Metal Arcade talks with Resident Evil 6 Lead Facial Motion Capture Artist Nikolaus Evangelista about his work on some triple-A games, his early days as an animator, and how hilarious the mocap process can be.
I had a chance to talk with Nikolaus Evangelista, the Lead Facial Motion Capture Artist for Resident Evil 6. I asked him about his present and previous work in the industry, and we discussed what a motion capture artist does.
Metal Arcade: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. So, first question: where did you grow up?
Nikolaus Evangelista: You’re welcome, thank you for having me. Well, I grew up in Redding, California, where I spent most of my childhood. But before moving to northern California, I grew up in the bay area: Castroville, Salinas, and Monterrey.
Metal Arcade: Did you always know that you wanted to work in the games industry?
Nikolaus Evangelista: No. Actually, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know what the industry was. All I knew is that I wanted to draw. So I went to art school and found out that I liked doing 3D as apposed to 2D, so I opted to be a character artist. I wanted to translate my character work into 3D. I decided to try that and thought I’d make more money in games than in illustration, but I really should have stuck with drawing. It would have helped me out in the long run.
Metal Arcade: How long have you been working in the industry?
Nikolaus Evangelista: I’ve been working in the industry for, let’s see… four years. Four awesome years.
Metal Arcade: What school did you attend before this?
Nikolaus Evangelista: I went to the Art Institute of California- Los Angeles, in Santa Monica. I majored in Media Arts and Animation, and minored in Game Art and Design.
Metal Arcade: What was your first job in the the industry?
Nikolaus Evangelista: My first job was Character Artist for a video game company called Neverdie Studios, on Entropia Universe.
Metal Arcade: How was it working there?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Um, well it was a small company. It was actually in some guy’s house… how do I explain this. It was, uh, pretty much in my boss’ garage, that he turned into an office. It was on the property of his house, so it was kind of weird, and we were building a game for Entropia. I believe it was called Rocktropia: Next Island, and some other world. I basically made all the models for those, before I was laid off. Yeah.
Metal Arcade: So where do you work now?
Nikolaus Evangelista: I work at Just Cause Entertainment.
Metal Arcade: How is this job different than your last one?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Well, this job is a motion capture studio. My boss is Reuben Langdon. Um, let’s see. It’s different cause it’s a mocap studio, but I pretty much run my own divisions. Once they found out I can draw and model, they made a division pretty much just for me so I’d be able to draw and create 3D models and basically do anything he asks: posters, logo designs, 3D models consisting of character art, prop design, environments. Just about anything artistic I do at Just Cause Entertainment,as well as being a body motion capture artist and a facial mocap supervisor.
Metal Arcade: What games have you worked on?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Um, well the ones I said before: Rocktropia, Next Island, those, and then? I mostly worked on other games at Just Cause Entertainment. The first big game I got to work on was, uh, well on and off, was Resident Evil 6. My title says Lead Facial Motion Capture Artist, but it was also Facial Mocap Supervisor. And that was for Resident Evil 6, so I did that.
Then I also got to work on the newest Ninja Gaiden…3, is it 3? The latest one that’s out? Yeah, Ninja Gaiden 3. Pretty much we did the whole cinematic body capture. So everything you see for the cinematics, like when they’re moving and all that, I got to work on with our team.
And also, I got to do the facial mocap for Soul Caliber 5. So that was pretty cool.
Metal Arcade: Have you worked with any notable actors/actresses?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Well, working in the industry you meet a lot of different actors and actresses. I was the one who put the markers on their face, and took care of the actors. So, I was like the liaison for the office as well as the supervisor for facial mocap. That’s how I got one of the jobs, working on Shelf Life as a logo designer.
When I was working for Neverdie Studios, I got to meet Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister, the lead singer. And I got to meet Kevin Rudolph, the guy who sang that, “Let it rock, let it rock!” I got to meet him, and then when I worked at a television studio, before Just Cause Entertainment, I got to meet Tom Green and I also got to work with Nick Cassavete’s movie pitch. You know him? He was in the Hangover 2, the tattoo artist. So if you ever watch it, that guy.
I also got to talk and work with Ben Foster on some movie stuff, um, he played Archangel in X-men 3. Also, while working on the Emmy Award-winning show, Sports Science, I was able to meet the host: John Brenkus. And then at the place I work now, I got to work with Brandon Routh, the Superman guy. And I’ve also worked with Andrew Lawrence, one of the Lawrence brothers. I got to talk with Nicki Minaj and I got to meet David Guetta while working on the Turn Me On music video. We did all the facial motion capture for that song.
You know the M&Ms hungry eyes guy? The M&Ms commercial with the song ‘Hungry Eyes’ and it cuts to the guy with the weird facial expression? Yeah, his name is Nathan Barnatt. We were working with him, and I was like, ‘Are you the M&Ms, hungry eyes guy?’ And he was all, ‘Yeah!’ And I was like, ‘Do the face!’ And he did, and it was sweet. He’s a cool guy.
I also got to work with the cast of Kickin’ It, on the Disney Channel. I took pictures of the two main characters and made 3D models of them. And then Mitchell Gould, he’s the fight and stunt choreographer for Kickin’ It.
I work with stunt people, like Mark Musashi and Dan Southworth. Dan does all the stunts and the movement for Ninja Gaiden 3′s Hayabusa, the main character. Also, Kevin Dorman, who is a stunt guy who worked on Avatar, and a bunch of other stuff. Then of course, Reuben Langdon, Dante in Devil May Cry, and Ken Masters in Street Fighter, Chris Redfield in Resident Evil, and stunt performer for Nathan Drake, in Uncharted. He’s done a lot of movies and games.
Um, and then pretty much all of the voice actors for Resident Evil 6, for the English voices, and all the English voice actors for Soul Caliber 5. A lot of those actors also do voice work in anime: Mika in Soul Eater, a lot of voice actors for the English version of Naruto. Um, Troy Baker, who does Jake Muller’s voice in Resident Evil 6, and also does the voice for Bioshock Infinite’s Booker DeWitt .
But, yeah, those are about all the people I’ve been able to work with so far. Yup, those are all the stars. I’ve met a lot of stars.”
Metal Arcade: Can you tell me a bit about the process behind motion capture?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Basically, motion capture is where you have a bunch of cameras that track little balls on your body. You have to have a marker set, so you know where to plug the information into. You marker the actor up, and then you need to do a R.O.M, which stands for ‘range of motion’. It’s like a dance, or set of movements you have to go through so that we can use those movements to process the face or body, later.
Usually for the body, we do what’s called the R.O.M. Dance, which is touch your toes, bring your arms in, bend your elbows, bend over, stuff like that. Just total range of movement for the body, so we can get that into the computer and process it. So when we do all the action sequence stuff, we can tell the computer that’s where the dots are, and the computer knows where each dot is, from the shoulder to the elbow, from the elbow to the wrist.
Then for the face, we ask them to do happy face, sad face, angry face, flare your cheeks out, left eye, right eye, flare your nostrils, basically every movement you can do with the face. Then you process all the data, attach them to the animation rigs, and that’s how you get motion capture.
Q: Okay, and what role do animators play during the mocap process?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Well, after we get all the data from the motion capture shoot, we have to get it all cleaned up first. It’s basically like connecting dots with lines, which is really tedious and boring, cause all you’re doing is cleaning up the data. Let’s say, the shoulder: if a person is running, the computer will think that it’s the arm now, cause the arm will be flailing. A line can be connected from the shoulder to the top of the head, so when you see that it gets all jumbled up and you have to clean it up and tell it, ‘no, that’s not the arm. The arms right there’.
When there’s multiple people, and there’s balls everywhere, you pretty much see a cluster fu** of lines. They’ll be fine when they’re all separate, but when you see the balls go together and then spread apart, the computer can’t really process it that well, so you’ll see lines going everywhere, connecting everyone together. So, you’ll have to clear that frame, and tell the balls what is what, and reassign naming conventions to them.
There’s a lot of clean up. If the character’s stepping through something and the foot goes too low, you have to adjust the floor plane for the foot, make sure it bends right. Basically cleanup animation. You have to make sure the hand isn’t busting through a gun, or a wall, through their own head. When you put it on the 3D model you can get it as close as you can to the actor who’s playing that character, but if the model is slightly taller and the actor portraying that character is slightly shorter, and they try to, let’s say place a helmet on his head? It’ll go into the model’s chest. So the animators would have to adjust that.
Metal Arcade: Was there a favorite moment you remember during the motion capture process?
Nikolaus Evangelista: It was just fun working with the voice actors. You know, reminding them that they can’t turn their heads. When they’re voice acting, they’re in a booth and it’s just to pick up sounds, so they can move as much as they want. But when they’re doing motion capture, they need to face straight ahead. It’s very awkward for them to keep their head straight while they have to do yelling scenes, and other actions, without moving their head.
So if an actor had to do a ducking action, cause there was burning debris falling on her head, or dodging a bullet, she’d have to cry out and react with her voice. But she might actually make the movement of dodging, and I’d have to say, ‘Cut. Sorry, you can’t do that. You need to remain inside this virtual, invisible box that’s like, right here,’ where I put her head. And they’d ask me, ‘How far can I move my head?’ I’d have to reply, ‘You can only really flinch. Sorry’. Sometimes they’d duck totally out of the frame, and I’d have to remind them, ‘Sorry. I can’t use that, we have to redo the frame’.
It was fun working with voice actors, for me, more than body actors, because they’re always doing voices. Different ones, and a lot of them do anime, so they’re always asking if you want the anime grunting, or anything like that. ‘Gah, come on, argh, hmph, ahhh!’ That kind of stuff. So I learned a lot about anime through these guys.
It was always fun talking with them, finding out what they’ve worked on, and things they’ve done. And it usually took almost an hour for me to put all the dots on their face, so there was a lot of time to reminisce and get to know them. It was always fun when they’d come in to the studio and say, ‘Okay Niko, I’m ready for you to put your balls on my face.’ And I’d be like, ‘I’m so ready!’ That was always the joke.
Metal Arcade: Was every action motion captured for Resident Evil 6, or were there certain things done only by the animation department?
Nikolaus Evangelista: That, I’m not sure about, as far as the rest of the game. We did all the motion capture for the cinematics: the body, the face, pretty much everything. We might have done cycles for the game, but I don’t know what actually made it in. I just know we did the cinematic and stunt work.
Metal Arcade: How much raw mocap data was used in the finished version of Resident Evil 6?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Nothing. Raw mocap doesn’t exist in game, cause you always have to fix it. There’s no such things as perfect mocap data. It always has to be cleaned, it always has to be fixed. You can’t ever just slap it onto something and say it’s perfect, cause you will have illegal penetration of a hand going through the leg, hand going through the head. It’s something you always need to adjust.
Metal Arcade: Was there any mocap for the creatures and monsters in Resident Evil 6?
Nikolaus Evangelista: Oh, yeah! There was mocap for the creatures, too. The actors just had to act like they were monsters.
There’s this one crazy monster. It was Dan Southworth, and it was one of the most funniest things, cause I don’t know what he had on his hand, but we had to give him a big ol’ weapon that was made of Styrofoam. I think it was a chainsaw? Anyways, he had to walk all weird, like a puppet. He was always acting, I don’t know, all funny, and talking wild gibberish! We weren’t recording voice, it was just motion, so he’d be saying all these crazy things, like, ‘I’m going to kill you! Kill you with my chainsaw!’ in a manic voice. He had to jump down from this platform, and act all spastic, and weird. It’s supposed to be this terrifying part in the game, but for us it was just the funniest thing!
Having the actors do zombie walks was always funny. It would be an end of the day kind of thing, and we’d say, ‘Actually, Capcom wants to collect some zombie walks, from you guys. Just for action.” And it’d be funny to see them walk across the volume, which is the stage. We call it the volume. They’d just walk across as zombies, and it’s supposed to be this scary thing in the game, but they’re always making these weird noises, and walking as funny as possible!
So it did end up looking like a zombie, but it was freaking hilarious! So, yeah, it was fun. We did do some monster stuff. Of course, except for the big squid-y ones, with tentacle arms, we can’t mocap that. So we’d just animate it. Or like dogs, we can’t mocap dogs, cause you can’t really R.O.M. a dog. You can’t tell it to move its leg up or down, cause it’ll be running all over the place. And you can’t tell them, ‘don’t leave the volume’ cause we can’t record out of the stage. So with creatures like that, it’d be best to just animate those.
Metal Arcade: What advice do you have for people wanting to break into the industry?
Nikolaus Evangelista: A lot of people just want to make video games, don’t want to put any work in, and just think they can break into the industry. There’s more that goes into the process, and it takes a lot of hard work to do it. You have to be really dedicated and want it. From an artist perspective, you have to know your craft. You have to take 3D classes, learn, and have a really good demo reel to show off your work. Really know your stuff. If you’re in it just to play video games, then you’re never going to make it in the industry. You have to be willing to work, and have a passion for it. This isn’t an easy industry. But, yeah. That’s about it.
Metal Arcade: I appreciate you taking the time for this interview. I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future!
Nikolaus Evangelista: You’re welcome!