SANTA MONICA, CA - It was the summer of 1998 when Chris Hepburn decided to leave his position as the video manager at Activision to strike out on his own and ultimately form the company that was to become Forward Never Straight Productions (www.fnsp.com). His concern about the direction of his role at the game company combined with the desire to explore new areas of video technology prompted this gamble. According to Hepburn, It turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made.
In only three years, the Santa Monica facility has acquired a client list to make most companies drool. In addition to an abiding relationship with Activision, Hepburn's client list has grown to include Disney Interactive, Vivendi/Universal, THQ and Electronic Arts.
Almost immediately upon going freelance, his former employer selected Hepburn to work on the in-game video for the inaugural installment of the now hugely popular "Tony Hawk's Pro Skater" series of video games. Hepburn's next project, working with Disney on the video for the game for "Pixar's Toy Story 2," took him further into to the world of film-based games.
Not only has Hepburn's company continued to work with Disney on every feature film-based title since "Toy Story 2," the proliferation of game systems has effectively tripled their work for each and every title. Most recently, FNS polished nearly 30 total minutes of video for THQ/Disney/Pixar's "Finding Nemo" game for PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PC and Mac.
Creating a different set of in-game videos for each game platform is one thing, but the importance of FNS's work doesn't begin or end with the game itself. The company is also responsible for making the marketing trailers for each game look good for each console, effectively establishing the look that potential buyers will first see.
The increase in business has been matched with an increase in expectations. FNS has responded to the ongoing challenge by insuring they have the very best broadcast gear available. Originally working only with a Discreet Edit system, FNS recent acquired an Avid|DS HD. This newer system will be able to meet not only today's game company needs, but will do so into the future as the technology of the industry advances.
"It's really just a matter of time before most games can output at least 480p resolution," says Hepburn. "The XBox is already capable of outputting 1080i video. But as HD video gains wider acceptance at the consumer level the demand for this type of work will growâ€¦and we'll be ready."
The Avid|DS HD system has provided the added bonus of allowing FNS to branch into other areas of the entertainment industry. The facility recently provided online editing and finishing services for a documentary on Senator Joe Lieberman which was screened at the 2003 South by Southwest Festival.
In its continual efforts to stay ahead of the technology curve, FNS also recently acquired a high definition scan converter - Visual Matrix's XBOX - to use for gameplay recording.
"Using a system like this is overkill for games," Hepburn admits. "You're taking what is essentially a toy and running it into hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gear. But it sure makes those video games look good."
This is in keeping with one of the missions of FNS though, he notes: To stay one step ahead of the game.