New 'Hitman: Absolution' Game Uses 'Avatar' Performance Capture Technology, Hollywood Talent

Hitman Absolution Screen Grab 2011
Courtesy of Square Enix

The cast of the Square Enix game includes "Cowboys & Aliens" actor Keith Carradine and "White Collar's" Marsha Thomason.

Square Enix is taking a Hollywood approach to its fifth installment of IO Interactive's bestselling Hitman action game franchise, Hitman: Absolution, which is due out next year. The Danish game developer worked with a cast of a dozen Hollywood actors who brought their virtual characters to life using both performance capture and voice acting to add a more emotional level of interaction to the game.

Among the cast of actors, Keith Carradine (Cowboys & Aliens) will play the new villain in the game, Blake Dexter. Marsha Thomason (White Collar) will step into the role of Diana Burnwood, who serves as protagonist Agent 47's handler and has a close relationship with the assassin.
"Diana is 47's only true human contact," Thomason said. "They've known each other an extremely long time, and in the Hitman world, she is what Q is to James Bond. So she sets the assignments, tells him where to go and who to kill."
The performance capture was done at Giant Studios, which James Cameron used for Avatar. A first for the game franchise, the developer worked with Hollywood talent to capture complex scenes with up to seven actors on the set at once. Blystad explained that the performance capture scenes focused on the drama that develops as the story unfolds. The new game places more emphasis on the emotional human stories that evolve, which is why they opted to hire Hollywood actors to bring these virtual characters to life.
"We had actors like Marsha and Keith come in and do full-body acting with facial and voice being captured simultaneously in scenes," said Tore Blystad, game director at IO Interactive. "Some of these scenes were very complex with all kinds of props and interactions amongst the actors."
Blystad said the performance capture was more similar to theater work than movies, because there were long takes and once everything was captured, it was on to the next scene. 
"The character I play in Hitman: Absolution is as multidimensional as any well-imagined character should be," said Carradine. "The vividness of the world entered by the gamer hinges on detail. To fully engage the attention of the player requires nothing less than the most completely realized universe of geography and personality."
The new game follows Agent 47, a cold-blooded assassin, who takes on his most dangerous contract to date. Betrayed by those he once trusted -- and now hunted by the police -- he suddenly finds himself at the center of a dark conspiracy and must embark on a personal journey through a corrupt and twisted world.
"We've designed a more stylized, more serious, and darker game this time around in both the story line and the visuals," Blystad said. "The hope is that the movie will be going in a similar direction, and then when they both come out they will speak the same language. They won't follow the old Hitman games, but rather go with this newer direction."
With Hitman: Absolution, gamers are in for a cinematic take on the best-selling video game franchise, which has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide since launching in 2000. The fourth game in the franchise, Hitman: Blood Money, has sold more than 2.1 million copies since it shipped in 2007.
"There are more central characters in this game than we've ever dealt with before and they all have names and an important role in the story, so working with Hollywood talent was crucial to us," Blystad added. "It's important within the framework of the game for players to be able to connect with these characters."
Blystad said it was also important that this latest game deliver on the shooting action that the franchise has offered over the years. The drama that pushes the story forward serves as a cinematic layer on top of the core gameplay, which sends Agent 47 on different missions throughout the U.S. A portion of the game takes place in Chicago.
"We've seen the grit and texture and the character-driven context that IO Interactive is going for with Hitman: Absolution and it's our goal to bring Agent 47 back with a vengeance next year in a movie," said Adrian Askarieh, who is producing a second Hitman film with Chuck Gordon and Fox International. Daniel Casey (Jimmy Six) has written the latest draft of the script.

The first Hitman movie earned $100 million at the box office with Timothy Olyphant ("Justified") playing Agent 47. The new installment will have an original story and characters, but will retain the look and feel of the new game. 
If all the pieces fall into place, gamers will have both a big screen Hitman adventure and a new video game in 2012.