Beyond: Two Souls is a game that continues to enchant me, it’s as fascinating as it is captivating, and to me it stands out as a project that’s worth following, something special that you should keep track of.
David Cage is, in my eyes, a pioneer, and from his passion there stems a desire to bring change and innovation to the videogame industry, something which this visionary does wherever he treads. It was a journey that we first snuck a glimpse of with Heavy Rain, but can truly begin to see unfurl in Beyond: Two Souls. This ultimately begs the question: ‘where will this journey take us to next?’ It’s a question, of course, that will only be answered in the years to come, but for now we’re content to sit back and watch this new project grow into what will no doubt be an exceptional experience.
Beyond was first unveiled during Sony’s E3 press conference in June, and immediately grabbed the attention of gamers from around the world. Quantic Dream had proved it was a studio that was serious about creating exceptional videogames and David Cage, sitting at the helm, was already renowned. Later we had the opportunity to attend a presentation in which he described what Beyond: Two Souls was and gave us insight into what he was trying to achieve with the title. We met Jody Holmes and the invisible entity Aiden, and were spectators on a ride through an explosive gameplay demo.
Fast forward to gamescom now and Cage was again offering us insight into Beyond: Two Souls. But this time it was a behind-the-scenes look at the game, focused on the performance capture and the work done with Ellen Page, the actress who portrays Jody in the game. During the hour presentation we got to see how the performance capture was done and how this then translated into gameplay. It was a fascinating look that showed us the incredible amount of hard work that has already been poured into the game, truly showing the dedication of the team.
While motion capture only captures the body animations of an actor to use them on a 3D character, performance capture captures the body, the face and the voice of an actor in sync. For example, in Heavy Rain they used motion capture and shot in two separate sections ‒ one part was shooting the face and the voice in a sound booth, and then going on to a motion capture stage and recording the body animation of the actor in sync with the voice. This is what most games do today, because it’s the most convenient way. But the problem with this technique is that you split the performance of the actor in two, on one side he does the face and voice, and then later he has to try sync his gestures with his voice, something which is not a natural thing to do.
With Beyond: Two Souls, Cage is trying to have one consistent performance by shooting the face, body and voice at the same time, it’s a big step forward for acting that allows the body animations to be synced. This technology was first used by Quantic Dream with Kara, although both James Cameron and Peter Jackson have used it in movie-making to get the best possible acting performance. Beyond: Two Souls is shot entirely in performance capture, signalling a major step forward in terms of technology and acting, because the developer felt they had gained another dimension in the performance because of body language.
For example, Cage demonstrated how he says a lot with his body, with his hands and it’s synced with what he’s saying ‒ this is something that was lost before, but is now being captured in the game. It’s been a huge project for performance capture, in fact it’s probably one of the largest in the world to date, including CG, according to Cage. It’s about 12 months of shooting almost every day with 160 actors, in comparison to a regular movie which is usually shot in 8 to 12 weeks.
We then watched a B-roll video where Steve Olsen, Mocap Supervisor at Quantic Dream, described how performance capture is digital acting where over 90 markers need to be placed on each actor’s face, showing a great mix of technology and talent. The second B-roll video we saw was the scene from the E3 demo, showing how it is possible to act without light, without words, just with expressions. The set will be recreated to include the same contacts in the environment, but in a way that cameras can see through. Cage believes they got a one to one result, where what you see, what you capture is pretty much what you get. Yet the stage will be empty, making it very challenging for Ellen to act as she has to imagine everything, there is no wardrobe, there is no environment. This in turn gives the director a very important role, as he must explain the context, where they are, where they should look etc so they can react to the different things. The on-stage props do help to a certain extent, but bear in mind that these are constructed entirely of boxes, cardboard, tape and foam (even including a helicopter or submarine) so do require a lot of imagination!
Someone else who has an important role is the 12 person team who scan the full body and face of the actor (for instance, Ellen) and capture her animations, recreate her body, her face, the way she moves, and the way she talks. The team then has a 3D avatar and moves on to work on the performance capture which took up to four weeks of shooting just for Ellen. After this there is no editing, it goes directly from motion capture into the game.
The actors who are involved, and in particular Ellen, also have a large amount of work. When they aren’t shooting (and this is always done with markers on which look very uncomfortable), they are in the gym, or learning their lines by heart (Ellen had hundreds of page to learn). It’s interesting to note that in most videogames actors with lines of dialogue are usually alone on stage, but here there can be up to six on stage at one time, giving another dimension in performance. For Ellen the range of emotions she was required to portray was particularly intense, the game takes place over 15 years of her life so include a wide range of emotions such as anger, happiness and love, in addition to having to change her voice and acting as she moved from being a teenager to being an adult.
Having seen a glimpse into the incredible amount of work and talent being invested in Beyond: Two Souls, it deepened my appreciation of the game even further. When I first saw the gameplay demo I was astonished at the level of emotion that was conveyed through the game to me. Now with a deeper understanding of the game and the type of emotions that Cage is seeking to deliver to his audience, my excitement to play this game and anticipation to discover what lies Beyond has grown.
Flip through El33tonline’s previous coverage of Beyond: Two Souls, including our preview from the E3 gameplay demo, to find out more about the game. Don’t miss the trailer below for a behind-the-scenes look at the performance capture in action, and a few more photos from the performance capture after that.