esports

Get your game face on

Creating the perfect likeness of a player in FIFA 20 is both an art and a science

WORDS Steve Mccaskill

There he is: a multimillion-pound football player just a few metres away, staring straight at you. What do you do? Look away? No: you stare right back at him – even more intently. But it’s OK, because that’s your job. At least, it is if you’re a member of the EA SPORTS FIFA capture team, who are responsible for making sure the players’ faces look as lifelike as possible within the game. Millions of people around the world wait with anticipation for the results each season – not least the subjects themselves. “It can be intimidating when you have a professional player sitting in front of you,” says Paul Boulet, acquisition specialist, motion capture at EA. “This is one of the challenges that the character artists on our team face, so it’s impressive how realistic they can get players to look.”

A lot of credit for the success of the series can be attributed to this commitment to realism – and achieving it is no easy task. Every year a group of developers and artists at EA Vancouver are tasked with making sure that the appearance of each of the 17,000 players in the game is as true to life as possible. Motion-capture technology has long been used to make player movements more realistic, but player likeness was a manual process until FIFA 09. Since then, EA Vancouver has used automated face-scanning technology to save time and make the appearance of individual players more accurate.

The capture teams spend up to ten minutes taking photos of a player and most are very happy to take part; many of them spend hours playing FIFA at home or on away trips. “The players are often very excited to be going through the process, especially newer players who play the game and have not been scanned before,” says Boulet.

Julian Draxler's face is scanned on a camera rig (above) then crafted to create his in-game double

Each scan is performed by a rig containing 18 state-of-the-art cameras and 16 custom lights. All the cameras fire at the same time and eight sets of photos are taken to capture faces, measurements and emotions. These are then used to create a 3D model for a digital artist to edit and clean up for the animators, a process that can take up to two days. Essentially, this is the same technology that’s used to recreate actors for film and television using CGI.

Player enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword, with some complaining if they don’t feel their depiction is accurate enough. Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard once asked for his new haircut to be included in the game, for example, but keeping up with changing fashions can be difficult. Although EA creates separate models for face and hair, the latter can take an artist three or four days to create.

“When players don’t like how they look in the game, it’s often because they are being represented by a generic head,” says Stefan Klippenstein, character artist at EA. “Typically, for a new release, we’ll do 500 or more new head scans, but some of those are replacing younger versions of players who were already in the game. Unfortunately we can’t get to them all each year.”

“PLAYERS ARE OFTEN VERY EXCITED TO BE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO PLAY THE GAME AT HOME”
Paul Boulet

There are some player likenesses that will always have to be done manually, such as the playable legends in FIFA Ultimate Team. Klippenstein says some of these are actually the most satisfactory to complete: “It’s a great challenge trying to match the quality of a scanned player without the benefit of a scanned reference.”

The ever-increasing number of players who need to be included in the game is an ongoing challenge for the motion-capture team, so they are always keen on technological advances that can speed up the process. “With better, higher-resolution cameras constantly being developed we can capture more detailed photographs, which could lead to higher-detailed head scans,” says Boulet.

And, seeing as we’re dealing in the realm of technology, what of the future? “The processing capabilities of the gaming system used is probably one of the bigger limitations, but with new consoles in development and coming out in the next year, I’m very excited to see just how realistic EA SPORTS FIFA will continue to get,” says Boulet.“ We’re always striving for as much authenticity as possible.”

There he is: a multimillion-pound football player just a few metres away, staring straight at you. What do you do? Look away? No: you stare right back at him – even more intently. But it’s OK, because that’s your job. At least, it is if you’re a member of the EA SPORTS FIFA capture team, who are responsible for making sure the players’ faces look as lifelike as possible within the game. Millions of people around the world wait with anticipation for the results each season – not least the subjects themselves. “It can be intimidating when you have a professional player sitting in front of you,” says Paul Boulet, acquisition specialist, motion capture at EA. “This is one of the challenges that the character artists on our team face, so it’s impressive how realistic they can get players to look.”

A lot of credit for the success of the series can be attributed to this commitment to realism – and achieving it is no easy task. Every year a group of developers and artists at EA Vancouver are tasked with making sure that the appearance of each of the 17,000 players in the game is as true to life as possible. Motion-capture technology has long been used to make player movements more realistic, but player likeness was a manual process until FIFA 09. Since then, EA Vancouver has used automated face-scanning technology to save time and make the appearance of individual players more accurate.

The capture teams spend up to ten minutes taking photos of a player and most are very happy to take part; many of them spend hours playing FIFA at home or on away trips. “The players are often very excited to be going through the process, especially newer players who play the game and have not been scanned before,” says Boulet.

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Julian Draxler's face is scanned on a camera rig (above) then crafted to create his in-game double

Each scan is performed by a rig containing 18 state-of-the-art cameras and 16 custom lights. All the cameras fire at the same time and eight sets of photos are taken to capture faces, measurements and emotions. These are then used to create a 3D model for a digital artist to edit and clean up for the animators, a process that can take up to two days. Essentially, this is the same technology that’s used to recreate actors for film and television using CGI.

Player enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword, with some complaining if they don’t feel their depiction is accurate enough. Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard once asked for his new haircut to be included in the game, for example, but keeping up with changing fashions can be difficult. Although EA creates separate models for face and hair, the latter can take an artist three or four days to create.

“When players don’t like how they look in the game, it’s often because they are being represented by a generic head,” says Stefan Klippenstein, character artist at EA. “Typically, for a new release, we’ll do 500 or more new head scans, but some of those are replacing younger versions of players who were already in the game. Unfortunately we can’t get to them all each year.”

“PLAYERS ARE OFTEN VERY EXCITED TO BE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO PLAY THE GAME AT HOME”
Paul Boulet

There are some player likenesses that will always have to be done manually, such as the playable legends in FIFA Ultimate Team. Klippenstein says some of these are actually the most satisfactory to complete: “It’s a great challenge trying to match the quality of a scanned player without the benefit of a scanned reference.”

The ever-increasing number of players who need to be included in the game is an ongoing challenge for the motion-capture team, so they are always keen on technological advances that can speed up the process. “With better, higher-resolution cameras constantly being developed we can capture more detailed photographs, which could lead to higher-detailed head scans,” says Boulet.

And, seeing as we’re dealing in the realm of technology, what of the future? “The processing capabilities of the gaming system used is probably one of the bigger limitations, but with new consoles in development and coming out in the next year, I’m very excited to see just how realistic EA SPORTS FIFA will continue to get,” says Boulet.“ We’re always striving for as much authenticity as possible.”

There he is: a multimillion-pound football player just a few metres away, staring straight at you. What do you do? Look away? No: you stare right back at him – even more intently. But it’s OK, because that’s your job. At least, it is if you’re a member of the EA SPORTS FIFA capture team, who are responsible for making sure the players’ faces look as lifelike as possible within the game. Millions of people around the world wait with anticipation for the results each season – not least the subjects themselves. “It can be intimidating when you have a professional player sitting in front of you,” says Paul Boulet, acquisition specialist, motion capture at EA. “This is one of the challenges that the character artists on our team face, so it’s impressive how realistic they can get players to look.”

A lot of credit for the success of the series can be attributed to this commitment to realism – and achieving it is no easy task. Every year a group of developers and artists at EA Vancouver are tasked with making sure that the appearance of each of the 17,000 players in the game is as true to life as possible. Motion-capture technology has long been used to make player movements more realistic, but player likeness was a manual process until FIFA 09. Since then, EA Vancouver has used automated face-scanning technology to save time and make the appearance of individual players more accurate.

The capture teams spend up to ten minutes taking photos of a player and most are very happy to take part; many of them spend hours playing FIFA at home or on away trips. “The players are often very excited to be going through the process, especially newer players who play the game and have not been scanned before,” says Boulet.

Julian Draxler's face is scanned on a camera rig (above) then crafted to create his in-game double

Each scan is performed by a rig containing 18 state-of-the-art cameras and 16 custom lights. All the cameras fire at the same time and eight sets of photos are taken to capture faces, measurements and emotions. These are then used to create a 3D model for a digital artist to edit and clean up for the animators, a process that can take up to two days. Essentially, this is the same technology that’s used to recreate actors for film and television using CGI.

Player enthusiasm can be a double-edged sword, with some complaining if they don’t feel their depiction is accurate enough. Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard once asked for his new haircut to be included in the game, for example, but keeping up with changing fashions can be difficult. Although EA creates separate models for face and hair, the latter can take an artist three or four days to create.

“When players don’t like how they look in the game, it’s often because they are being represented by a generic head,” says Stefan Klippenstein, character artist at EA. “Typically, for a new release, we’ll do 500 or more new head scans, but some of those are replacing younger versions of players who were already in the game. Unfortunately we can’t get to them all each year.”

“PLAYERS ARE OFTEN VERY EXCITED TO BE GOING THROUGH THE PROCESS, ESPECIALLY THOSE WHO PLAY THE GAME AT HOME”
Paul Boulet

There are some player likenesses that will always have to be done manually, such as the playable legends in FIFA Ultimate Team. Klippenstein says some of these are actually the most satisfactory to complete: “It’s a great challenge trying to match the quality of a scanned player without the benefit of a scanned reference.”

The ever-increasing number of players who need to be included in the game is an ongoing challenge for the motion-capture team, so they are always keen on technological advances that can speed up the process. “With better, higher-resolution cameras constantly being developed we can capture more detailed photographs, which could lead to higher-detailed head scans,” says Boulet.

And, seeing as we’re dealing in the realm of technology, what of the future? “The processing capabilities of the gaming system used is probably one of the bigger limitations, but with new consoles in development and coming out in the next year, I’m very excited to see just how realistic EA SPORTS FIFA will continue to get,” says Boulet.“ We’re always striving for as much authenticity as possible.”

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