NetherRealm Studios has a lineage that goes all the way back to Midway Games in the 1980s. The team, best known for the Mortal Kombat series as well as the DC universe’s Injustice fighting games, has had its offices on Chicago’s north side for nearly a decade. That sense of permanence has allowed it to refine its animation and art style in ways that other studios can only dream of.
The result, shown in the clip above from the upcoming Mortal Kombat 11, is something extraordinary.
According to producer Shawn Himmerick, one of the biggest assets is NetherRealm’s building. It used to be a bank and, as such, it’s built like a brick shithouse. But it’s also home to a few unusual features. For instance, it’s got a vault with walls several feet thick. So, the team converted it into a one-of-a-kind recording studio. From there they can capture original voice over, or direct actors in recording studios remotely all around the world. In a small room just off the main recording booth, Mortal Kombat 11’s many gruesome sound effects are custom-made in private.
But the building’s secret weapon is actually towards the back, where the bank’s loading dock used to be.
- On one side of the massive, two-storey motion capture studio sits a bank of computers where animators can monitor performances in real time. Charlie Hall/Polygon
- A facial capture rig, custom built by the team at NetherRealm Studios inside an old bank office. Animators use it to create a baseline for each actor. Charlie Hall/Polygon
- Sets of motion capture gear sit on racks near the studio itself. NetherRealm can accommodate a dozen or more actors in the space at one time. Charlie Hall/Polygon
- This Halloween decoration is used as a prop for many of the fatalities in Mortal Kombat 11. Charlie Hall/Polygon
- Racks of shoes with motion-capture beads attached. When we visited in February, the space looked all set to welcome a new batch of actors with fresh jumpsuits lined up on the floor. Charlie Hall/Polygon
- Just some of the props on hand at NetherRealm’s motion capture studio. The replica steel martial arts gear used for Mortal Kombat 11 was not on display during the press tour. Charlie Hall/Polygon
When an armored car would roll up to this particular banking facility, it would actually drive inside the building to unload. That means NetherRealm has a massive cargo bay at its disposal with a huge rolling garage door on one side. So, about seven years ago, it outfitted that space with a state-of-the-art motion capture system. And then it began to tinker with it and upgrade it. The result is a two-story tall cinderblock playground. It looks like Star Trek’s holodeck and smells like a high school gymnasium.
Even further back, in another wing of the facility, is a custom-made room filled with dozens of cameras. Actors sit in the chair in the center of the contraption to create a baseline for facial capture. That, plus a new breed of motion capture rigs that straps directly to a performer’s head, has allowed NetherRealm to achieve an entirely new level of animation. You can see the results in the video above.
Mortal Kombat 11 will be released on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One on April 23.