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One of the fundamentals of creating a successful business has always been to find the need for something and then provide it. No one else knows this as much as Marla Rausch, CEO of Animation Vertigo. Marla and her team are motion capture geniuses behind some of the most graphically intense games including Heavy Rain, Call of Duty: Black Ops 1 and 2 and most recently, Injustice: Gods Among Us.
"Heavy Rain was the first time we’ve ever had to deal with facial data. Seeing motion capture as more than just body movement and really get into facial reactions and emotions was pretty outstanding too."
While motion capture isn't a new technology, Animation Vertigo are the ones doing it the best. Their approach to turning a person running around in a bodysuit covered in dots into a realistic video game character is driven not just by dollar signs but by the spirit of creating something awesome.
We spoke to Marla Rausch about her role in the motion capture universe and all the coolness that comes with it. Check it out below.
What was it that made you decide on getting into the motion capture business?
A good question, I certainly never thought that I would have been involved in animation, much less the highly technical world of motion capture. I became involved initially by working as a motion capture tracker quite by accident, but quickly got interested in the workings of it and the production surrounding it. I found a potential to fill a need and decided to take a risk starting Animation Vertigo to offer motion capture services. I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy what I’m doing and really like the people I meet in the industry, that time has just flown by and we’re now going into our 9th year.
Motion capture sounds like a very expensive game to get into. Was it hard to raise money to start?
I suppose it is like any other business endeavor, since we provide the post production service side – clean up or tracking, solving and retargeting – basically the process of getting it from the acquisition of the data to the point where it is ready for the talented animators to work on it, you prepare for the cost of software and hardware and everything in between. We started slowly, talked to a lot of knowledgeable people, wrote a business plan, all that nerdy-work, and set the business up so that we could manage the growth without struggling too much.
The technology has come a long way since pixels and polygons. What were some of your projects that blew your mind?
There are definitely a lot of projects that we have been involved in that made their impressions for various reasons. The first time we ever had to deal with 10-man data, (which essentially was a massive “sea of dots”) was an incredible challenge making it work, but it looked great in the finished product! Being involved with clients who have such a deep emotional connection with the game allows you to become a partner of that vision and you aim to reach the same outcome they expect. For example, Heavy Rain was the first time we’ve ever had to deal with facial data. Seeing motion capture as more than just body movement and really get into facial reactions and emotions was pretty outstanding too.
What is the business as a whole like? Is it something very difficult to get into?
I can honestly say that I enjoy the industry I’m in – the people are interesting, innovative, creative, geeky – it’s a fun, enthusiastic group of people who really want to create something amazing. But behind the great personalities, you need to possess an understanding and knowledge of motion capture so that you can respect the hard work that goes into producing motion capture animation to the level of quality that clients need. Knowing what’s out there, the changes, emerging technologies that could impact the motion capture world, is important and that knowledge and understanding definitely helps. It is easy to get lost in the terminologies and math of it all, but I find that being able to comprehend my clients’ world is a big advantage.
What was the most difficult project for you and how did you get through it?
A lot of projects have their special characteristics that make them stand out, and each brings its own challenges. The more difficult ones involve a large volume of data, with difficult motions and a very short turnaround time, for obvious reasons. These are also the projects that excite us the most because it helps the team come together and find new ways to make things better and faster, while still maintaining the level of quality that we are known to produce. This teamwork and constant communication with our clients makes sure that we meet the milestones and their standard of quality. Call of Duty was definitely one of those, the turnaround time was very demanding but the outcome as you can see, is pretty amazing.
Video game graphics are so realistic now thanks to companies like yours. What do you think is the next step visually?
Trying to get that balance of realism and animation is a tricky thing, but I think especially with the technology evolving constantly, there are no limitations to where we can go! I see even more beautiful environments, amazing facial expressions on characters, a depth of feeling in an animated film that has never been seen before. Technology is great when it can bring to life what an artist really wants to express. Being a part of this is exciting to me, and I can’t wait to see what we can create in the future.
Can you speak on what you're working on now? How big is the project?
We are proud to have been a part of Injustice Gods Among Us and we were very excited to see this game come out. The next projects we have in-house are also pretty exciting, one of them in particular I’m very excited to see because of the work put in by everyone involved. I wish I could tell you more about it, but part of our job is keeping our mouths shut in this very competitive market. Once titles are released we will sing their praises then but not a moment before… but I promise it’s going to be great!