He says the big challenge on Dungeon Lords was a three-week turnaround. "This was a very compressed time scale," he says. "We had no luxury whatsoever. Sometimes clients will come to us with storyboards ... for Dungeon Lords we had nothing. They just said, 'Here's a brief synopsis,' which I think was about four or five sentences long, 'we want you to do the visuals.'"
The result was a trailer about wizards fighting with a stylized visual stamp of saturated colors focusing on the two main characters. Special attention was paid to the characters' face, hair and cloth movement in extreme environments.
SOLUTION: "Right off we did some storyboards but realized it was going to take too long, so we just dove right into the animation," describes Davoudian. "The way we worked out our process was the same skeletal structure that was used to do the animatics, was the same skeletal structure that was being used to attach our final models to. So what was happening was when the animators were animating the animatic, that skeleton was being referenced," he says. "It's not as if they've imported it into the environment, it's just looking at a different file than they are able to animate. What that allowed us to do is the guys who were building the real model were updating that model [daily], and when the animators would come in the next morning they'd have the latest model applied to the skeleton."
Brain Zoo animators used Maya for 3D, and Adobe After Effects for 2D, all on Dell machines. About 70 to 80 percent of the studio's work is game-related.
( www.super78.com/), Hollywood.
GAME TRAILER: :30 of animated elements to "Ant Farm" for Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia for PS2, XBox, GameCube, PC and handheld. The game's release date is December '05.
CHALLENGE: "The challenge for us was to incorporate action into The Chronicles of Narnia two-minute trailer," says director Brent Young. "Unlike a Lord of the Rings [for which Super 78 provided game cinematics] where action is predominate throughout the story and the game, the challenge with Narnia was to create that feel. With the end user [the player], being the same for both, it was our job to build a little more action and toughness into these characters. To do this, we created the large battle scene at the end where the kids were fighting minotaurs and other evil creatures of Narnia." The trailer premiered at E3.
"The initial challenge was definitely Disney," says Young. "They were trying to keep all the imagery and assets secret because they hadn't launched the feature trailer; they were hesitant to give us any artwork. They started to release assets to us slowly and we got the ball rolling, but it was multiple layers of people to go through for the approval stages."
SOLUTION: "They gave us some scene files that were already in the early stages," he says. "We had to translate those character models, which weren't final models, so we were replacing those models as we went along."
The animators used 3DS Max on Boxx dual P4 workstations running Windows XP Pro, as well as Autodesk Combustion on both Mac OS X dual 2GB G5s and Boxx systems. Final Cut Pro on G5s was used for editing. "Character models came to us in XSI but we translated them using Deep Explorer, a little application that translates the meshes, and then we had to re-rig all the characters. We used Character Studio for that," he says.
Young is partnered in Super 78 with executive producer Dina Benadon. Both left Rhythm & Hues in 1997 to start this studio, which focuses on theme park and game projects.
HIGH MOON STUDIOS
( www.highmoonstudios.com/), Carlsbad, CA.
GAME TRAILER: 1:00 "High Moon" trailer for High Moon Studios' Darkwatch game for XBox and PS2. The game was released in August '05. The trailer was a joint effort between High Moon Studios and Brain Zoo Studios. Capcom is the game's North American publisher.
CHALLENGE: 1) Market timing - getting the trailer out there at just the right time. That can cause a time crunch, which will affect the budget. 2) Multi-purpose goals - tell a story, show people the visual style of the game, excite people.
"A teaser trailer is done early on in the development of the game, maybe a few months after preproduction...games take about two years to make," says executive producer Emmanuel Valdez. "You want to make an announcement and get people jazzed about it. That's where the first teaser trailer comes in. For Darkwatch we've done a series of them. We did a teaser that was really a spruced-up, high-rez trailer and we didn't have the game to show yet. That was all done pre-render and with high-rez assets. For big events like E3 or GDC or SIGGRAPH, sometimes companies prepare another trailer just so they're sure the games are on other peoples' radar. Maybe weeks before a release, a trailer may, and should, include a lot of game-play footage because this is what they're buying.
"When we did the 'High Moon' teaser trailer, at the time we just nailed down the visual style - it's such a unique premise, it's basically cowboys versus vampires - we had to just nail it, right then and there. The game's a first-person shooter so thematically we want to show a lot of action, and usually when you show a lot of action, it's kind of hard to tell a story."
He point out that it's pretty bloody too. "But that's why it wasn't shown on TV, it was heavily violent, and that was one challenge: how much gore do we want to show? The teaser trailer actually shows a lot of the different things you can do in the game - he can jump extremely high, he rains bullets from above. That's the biggest challenge, we have to throw that interactive bit in there."
SOLUTION: "There were some exaggerations on the style, we went a little more over the top maybe on the teaser trailer than what you can do in the game," says Valdez.
High Moon worked with Brain Zoo, an animation studio, to create the trailer. High Moon shot motion capture in-house, editing the data with Alias' MotionBuilder. Their own animators used Maya for modeling and texture mapping, building the characters' environments and traditional keyframe animation. They ran it on a Dell PC. Brain Zoo took all those assets and the High Moon storyboards and assembled the shots. Their animators did all of the rendering and lighting, and added effects like particles, cloth and hair. They used the same tools. Brain Zoo also generated high-resolution models of the characters in the trailer, including main character Jericho Cross and his undead adversaries.
(www.tigarhare.com/), Sherman Oaks, CA.
GAME TRAILER: 1:00 opening cinematic for Electronic Arts' Medal of Honor game, available for PS2, XBox and GameCube. The game was released this past spring. Much of this cinematic was used for the trailer/commercial, which EA created internally. Tigar Hare also created an additional four minutes of cinematics used in the game.
CHALLENGE: "Sometimes we've been given zero assets," reports creative director Dave Hare. "We have to totally recreate everything and, a lot of the time, depending on how far along the game is developed, they'll take our creations and say, 'We're going to use this as reference for the game." In some fashion, you're one of the developers of the game."
Hare says that sometimes they do what's called a visual ID, or visual target, before the game's really been started. "In that type of scenario, you're doing a lot more preproduction, more concepts and designs. On the other side of things, the last few games we've done for EA have been games that are in their second or third version, so the assets have already been created. Now you're just trying to get them to the right format and add a level of detail that's still being faithful to the game, but adding a higher realism level."
For Medal of Honor, EA gave Tigar Hare animators four weeks for the cinematics - the one-minute open was the focus. The WWII game opens with soldiers on a boat attacking a harbor. The quick timetable was a challenge.
SOLUTION: "We couldn't do motion capture sequences of people hitting handrails and falling off or getting shot and falling back three feet, it's just too difficult or unsafe to capture. So we were able to use Natural Motion's Endorphin to create 20 separate animations for the cinematics. It is a great new piece of technology we were able to introduce into our pipeline," says Hare. "Think of it as virtual stunt doubles, where you can create forces and environments that these characters react with and you can also control the character. It helped us get that opening cinematic to a level in much quicker time than we otherwise would've been able."
3DS Max is the animation studio's main platform running on custom-built dual AMD Opteron machines with 3D Labs Wildcat Realizm 800 graphics card.
Tigar Hare created a lot of the environments from scratch; the characters were already created. "They wanted this one to have a very similar look for the characters of the game; they didn't want to up-rez too much except for the main character and the faces. So we wanted to offer something to the project, but we were under the limitations of up-rezing the characters, so we really tried to work on our color and lighting - very realistic and a lot of depth - to polish it."
That work was done in 3DS Max and through compositing software Digital Fusion.
Game cinematics account for more than 50 percent of Tigar Hare's business.