’s breakout success, Naughty Dog upgraded to the vastly more sophisticated facilities at the House of Moves for UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves, a game that further strained the boundaries of cinematic game storytelling. The House of Moves facilities featured an integrated sound stage that enabled Naughty Dog’s team to record dialog while simultaneously capturing the actor’s physical performances — a then-unheard of process that is quickly becoming the gold standard for video-game performances.

UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture SceneUNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture Scene

An array of 86 infra-red cameras capture the actors’ physical performances with eerie precision. The studio’s integrated soundstage lets the actors deliver their lines seamlessly along with their movements.

Now, with UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception, the team is shooting on its very own cutting-edge mocap set, the culmination of years of pioneering experimentation in game storytelling. Though the sets and props are largely virtual, Hennig and her team make frequent comparisons to shooting for television. “We don’t have the luxury of writing a big script in an ivory tower,” she explained. “We have an outline that we work from and we write the scenes as we go.” That looser approach gives Hennig and her storytelling team the flexibility to adapt to script changes or make tweaks based on a performer’s strengths. “As the writer, I get to learn the actor’s voices — their cadences, their idiosyncrasies, and I write them right in,” Hennig said. “Their characters become infused with their personalities.”

UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture Scene

UNCHARTED 3’s high-tech motion capture process converts the actor’s movements into 3D datam which displays in real time over a simple approximation of the game environment. Later, animators and artists adjust the mocap data and drop it into the final game.

Actor Nolan North — who performs as series frontman Nathan Drake but also boasts an impressive resume of film, TV, animation and game performance work — raved about working with Hennig’s team on the UNCHARTED series. “I find that movie stars aren’t that interested in doing games, but actors are. There is a freedom and a beauty of doing this that’s like going back to the roots of black-box theater. It’s collaborative; it’s the true actor experience.” North also pointed out a rapid shift in the perception of video game performances among actors. “It’s changed. I know people who used to do video games and told me, ‘oh, eventually you’ll move on to animation.’ And now they’re trying to get back into games!”

UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture Scene

“This might surprise some people, but we don’t just play Drake and Sully. Sometimes I’m mocapping the guy whose neck I’m breaking! Sometimes we play as the bad guys…in UNCHARTED 2’s train sequence, you’ll notice that one soldier runs with a bit of a limp. That’s me, chasing me, and getting blown up by propane tanks.”
— Nolan North (as Nathan Drake)

UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture SceneUNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture Scene

This humble array of sandbags and carpentry will be transformed into a realistic vehicle in the digital world of UNCHARTED 3. (Right) Naughty Dog pioneered the process of capturing motion and dialog simultaneously for video game performances, eliminating the disjointed feel found in some other game performances.

UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception - Motion Capture Scene

“Amy writes a great script. It’s like a strong tree, and we just branch from it,” Nolan North says. “If you let actors go too much with ad-libbing, when you don’t have a strong story structure, it becomes a mess. We do our thing, and then Naughty Dog takes it and makes magic.”

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15 Author Replies

  • i can not wait to play UNCHARTED 3


  • Just preordered it and gonna get it for ngp!

  • i got my copy already paid for also R3 is to can’t wait.

  • KOOOL, thanks for FINNALY putting up a PSN store update. this was a great read.


  • Can’t wait. I think Heavenly Sword was the first game to stress the future of motion capture.

  • Patriot_Infinity

    Very interesting. I already have my copy pre-ordered.

    What I want to see in an Uncharted game is Nathan going after the Lost Ark of the Covenant like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I wanna see some face melting!

  • Uncharted 3 will be amazing. Can’t wait to get the beta on 6/28!

  • Say hello to the next GOTY!

  • I just lost control of my bladder. Damn it.

  • I wish they also use facial animation, you know the one with the little dots on the face.

    • That’s an interesting point that we discussed with the team as well. In short, they prefer having the ability to create the facial animations by hand (based on HD footage of the actor’s face as they perform the lines) because it gives them more flexibility. We asked them whether they had considered using the cool facial tech in L.A. Noire, and they had but ruled it out because they couldn’t edit the resulting facial animations — they would literally have to run the full take without any edits. So they prefer doing it their way, but good question!

  • Nice blog post guys… any info on Uncharted 3 is good info =P (I want more !! hahaha)
    Uncharted 2 was one of the best games I’ve played on the PS3.. I can’t wait for Uncharted 3

    Starhawk is also on my list of most anticipated games… Keep up the good work guys :)

  • Amazing :D

  • I love these behind the scenes videos. PS blog guys, can you ask the dev team to include an in depth making of U3 on the Blueray? Maybe include it in the collectors/limited edition?

  • Really cool.

    Is there gonna be a Collectors Edition for U3 in the states???

  • was there sound with the video? cause i couldn’t hear anything

    • No dialog, as the scene they shot was very short. But we wanted to give you a taste of the hustle and bustle that goes into a cutting-edge motion capture performance.

  • Uncharted 3 is going to be one EPIC immersive cinematic experience!

  • Your_Girls_FavDJ

    Yeah this is great and all but sony, You’re doing it again, Leaving us in the dark about whats going on with the Playstation Store and it’s getting annoying. You guys are making Xbox look better and better. Please keep us updated on the Playstation Store, not just upcoming games and all this. How about a DETAILED update on when the Store will be back up or where the process stands?

  • CANT WAIT!!!!!

  • I can’t wait to play like I’m addicted to it. I would like to see smoke signals rising from a camper, like they got a camp fire going, when hiding out too long in one spot. Elimination would be a good place for such a thing. (Uncharted 4? maybe?)

  • Cant wait for this game!

  • Fantastic stuff, ND really is ahead of the game here. Uncharted 3 is looking to be fantastic. I agree with #16 please have a Collectors Edition that’s available to everyone! The Uncharted 2 CE was awesome, but I never could win one :(

  • 6…months….CAN’T…..WAIT…SO LONG…. -sigh-

  • It is interesting to see the whole “behind the sceens” thing of this game. Thank you for publishing it!!!

  • So excited for this game!

  • Will there a bonus DVD/bluray with videos (and other collectibles) like this? It would be very nice to include like in a special edition!

  • Awesome, this will be so much fun. Can’t wait to play it in 3D.

  • skittlenugget88

    I love the uncharted series but im bummed about this game cuz it seems more like black ops- lodouts, character custimization, but i still think its gunna be fun

    • What I like is that it gives you a tremendous amount of customization options — everything from your pistol to the way your character looks. It’s a huge improvement over U2’s multiplayer in that regard!

  • too much of the same , where is Sorcery ? NGP news ? The Last Guardian ?

  • can’t wait

  • monkeyinferrari

    It’s gonna be so realistic! Can’t wait!

  • The best series in all of video game history. EPIC

  • I’ll get Uncharted 3 the day it comes out! The Uncharted series is my second favorite next to Battlefield! With this game and Battlefield 3, Fall better come soon! Friend Sarge435 if you loved Uncharted 2 or Battlefield!

  • Fantastic, I wonder if it will be used in the Uncharted NGP game.

  • Uncharted 3 needs 2 things, Vehicles and weapons load outs in multiplayer. Remember the chapter in Uncharted 2 where you were pursuing the convoy? Imagine what it would be like if you were chasing after them in a jeep! Weapons load outs would be awesome because in Uncharted 2 multiplayer everyone would be running around with an ak-47. Only a few lucky people would find a Spas-12, Dragon, RPG, or hammer, which was a shame cuz the weapons were so awesome.

  • that-acmilan-guy

    Wait a goddamn minute here… N.D – Nathan Drake… Naughty Dog! Conspiracy!

  • DAY 1 for me to :P

  • tellmehowtoblow

    This game will be awsum.

  • i cant wait to get uncharted 3 i thin uncharted 2 is the best game ever made in the world

  • Diddo on the can’t wait’s. This motion capture tech. looks awesome.


  • i hope it has good graphics like L.A Noire.

  • I know this is an adventure game first but when it comes to the action part it fails in my opinion.My only problem with the game is the Shooting/Aiming its very sluggish/slow, I need responsive Aiming to have fun in a game,all the other parts are great but if they want MP to be great they have to fix that one issue.

  • I absolutely love this series. My patience are wearing thin just waiting for the game. Next, I’ll be trying to stitch together all the videos to assimulate the game :-) Kidding of course, but I can’t wait. I really had hoped that this case would be doing the movie but I guess we will see how it turns out. Cant wait for 11.1.11

  • ADD ME

  • ADD ME!

  • PLZ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • I stared the count down when i first seen the release date

  • I’d love to see this series head into the direction of multiplayer co-op. It pretty much is inevitable, it will go that route sooner or later but I’d love to see it sooner rather than later. I played the first game multiple times & was able to get 100% on the trophies, the second game is still in my collection & a great game but I haven’t had time to play through it fully. This third game is still a must buy for me as it hits the right notes with me where I get that Indiana Jones feel (great set of movies there & I’d be willing to bet it is some sort of inspiration for the devs) but it will be collecting dust till I finish the second one, I’d feel like I was cheating myself by skipping right to the third without finishing the second.

    On an off topic note, Sony throw us a bone and give us an ETA on the store. Some kind of timeline would be nice, not knowing is worse than knowing & you have to be able to give some kind of estimated & educated guess.

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