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A Peek Inside Sony Computer Entertainment's Motion Capture Studio

By John Virata

I was invited to Sony Computer Entertainment America's Motion Capture Studio to watch a motion capture session with David Wright, the All Star third baseman for the New York Mets, so I drove down to San Diego to check out the mocap session in action and hear what Wright had to say about the game MLB 07 The Show for Play Station 3.

I arrived at the scheduled time and was escorted by a Sony employee into the cavernous facility that is the motion capture studio.

The place was huge.

You can easily fit several semi trucks into the studio if needed. The Vicon iq 2.5 system that Sony uses exclusively for its video game division is set up in the center of the building.

Sony has been using the Vicon system for about two years, one of the first,

...if not the first facility in the world to use the new Vicon system, according to James Scarafone, motion capture studio supervisor at the facility.

At the facility I saw a whole slew of support equipment to handle all aspects of the motion capture session.

For example, the motion capture team uses a BOXX workstation dedicated to encoding using Canopus Procoder, what they call the Procoder workstation. There also is a Power Mac G4 system, used as an iChat server, enabling the team to collaborate with clients anywhere in the world.

A lot of hardware is used in a motion capture session.

Four displays monitor the action while a pair of Maxtor One Touch II hard drives capture the data.

The Vicon system for this session had 42 cameras installed, with 55 markers on Wright's motion capture suit.

Data from the cameras are captured straight to a pair of Maxtor One Touch II hard drives, one of which is a backup drive. This particular session, which lasted about 40 minutes, consumed around 2GB of data, a relatively mild session, according to Scarafone. Scarafone says that some sessions, especially those when the face and hands are marked up, can capture up to 15GB of data, as Scarafone says that the hands and face are the most intensive parts of the body to capture.

Scarafone, seemingly a perfectionist, detailed the typical day of a motion capture supervisor.

He explained that when he discusses his job to others, they seemingly think he sits at a computer all day playing games.

That, he says could not be further from the truth.

Rather, Scarafone told me that his days, which are lengthy and not your typical workday, involves a lot. From working with the talent who arrive for the session, to calibrating the Vicon system, which is performed daily and sometimes twice daily, to directing the motion capture staff, it is a performance in of itself.

While the entire motion capture team is about 25 people, I noticed one person acquiring the footage and two persons in quality assurance, making sure the capture files are of high quality.

At the end of the day when shooting stops, all files are labeled.

There were some interesting revelations about making games. The movement of a lot of the star baseball players is captured not always by the players themselves, but rather actors, several who are former major league ball players.

For example, Nomar Garciaparra's ritual at the plate is not necessarily motion capture data captured directly from Garciaparra, but rather from an actor who studies reference video of the baseball player sent to Sony and provided by Major League Baseball.

In addition, existing data from previous games are often used in the newer games to avoid reinventing the wheel. In all the event was fairly educational, and I did get to see a pro ball player making his moves for the mocap session, playing a game on the Playstation, and answering a few questions.