June 11, 2008
Recently, Puck Daddy visited the production facilities of 2K Sports in Novato, Calif., as the video game company continues work on its latest hockey title, NHL 2K9. On Monday, we presented our exclusive sit-down with cover athlete Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Yesterday, it was inside the production process and a goofy Nash video. In our final segment, we go inside the 2K Sports motion-capture studios.
Rick Nash walked out of the dressing room in a black body suit, looking equal parts Under Armour mannequin and lost member of Team Zissou. It was enough to thank the Hockey Gods that the Reebok EDGE jerseys weren't the skintight monstrosities fans feared they'd be.
The Columbus Blue Jackets star was surrounded by the production team from 2K Sports inside a cavernous motion-capture studio anonymously hidden away in an office complex near Novato, Calif. The next time you think you're driving past a strip of home insurance and temp agencies, take a closer look: You might actually be passing by a massive video game production studio.
Nash was in his second day of work for NHL 2K9, the upcoming 2K Sports hockey title for which he's the cover athlete. Day One featured some Q&A and voiceover work; today was the day when Nash was to officially throw on the motion-capture suit and hit the ice.
The fake, plastic-based, synthetic ice.
Mike Rhinehart, senior product manager for 2K Sports, skated around the synthetic ice slowly, waving around what looked like a UHF antennae. His arms gradually moved in looping circles, allowing the dozens of motion-capture cameras to sync up in preparation for the shoot. Intense red lights beamed down from the ceiling of the warehouse-sized facility. A basketball backboard hung over the ice, left over from a shoot for 2K Sports' NBA series. On one wall was a projected image of the NHL 2K9 cover; on the other was a looping video of some of Nash's greatest goals.
One of the techs went over to Nash and began strategically placing little ball-shaped reflectors all over his motion-capture suit. The red lights hit the markers on his body. The light that reflects off the marker comes back to the camera, and the camera has a special filter that filters out all the other light except for the light that's reflected back. The cameras would create a virtual skeleton in the bank of computers facing the ice - a framework that would later be used on NHL 2K9.
It may be the other company's slogan, but Nash would literally be "in the game."
The reflectors were also placed on equipment Nash would use in the shoot: Pads, skates and sticks. Nash laced up and began to skate onto the ice.
"No ankle!" yelled out one of the techs, noticing a single reflector among the dozens covering Nash's body missing.
It was quickly replaced, and Nash was given instructions by the director: He would begin with some basic movements -- "range of motion" tests -- like touching his shoulders and stretching out his arms. This would tell the cameras what reflectors are associated with which parts of Nash's body.
Every shot would begin with the same cadence:
"Actor ready?" "Mo-Cap ready?" "And action!"
These words would be heard constantly over the next several hours, as Nash needed to complete 76 total shots.
Finally, Nash had the opportunity to begin some hockey moves. Starting at a far corner, he skated up, grabbed the puck and fired a shot into the open net across the way. Instantly, on a printer behind the computers, a black-and-white printout of Nash's skeletal image is produced and studied for form and clarity.
He repeated different moves, different shots; some slappers, some wristers. On one occasion, Nash unleashed a blistering slap shot that hit the iron, rebounded and rocketed over the heads of the production team behind the computers. After a moment of stunned silence, there was a simultaneous "oooooh."
Nash finally finished his long day of shooting several hours after it began. "[The biggest surprise] was how much work actually goes into these things," he said. "As an outsider, you don't know what goes into these games."
His work on this two-day journey behind the scenes at 2K Sports was over. The production team cracked open some cold ones. The fake ice was cleaned by a hand-held fake "Zamboni" before it was stacked up and put away.
For the next few months, Visual Concepts and 2K Sports will take Nash's ideas and physical contributions to create NHL 2K9.
The market and the fans will dictate that title's success; for Rick Nash, making the cover and participating in its conception is already an important moment in the young star's career.
"From a business point of view, this is great exposure. Little kids come into Blockbuster, and see him on the cover. " said Joseph Resnick, his agent.
"Rick's goal is to get Columbus in the playoffs," said Resnick. "First and foremost, what he wants to do is bring the Stanley Cup to Columbus."
Previously on Puck Daddy