When it came to the motion capture for Resident Evil Village, the team at Capcom had a big challenge — literally. The horror game’s standout character was the nine-feet, six-inch-tall Lady Dimitrescu. She’s around three feet taller than actress Maggie Robertson, who handled both the character’s voice and performance capture. For presentation director Masato Miyazaki, this created a dilemma. He could’ve outfitted Robertson with some kind of prosthetic or prop to make her appear larger, but that would have restricted her ability to move around and act in a natural way.
So the team did something more drastic. “We had to figure out how to adjust the environment to accommodate the height difference,” he tells The Verge. That meant building two different sets; one at a normal human size, the other designed for Dimitrescu’s towering frame.
While Resident Evil is best known for its undead zombies, the franchise has steadily expanded to other monsters. With Village that included not only Dimitrescu and her vampiric cohort, but even more outlandish creatures like werewolves, living dolls, and a particularly creepy baby. This meant coming up with inventive ways to utilize motion capture to give these monsters a lifelike feel.
The approach differed depending on the creature. Some movements were handled entirely by animators, while others utilized a hybrid approach; actors performed motion capture, which was then cleaned up or changed by the animators. “For monsters, we typically require an actor with greater physical prowess capable of moving in ways that an average person would have difficulty executing,” Miyazaki says. “We were able to hire a fantastic stuntman who did great work for us in the past in animating the Licker enemy [from Resident Evil 2]. His performance provides photorealistic movements as a constant guide. The movements are then brushed up by the animators to be properly corrected and exaggerated as per the monster’s skeleton.” (The team was also able to consult with the developers of the Monster Hunter series, which has similarly used human actors for inhuman roles.)
Miyazaki says that Lady Dimitrescu was the most challenging to animate due to her sheer size. In addition to building two different versions of the sets, the team had to place markers so the actors knew “where everyone’s eye line should be.” Her model also required lots of post-production work. “We took great care in making sure the character rigs could absorb all of the motion capture information as smoothly as possible,” Miyazaki explains. “Whether it was Lady Dimitrescu or some other anomalous being like Angie or Moreau, there would be differences between the actor and the character, and we created the rigs with these differences in mind. Miscalculations would naturally be made along the way, but we wanted to make sure those changes could be corrected relatively easier when the animators started working on them.”
But while Dimitrescu was the most challenging, Miyazaki says that it was another character that had the most unique requirements: Salvatore Moreau, a sort of human / fish creature with a bent spine. “We had a very serious discussion about whether it would be creepier if the actor performed with his body bent, or whether the actor should act natural and then process the animation afterward to make sure the posture wouldn’t impact his performance,” he says. (A few other behind-the-scenes tidbits: the baby character, Rose, was motion captured with an adult woman acting in place of a newborn, and for the gruesome scene where protagonist Ethan reattaches his severed hand, “we used a cylindrical prop that covered that section of the arm and acted as a fake hand that we could record coming on and off during recording,” says Miyazaki.)
“We questioned whether we were going to be able to complete things on time.”
These challenges were exacerbated by the fact that the game’s development was hit by the pandemic, which made performance capture particularly difficult. “We questioned whether we were going to be able to complete things on time,” Miyazaki says of the pandemic’s impact. “We hadn’t filmed the last section of the game, nor the ending itself, so you can imagine how scary the situation was.” While they were still able to film, there were restrictions in place, like social distancing, limits for the number of people on set, and staff directing actors remotely while they quarantined at home. Those on set even communicated via radios to limit face-to-face interactions. To get around at least some of the challenges, the team was forced to create a new dedicated space for motion capture.
“We had to find a way to tackle things all remotely,” Miyazaki says. “We knew that this would inevitably cause communication problems, so what we ended up doing was building a dedicated filming environment. This environment allowed for real-time exchange of video and data captured in the studio, so that we could effectively convey our thoughts and direction, even when being literally across the globe from each other. I am truly grateful to the studio technical director in Los Angeles who was able to change the studio setup — cameras and communication equipment — to accommodate this.”
The director says that, despite all of the terrifying monsters his team was able to create, it was this aspect — dealing with the challenges of the pandemic — that he’s most proud of. “We could have easily thrown up our hands and deemed it impossible to complete, but the actors, internal staff, and external staff all came together in making things happen,” he says. “I really felt the sense of responsibility and love for the Resident Evil franchise. It was an experience that really moved me.”