Photogrammetry is essentially the technique of processing still images to produce a high resolution 3D mesh. There are a number approaches to this, but they all involve taking photos of a subject in real-life and running it through photogrammetry software.
First, focusing on the images the software creates reference points based on all the angles and “connects the dots,” resulting in a highly detailed foundation of something that can then be turned into a lower resolution game-ready mesh. Still, you can’t just take some photos, upload them to your computer and then get the perfect 3d mesh. As developers state taking the photos and uploading them is just the first step towards the final result. In the end, developers got the astonishing results, it won’t get any closer to the original films than Battlefront as all the details were captured from the real prototypes.
Darth Vader’s mask used in Star Wars™: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi™, inspected with awe by Character Artist Björn Arvidsson.
For references, Character Artist Björn Arvidsson found a special place. He was granted access to the Lucasfilm Cultural Arts Museum, and these are his thoughts on the experience:
The first time I was there, we were so focused on work and was shooting 24/7 so I didn’t really reflect on where I was. But, on the second visit it hit me: where I was, what I was doing…looking at all this amazing stuff, and thinking about how few people actually have the opportunity to go there, I was in awe.
Lightsabers, X-wings, Droids, and Boba Fett’s armor were carefully photographed by game developers. Darth Vader, although, was quite a challenge…
Vader was a bit of a challenge. The photogrammetry software searches for common points where it can match the images taken and if it’s only black and shiny, you won’t get anything from it. One technique is to use spray paint to remove the shine, but for some reason we weren’t allowed to do that with Darth.
Still photography as well as hours of video and audio recordings were secured to fully capture the atmosphere of the original recording sites.
While his colleague was having fun at the museum, Andrew Hamilton travelled to different places around the world, like Iceland (which eventually was used to create the planet Sullust) and California’s national redwood forests to find references for environments.
My fondest memory is being on location for Endor. Driving through an area of small trees, and then turning one corner to suddenly see these 300 feet tall giant redwoods…that was magical.
These were developers’ goals for location capture:
- Capture the complete asset libraries of all planets.
- Focus and capture only what is essential, not everything we see.
- Capture meaningful variation and features.
- Visit the real film locations for true inspiration and understanding.
Capturing the Planets
Shooting natural environments was challenging, of course. Rainfall led to wet objects, making it impossible to capture the scene.
We’ve seen both extremes of temperatures when visiting places like Finse, Norway, and Death Valley, California. When setting out to create Hoth and Tatooine, we really wanted to get that feeling back into the game, for the players to also experience those extreme conditions.
In the end developers got the desired textures and models to work with:
Add an AT-ST lurking in the lush environments and suddenly we’re on the forest moon of Endor.
Making the game as good looking as possible was not the target though. The main aim was the authenticity, which could bring the original Star Wars feelings.
Our ambition is that players will get the same feeling as we got from our trips: to really feel like they’re inside the movies when playing these iconic locations. Also, we want to open their eyes to new experiences and new planets
At DICE, it’s everyone’s quest to make Star Wars Battlefront feel as ‘Star Wars’ as possible. All those emotions, connected to this universe we all love, are something we hope will get through to the gamer on November 17th.
Data collection led to thousands of files:
- Over 100,000 photos to manually sort
- Over 2000 assets to manually review
- Over 14 hours of video to categorize
RAW files had to be dealt with, so DICE team started the production:
PS Camera RAW
Topogun / MeshLab
Maya / UVLayout
- Assets generally fit well but still needed to be balanced against the scene.
- Finding and trusting true PBR values at times was a challenge
- Constant reinforcement helps prevent inconsistencies
Some time later, developers faced another challenge, which is also one of DICE’s “Must Have” features: tessellation. This one is critical for beloved by many game mode with epic ATATs.
Final piece of work with photogrammetry was terrain. The task here was to move away from WorldMachine to real-world topography data. Still, World Machine was of use as well.
Numerous challenges with thousands of working hours led to creating the game that we can all enjoy today. Photogrammetry was certainly the right tool to recreate the beloved worlds of Star Wars’ franchise.