Behind the Scenes at Ubisoft Toronto
Editor’s Note: This behind the scenes look at Ubisoft Toronto’s facilities was conducted well before COV-19 health concerns arose. Best Buy and Ubisoft Toronto are both entirely committed to keeping the public and our teams safe during this time.
Ubisoft Toronto has been busy at work continually upgrading their facilities to bring gamers ground-breaking experiences now and into the future. The next generation of console gaming is on the horizon bringing with it the promise of stunning visuals and new levels of immersion.
The tech specs for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will allow developers to test their creative limits like never before. Luckily, studios like Ubisoft Toronto have been continuously pushing technical boundaries since their inception. During their annual Industry Night, Ubisoft pulled back the curtain on its latest technical marvel, a state-of-the-art motion capture studio.
The upgrade is Ubisoft Toronto’s biggest addition yet with 8,000 square feet of state-of-the-art performance capture space. This cutting-edge facility will help Ubisoft to continue to push the boundaries of storytelling in videogames with real actors and stunt performers. It’s a new studio for a new decade, one that looks to power experiences in the next generation of gaming and beyond. Let’s dive in and get a hands-on demo of the new space’s tech, and what it will bring to your gaming experiences.
Motion capture 101
Motion capture, or “mocap” is the process of recording human actors and translating that data to animate characters into videogames, film and television. This is achieved by placing small markers on performers that are tracked by an optical system. These systems process the actors’ movements into a 3D environment creating more lifelike movement from head to toe.
This adds a whole new dimension to emotion and expression in storytelling for players by ramping up the realism. Come holiday 2020 with the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X devs will have powerful canvases that will require more mo-cap facilities to get the most out of their respective hardware.
Made in Canada
Ubisoft Toronto is no stranger to technical challenges, developing some of Ubisoft’s most memorable titles to date. Their first foray into motion capture was with the critically acclaimed Splinter Cell: Blacklist in 2012. Since then their teams and facilities have continued to grow bringing the studio to the forefront of the creative industry in Toronto and the world.
Their portfolio includes games series like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, and For Honor. Ubi Toronto also spearheaded the development of the toy based Starlink: Battle for Atlas, allowing players to build toy spacecrafts that are playable on-screen. The games they have produced are unique and often create new benchmarks in storytelling and technical prowess.
I was invited to Ubisoft Toronto’s annual industry night where they officially revealed the new motion capture studio and demoed its capabilities. When I first walked into the space I was absolutely dwarfed by its massive scale.
The 12,000 square foot facility features 30 ft ceilings, scaffold towers and stunt rigs. This all adds up to a bigger stage for actors and more epic scale in the games we enjoy. A new mo-cap studio at this size is sure to produce some incredible results with upcoming titles.
Virtually filming Watch Dogs Legion
We were treated to something truly special with the new Watch Dogs Legion title Ubisoft Toronto is currently working on. The developers allowed me to use a real-world camera to virtually film a cutscene within the game. I was able to walkaround the empty mo-cap studio, all while the camera’s screen triangulated my position. To my amazement it displayed the game unfolding around me in real time. It was truly incredible to move around the stage and film all aspects of the virtual scene with a real-life camera.
15+ years of cinematic expertise
During the reveal, I was able to catch up with David Footman, Ubisoft Toronto’s cinematic supervisor. Footman has helped craft incredible stories in both gaming and film bring a lot of experience to the table. On the videogame side he has worked on brands like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry, and Splinter Cell. Before that he spent 12 years working on feature films like Mission to Mars, X-Men, and Fantastic Four.
Footman made his move from film to gaming after working on Will Smith’s iRobot. He supervised the performance capture unit that merged the live action actors with full CG robots for the Hollywood blockbuster.
Soon his experience led him to Ubisoft where he has been directing for the past 15 years.
Ubisoft Toronto Q&A with David Footman
MR: What can you tell our readers about the new motion capture facility?
DF: A big push has been on real-time performances. We installed a lot of new pipelines and workflows to be ready for real-time. We have a larger volume with a 55 x 40 foot space which is a huge canvas for an actor’s performance. At 30 feet high, this is the tallest volume I’ve ever shot in. It really sets us up for high falls, stunt rigging – I’d stay half the stuff we do in here are crazy stunts. That kind of height gives us a lot of wiggle room when we are doing that kind of work.
Impact on the Canadian Gaming Scene
MR: What do you feel this state-of-the-art mo-cap space brings to the Canadian gaming scene?
DF: I think that’s why we are in Toronto; we are leveraging all the talent that is here. There are a crazy number of actors in Montreal and Vancouver and this city is connected to them all. We are also leveraging a lot of the film talent in the city. There are also storyboard artists, CG artists, being in Toronto gives us access to so much talent.
MR: In terms of the impact to your creative workflow and to a title like Watch Dogs Legion, what would you say this new facility has the potential to provide?
DF: This facility is about getting ready for the shift we see emerging in gaming. More personalized storytelling, systemic animation, and driving story into the open world. Gone are the days where you are going to cut to a cinematic and tell your story, the story needs to be everywhere. It needs to be at every level of the game, moment-to-moment bringing it to the player’s experience. People want it personalized; they don’t want to see a cutscene that has nothing to do with what they did in the game. That’s the big move, make player choice more systemic and logic driven.
MR: My calendar is wide open, when can you drop me into a Ubisoft game?
DF: [laughs] Are you ready to do your high stunt fall? You’re in!
What’s next at Ubisoft Toronto
A special thanks to the Ubisoft Toronto team for giving us a peak behind the scenes. The studio is currently hard at work on Watch Dogs Legion where much of the game looks to benefit from the new facilities. Legion allows players to recruit every character you see on-screen to your team. With such a large cast, it will be interesting to see the impact of the new mo-cap studio on the in-game storytelling.