Ubisoft, Sheridan pact to promote performance capture tech

Ubisoft Toronto's Cedric Orvoine (pictured) says industry-academic partnerships are vital to the industry's future.

Ubisoft recently announced at the opening of its Toronto performance capture studios that it has agreed to work with Sheridan College and its Screen Industries Research and Training Centre (SIRT) on a series of joint research projects.

The projects, the specifics of which have yet to be agreed upon, will aim to develop Ontario’s capacity in performance capture and virtual production techniques and technology, and make the province a cutting-edge centre in the field.

With performance capture the actions of human actors, including facial and finger movements and subtle emotions are recorded. The animated data is then mapped to a 3D model.

“On a gaming level [performance capture] is a very popular technology that’s being used, but it’s spreading to film, TV and other areas,” SIRT’s director, John Helliker tells Playback.

“We’re part of that activity and desire to make sure that we and Ontario are on the cutting edge in terms of introducing those technologies into the workplace and making sure that indie features, TV shows, other productions and smaller gaming companies can integrate this into the work that they’re doing,” he adds.

SIRT’s role in the partnership will see it flex its research muscle in assisting Ubisoft and the Ontario screen industry more generally, through building capacity and creating more jobs in the province for actors, directors and cinematographers looking to get involved in performance capture and virtual production.

Meanwhile, Ubisoft will work with SIRT to reach these goals, but also with Sheridan College on an advisory basis, offering input on the curricula of its video game and other screen-based programs to help train the next generation.

“What we want to do is make sure that we share our knowledge, expertise and technology with their students, so that when they graduate they will have had the chance to have access to state of the art, leading-edge technology,” Ubisoft Toronto director, Cedric Orvoine (pictured) tells Playback.

Performance capture and virtual production techniques have been central to SIRT’s research since it opened its doors at Toronto’s Pinewood Studios in 2010.

They’ve also been a key part of Ubisoft’s recent slate of action-adventure games, says Orvoine.

“A big portion of our games are realistic games, and whether you take Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell, Farcry, Rainbow Six or Ghost Recon, these are all games that have realistic settings and movements, and the best way to do that is through performance capture,” he tells Playback.

He adds that Ubisoft’s fan base is demanding, above all else, more immersive and believable storylines, and stronger lead characters, and that developing better performance capture technologies and techniques will be vital to meet these demands.

He also notes that the technology has already come a long way in delivering what audiences want.

When Ubisoft opened its Montreal studio in 2005, he says, the studio’s performance capture technologies at the time only allowed for four people to be filmed in a scene.

Today, up to 11 people can be shot in a single scene, and all the elements of the scene, including performance capture, facial motion and voice acting can be filmed together to ensure that it’s synced more tightly.

Orvoine credits much of this progress to the research that comes out of academic-industry partnerships, similar to those it has in Montreal, France and now in Ontario, and says they are essential to the continued development of the industry.

“Within every industry out there, whether it’s mining, movies or investment, and there are some academic collaborations with the industry,” he says.

“I’m more than convinced that it’s the big part of our economy moving forward,” he adds.

Industry partnerships have been equally important for SIRT, which with OMDC funding and Ubisoft’s support has also teamed up with ACTRA Toronto, Film Ontario, the cinematographer’s guild IATSE 667 and DGC-Ontario to provide performance capture training.