What Demon’s Souls can teach stunt performers about human movement

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What Demon’s Souls can teach stunt performers about human movement

A 20-year stunt veteran learns new appreciation for Japanese action and animation.

This wasn’t my first motion capture rodeo. I strutted onto the motion capture volume armed with an impressive resume of motion capture and stunt coordination on some of the biggest games in the world. I fancied myself a black belt in mocap-jitsu, ready for anything. It was then that I discovered I was working on Demon’s Souls, a game that would require that this 20-year-stuntman relearn how to move.

Creative Director Gavin Moore and Animation Director Chris Torres were tasked with executing the precise feel that gamers came to know from the original while also expanding upon it in innovative ways that remained true to the core gameplay. All the game’s original animations had to be motion captured, and I was their muse for the next year and a half.

Motion capturing Demon’s Souls combat system was a very precise endeavor. The game’s attacks, navigation, dodges, and synced kills, or “ripostes,” had to be playable, true to the original’s, and aesthetically sound. If performed too quickly, the movements would lack clear arcs and silhouettes. Performed too slowly, they might lose their weight and inertia. Gavin directed the intention and technique, and Chris made sure the metrics were dead on.

A navigation set for each of the 20 weapon classes had to be captured, including walks, runs, sprints, pivots, starts, stops, turns, and strafes, all done to a rhythmic metronome. These movements were combined into complex patterns that we called “dance cards.” Chris decided to capture the walks in the morning to warm up, build up to sprints, and when I gassed out in the afternoon we captured the “encumbered” movements. The first dance card took us an entire day to capture, but gradually we economized and could finish one in 70 minutes.

When performing combat animations, each move has five stages: opening pose, anticipation (“antic”), attack, recovery, and end pose. Anticipations should match the attacks so that they can be anticipated by other players. Recoveries are short for light attacks, long for heavy ones. Being a Japanese game in spirit, the movement in Demon’s Souls is “pose-heavy.” Rather than performing brutal, character-infused attacks, Gavin directed me to be character-less and focus instead on final poses.

Gavin and Chris took great pains to ensure the weight of the weapons could be felt by the player, which sometimes required using some seriously heavy prop weapons.

The team was also tasked with re-capturing the civilian NPCs and cinematics. The revamped look and feel of this PS5 release required a totally different performance. Chris colored the world with its ground reflections, weather effects, and the look of the foliage, and Gavin would bring the world to life with acting notes like “the sound of distant church bells” and “the smell of a nearby stagnant moat,” without ever saying how to respond. He trusted the performers to react. As a motion capture performer, you’re in a white room, surrounded by infrared cameras, tasked with getting into a scene. Direction like this which is colorful, yet which trusts the talent, is exactly what a mocap performer needs.

My role as stunt coordinator in Demon’s Souls included coordinating the opening cinematic, which includes a shot where the hero fights off eight enemies in a single, unbroken take. We enlisted some of Hollywood’s top stunt talent to execute this scene in two different setups. Gavin and Chris ensured the dark mood of the game could be felt in the performances.

An exciting combat addition to Demon’s Souls is the several ripostes. These killing blows can be executed in front of or behind the enemy, with different flavors for each of the game’s weapon sets. For this we enlisted the help of Maggie Macdonald, who also performed the female protagonist’s move set, and executed dozens of ripostes together. For these, the goal was to maximize the weight and intensity of the movements to deliver a satisfying, killing blow.

To achieve the level of animation detail that you’ll find in Demon’s Souls, motion capture with skilled professionals is crucial, but it’s only part of the equation. As stunt performers, when we’re fortunate enough to work on projects like these we’ll find ourselves paired with directors and animators who have an eye for action that can help us learn to move in new ways. And this was my favorite part of Demon’s Souls: by learning how to move in a new way, I came away with a new appreciation for Japanese action and animation, with its emphasis on poses and silhouettes that evolved over centuries of Kabuki theater. Learning to move in Demon’s Souls helped me see and understand movement in an entirely new way.

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18 Comments

  • This is just a glimpse of how much work truly went into this industry leading remake. Remember those trolls who dismissed Demon’s Souls Remake as a PS3 game or merely a remaster?

    It’s the best next gen game to date and the highest rated Souls game of all-time. Not too bad, Blue Point. Their last two games have both broken 90 Metacritic and are perhaps the best remakes ever made. Can we sign these guys and officially make them part of the family? Nate Drake Collection, God of War, Gravity Rush, c’mon. This Texas studio has more than earned it.

    Blue Point for first party. Let’s go! Anyone else agree?

    • Oh, and can we get a comment on the Demon’s Souls film rumors?

    • rumor? it is official news my friend

    • nah my bad, I confused it with Ghost of Tsushima

    • What about, instead of hiring a 10th US studio to do remakes of Japanese games, Sony hires a SECOND Japanese studio?

      No more US studios churning out the same games over and over, no more “remasters”. Sony needs VARIETY, and newness, not more boring, commercially safe, mediocre titles with loads of advertising.

    • You need to stop posing for Sony,it’s pathetic.Game is nothing but a recycled crap and sloppy as hell…the best remakes ever made?…are you talking about the other sloppy that also only had a pretty coat of graphics added to it?…Shadow of the Colossus?…this shows your lvl of delusion…to even consider that these 2 half-assed recycled crap are better than true remakes with top notch quality like Crash,Spyro,RE2 and RE3 for instance well…

  • Remarkable! I love this game.

  • few days ago it was the 6th anniversary of Bloodborne, and they are not even able to release any patch to offer 60fps / 1440 / 4k on PS5. A dedicated person managed to run Bloodborne at 60fps on PS4 Pro, while Digital Froundy on PS5.

    Xbox Series X already offers 120fps in various games, but PS5 once again lags behind. Too bad from Playstation

    • Then go play Bloodborne on your xbox. Oh wait…

    • @Ralstonizer

      Try playing the next Bethesda games on PS5 … oh wait … well at least try playing the rest of the games at 120fps … oh that neither …

    • Personally, and you can verify by looking at my trophy list, I think the vast majority of Bethesda games are overrated, and not worth my time. J did platinum Skyrim and I am a little sad about it not coming to PS5, but I don’t care about microsoft exclusives because they are all on PC same day, and my PC runs laps around either console. I prefer gaming on PS though.

  • @Dainn-Valhalla Nobody cares go away and play your little xbox and watch your anime.

  • These are the type of extras they need to add to games, Behind the scenes.

  • 60fps Bloodborne patch when?

    • It didn’t get a “Pro” patch, so it’s kind of unlikely it’s going to get a PS5 patch years and years and 2 (3) games later.

      Plus Fromsoftware are busy making something else now.

  • Wow it looks like a lotta work went into it yet the animations suck badly…the fact that Sony didn’t even care for this to be a full-fledged remake like let’s say Crash boggles ma mind.There’s no point in making your character fight well when they go upstairs just like a PS2 game character would thats just one between the many missing and terrible animations of this game.For the game that was supposed to be the front and start of PS5 gen well Sony was sloppy as hell.

    Can’t believe people worship this recycled crap as something magical…but again it’s not everyone who cares about good tech or quality.

  • Amazing game! Love seeing the hard work that went into remaking this game!

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