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Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice demo shows off incredible real-time motion capture tech

It's a new way to create video games and other types of entertainment

Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice developer Ninja Theory debuted a new trailer during the 2016 Game Developers Conference for the game formerly known as just Hellblade, and the two-minute video is about more than just the titular character.

Senua, the protagonist of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, is a Celtic warrior left traumatized after a Viking invasion. She develops psychosis as a result of the attack, and hears voices in her head; Hellblade seeks to explore mental health issues through the character.

Tameem Antoniades, Ninja Theory's chief creative officer, presented the trailer during Epic Games' "State of Unreal" talk at GDC 2016 today. In the middle of the trailer, a picture-in-picture window popped up to reveal that it wasn't a trailer at all — Senua's facial animations in the video were being generated from a live performance on stage by actress Melina Juergens, which was being captured in real time and streamed into Unreal Engine 4.

Ninja Theory and Epic Games worked with Cubic Motion, a facial animation and computer vision firm that has contributed technology to games like The Order: 1886, Until Dawn and Ryse: Son of Rome, on the demo. The facial rig was built by a company called 3Lateral and "optimized for real-time performance," said Cubic Motion in a press release.

"The robustness and quality we showed today is the result of serious technical breakthroughs that will transform production," said Dr. Gareth Edwards, CEO of Cubic Motion. "We've seen a few groups try this kind of thing before with more primitive technology, but we've never seen a system reach the kind of level required to make it a genuine alternative to offline production for facial animation."

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is in development on PlayStation 4 and Windows PC, and is set for release later this year. For a behind-the-scenes look at the real-time capture in action, check out the developer diary from Ninja Theory below. You can see the final product in the trailer above.

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