LA Noire developers reveal facial animation secrets

If one thing about last months L.A. Noire trailer caught my eye, it was the shockingly true-to-life facial animations. A new video released by the developers at Rockstar now confirms my suspicions: there’s some special sauce at play. That special sauce is much more elaborate and technically impressive than I imagined, though. Check it out:

Unlike in, say, Avatar, where characters’ faces were animated manually based on reverse helmet-cams worn by the actors, Rockstar’s tricked-out dentist’s office appears to generate 3D models directly using multiple video feeds. That means actors have to do separate takes for facial and body movements, but the result is—at least to my eyes—leaps and bounds beyond what other games have been able to achieve so far. And this ain’t no gimmick; the developers in the trailer suggest that being able to tell whether characters are lying will be integral to the gameplay.

It’s just too bad LA Noire apparently isn’t scheduled for a PC release. I’m excited about the prospect of similar technology making it into other, cross-platform titles, however. Staring at mannequin-like faces for hours on end in games like Mass Effect 2 is starting to get a little passé.

Comments closed
    • puppetworx
    • 9 years ago

    I like the fact that Rockstar are trying to push the envelope in different ways. Less impressed about the decision not to release for PC, as with Red Dead Redemption. I thought ports were pretty easy these days?

    In honesty, I just hope GTA5 will remain true to it’s original platform.

    • yogibbear
    • 9 years ago

    Since when was this game not coming out for PC??? Awww… man i was looking forward to this… 🙁

    • Johnny5
    • 9 years ago

    It might not be perfect, but it’s definitely far, far better than your typical statue with a moving jaw that other games have.

    • ronch
    • 9 years ago

    Sometimes I wonder at the value proposition of high end video cards. Games like this show what consoles can do, and yet aren’t available for PCs which have tremendously far more graphics firepower available for them. What point is there in buying a GTX 580 for about $520 (inc. rebate discount) when PC games won’t be taking full advantage of it in fear of alienating everyone else? That’s the problem with PC graphics; developers have to play the waiting game. I run a Radeon HD 5670 1GB and given how my Xbox 360 has a meager 40 stream processors and the 5670 has 400, it makes me contented knowing that what sits inside my PC is already a highly advanced GPU that’s being taken for granted simply because there are far more powerful GPUs available. And knowing that the 5670 doesn’t suck half the planet’s juice helps too.

    • Thrashdog
    • 9 years ago

    It’s visually quite impressive, but in terms of tech, and peak potential, I feel like it’s a bit of a step back. The fact that they’re basically projecting a video of an actor’s face on the in-game models lets them pick up a lot of nuance (honestly, the wrinkling foreheads was what jumped out at me the most), but I think you still could get 90% of the effect with good facial motion capture and eye tracking, and be able to map the data to non-actor-doppelganger faces that could still retain the full range of texture-mapping and shader effects made available by the engine. That one of the big weaknesses I see in this tech, actually — since there’s no way to capture a bump or specular map along with the video, faces don’t react to light in the game environment with as much fidelity as other surfaces do. They look *really* good in soft, neutral lighting, but when side-lit they’re just wierd-looking.

      • Aphasia
      • 9 years ago

      There are ways to capture the texture of objects, but not as their current rig is setup.

      Laser scannering, depth mapping by using pointed lighs and cameras. In theory,speculative, you could even use several narrowbanded lights and filters on cameras to capture a whole lot at the same.

      Say two – three versions further down the line I’m sure they could integrate the above with their current system. Its not like it cant be done.

      The key is to capture everything at the same time and have it time-synced to get the most realistic movements out of the face. If they do something like a 3d-scanning they could apply it to the mesh of the model itself. Might take something abit harder than the current consoles though.

    • TaBoVilla
    • 9 years ago

    I’d say the bald dude with the black sweater did it

    • Machupo
    • 9 years ago

    There’s a reason The Black Sun is the best place on the strip…

    • bdwilcox
    • 9 years ago

    I much prefer the game “L.A. Gear” where they provide stunning recreations of neon sneakers and slouch socks.

    • Firestarter
    • 9 years ago

    Too bad they haven’t been able to combine this with regular motion capturing, as body language is also very important in communicating. It’s still very impressive though! If they execute this properly, the game with have giant immersion potential.

      • moritzgedig
      • 9 years ago

      But they did, didn’t they?
      They only captured them separately.

    • cegras
    • 9 years ago

    I can’t believe that a PS3 with a 7900GTX can look this good and we’re still with … whatever it is on consoles. It just really goes to show you how optimized programmers can make it if they have to.

      • toyota
      • 9 years ago

      I thought that gpu was closer to 7800gtx than to a 7900gtx. anyway a wimpy 8600gt is just as fast or faster and can handle games at the settings that consoles run. that of course would be sub 1280×720 with a mix of low, medium and sometimes even a few high. one advantage of the consoles is they can offload somethings onto theirs cpus since the gpus are not very strong.

        • cegras
        • 9 years ago

        Yeah, sorry, not up to date on console GPUs. I’m just amazed at how much they can still squeeze out of the aging hardware.

        • derFunkenstein
        • 9 years ago

        It’s somewhere between a 7800GTX and a 7600GT – the GPU is more like the 7800 but the memory bus is only 128bit – like the 7600 series.

      • thesmileman
      • 9 years ago

      most of the facial deformation processing can also be ofloaded to the ps3’s vector processer In the same way cards use CUDA and OpenCL today. The Cell architecture was way beyond x86 architecture of the time.

        • mesyn191
        • 9 years ago

        Meh. Cell is really good at putting out high FLOP numbers but real world there are only a few things its truly better than x86 at. Much like GPU’s it really needs some fairly embarrassingly parallel workloads to shine.

          • Goty
          • 9 years ago

          It’s not even really good when it comes to theoretical throughput, anymore. My i7 920 easily outpaces the Cell B.E. in benchmarks like linpack, and that’s comparing a fully functioning Cell B.E. (unlike the one in the PS3, which has one SPE disabled) to an i7 with HT off.

      • TurtlePerson2
      • 9 years ago

      What’s the name of the law that as programmers get more resources they become lazier?

    • moritzgedig
    • 9 years ago

    Why that many cameras? would not say 4-5 have been sufficient?
    I guess they didn’t use a complex model that they updated / animated according to the movies but generated a new mesh for every frame.

    • TREE
    • 9 years ago

    I can’t help but feel that this, although impressive, defeats the purpose of a “game”. The unique things about games, in my opinion, is that they can give a movie like experience without expensive actors having to actually act, or voice over actors having to record some speech. The game LA Noire sort of begs the question… well why not just watch a film instead?

      • Aphasia
      • 9 years ago

      Interactiveness, if its done good ?

        • SHOES
        • 9 years ago

        Tree you have entirely missed the point of gaming in our time apparently… People want to participate. Nobody would rather sit on the sidelines and watch they want interaction they want to feel like they are in control of the situation. Save a few exceptions I think this is what drives people to play video games over watching movies or television shows. Aphasia is on point as well the game must be done properly and offer realistic and interesting gameplay, if not then your statement is the reality.

    • Sahrin
    • 9 years ago

    Eh, I’d say it’s more derivative than anything else. The facial animation in HL2 is really, IMO, when facial animation started becoming immersive. (I’m particularly thinking of the walk-and-talk cutscenes like the “Gordon Freeman…let me get a look at you, man” with Robert Guillaume. (This is clearly superior, but HL2 came out in…2004?).

    Also, and I don’t mean to say that “facial motion capture is repugnant” because it’s got a place; but I think it kind of reduces the “game-world” aspect of the game. The great achievement is when you can teach the engine to reproduce the facial animations on-the-fly, instead of having to rely on capture from an actor. I have tremendous respect for talented actors, but a positive element of games is that they are able to spontaneously create a dynamic world, and not just give us a slideshow.

    • flip-mode
    • 9 years ago

    That’s flat out amazing looking! Wow. I’m very impressed. NO PC RELEASE? Stupid flocking consoles.

      • ssidbroadcast
      • 9 years ago

      Yeah, that was pretty impressive. I think facial animation is definitely the neglected-frontier when it comes to better graphics.

    • toyota
    • 9 years ago

    facial animation looks really good but at the same time it also looks odd in comparison to the rest of the graphics which seem old and outdated.

      • Jigar
      • 9 years ago

      That’s because of the consoles. To push extra graphics along with the face expression, you need a PC to do that heavy duty calculations.

        • moritzgedig
        • 9 years ago

        makes sense but since the scenes are scripted, one should be able to tweak a lot. The background is not moving too fast.

    • sweatshopking
    • 9 years ago

    I would rather see RDR on pc. this game does look interesting, but I’d rather shoot cowboys.

      • geekl33tgamer
      • 9 years ago

      #1 post again??? SSK’s on a roll…!

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