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Best Of GDC: The Future of Animation is Games (No, Really!)

Best Of GDC: The Future of Animation is Games (No, Really!)

February 25, 2008 | By Eric-Jon Waugh

February 25, 2008 | By Eric-Jon Waugh
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More: Console/PC, GDC



[In another unaired 'best of GDC' write-up from our canonical GDC coverage, Blockade Entertainment is using the Brothers In Arms game engine to create a machinima series for the Gameplay HD TV channel - we sit in on their intriguing GDC lecture.]

Bill Kroyer of Blockade Entertainment and Mark DeAngelis, VP of programming and development for Voom Networks HD, sat around on Thursday and talked about their vision for the future of machinima: namely, mainstream broadcast animation.

Especially considering the sophistication of contemporary real-time engines, there are huge practical advantages to working within an existing engine with out-of-the-box tools.

Compared with traditional animation, machinima greatly expedites, and simplifies the logistics of, production, giving the production team a sort of a "digital backlot". Furthermore, animators need not be limited by the constraints of actual game designers, as they only have to account for what the audience will see, allowing a certain amount of trickery to make every shot look its best.

The Day the Snow Turned to Rain

DeAngelis spoke of his infatuation with game cinematics, dating back to his first experiences with Starcraft. He finds it a downright shame that after a game is played once, it goes on the shelf and all those art assets and meticulously rendered cutscenes just sit there, unseen, unused.

In an effort to make better use of cutscenes, DeAngelis described a TV program based around hour-long edits of in-game cinematics. To illustrate, he showed the opening CG movie to Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. Again DeAngelis lamented how animation like this was simply going to waste, in its current form.

As far as machinima goes, Bill Kroyer sees the potential for a long-running, "Dreamworks-quality" animated serial to rival Lost, Heroes, and 24. He spoke of a shore in France where WWI-era shells and bayonets were still being dug up, about how there were still bodies beneath the surface, and people were living there, with all of this, basically on top of a historical graveyard.

How much emotional power that place must carry, Kroyer mused. He then speculated, what if during WWII, someone had gotten the idea to resurrect those dead soldiers and build a zombie army?

The resulting show, titled Sacred Road, is now under production for the GamePlay HD network. Despite the horrific scenario, Kroyer said, the show would put little emphasis on frightful imagery. "Nobody's really scared by animation. I mean, you've got The Nightmare before Christmas, but you watch it because it's funny, you know? It's not like a chainsaw movie."

Kroyer shrugs off the less than perfect realism of the character models and animation, suggesting that animation affords a certain amount of stylization. "When you watch this, it's kind of like reality, but it's not reality." He then cited other examples of very low-quality animation that have reached a certain level of success. "You never have to be super-sophisticated. I mean, look at Wallace and Gromit."

The Four Wudu

Other uses of machinima include bridging game sequels; providing backstory or setting up the plot of the next game, months in advance of its completion. DeAngelis expressed some pride that many developers are starting to turn to his people to actually establish the plots for their games.

He cited Transformers, where the TV show and then the movie supplanted the toys as the "premiere" entity. "I mean, how many people really read the Tolkien trilogy?" Compared to how many people play video games, the potential audience for a machinima-based TV series is enormous, and, like Pokémon, may well prove to supercede the game itself.

DeAngelis went on to explain further benefits to machinima over traditional animation, such as the ability to easily swap in new product placement, depending on the territory. He gave the example of different car licenses in different countries. If animations were streamed directly to viewers on a PC, perhaps the viewers could do some model-swapping of their own, to customize the experience.

Readers may recall that machinima of a sort has been released theatrically, in Shenmue: The Movie. It was a bit of a box office disappointment. Currently, it can be found as a bonus disc with the Xbox version of Shenmue II.


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