CASE STUDY

Client: Invader Studios

Need: Affordable, high-fidelity facial mocap for small studios

Author: Chris McMahon

Excerpt:

Faceware Realtime for iClone absolutely reduces the gap between indie and triple-A studios, empowering smaller developers like Invader to achieve excellent quality facial animations with ease.

If you’ve crept through the ornate hallways of Spencer Mansion or peered over the shoulder of Leon S. Kennedy while blasting Los Illuminados craniums, then Daymare: 1998 will feel a celebratory homecoming.

Created by indie developer Invader Studios, Daymare: 1998 is a homage in the purest sense to survival horror of a bygone age. From its third-person perspective to the lost-town setting and pervasive, creeping dread, Daymare: 1998 both looks and feels like the genre-defining 90s titles it holds in such high regard – titles like Capcom’s Resident Evil or Konami’s psychological horror Silent Hill.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s true then Daymare: 1998 is the most resounding compliment that a developer could give. Invader Studios has gone all out to create one of the most refined and carefully constructed love letters to a genre ever written. It’s more than facsimile; Daymare: 1998 is a paean to the developers that conceived and built these indelible experiences.

We spoke to the team to learn why they embarked on their Daymare: 1998 journey, and to discover the role played by Faceware Realtime for iClone in crafting a story as immersive and entertaining as those of the games that inspired it.

The True Face of Horror

Established in Italy in 2016, Invader Studios was plunged into the spotlight following the news of their scrupulous fan remake of Capcom’s survival horror classic: Resident Evil 2 Reborn. The game’s demo garnered widespread acclaim, earning the team a trip to Japan to discuss future projects with Capcom. This led to a life-changing opportunity: to develop their own original IP in tandem with Resident Evil Zero and Resident Evil – Code: Veronica designer Satoshi Nakai.

“We wanted to create a survival horror that offered a different experience from the hundreds of horror games currently in the market, while also providing a truly 90s, nostalgic experience,” begins Andrea Zanelli, lead animator at Invader Studios. “Daymare: 1998 was born.”

Working in Unreal Engine, Invader Studios took the template of games past and built upon them with today’s immersive graphics. But the team wanted more than an aesthetic tribute to the games to which they owed their inspiration. They also wanted a compelling narrative – a challenge which required believable character animation if players were to invest themselves in unfolding events.

This is where Faceware Realtime for iClone made its mark – although it wasn’t a solution considered from the outset. It was only after later experimentation with the software that Invader Studios realised it had the ability to include a feature previously omitted from Daymare: 1998: animated cinematic cutscenes.

Originally we did not include cutscenes, but after our first test with Faceware Realtime for iClone, we realised we could build a deeper narrative, a more cinematic approach, and greater emotional investment via more intricate and emotive character expressions,” explains Zanelli.

This was a game-changer. Faceware Realtime for iClone empowered us to think much, much bigger.

Democratizing Facial Capture

Just five years ago, motion capture and facial animation were primarily the domain of high-end studios working with substantial budgets. Indie developers struggled to access the technology capable of generating fast, high-quality emotive performances that connect audience with character.

“As many game devs can attest, manually key-framing several facial animation scenes is a long and expensive process,” says John Martin, Vice President of Marketing at Reallusion. “In the past, only the biggest studios enjoyed the luxury of their own motion capture systems. Include in that the process of rigging, performing, capturing, noise cleanup, and post-processing, and you have assets that can cost upwards of $200K.”

Faceware Realtime for iClone is designed to address this problem, by providing independent creators with access to processes previously restricted to their big budget peers – and at greatly reduced cost.

Using advanced computer vision and deep learning technology, Faceware Realtime for iClone enables users to capture markerless facial performance with consumer-grade webcams, GoPros, or ProHD Headcams (to name but three hardware options). This means developers aren’t stuck between elaborate and expensive mocap setups or time-intensive keyframe animation: they have a low barrier entry point to facial motion capture. This blend of accessibility and affordability greatly benefits passion projects like Daymare: 1998.

“Lifelike facial capture shouldn’t be relegated to larger studios and bigger-budget projects. It should be democratized,” says Martin. “Faceware Realtime for iClone was built to disrupt the current independent creative industry model by affording high-quality facial output at a price point that is very accessible and in line with the budgets of animation enthusiasts and smaller studios, coming in at under $1K. Creatives like Invader Studios don’t have huge budgets, but they’re still very serious about their indie productions. They should be equipped to achieve their goals.”

For Invader Studios, that’s exactly what has happened.

“Faceware Realtime for iClone absolutely reduces the gap between indie and triple-A studios, empowering smaller developers like ourselves to achieve excellent quality facial animation with ease.” says Zanelli. “We’ve been afforded the opportunity to add deeper narrative elements that otherwise would not have been achievable within our timeframe and budget.”

A New Horizon

With Faceware Realtime for iClone available to developers such as Invader Studios, the floodgates are open to a new wave of creativity: a landscape where smaller projects have more opportunity to thrive with access to the streamlined animation processes of triple-A developers.

“Faces are one of the hardest parts of characters to animate, but by creating the Faceware Realtime for iClone tools in a beginner-friendly way, at an affordable price point, the process is drastically easier,” says Peter Busch, VP of Business Development at Faceware. “The emergence of new markets and makers demanded this need for user-friendly tools – tools that simplify productions and enable capabilities that were previously cost prohibitive. Faceware Realtime for iClone brings this to market.”

And Daymare: 1998 is a prime example of what’s possible when smaller teams have access to such powerful tools. Thanks to the Faceware Realtime for iClone pipeline, the small, indie team is not only developing a polished horror game about which they are truly passionate, but taking it to a place where it can stand tall next to its imposing influences – and all at a fraction of the cost and team size.

“We would absolutely recommend Faceware Realtime for iClone to other indie developers,” concludes Zanelli. “The tools are fast, easy to use, affordable, and you can easily adapt them to your own characters and pipelines. It’s changed our entire approach to Daymare: 1998. We couldn’t have done it with any other solution.”

Full Performance Capture, a Fraction of the Cost

John Martin, Vice President of Marketing at Reallusion, discusses the possibilities of full performance capture with iClone and Faceware.

“Faceware Realtime for iClone adds quality facial motion capture to the iClone animation platform, which means indie studios now have the ability to unify face and body motion capture. Using the the Motion Live unified motion capture tool in iClone, solutions such as (inertial mocap solution) Xsens can record the body performance while Faceware records the face performance, simultaneously and in real-time. This gives users full performance capture without breaking the bank.”