How 3D Scanning Brought 'BioShock Infinite' to Life
When Irrational Games needed to create a distinctive look to promote the female lead in the video game "BioShock Infinite," it looked to 3D scanning rather than traditional modeling software. The game's leading lady, Elizabeth Comstock, is one of the most original and engaging digital characters in years, and her realistic appearance in a commercial for the game revealed how effectively the technology can convey facial features and emotions.
Elizabeth's in-game design came from a traditional combination of motion-capture for her body and 3D modeling for her face, but Irrational needed a face for Elizabeth in the promotional materials — billboards, print and online ads and even TV spots. As the game neared its release in March, Irrational knew that Elizabeth would have to grab the audience's attention right away, and set about crafting a TV commercial for the game.
Elizabeth's expressive face and realistic features come by way of an Artec 3D scanner: a professional-grade product made by a startup company in Moscow.
"Our scanners are a little different," Anna Zevelyov, Artec 3D Scanning's director of business development, told TechNewsDaily. "Actually, they're a lot different!" Whereas most professional-grade 3D scanners rest on a tripod and require a person to move them around an object very slowly, Artec's scanner is handheld and operates like a video camera.
"You take it in your hand, you walk around the object, and you capture it at 16 [frames per second]," Zevelyov said. "It automatically aligns all the strains together to create a single object in 3D." The Artec scanners' size and rapidity make them a natural fit for capturing human subjects, Zevelyov said. "Humans can't stand still very long," she added.
Irrational Games sought out Anna Moleva, a popular Russian cosplayer — someone who dresses up as characters from pop culture for conventions or photo shoots — to represent Elizabeth in the commercial. As a Russian scanning company, Artec was a natural fit.
"This beautiful young Russian woman came by and she was posing," Zevelyov explained. "We scanned her here and sent the scans to Los Angeles. They did all the postproduction on it; they made her come to life."
"We made her do a bunch of faces," Zevelyov said. "Here she is angry, here she is sad, here she is laughing, here she is frowning … Once [artists] get these scans, they don't have to imagine what she might look like, because they've never seen her." Zevelyov estimates the whole scanning session took, at most, 20 minutes — a far cry from the eight-plus hours it can often take designers to create a face from scratch. [See also: The 10 Most Stunning Video Games]
Without 3D scanning, making a face for a video game character can be an arduous process, to say nothing of animating it or connecting it to a moveable body. "It takes [designers] about four hours to draw a face, and another four hours to draw the texture and color of the face, and the shape," Zevelyov said.
"Let's say they want to digitize Brad Pitt," she continued. "They would take a couple of pictures of his face, they would take their mouse, or their haptic device or drawing pad, and then they would just draw. This will take hours and hours … It's time-consuming to do a good job."
Zevelyov believes that game designers could benefit from 3D scanning for a variety of objects beyond faces. She discussed the possibilities for racing games in particular, which could cut out a huge amount of work recreating complex automobile interiors and exteriors from scratch. "If you have a scanner, you spend an hour, maybe two [per car]," she said. Zevelyov sees similar applications for whole human bodies, and even grass and trees for realistic outdoor scenes.
Artec is one of many 3D scanners on the market, but it differs from its competitors due to its mobility and price point. "If you scan Michelangelo's 'David,' you can't touch it, you can't move it. It's just standing there … It's beneficial to have a scanner that you can hold in your hand, not standing on a tripod somewhere." Artec's scanners cost between $10,000 and $20,000 — a near-impossibility for hobbyists, but a more reasonable proposition in an industry where scanners routinely cost between $50,000 and $200,000.
3D printing and scanning is catching on at an exponential rate, and Zevelyov hopes that Artec can make the technology as accessible as possible. "It's extremely complicated to go from 3D scanning to software to 3D printing," she said. "Every step is difficult, but to do all three steps in a row is nearly impossible."
Difficult or not, Artec helped Irrational create a memorable promotion for an unforgettable game. "[Irrational] took the time to make a beautiful game," said Zevelyov. "It is so intricate and detailed; it is so authentic." With any luck, "BioShock Infinite" will not be the last property that leverages 3D scanning to boast those qualities.