Tag Archives: Arkham

The cinematics of Arkham Origins, lessons learned from making both a movie and a game

I went to MIGS this weekend and had a blast, being surrounded by all these games, as well as fellow students, upcoming developers and professionals from major studios is quite frankly a dream come true.


My undisputed favorite part of the presentation by Ben Mattes of Warner Bros. games of Montreal. He talked about making a movie and a game at the same time; in which they speak about their experiences creating the cinematics of Arkham Origins.


We all saw the TV spots and trailers, those CG cutscenes looked so visually amazing, I honestly thought it was a live action movie at first glance.


Naturally the process was very difficult, according to their stories, they had since late last year to create everything which is a very tight schedule. That wasn’t even the worst of it. Given that they were telling a story, they naturally had to follow a script. The problem was the script wasn’t readily available to them from the start as you’d expect. No, the script was written, reviewed and approved in increments for the sake of editing flexibility, which left Mr. Mattes team at a disadvantage with the time schedule. Considering how serious WB & DC are about their character, it was not like WB games could take any liberties of the sort. Anything having to do with the story and characters begun and ended with their property owners, the rest was left to the cinematic cutscene developers.


In order to properly animate the characters of the game, they made extensive use of motion capture and shot everything at a studio with an army of stuntmen and stuntwomen enacting the actions of the characters. Everything from Batman’s martial arts to Joker’s over the top body language to Copperhead’s movements was done with motion capture. On the topic of Copperhead, things like climbing on the walls were simulated with walls and rails that they built. Every movement that required some specific environment, the team built them in order to properly capture the right animations.

Indeed, they put so much effort like you wouldn’t even imagine, and of course it was a difficult task given what resources they had to gather. They had to go through the trouble of casting each motion capture actor to perfectly suit their roles, in particular they had to find a large man in order to play Bane. Developers don’t just get people off the street to do these, in order to be hired to do motion capture, you need to be a credible actor and/or stunt person. I even met one at MIGS who told me this information. Like actors in movies, motion capture actors have schedules that they and the developers need to organize. This was a huge problem for them given the issue with getting a script on time.


There is a faster method to create these cutscenes, an alternative to motion capture is performance capture; which is a recording method that encompasses body motion capture, facial motion capture and voice recording. The problem is as you’d expect, it’s far too expensive.

Fortunately the long way proved to be much more ideal in the aesthetics department. With voice acting, they did it separately with expert voice actors such as Troy Barker as Joker. As for the facial rigging, they did that by using blenders, changing the facial expressions manually in maya by interpolating using catmull rom between 9 different expressions.


This ended up working better because they managed to avoid Uncanny Valley and retain the exaggerated expressions of comic book characters.

They captured all these movements with the usage of a virtual camera. But it’s not a traditional virtual camera that’s created in Maya and exported onto the engine. The animators used a portable camera that shot the motion capture set, projecting the objects and animations on a virtual space. Like a regular camera, it’s handled and moved in certain positions by a camera in order to get the exact angle they want. It’s barely different from traditional filmmaking.


Arkham Origins is one of the few games this year that made use of pre-rendered cinematics which is higher quality but takes up more disk space. After all the scenes are shot they take them into the engine and composite them in order to have…..drumroll please…… SHADERS!  Adding lighting effects, dust particles and pyrotechnics to create a more lively and realistic environment.


The lengths the animators took to create their cutscenes is no different from how regular films are shot; they hire actors to perform in front of a camera handled by a camera man, they need to follow the script and have to take the scenes and add effects later on in post-production. It’s uncanny how much effort they went through given the amount of obstacles they encountered, and to produce what they did at that caliber is to be commended. I think these cutscenes have better animation than most Pixar movies.

My only disappointment is not enough time to ask him questions, I had tonnes.


Batman Arkham City: An animation milestone

Batman Arkham City is a 2011 game released for the Playstation 3 and X-box 360. It was developed by Rocksteady Studios and published by Warner Bros. Studios. The game uses computer generated graphics as most video games nowadays do. The environments are very vibrant and detailed, the characters look very realistic. Every now and then the game is interrupted for a cutscene, there is almost no difference between them, and the cutscenes are up to date and well rendered, a true testament to this game’s graphics.

As with the source material, the graphics are stylized with a very gothic and dark atmosphere. The city is designed to give the feeling of a dangerous slum where the inmates run the asylum, where no one but yourself is to be trusted and survival is only achievable by the most capable and dangerous individuals. Even though it’s a huge environment you still get the feeling that you’re isolated, that it’s quiet and anything can happen within a heartbeat.

When you fight enemies, you use a Freeflow combat system where the player’s attacks gravitate towards the nearest opponent. You can also use the triangle button to counter your enemy’s attacks, the way you counter the enemies depends on your character’s position as well as the enemy’s method of attack. I bring it up because I find it impressive that they animated so many different attacks with nearly every predicament taken into account.

While playing you’ll notice little details on your character like little bits of Batman’s cape ripped off as you progress. I find it to be a nice touch because it makes the game more realistic and cinematic, it shows all the struggles the player has endured and how critical the situation is.

If you look closely at the characters you’ll notice the attention to detail as you’ll see wounds, sweat, dirt and other blemishes which supports the games nitty gritty feel.

The game’s setting of Arkham City is much larger than Arkham Asylum in the game’s predecessor, it’s been said that it is about five virtual footprints bigger than Arkham Island. The city is large and shelters many villains from Batman’s rogues gallery, because of this areas in the games are design according to the character’s theme and motif, for example in Joker’s turf, you’ll see graffiti on the buildings that fits with Joker’s persona with bright & clownish yet violent and haunting art. The enemies themselves are also very varied, every group wears clothing coordinated with their affiliations; Joker’s henchmen go around wearing face paint and colorful wigs and Dr. Hugo Strange’s underlings would include guards in traditional riot squad/military type uniforms. Even within the ranks of groups, the enemies are varied. They come in all different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, attire and minor aesthetics like tattoos, hair and face paint.

The characters are animated in a very realistic manner; the characters movements and mannerisms mirror that of how humans would behave in real life when they have conversations and engagement in combat, though of course no human being possesses the dexterity of Batman or Nightwing.

Overall the graphics and animation is top notch, in my opinion it can give Pixar Animated Studios a run for its money. The design is provides an excellent atmosphere that accomplishes all the goals of trying to bring the Batman universe to life. There is so much attention to detail in the environment, the characters and in the combat. Video games are considered and art form, and games like this validate the statement.