Our EA SPORTS titles like FIFA, Madden and NHL are constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible on console. In this EA SPORTS Summer Series, we’ll look at different ways those teams elevate the quality of these games.
Capturing the likenesses of the NFL’s best players for Madden NFL takes a lot of time.
And it also means setting up in some strange places.
“There have been a few occasions where we were literally in a closet,” says Will Gibson, Assistant Producer.
Gibson captures the likenesses of the NFL’s players for Madden NFL. Each off-season, he works with hundreds of players to make sure their likenesses are photo-realistic in the game.
He’s part of a three-person team that handles likeness capture, including a character artist, a trained rig operator and a game designer/producer.
“I’m dealing with the raw data that gets delivered to the artist,” he says. “They bring the face to life.”
To do that, the team captures photos using a rig outfitted with 12 DSLR cameras that flash simultaneously to create a full 3-D scan.
The current rig is the group’s fifth version, which has been retrofitted to capture props like shoes, helmets and facemasks. While the rigs change, the focus is still the same - capturing the data needed to render players’ faces as realistically as possible.
“Each iteration has gotten better and better,” says Gibson.
Once the photos are captured, character artists like Anastasia Nikolaeva step in to mold and shape the look of each player.
“Even though the capture is the stepping stone into getting the player likeness into the game, there is a significant amount of artist work and time that is invested into each player head scan,” says Nikolaeva.
Certain players are also captured in different emotional states and with their eyes open and closed, as well as other variations.
“For Madden, we typically take three different pose captures: straight on, profile, back of the head,” says Nikolaeva. “The expressions will provide us reference for their animated likeness in game.”
Gibson is on the road about 25% of the time, traveling throughout the US to capture as many players as possible. He has scanned approximately 1,500 players since joining the team.
“The busiest time has to be the end of the NFL season all the way until launch of Madden NFL in August,” he says.
The team was busy this off-season, capturing nearly every one of the 330 invited players at the NFL Combine.
In the past, the team would send out rigs to different crews across the country. Now that things are more efficient, the process can move quickly. Photos are typically captured in just a few minutes and an artist only needs 1-3 days of work to polish each head.
“It depends on the complexity of the likeness and quality of the scan,” says Nikolaeva. Eventually, the asset is approved by an art director and placed into the game.
Gibson started out at Tiburon as an Assistant Editor back in 2011, working on video content for Madden NFL and PGA. Nikolaeva worked on head modeling before getting involved in capture.
They’ve both been working on Madden likenesses for the past two years, and they know that capturing hundreds of athletes each year is only possible with a true creative partnership.
“Although I have a unique job, it really comes down to the collaborations both within the studio and our partners,” says Gibson.
“I rely on our art teams to continue to make the games look better which forces us to make how we capture that data even better. As we grow in this industry, we constantly grow as a team to make better games and I’m glad to be a small but important part of that growth.”
In the end, despite all the bells, whistles, cameras and research, according to Nikolaeva it all boils down to one common request.
“Most athletes simply ask us to make them look good.”
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All images in this article are captured from the current-gen (PS4/Xbox One) versions of Madden 17.
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