Body Treble

In television and film, the stand-in allows the director to adjust lighting and block the performance of a scene (camera angles, etc). The stand-in's performance takes place entirely before actual filming takes place; that is, the stand-in never actually appears on film and is only incidentally integral to the final product.

We might contrast the stand-in with the body double, who actually appears on film, either as a replacement for the star talent in dangerous "stunt" situations, to provide some particular skill that the star actor is missing (such as piano playing), or as a surrogate for situations involving nudity.

The performance of the double is key to the final production, though it is usually performed anonymously. Generic credit is given for double work, but very rarely is there a specific acknowledgment for a particular scene delivered.

Moving to videogames, the situation changes further. Consider this passage from a producer of NBA Live 2007 (emphasis added):

Step 1: Make our players move and play like real NBA players. Make them plant and cut when changing directions. Make them explode with first steps when sprinting out of a stand. Make sure they aren't sliding around on the court when they're running around. Make them aware of their surroundings so that defenders keep an eye on both the ball and their man. Make ball-carriers look around to open teammates. Ensure players watch the ball fly through the air when it is shot. Make sure players play like their real life counterparts. So, Wade should play like Wade. T-Mac should play like T-Mac. Arenas should play like Arenas. Etc.

Part of this plan is to make sure we highlight some player specific animations that we can trigger to show that these players are indeed unique and authentic. This leads into the number one question people keep asking us: "Do you guys have signature jump shots in the game this year? If so, how many?" I'll tackle this first, since it's the hot topic.

Yes we do have signature shots. And, we have a lot of them. McGrady, Yao, Bibby, KG, Dirk, Brand, Tayshaun, Pierce, Vince, Nash, Ginobili, Webber, Ray, Camby and the list goes on and on. I couldn't even count the number of times a programmer has walked by my desk while I was playing with the Suns and laughed at Marion's shot. "He doesn't really shoot like that does he? That's a bug isn't it?" Nope. It's exactly how he shoots. All our shots are pretty bang on.

The process for getting these shots in the game was a pretty fun one. First, we began looking for video reference for all of the shots we wanted this year. We found a number of different angles so that we could see the front, back, and sides of the players when they shoot. Second, we booked a couple days in Mocap with one of our top talent and started shooting. We would start by reviewing and analyzing the videos with him and practice each shot. When he was ready we would start to roll. One person was the passer and would repeatedly fire passes to our talent to shoot the same shot as the player he was trying to emulate. While that's going on, a few of us would be yelling at him to change body posture, jump heights, follow through extensions, etc. Get your elbow in more! Jump higher! Kick that right leg out more! Quicker! Extend that follow through! When we got the shot nailed we'd move onto the next one. Once we were done our animators quickly cut them up and got them into the game. It's made the playing experience a lot more fun, as players not only look different, but feel different. Shooting with Yao is going to feel much slower than shooting with Arenas. You really need to know who you are shooting with when you're pulling up for shots to avoid being blocked. Or, with the shot clock running down get the ball to someone with a quick release to get the shot off. We didn't want to make these shots just visual fluff. There will be a skill component to using them. The more you get to know the shooters the better you will be with them.

. . .

In addition to these shots we've been pretty fortunate to have had the opportunity to bring in some NBA players into Mocap this year. Wade, Melo, Pau and Diaw have all come in and we've captured a number of their shots, dunks, lay-ups and free throw routines. So, when you're playing with these guys when the game comes out, you are actually playing with them. When we are striving towards realism and authenticity we can't get much closer than bringing in the actual players.

So we have anonymous "talent" acting as a body double for the athletes whose constructs appear in the game. The performance of the double is key to the final production of the construct: the points of light recorded in a motion capture session create the "skeleton" of the construct, to which the star athlete's "flesh" is texture-mapped on at a later time (From NBA Live 2004: "The motion-capture data allowed designers to build individual players from the ground up, as single data points morphed into wire-frame figures, which were then shaded and textured to produce amazing player reproductions.").

We still do not have a final performance, however. Though the construct possesses a skeleton (via motion capture), musculature (via programmed algorithms) and flesh (via photos/video/facial scans), it lacks the central nervous system with which it performs. It is the "user" — or the body treble — that brings the construct to life and animates the final performance.

Resample: "The biomechanical disintegrates, but the electrical re-integrates. It is not the original body that becomes re-integrated, however, but a mass social body connected through the prosthetic digital nervous system."

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