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By Michael Schiavetta (M.A. '07)
Around 1982, at a corner coffee shop on Linden Boulevard in Elmont, N.Y., Chuck Mongelli (B.F.A. ’94) poured countless quarters into a game called Tutankham, immersing himself in a pixelated world of adventure, daring escapes, and lost treasures. Thirty years later, he now brings to life some of the most popular video game franchises as head of motion capture production and operations for Rockstar Games, makers of the popular Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption titles.
Based in the company’s New York City studio, Mongelli runs the motion capture facility and is involved in the creation of each production. His latest achievement is lending a hand to create the stunningly lifelike 3-D performances and animation based off real-life actors in Rockstar’s acclaimed L.A. Noire.
Released in May 2011 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the title has earned numerous accolades for its aesthetic use of ’40s and ’50s film noir direction, storyline, and gameplay in which players follow clues and solve a series of crimes as a police detective in post-World War II Los Angeles. One of the game’s innovative features is its use of Motion-Scan, an advanced motion capture technology that records an actor’s facial expressions using 32 different cameras. The 3-D tool is used when players question suspects and can watch their faces to determine if they are telling the truth.
For Mongelli, it is a proud accomplishment, though hardly a solitary achievement. Since graduating from NYIT, his skills and creative talents have been called upon to produce computer animation for Nike, HSBC, Adidas, Colgate, Mattel, Nickelodeon, Warner Bros, and even Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You (in which his team used motion capture to animate ashes in a funeral home and morph them into a dancing character).
Positions at Acclaim Entertainment in Glen Cove, N.Y., helped pave the way for his career in video games. He helped produce titles that include Alien Trilogy, Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball, and Turok. “I was fortunate to have lived near one of the largest video game developers at the time,” says Mongelli. “They were growing by leaps and bounds and had just begun to invest in motion capture. It was the first time the technology was being used in entertainment, and it was a very exciting time.”
In 2002, after several years as a motion capture expert, Mongelli co-founded Perspective Studios, a 3-D animation production studio in New York, with fellow NYIT alumni Joe Nolan (B.A. ’06) and Keith Robinson (B.S. ’93). The trio worked with Rockstar Games to help record motion capture for the characters in Grand Theft Auto IV, a popular video game released in December 2008.
This process of 3-D motion capture involves using multiple cameras to record a person’s movement, which is then fed into a computer that can make use of the lifelike motions in video games, movies, and other computer animation. The individual being recorded usually wears a special body suit with reflective markers to help the computer properly capture the movement. For several years, NYIT has had a motion capture studio at its Old Westbury campus for its fine arts program. The technology is also used at its Parkinson’s disease research center to help identify mobility and stability problems in patients.
Mongelli’s own fascination with 3-D motion capture and computer animation is rooted in his appreciation for sculpting, which began at a young age.
“I always loved building things with my hands,” he says. “Sculptures were as close to 3-D modeling as I could get before learning computer animation. I remember the thrill when I first used 3-D animation software at NYIT. It was on an Amiga computer using a program called Imagine 2.0. It was like stepping into The Matrix!”
As a student at NYIT-Old Westbury, Mongelli knew computer animation in the early ’90s was a world packed with opportunity. “Thinking about a direction for my career was never intimidating, as I felt the options were endless,” he says. “I just wanted to see where it would take me and felt confident I would end up doing what I enjoyed.”
In that regard, Mongelli has achieved every professional’s dream—to work in a field you love. As for the future, he takes further delight in knowing the boundaries of computer graphics and 3-D technology are virtually limitless. And in the world of video games, the ability to draw in players and immerse them into alternate realities is invaluable. Furthermore, as games become more integrated into academic, social networking, and business environments, developers will be catering to people who may have never played a video game. The result may be new types of games that meet specific needs in the recreational, educational, or professional arenas.
“Game designers need to get creative in ways never before imagined,” says Mongelli. “As the quality and content evolve, so do the gamers. This new breed of players will influence the future as games are incorporated into many aspects of our lives.”