“Everyone has been pulling together to get the wheels rolling again”: working on Total War motion capture during a pandemic

Behind the Scenes

Ella McConnell
December 9 2020

The global pandemic continues – and so does work on Total War games!

This week we chatted with associate motion capture technician Matthew Murdoch about how him and the team are dealing with game development during lockdown – check out the full interview below.

CA: Hi there! First of all, could you please introduce yourself?

Matthew Murdoch: Hey there! I’m Matthew Murdoch, an associate motion capture technician. I’ve been working for Creative Assembly for just over a year now, and before that I was a student at Portsmouth University.

CA: Could you please tell us a little about doing mocap (and animation) for Total War?

Matthew Murdoch: Motion capture for Total War is an exciting field as our games cover so many different styles of motion and includes some truly fantastical creatures. We as a team need to look at the units that are being recorded and help guide the performer to reach the desired outcome. One day it could be a typical human soldier fighting with a sword and shield, the next it could be a Troll Hag with a giant net club!  

CA: What was your day-to-day routine like before the pandemic?

Matthew Murdoch: A typical day was spent improving the overall flow of the pipeline we use in the studio, planning or conducting motion capture shoots, or research and development into further technologies and procedures we can employ as a studio. We are a small team so we always worked on the same goal together.

CA: What was it like when the lockdown was introduced here in the UK in March 2020?

Matthew Murdoch: Personally, I was actually Ill during the start of the lockdown, but from what I’ve been told people were quickly taken out of the office and helped to establish home working within a week – it was a monumental feat that our IT department achieved!

Our team’s workload did suffer, however, as motion capture does involve close interaction with one another, but we used the time to delve deeper into research and development so at least it was productive!

CA: While the rest of Creative Assembly continues to work fully remotely, some of the mocap team have been back to the studio out of necessity (while following appropriate government safety guidelines and restrictions). What was it like being back in the mocap studio again?

Matthew Murdoch: It was quite odd, honestly. I was glad to be back but it felt quite empty without the rest of my team. With the safety restrictions we employed it also put some strain on my role and capability to carry out that role – it took some time to adjust to the new way of working.

CA: What is it like doing mocap work currently? What measures have you introduced to try and make the process as safe for everyone involved as possible?

Matthew Murdoch: Our motion capture shoots currently feel less interactive and are on a smaller scale then we would have done pre pandemic.

We usually would have around three performers at once in the volume [capture space], but with current measures we now only have one performer. In addition, that performer has to bring someone from their household to the studio who will then act as the motion capture technician’s assistant during the shoot to keep social distancing possible and everyone safe.

We also provide masks, hand sanitiser, and wipes to ensure that everyone has any PPE [personal protective equipment] on hand for when it’s needed. The studio itself is also wiped down when required.

CA: What do you think is your biggest challenge doing mocap work currently?

Matthew Murdoch: The biggest challenge we have currently is social distancing. This limits the team’s ability to interact with the performer and makes placing markers (the dots on the motion capture suits) a real challenge as we’re directing someone who usually has limited knowledge of the subject to place the markers correctly.

Social distancing provides the same challenge when we need to replace a broken marker or fix a prop – it makes all of these small tasks take longer, which can be frustrating but it’s all needed to ensure that everyone is kept as safe as possible.

CA: Have there been any unexpected benefits or improvements to the process that came about as a result of doing mocap during these strange times?

Matthew Murdoch: Actually, there has been a greater sense of community as everyone has been pulling together to get the wheels rolling again. People have been learning and developing new ways of working so we are able to continue our roles. It’s been refreshing seeing people collaborate in such a way!

CA: What’s next for Total War mocap?

Matthew Murdoch: We are moving onto our next unannounced Total War projects, and as always working on improving our own pipeline. We are very excited to show you all that’s on its way!

CA: Thank you for your time! Any parting words?

Matthew Murdoch: Thanks for reading. It’s a very difficult and confusing time for everyone so I hope you’re all staying as safe as possible.

A motion captive audience

To find out more about motion capture, check out this edition of the Creative Chronicles on the Creative Assembly blog, and be sure to keep an eye on the Total War social media accounts for all the latest updates!

Stay safe, everyone!