Alex Hunter is back for a second season in FIFA 18 The Journey: Hunter Returns.
We sat down with Mat Prior, Creative Director for FIFA 18, and Nigel Nunn, Motion Capture Acquisition Specialist, for a behind-the-scenes look at The Journey: Hunter Returns in FIFA 18.
Alex Hunter has become a global phenomenon, which means he has much more to deal with both on and off the pitch in the FIFA 18 story mode. After burning bridges at his Premier League club, Alex is forced to take his career to the global stage—and make big decisions along the way.
Mat Prior’s role on The Journey: Hunter Returns was to craft the overall player experience. He worked closely with Narrative Creative Director Matt Turner, to devise a high-level narrative, flesh out characters and collaborate on the script with a team of writers.
“The process also involves driving the creative design with the production team of all the supporting features, to ensure they complement each other and provide the best player experience,” says Prior. “A great story complemented by a great gameplay experience is key.”
Casting was key in making Alex’s world truly immersive, so a star-studded cast of footballing celebrities and familiar faces was selected for the sequel to FIFA 17 The Journey, and featured:
“It’s always great to meet the real footballers because you get a sense of how important the game is to them. FIFA the game has become an integral part of the culture of real world football,” says Prior. “It’s great to see their passion for the game, and it’s also great to see their exceptional footballing abilities up close.”
It can be a technical challenge to get the massive amounts of equipment required, to record all the motion capture data on a single location, so that the footballers can go through every part of the process on the same day.
“We would rent a large studio in the city where a footballer lived, and set up multiple stations for them to have all the necessary sets of data captured,” says Nigel Nunn. “After the data was captured, processing and combining each set required a complex system to ensure all of those pieces worked together seamlessly.”
The FIFA 17 Journey gave Alex Hunter an origin story, so Prior had a bit more creative freedom with the story in the sequel. With that in mind, he set out to tell a story that surprised and took players in very unexpected directions.
“Not being predictable was a key focus,” says Prior. “We also went bigger with the celebrities and with the real player connection, as those were some of the most popular moments with players from the first Journey.”
The creative team watched a ton of sports documentaries to get a sense of what type of story they wanted to tell in The Journey. Hunter’s origin story is very authentic and relatable to many real players’ journeys, like that of Manchester United starlet Marcus Rashford. Rashford broke into the sport similar to how Alex Hunter did in The Journey. EA spent time with the 20 year old Manchester United striker, who served as an Authenticity Consultant for The Journey:
“There are ups and down for all footballers and that’s shown in Alex’s journey. You just have to try to stay level throughout and not get too high when things are going well or too low when things aren’t quite as good.”
“I have worked on FIFA for over 10 years, and story mode represented a whole new type of development,” says Prior. “Creating the narrative, characters (and back-stories), casting, planning, and building non-football environments, are all new to a lot of us on the development team.”
“Three different technologies were used to create a player’s likeness in The Journey so that they looked and acted like themselves,” Nigel explains.
3D Scanning – This is the process used to create a static 3D likeness of a player. The system consists of 20 DSLR cameras set up in an arc surrounding the player. Each camera is aimed very specifically to capture high resolution images of the player’s face. Special lighting was used to capture the fine details and reflectance properties of the skin. Each player sat inside the camera rig and a series of photos were taken of them in their natural state and later converted into a 3D version of the player.
HMC (Helmet Mounted Camera) – After the 3D scanning was complete, the players had tracking markers applied to their face and they were fitted into a special helmet with a miniature camera and microphone pointed back at them. This allowed for tracking facial motions and for recording their voices. Wearing this helmet, the player delivered their lines from The Journey. The footage was then run through a special tracking process used to analyze and track their facial motion. That data was then applied to the 3D model created during the 3D scanning process to make the 3D character’s face speak and move.
Motion Capture – The final piece of the puzzle was a full body motion capture process where the player would wear a special suit with 60 reflective markers placed on specific parts of their bodies. Next, they performed their body motions on a stage surrounded by dozens of special motion capture cameras capable of seeing and recording the movement of the markers on the players’ suits.
Once the motion of the players is captured, a similar tracking process is done on the data and applied to the 3D bodies of the characters to make them move.
All three sets of data were then combined and placed onto each player’s in-game characters to get the full likeness and motion of their faces and bodies. Once each character had their full face and body motion data applied, they were ready to be animated into scenes.
The FIFA team is constantly working to improve the steps involved in capturing likeness and accurate face and body motion to create characters that are more lifelike.
“New facial animation processes are currently being developed to improve the way people’s faces move so that they are more true to that person,” says Nigel. “It’s all about capturing and reproducing the subtleties of a person’s face when they talk and emote that makes each person unique and being able to transfer that onto their in-game 3D character.”
Prior and his team worked hard to make sure that The Journey progressed Alex Hunter’s story, both in the writing and in the technology used to tell it. Hunter Returns is bigger and more immersive than the original, continuing Alex’s story while also building a narrative that stands on its own. Whether you loved the original Journey or you’re coming to the series fresh, Hunter Returns is sure to entertain you and draw you in like no FIFA mode ever has before.
Learn more about FIFA 18 and The Journey on EAsports.com .
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