Viewing Lara

Posted June 6th 2010

This page describes some techniques for getting novel views of Lara, particularly in regard to close-ups. Originally I had some such material in the Fun section, but then I found more to talk about and decided to form a separate page for the whole theme.

Novel views of Lara moving

Normally you'd have the camera behind Lara as she moves; that's what the game is principally designed for anyway. But with a bit of effort you can maintain other camera angles.

To get a side view of Lara as she runs or walks in a fairly straight line, start off with Lara standing, and move the camera to give a side view. Now move the left joystick (movement joystick) in the direction she's facing, simultaneously moving the right joystick (camera joystick) in the opposite direction. That positioning of the camera joystick counteracts what would otherwise be her tendency to turn. With slight adjustment you can maintain the side view as she turns corners. A good place to practice this is the Mayan Ball Court in Southern Mexico; a nice big area to move about in. See if you can get her circuiting it as you maintain a side view. Likewise, see if you can maintain a front view.

Swimming

You can also get such views when Lara is swimming, though I won't say it's easy (it's easier if you use quasi target-locked state as described in the next section, because the camera works differently). To get a closer view than normal, have the camera on the seabed as she swims about. You can get views with her taking up much of the screen, rather than being just a smallish figure in the middle of it. It can be quite cinematic.

Using quasi target-locked state

When you put Lara into quasi target-locked state some novel viewing opportunities present themselves, as I'll describe here. In particular you can get a look at some mouth animation. Aside from in cutscenes, Lara's mouth normally seems inanimate which is a pity. Even when she's puffing away after some sprinting, her mouth maintains its usual fixed pose, lips barely parted. There's actually some mouth animation going on in connection with combat, but it's hard to see because the camera tries to stay behind her. With quasi target-locked state however, you're in with a chance as it seems to activate that side of her yet the camera isn't confined to her rear.

Great views of swimming underwater

You can get some great views of Lara swimming underwater, something I originally mentioned in Novel swimming with weaponry on the multi-level fun page. As long as there are no sharks around to cause an unnaturally bent arm due to her tracking behaviour, she looks quite natural despite the weaponry she's holding. But the real benefit is that in this unusual state the camera is much friendlier than usual, enabling you to perform novel camerawork relatively easily as she swims around. Give it a go and you should soon see what I mean.

You can also see some mouth animation. Have the camera in front of her as she cruises along, ideally quite close to the seabed so you're closer. You'll see her do an occasional snarl. I'm not sure she should be snarling while swimming underwater - shouldn't you keep your lips firmly shut? - but hey, I'm no expert!

Tracking enemies

Another way to see some mouth animation is to get her tracking an enemy, with the camera suitably positioned. Here's a specific example. At the start of Coastal Thailand have her facing the back of her boat, crouching a few feet away from it, and get the camera facing her close in, low to the deck. As a shark swims by she'll track it (previously she was looking away from the camera) and you should get a good view of a snarl - part of a generally aggressive look, which I'd guess is her normal combat look. You can likewise get some decent tracking views on land, but obviously you'd want her to be perched somewhere safely out of harm's way while you watch. Use your ingenuity and see what you can come up with.

Tracking can make for some really nice dramatic views, especially with the pistols. You can also get a close look at how she's holding her weapons. With an SMG her hand position is hopeless, clumsily clipping through the gun. With the tranquilizer gun, her right hand is way out of place for supporting the barrel. With a pistol, her trigger finger is actually behind the trigger. Not good! But that's not always how she holds a pistol. When you use a cling-cam close-up (see next section), her finger is correctly in front of the trigger. Strange that there should be a difference.

Cling-cam close-ups

When Lara pauses while clinging to a wall via handholds, there's something strange about the camera (the 'cling-cam', if you will). If you leave it free to do what it likes, it tends to gradually close in on her via some route or other, potentially getting so close that she ends up filling most of the screen. The speed of the approach seems to vary according to her pose, and the approach can usually be speeded up by moving the camera to give a side view. With certain poses and camera angles, bringing out a pistol causes the camera to suddenly move in ultra-close. With all of this, the camera behaviour is also affected by its angle of elevation.

I'll get to some details on all of that shortly, but the benefit is that you can get some really great dramatic views, sometimes practically looking down the barrel of a pistol as Lara points it out, potentially tracking an enemy. You can also can get a good look at the aggressive focused look on her face, including intermittent snarls. Also, once the camera is close, it tends to stay close as she continues climbing via handholds, for at least a while; thus you can can get some unusually close views of her climbing.

Landfall in Coastal Thailand

If you'd like to start checking out what I'm talking about, fire up Coastal Thailand and reach land, where there's a soaring rock for Lara to climb. Walk Lara onto the lowest two handholds, with the camera behind her. If you now pause and release the camera control, you'll soon notice the camera closing in around to the right. It's only slow, but if you now take control and move the camera around to the right to get a side view, the approach is faster, and pretty soon you've got a screenful of raider. Try other angles if you like.

Now let her drop, so the camera backs off to a normal distance again. Get her back onto the first two handholds and again move the camera around to the right for a side view. If you now make her bring out a pistol, the camera suddenly gets right up close; maybe too close for a proper view. You can subsequently get it backed off a way by moving the camera around. You may like to try other handholds too. If you left the nearest shark alive, you can potentially see Lara tracking it.

Six static poses

To describe some details I first need to say a bit about Lara's poses. Along with her 'pistol out' pose while holding on with one hand, Lara has five static poses in which she's clinging on with both. Two of them are wide stretched-out poses, one with left hand highest, the other with right hand highest. I'll call those 'wide left' and 'wide right'. They're not mirror images of each other; in wide left her arms make a shallower angle than in wide right. Her remaining three poses are relatively compact. One has left hand high and right hand around waist height, while another has right hand high and left hand around shoulder height. I'll call those 'compact left' and 'compact right'. Finally, there's an almost symmetric pose with hands practically level (the right hand is just a touch higher), and I'll call that 'neutral'. In three of the six poses, Lara's grapple ends up sticking out of the back of her right thigh, having clipped through her leg; a slight shortcoming.

General observations

When she's in a wide pose, that's when the camera moves in fastest and can get in closest; e.g. so close that her torso fills most of the screen. Too close, you might say. The approach is noticeably slower for compact left and compact right, and the camera doesn't get so intimate; just comfortably close. For neutral the approach is extremely slow even with a side view, and the camera stays relatively distant. Overall then, it's like there's a three-level system of intimacy.

When you let the camera close in from a given angle, it eventually stops and just judders slightly, as if there's one force trying to move it closer but another force repeatedly pushing it back.

When the camera angle is sufficiently far from horizontal, there's significantly less pull on the camera. As such, it doesn't close in as far as otherwise; and by the same token it can be backed off further than otherwise, if the camera got closer via another angle.

When she's in wide left or compact left pose and the camera angle is sufficiently close to giving a side view from the right, bringing out a pistol usually causes the camera to whizz in to an ultra-close view, often giving you quite an eyeful if you know what I mean. Jumps like this can sometimes happen from other angles, such as from her upper left. Once the camera is in close for such a pose, it can be backed off somewhat by moving it around. The camera may bounce back to a more reasonable distance of its own accord, but this depends on Lara's situation.

If you've got the camera behind Lara at a standard distance and then she brings out a pistol, camera behaviour seems similar to what it would be for whichever pose she was in beforehand.

What gives?

How come there's that three-level system of intimacy I mentioned? Seems weird. I'm wondering if it's something to do with how close Lara's torso is to the wall. With her wide poses it's at its closest. With compact left and compact right it's further away. With neutral, I think it's a little further away still. If her torso is the key thing around which the camera bases itself, its distance from the wall could somehow be causing the significant differences in camera behaviour. This is a pretty loose guess however. Just wish I knew the answer, to satisfy my curiosity!

Extreme facial close-ups

As you'll probably know, you can get a pretty good facial close-up by making Lara face a wall closely and having the camera between her and the wall. However, you can get a lot closer with the following method.

Corner cling method

First get Lara clinging to a corner, with feet against the walling. This could either be where a ledge forms a corner, or it could be like the corner of a block. I think Lara's pose here is actually what I called her 'neutral' pose in Cling-cam close-ups. Make Lara bring out a pistol then put it away again. This simple act seems to free up the camera to get closer (it doesn't work in other situations; apparently she needs to be at a corner). If you now play about with the camera, you'll find that you can get some extreme close-ups of her face (like, part of her face filling most of the screen), and particularly her eyes and eyebrows. Also, if an enemy is close, Lara may turn her head to try and look that way, in which case you can get a close side view.

There's some impressive detail in the iris. You can get a view in which the diameter of her iris is more than 20% of the screen height, though this may depend on her location. You can easily see individual hairs in her eyebrows and eyelashes. On the minus side, her eyelashes sometimes clip through her skin - not that you'd notice from a more reasonable distance.

If you make Lara shake her head by pressing the field camera button (she's refusing to bring it out), you may briefly see behind her face, catching a glimpse of what look like whitish spheres for her eyeballs. Actually I think they're only hemispheres; you can sometimes see an edge.

Specific places

There are lots of places you can use the method, but here's a nice example. In Southern Mexico in the area where gunmen get attacked by panthers, kill everything then move to the stone-floored area where Lara needs to do some climbing. On the right of that area there's a truncated pillar a few heads higher than Lara. That gives you four handy cling-corners to try out (the lighting will vary according to corner).

If you instead avoid killing things, you can just sprint past to the block and Lara seems relatively safe once clinging on. When I did this the nearest gunman didn't even bother firing, though a more distant one sent in the occasional volley when she was on certain corners. Panthers are likely to follow Lara but they seem of little danger, though they can knock her off or cause damage while she's clinging. Lara tries to look at panthers, and that allows you to get close side views of her head. You can also try bring out a pistol. The best corner for all this is the one nearest the closest gunman.

There's a similar but taller block outside the first structure in the level, but the lighting isn't as good, and is dull on three corners.

Lara's beam-balancing face

Lara seems to have a special facial expression for balancing on a beam or horizontal pole, including mouth animation. You can get a good close-up of this in some situations. Get her closely facing the supportive walling, move the camera between the walling and her face, and you'll probably have a decent close-up, though the height of the camera relative to her head may vary according to the situation.

Her mouth is animated with a sort of pouty look, and when her lips part you can see teeth. I previously thought her mouth animation was limited to combat situations, but this is obviously a counterexample. Her expression has various appearances. One is like a look of open-mouthed fear or alarm, but sometimes she also seems to look directly at the camera, like she's looking at you the player. Quite welcome, but a bit spooky!

Specific places

One place I was taking a close look at this was in Southern Mexico in the area where gunmen get attacked by panthers. There's a decorative pole stuck high into a pillar on the left of the raised area. Have her balancing on that, closely facing the pillar. The lighting is rather nice and dramatic there.

Further remarks

Close-ups in confined surroundings

You can get some good close-ups of Lara when she's in confined surroundings, as the camera is forced to get close. A good example is her boat. In particular, try taking her inside the cabin. You can get good facial views in there. For example take her as far forward as you can, then move the camera to face her.