Capturing the chemistry of Uncharted 3

Comic-Con 2011: Naughty Dog and Drake's Deception voice cast discuss motion capture and what it means to work together as a team.

Who was there: From Naughty Dog, there was creative director Amy Hennig, cinematic production lead Taylor Kurosaki, and lead cinematics animator Josh Scherr. These three were accompanied by members of the acting cast, including Nolan North, who plays Nathan Drake; Emily Rose, who does Elena Fisher; and Richard McGonagle, the actor behind Victor Sullivan.

From left to right: North, Rose, and McGonagle.

What they talked about: While the panel was largely focused on the motion-capture techniques behind the Uncharted series, one consistent theme was the importance of Naughty Dog's collaborative spirit within everything the studio does. Hennig stressed early on that any member of the development team has to "check their ego at the door" when they come on board, which leads to an environment where staffers feel comfortable bouncing ideas off one another in a free-spirited work environment--an atmosphere that Naughty Dog has previously called "messy and chaotic in a good way."

Hennig suggested that the key to Uncharted's success is that this sort of team mentality doesn't exist purely on the technical side of the game's development; it applies to the actors as well. "So much of what we do is about nuance and humor, and you're not going to get that with actors acting alone in a booth," said Hennig. What Naughty Dog does is film in-game cinematics with every actor together on the same motion-capture set, simultaneously capturing both full-body animations and vocal performances for everyone involved. This contrasts with the more traditional approach where motion capture and vocal recordings are done separately, generally one actor at a time in a sound booth.

"It's just common sense," said Hennig. "It's something that I'm so glad our industry is finally coming around to, realizing acting is about reacting. It's about getting them together, getting them to know their characters and getting to own their characters. The reason [these actors'] characters are the way they are is that they've inhabited them. And because I've worked with them and known them for five years, I can write the characters and hear their voices in my head...especially Richard's laugh."

Early on, there were challenges with this approach. According to Scherr, the actors had to put a lot of faith in Naughty Dog while shooting the cinematics of the original game because of the starkly minimal nature of the motion-capture sets and the fact that there was no in-game footage to use as a reference point. And not only that, certain traditional acting techniques didn't really apply. At one point, Rose asked Scherr where she needed to stand for a particular shot, only to be caught by surprise when Scherr said it didn't really matter. They could make her stand wherever they wanted in postproduction.

One interesting note about Naughty Dog's preferred motion-capture technique is that unlike another notable PlayStation 3 action game, Resistance 3, the motion-capture sessions intentionally leave out sensors on the face to record facial animations. The reason, according to Scherr, is flexibility. Leaving facial animations up to the postproduction animation team allows Naughty Dog to mix and match the best full-body take and the best vocal take and then splice them together after the fact.

With each subsequent game, the actors have become more comfortable with this method of storytelling. In fact, to make the postproduction animating process easier and more flexible, the motion-capture sets have grown more minimal with each game. According to Kurosaki, for one of the jeep scenes in the original Uncharted, Naughty Dog wheeled in an actual vehicle onto the motion-capture stage to help the actors with the scene. Now the vehicles in Uncharted 3 are shot on little more than a few chairs pushed together.

Even Nathan Drake had some questions for the panel.

The on-stage banter between Naughty Dog and the actors suggested that the motion-capture technique isn't the only thing that's become more casual. One video Naughty Dog showed the audience during the panel began with a shot of the actors on stage in motion-capture suits, acting out a complete scene from the game. However, the video ended with an extended montage of the actors standing around making comically strained grunting noises for additional audio material to fill out the game's action scenes. This second half of the video earned hysterical laughter from the audience and helped show that the relationship between developer and talent is so comfortable now that the former has no issue with teasing the latter.

"We laugh more than you can imagine," said North in reference to the loose atmosphere that the actors work in during these capture sessions. "I'd love to give you some technical speak, but it's just professional play time."

Quote: Before Naughty Dog rolled the video of the actors in their embarrassing skin-tight motion-capture suits, McGonagle quipped, "If any of you are wearing glasses, this will look a lot better without them."

The takeaway: There are a lot of hurdles that go into making a great video game, but Naughty Dog has shown that having fun and maintaining a casual atmosphere can go a long way toward reaching that goal.

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Discussion

49 comments
Taix34
Taix34

@monson21502 *Claps* Cool Story Bro

MysteriousPants
MysteriousPants

I like the episode of Sienfeld where Richard McGoanagle is in it.

Sirbobislost
Sirbobislost

@Spacerac He's on 80 now pretty impressive lol

Sirbobislost
Sirbobislost

@gorygorefest45 Tell me about it owning both consoles has it's downsides lol thing is I also want a vita as well I'm glad there's not many games out over the summer

Sepewrath
Sepewrath

I would really like to see more developers use this voice acting style. Especially games that are heavy on character development and interaction. Looking forward to crashing planes and beating up immortal old ladies with Drake :P

Wensea10
Wensea10

uncharted series is the most exhilarating shooter series

yearof3000
yearof3000

"Even Nathan Drake had some questions for the panel." I just lolz right 're.

MrGoldfish1
MrGoldfish1

I'm not sure if I'm going to buy it or not but I know it will be a great game. :D

Melas300
Melas300

That's the spirit guys! These people are great, it's nice to meet the bodies of the...voices :P

owermars
owermars

Definitely will be the best game of this year!.... I've already pre-ordered it! ;)

marlobc
marlobc

its launch is in tight week with some biggies also coming but we all know UC3 will be the best!:)

zzamaro
zzamaro

Picture and quote: "Even Nathan Drake had some questions for the panel." Priceless.

ANUBISZER0
ANUBISZER0

@TazSteele It's not just you man, she IS hot.

TazSteele
TazSteele

I hope these 3 actors get their respective roles in the movie if and when it's made. They are all great at what they do. And is it me, or is Emily Rose just hot?!? :)

Spacerac
Spacerac

Wow. when a commenter gets a unanimous 60 dislikes (60 was me!) you know they said something jacked up. Monson is a hater and its good to see if there's one thing GameSpot don't apre-cia-tate, is haters. Anyway, super stoked for this game. I still remember beating the first and trying to find a good price for 2 on ebay on the same day right before the GOTY edition was announced. And getting suckered into pre-ordering it at GameStop just because there was a cute girl at the counter and I didn't want to look like a bum when I always window show there :P coulda paid $14 less on Amazon too. But it was WORTH EVERY PENNY!

helldude90
helldude90

My birthday is in November 12th :D

heroesfan261
heroesfan261

November is going to be epic. AC:R, Uncharted 3, Skyrim, and more all in one month

gorygorefest45
gorygorefest45

also how do i change my name gorygorefest is from like 6 years ago an its gay haha

gorygorefest45
gorygorefest45

i got an xbox an ps3 and holy hell there is too many games that straight up look like theyre gonna get 9's or above. all within the same like 2 month period. 2011 is easily the best year ever for gaming in my opinion. its actually ridiculous :O

jrpg24
jrpg24

I am gonna be SO broke come september - november..... it'll be worth it though! Uncharted 3 will be amazing, i have no doubt about it :D

Kenrocc
Kenrocc

I love it! The actors chemistry is just following off of my computer screen! I can't wait for this game!!

shadow580
shadow580

Uncharted 1 really surprised me when I finally picked it up. It had it all, likable and colorful characters, great graphics, puzzles, lots of action and adventure, and so on. Number 2 was simply a step up from an already great game. If Uncharted 3 manages to be even better, I think I'll have to force my friends to buy a ps3.

MrM9991
MrM9991

So excited for this game! :D

demonic_85
demonic_85

I've always enjoyed the imaginative story and humor found in the Uncharted games, looking forward to the third game.

fluffyninja4
fluffyninja4

@monson21502 yeah i guess all horrible games win game of the year dont they?

Ex-DarkBlade
Ex-DarkBlade

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

PumpkinBoogie
PumpkinBoogie

Good read, in deed (ha, that rhymes). This one of the reasons Uncharted is one of my new best series! It's like Arbalon mentioned, it really does pull you in and w/ the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere between the dev team at ND & the cast it truly shines through w/ every game we play in the series. I really hope/wish that more devs start taking this more intimate & personal approach w/ gaming b/c it needs it. Mind you, we have some others out there (like ND) speckled about; but honestly more won't hurt. I swear, ND honestly needs to write a handbook on how to create a successful workplace environment in the gaming industry....I can think of several dev/publishing studios that could truly benefit from some tips, lol.

Arbalon
Arbalon

The Uncharted Games are believeable, you find yourself sucked into it, because that is what we do with movies, it is so believable, you can understand each character, this is THE way to make video games, never before had I scene good game acting, until L.A. Noire, and in all honesty, Uncharted, doesn't have to be a movie, it would be great yes, but... it pretty much already is one, it is just an interactive movie, Nolan North, Emily Rose, and Richard McGonagle are doing the most superb job, with both the acting, and voice acting, Another Chapter is beginning.

parrot_of_adun
parrot_of_adun

I do prefer the setting of the first, personally. But just about everything else was improved in 2. Anyway, the Uncharted games have better acting (VO and otherwise) than just about anything I've seen in any other videogame. It's good to know it's the result of people just enjoying the process, rather than some Team Bondi-ish 100hr work week situation.

alfaresalasmar
alfaresalasmar

@monson21502 r u an xbot??? OH no no wait... even xbots LOVE this game (:

RonTorque
RonTorque

The game will be one of the best IPs coming out this year.

blaze_adeel
blaze_adeel

my most anticipated game may be this gen !! but i m worried the hype might kill it but then again in naughty dog we trust :P

monson21502
monson21502

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

OJ_the_LION
OJ_the_LION

Ignoring the obvious troll in comments, the relaxed atmosphere really pays off for this series, and it has some of the best and most natural acting I've heard in any video game. I hope more developers take some cues from this style in the future.

monson21502
monson21502

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]

ahpuck
ahpuck

Emily Rose sure is looking prettier as the years go by. Hopefully we will see more of her in Uncharted 3, and not only in the second half like in 2.

dipsetboy17
dipsetboy17

really the only game i'm hyped for this year.

norman69
norman69

Ha. Nice to see that Naughty Dog are encouraging a friendly environment for everyone to work in, cause I know there's nothing worse than being in a job where you either hate half the people you work with or where there's such huge pressure to get things right. Also on a side note, Emily Rose is really, really ridiculously pretty.

ash162
ash162

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

mysticstryk
mysticstryk

@monson21502 I agree with the poster below me. What game did you play? Because it was certainly not Uncharted 2.

Evilbunz
Evilbunz

@monson21502 are you high???

monson21502
monson21502

they lost it in uncharted 2...graphics were great.the multi played was a nice bonus but the singel player wasnt no where as good as the first. but maybe some few control fixes.... the story was one of the worst i ever had to set through. as soon as i knew i kcould skip it i did... the first one had me loving every cut screen. i really hope its better in 3... as for a movie im not sure it would make a very good movie at all...