By Matt Hill
Bale suits up
Every mo-cap suit is adorned with 76 specifically placed markers, which are rather disappointingly just rubber balls affixed with that reflective stuff you get on police jackets. Rather cleverly, though, each suit has one misplaced on purpose so the software can detect multiple people at once. Suits at EA's motion-capture HQ are specially fitted by height and weight – and then kept in the world's strangest cloakroom in wait for someone of similar proportions.
Vicon cameras are the industry standard at the world's motion-capture studios, don't you know, costing up to £30,000 a pop. We snapped this picture at EA's Capture Lab in Vancouver, which has 118 in total, while Bale was filmed by a still-not-too-shabby 58 at Audiomotion. Less than 10 years ago, seven was the norm; now the system can accommodate up to 200, capturing 3,000 markers at once.
Each mo-cap camera shoots in 2D, with its view of the markers calibrated by computer to the studios' floor grid (in this case, 11x11). The flash of the camera is reflected on the markers, so their placement on key joints and weight-supporting areas enables the tech to read fluid body movements in real time. A raising of the arms in a T-shape is the equivalent of 'cut' for the besuited, as it resets the system.
Light! Cameras! Action!
Capture Lab and Audiomotion both use Vicon's Blade software, which is the tech that turns players from grey wetsuits to red and green wireframes. During Bale's sessions, three 55" monitors and eight 17" monitors pumped out a mixture of live video, wireframe renders and real-time game-engine footage from a variety of angles, to the studio staff and those on set.
Wired for skills
The Bale session lasted around 60 minutes, but standard shoots typically run for 10 hours and on shifts, to keep intensity high. We can see why, as after an hour in the full catsuit and Peter Cech-style headgear, Bale was clutching the nearest fan in a personal chorus of "I'm boiling". When we visited Capture Lab's studio they had players from the MLS's Vancouver Whitecaps and local university teams on rotation.
In the high-tech spotlight
While the mo-cap system is smooth most of the time, a rather freakishly true representation of the on-pitch action, markers do have a tendency to move during such high-energy sporting demos. At one point, Bale's ankle looked worryingly mangled on screen, twisting at a 90-degree angle from where it should be, before the rogue marker was spotted and contract-deal heart attacks averted.
The markers maketh the man
'The Bridge' (pictured) is the tech hub of EA Canada's Capture Lab in Vancouver. The studio can film up to 10 people at once, which means it handles full five-on-five NBA games in real time. Data is transferred from here to the developers, where the virtual skeleton is tracked and attached to the in-game model. Once footage is shot, it can be within a game in three weeks.
Gareth's mo-cap session focused predominantly on celebrations, shift-and-shoots and his array of dipping free-kicks, which EA Sports told us they'd struggled to replicate previously. It's unsurprising to learn that the more mundane interactions such as warming up on the side were left to others.
back at HQ
T3's deputy editor Matt Hill got to share the mo-cap pitch with the Tottenham and Wales forward. Unfortunately, no technology in the world could improve the former's skills, so we left the impressing to the latter. The capture tech, though, is fascinating – watch real-time simultaneous video and game-engine footage of both below:
EA Sports' FIFA 14 is out on PS3 and X360 on September 27, PS4 and Xbox One later this year. FIFA 14 Limited Edition is available to pre-order at GAME.co.uk. Order before August 1st and get 24 FIFA 14 Ultimate Team Premium Gold Packs