It wasn’t my first motion capture rodeo. I strutted over the motion capture volume armed with an impressive CV of motion capture and stunt coordination on some of the greatest games in the world. I thought I was a black belt in mocap-jitsu, ready for anything. That’s when I found out I was working on Demon’s Souls, a game that would force this 20-year-old stuntman to relearn how to move.
Creative Director Gavin Moore and Animation Director Chris Torres were tasked with executing the precise feel players have come to know from the original while also extending it in innovative ways that stay true to the gameplay of based. All of the original animation in the game had to be captured, and I was their muse for a year and a half.
The motion capture of the Demon’s Souls combat system was a very precise undertaking. The in-game attacks, navigation, dodges, and synchronized attacks, or “retaliations,” had to be playable, true to the original, and aesthetically sound. If performed too quickly, the movements would lack arcs and clear silhouettes. Executed too slowly, they risk losing weight and inertia. Gavin led the intent and the technique, and Chris made sure the metrics were met perfectly.
A set of navigation for each of the 20 weapon classes had to be captured, including marches, races, sprints, pivots, starts, stops, turns and strafing, all performed to a rhythmic metronome. These movements were combined into complex patterns which we called “dance cards”. Chris decided to capture the walks in the morning to warm up, prepare for the sprints, and when I gasped in the afternoon we captured the “congested” movements. The first dance card took us a whole day to capture, but gradually we saved up and were able to finish one in 70 minutes.
When performing combat animations, each move has five stages: opening pose, anticipation (“antic”), attack, recovery, and ending pose. Anticipations must match attacks so that they can be anticipated by other players. Recovers are short for light attacks, long for heavy attacks. Being a Japanese game in spirit, the movement in Demon’s Souls is “heavy with poses”. Rather than performing brutal, character-infused attacks, Gavin asked me to not have a character and instead focus on the final poses.
Gavin and Chris took great care to ensure that the weight of the weapons could be felt by the player, which sometimes required the use of very heavy accessory weapons.
The team was also tasked with re-capturing civilian NPCs and cutscenes. The revamped look and feel of this PS5 version required an entirely different performance. Chris colored the world with his ground reflections, weather effects, and the look of foliage, and Gavin would bring the world to life with acting notes like “the sound of distant church bells” and “the smell of foliage.” a stagnant ditch nearby, ”without ever saying how to respond. He trusted the artists to react. As a motion capture performer, you are in a clean room, surrounded by infrared cameras, tasked with entering a scene. Direction like this, colorful, but trusting in talent, is exactly what a mocap artist needs.
My role as the stunt coordinator in Demon’s Souls included coordinating the opening cutscene, which includes a shot where the hero fights eight enemies in one unbroken take. We recruited some of Hollywood’s best stunt talent to perform this scene in two different setups. Gavin and Chris made sure that the dark vibe of the game was felt in the performances.
Strikes back are an exciting combat addition to Demon’s Souls. These deadly blows can be executed in front of or behind the enemy, with different flavors for each of the weapon sets in the game. For this, we enlisted the help of Maggie Macdonald, who also performed the movement set of the female protagonist, and performed dozens of retorts together. For these, the goal was to maximize the weight and intensity of the movements to deliver a fatal and satisfying blow.
To achieve the level of animation detail you’ll find in Demon’s Souls, capturing motion with skilled professionals is crucial, but that’s only part of the equation. As stuntmen, when we have the chance to work on projects like these, we’ll end up with directors and animators who have a sense of action that can help us learn to move in new ways. And that was my favorite part of Demon’s Souls: learning to move in a new way, I left with a new appreciation for Japanese action and animation, with an emphasis on poses and silhouettes. which have evolved over the centuries from the Kabuki theater. Learning to move in Demon’s Souls has helped me see and understand movement in a whole new way.