“After a week, I had a six-month contract to work on ‘King Kong’ and a ticket to fly to New Zealand. It wasn't until I talked to some of the other contractors at Weta that I realized how unusual the speed of my recruitment was. Although I can't say for sure, I credit the work I did on a particular creature in ‘Advent Rising’ with getting me the job because it showed that even though I hadn't specifically worked in films, I had already convincingly animated a large ape-like creature.”
CJ Markham’s short stint in the film world in New Zealand was an amazing experience for him but he admits enjoying the quick turnaround and artistic freedom of working on games. “I was spoiled by having ‘King Kong’ as my first film experience,” he says. “Peter Jackson is a very demanding and meticulous director to work under, and it's always going to be hard to follow a film like ‘King Kong’ when comparing it to other readily available productions.” Markham considered a few film projects right after ‘Kong’, but the titles were fairly G rated."
After his time at Weta he was asked to work on the ‘Beowulf’ film, but he’d already booked his first vacation in four years, so Sony agreed to wait until he’d returned from Australia. “When I came back to the US,” explained CJ, “my contact at Sony Imageworks had sent my details to SCEA, and those conversations led to my time in San Diego to work on KillZone.”
|Images courtesy of Weta Digital Ltd. King Kong © 2005 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.|
|Jetpack in the Killzone:Liberation Intro|
|‘Armon’ from the KillZone: Liberation Intro.|
|Attack dogs in Killzone:Liberation Intro||The Killzone:Liberation Intro|
The Killzone:Liberation Intro was a groundbreaking project for CJ Markham as Animation Supervisor. Three elements of the Killzone:Liberation Intro were big challenges: the jetpack soldier; the facial animation; and the dog attack.
Directing the motion capture for the soldiers marching and running wasn't anything new for CJ, but when it came to the jetpack soldiers it gave him something interesting and new to play with. On set, Markham noticed the character model’s upper torso and arms were quite rigid while the legs were hanging free. This gave him the idea to request a leg-raise workout stand for the day of the mocap shoot. Even though they had a wire-work system at their disposal, CJ wanted to keep the actor stationary and have them show a series of direction changes in the legs so he could combine the weightlessness of his lower body along with the rigid upper body. That would read very well as someone using a jetpack. All translations were key framed in and the motion of the legs was placed and timed to give the feeling that the character was not only controlling and anticipating the propulsion, but that his legs were still subtly subject to any change of inertia.
The facial animation on Armon went through many different trials. At the time, an extreme close-up on a video game character was a forbidden fruit, more so if they wanted a convincing facial animation. “Even though the director felt safe putting me in charge of the facial animation because of my previous key frame work on Kong,” explains CJ, “Sony’s first approach was to motion capture the performance. The producer on the project was determined to put our new $90,000 licence for FaceRobot to the test. FaceRobot was still a very new package in March 2006 and I got a crash course in it when very few people knew about it.
“To me a defining characteristic of working with motion capture is that it’s always easier to turn a subtle performance in to an exaggerated one than the other way round. This was the case here and the director and I both felt that it wasn't the right solution, so I eventually got to scrap the high-tech route and take it back to key framing blend shapes in Maya. After a couple of passes, the director was very happy with the look of ‘cold hearted spite’ that changed into a ‘pure evil grin’ I’d key framed. This sequence became the keystone of the E3 preview, which was later used for the intro to the game.”
The dog attack was CJ’s favorite part of the KillZone project. CJ was keen for a K9 Police unit to get involved so they could capture a real attack dog. While the police weren’t too eager to rock up for a variety of political reasons, they later found some dog trainers who loved video games and agreed to let them MoCap what they do. “One week prior to the shoot they lent us a Kevlar dog suit and mask to place the motion capture markers. The whole capture experience was surreal. There were two guys in the session: the controller and the aggressor. Their names say it all. The attack dog was such a fascinating creature. Under the guidance of the controller it seemed like any other friendly dog. But once the aggressor came within view of the dog, while wearing a specific attack suit, the dog went crazy.”
While the MoCap was eventually successful, as soon as the dog moved, the markers flew everywhere, destroying the data. It also didn't help that any markers that managed to stay through the initial attack tended to fly off when the dog relaxed afterwards. The only person who could get close enough to it to place the markers back on was the controller. Getting an accurate solve from that became impossible. The entire experience wasn't a complete wash though.
|“While the mocap team tried to make out noses from tails in the data, I decided to try mapping the rigged geometry to the markers,” describes CJ. “The initial run up was there in the data, so I was able to rotoscope the dog model in 3D to the existing data, but at impact and after the initial bite, the markers dropped like flies from one frame to the next. From watching the reference footage I was able to improvise the landing and tugging movements with keyframes. Once I got a human character in the scene I was able to set up a series of constraints from the dogs’ mouths and the human’s arm so that I could communicate the pushing, pulling and resistance that flowed between the three subjects. I have since done some experimenting with motion capture of other animals such as cats, but there is still a ways to go before it will be as straightforward as capturing a human character.”|
|A dialogue scene from Grand Theft Auto 4.|
Right now CJ Markham works for Rockstar London, and is currently helping Rockstar North on episodic content for GTA4. Finishing up ‘Grand Theft Auto 4’ took some heavy months out of his life and he is happy to be staying on in the city. “Living in the UK is a whole different world from living in LA,” explains CJ. “Because the city of LA is about everything that is up to the minute and new, and the city of London is a unique juxtaposition of the very old and the very new. Living here can be very surreal at times because those two exist literally on top of each other. Compared to Southern California, working and living in the UK not only has a different pace, but an overall feeling of greater permanence."
“The best experience I can compare to working on GTA4 is working on ‘King Kong’. They were both very ambitious projects, but were well received and acclaimed. The guys at Rockstar North are an awesome bunch, and working on GTA4 was a fantastic experience. Both Weta Digital and Rockstar North are finely tuned, well-oiled machines that are used to handling high-pressure projects and therefore less of the pressure filters down to the workers. Obviously we did some extra hours during crunch time, but the stress is nowhere near what I've experienced working for a small company.”
An animation pioneer who has effected the way CJ works is Harry Walton. "To not only work with, but to have my animations reviewed by someone who created my childhood favorites was very intimidating at first," says CJ. "Walton worked on classics like 'Gumby', 'Land of the Lost', Ed209 from 'Robocop', 'Nightmare Before Christmas' and the list goes on. After I found out how much the original 'King Kong' inspired him to become an animator it opened the door to share stories about working on Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong in exchange for stories of the stop motion work he had done that had inspired me.
"Ruben Apodaca is also a legend for me! He taught me everything I know about 2D animation while getting my bachelors degree. Learning all of the fundamentals of animation from such a pioneer of the industry was truly a great honor, and I savored every last moment of it. Even though I work in 3D animation I can't help but feel that he deserves some credit for everything I've achieved in my career."
1. Be willing to relocate. While born in California, my career has taken me all over the world, and some of my best experience was gained furthest away from my home town.
2. Stay willing to try new software and techniques. I've always jumped at the chance to learn something new and that knowledge has opened a lot of doors for me. When you limit yourself to one software package or one technique, you limit your opportunities.
3. Work hard. Making movies and video games is the best career I can imagine, and a huge privilege to be a part of it. Remind yourself of that when you're asked to do overtime. You can't get to the top without proving yourself first.
4. Be cool to everyone. It is a small industry and there are only two degrees of separation. Someone you work with now can some day be your boss, so try not to make enemies.