Grand Theft Auto IV Q&A: Animating the World

We catch up with Rockstar North for a brief talk about animation in GTAIV.

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Now that GTAIV has gone gold the team over at Rockstar North is finally getting a chance to field some questions from the masses. Rockstar has made two members of the team available for interrogation. First up is Mondo Ghulam, animation artist on GTAIV, who will be sharing information on how the characters in GTAIV have been brought to life. Later this week, we'll be checking in with another member of the team to hear about weapons.

GameSpot: How have the new consoles affected GTAIV's development?

Mondo Ghulam: Cutscene production has become more involved but more satisfying. Having fully featured skeletons--five fingers and so on--allows us to get to the right pose instead of trying to approximate it with less. Depth of field and full scene lighting has opened the door to much more cinematic-looking cutscenes. We have only scratched the surface with lighting. Higher resolution across the board--models, textures, normal maps--allow the camera to get closer than we used to. Having effectively no upper limit on animation duration and quantity has enabled us to keep much more fidelity in the animation and to realize the script in its full form. More-realistic and believable characters make for better storytelling.

Characters look great even when the camera gets up close and personal.

GS: How has this affected the size of the team, say in comparison to something like San Andreas?

MG: The animation team is about double what it was on San Andreas. The cutscene team doubled in size for around 40 percent of the time we were on production.

GS: Did this lead you to change the way the teams were structured?

MG: There is a clear distinction between in-game and cutscene animation. The tasks and the tools are quite different. There has been some overlap in the content, however, with a number of the smaller connective cutscenes that were previously scripted being handled as full cutscenes.

GS: Can you give us a rough idea of how something goes from an idea on paper to an in-game cutscene?

MG: The basic flow is like so: Script > Read-through > Casting > Rehearsals > Environment > Mocap Shoot > Character Proxies > Mocap Data Solved > Motion Editing and Animation > Props > Facial Animation > In-Game Integration > Audio/Dialogue.

Motion capture this!

GS: When does the team start working on the cutscenes and cinemas in the development process?

MG: Usually quite late, though in real terms we worked on GTAIV for the last 16 months of production. I think total production time was around 36 months, which included motion-capture work at Perspective Studios in Long Island.

GS: Can you give us an idea of how many people you wound up using for the motion capture?

MG: For cutscenes, only one actor was used for Niko's body and facial animation. For the whole game, a huge number--including one per character, plus specialists for fighting, weapons, and stunt work.

GS: How did you handle the motion-capturing facial animations?

MG: Image Metrics handles all of the facial animation. Characters created here by Mike Kane and his team were rigged for animation by Image Metrics. Early on in cutscene production we took the plunge and went for full blend shape and bone animation for faces. It was a tough piece of tech to realize and took the combined efforts of people here at Rockstar North, Rockstar San Diego, and Image Metrics. It has more than paid off.

The game's facial animations are the result of a huge collaborative effort.

GS: How much attention do you and the team pay to movies and the increased use of CGI? Do you think that work has any impact or bearing on video game animation?

MG: Personally, a huge amount. Though improving all the time and at great speed in terms of raw quality, CGI in films has the edge on games. I'm not talking about prerendered cutscenes here--there's no reason why they can't or shouldn't look every bit as good as film CGI.

With film CGI, everything you see onscreen has most likely been rendered offline, whereas those doing cutscenes in-game need to do that in real time/30 frames per second. If you look at CGI in movies maybe five years ago, in terms of features, games are close, but in terms of raw pixel quality we're at a quarter of the resolution. For me, this is what we should be aiming for.

With a game like ours, we not only have several movies' worth of animation but we also have even more gameplay interwoven with the story. In terms of production there is a lot more to coordinate and integrate--"two masters to serve," as it were. Ultimately, the two should go hand in hand to produce a singular experience for the player.

GS: Thanks for your time.

Discussion

460 comments
awarapanmovie
awarapanmovie

This Will Rock Pc Title Also Like Ps3 and Xbox360 GTA 4 ROCKS

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

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

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

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

Jazz_Fan
Jazz_Fan

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

domagoj_99
domagoj_99

This game going to be in my ps3 at 7:30 o'clock, 30.04.2008! :)

cundiff
cundiff

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

reggybabes
reggybabes

i pre-ordered this off zavvi start of april, and still no confirmation of dispatch! swear down if it don't come by release date, someone's gonna pay, preferably one of my siblings lol.

AJ-2K7
AJ-2K7

@dabz17 it says somewhere on ign that the game will take 100 hours for just story mode, that long enough for ya?

69Kameleon69
69Kameleon69

Thanks for the interview. Close ups look good.

Delta_5_1
Delta_5_1

Good interview, very enlightning!! You guys here @ GS do a good job.

Isuzulu
Isuzulu

not long now i cant waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaait good luck to those who havent pre orderd

JoeyLarocca
JoeyLarocca

can the game be played only online or offline with friends as well?

dabz17
dabz17

**** me i cnt wait 4 this its gna b aaaammmaaaaazzziiiinnnn i mean it 16 players online n free roam jst ope the story mode aint short cnt wait

evklinken
evklinken

Pretty impressive. I think that GTA IV will get a 10 here on GS, if not a 9.5.

videogames5000
videogames5000

this game is gonna be sick altugh im thinkin to buy it used and wait for other new realeses

games100
games100

man.. is that real... looks sweet. thanks nazv12 :)

nazv12
nazv12

hey guys if you want to see real gta 4 gameplay go to www.wegame.com/watch/gta_4_police_chase_video_LEAKED/ MAN THIS IS REAL NO FAKE!!!

fernan17893
fernan17893

ahhhhh omg n00b dis game is going to be da bomb FTW ROXR LOL i dont evn know what im writing GDI !!!!!

TRH4469
TRH4469

oh ya coming out tuesday. glad i preordered!

mqadar
mqadar

Can't wait for GTA IV

L1qu1dSword
L1qu1dSword

This game will be twice as cool for me seeing as I live NYC and will be familiar with many of the locations they base Liberty City off of.

JLuke360
JLuke360

I am sooo chuffed to finally get my hands on this game. :D

adnanAC
adnanAC

GTA4 Gameplay is on youtube hurry everyone they are quickly getting removed. ~HURRY. type Gta4 gameplay " NOW

igabiga
igabiga

They're eastern-european....of course they have big noses.

Sonic1293
Sonic1293

Niko's nose looks above average size but who really cares this game will be the BESTT GAME of the YEAR!! I can't wait until this game comes out only 4days 8hrs 12mins.

reggybabes
reggybabes

the fair few aussies who got the game early are very lucky

Relys
Relys

Their noses are too large. Everything else graphically wise, looks great.

titolajko
titolajko

Hey Everybody. I want everyone to respond to my questions. Where does everyone think Niko Bellic is from? Russia, Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, or what. Just curios. Wikiipedia said Bosnian Serb, that's me by the way but I am not sure. Does anybody know. Thanks

thewolf619
thewolf619

Just 5 more days!! I'm so hyped, I can't wait to get into modern day Liberty City.

gamerjerome
gamerjerome

I'm surprise how facial recognition has advanced. Check out image-metrics website. They worked on GTA4.

foxracing1313
foxracing1313

Wish they would have got it out for the PC at the same time, oh well I can wait.

Gamezero224
Gamezero224

Long live gta! this tuesday everybody will live gta.

WWIAB
WWIAB

It seems like this game has been hanging around forever...........I just can't wait :( but next tuesday I'll be :D

datniccah187
datniccah187

Games looking good i'm very excited, i cannot wait until Tuesday.

Kooken58
Kooken58

Gah Tuesday is so far away!!!! This last week before launch has been sooo long.

XxorigxX
XxorigxX

I cant wait for this awesome game:):):):)

UltimateMINK
UltimateMINK

SALMAN06P0020 THE WORLD WILL ALWAYS BE DIVIDED BY VS REASON IS FOR ITS WHAT MAKES US HUMAN AND ITS PART OF U AS MUCH AS ANYONE ELS HAHAHA

salman06p0020
salman06p0020

PC vs Mac, Xbox vs PS, Girls vs Boys, Comedy vs Horror, Obama vs Hilary, __________vs______________ etc...... this world is full of fanboys and fangirls. Too bad they don't think scientifically which is good and which is worse for them.

UltimateMINK
UltimateMINK

this game is gona rock ooooooh yeeeeeeeeeeeeh!!!!

FatherTimex
FatherTimex

Crasher-Thrasher: "But in a couple of years the PS3 is gonna kick Xbox 360s behind!" In a couple of years we'll be at the next console generation.

Kei_neoblood
Kei_neoblood

Xbox 360 beats the **** out of the ps3, its online is broke, the store sucks, and it doesnt have but two or three good games that were not ripped off of the 360.