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By John Gaudiosi
Although the term “convergence” has been bandied about for years, the advances in video game engines today are finally opening new doors for Hollywood creators. Epic Games’ ubiquitous Unreal Engine 3 , which powers everything from Gears of War 2 to Bioshock 2, is now making the migration to Hollywood through Chadam . Based on the cutting-edge surrealist paintings of acclaimed California artist Alex Pardee , HDFilms is creating a 10-episode, 50-minute Web series that is now available on The WB site and DailyMotion.com, the world’s largest independent video website.
Because the entire project is being created within a game engine, it will allow for a near-seamless crossover from linear to interactive entertainment.
And that’s not the only convergence that’s going on with this project. HDFilms, the digital production house creating Chadam, was founded by Jace Hall , the former head of game developer Monolith Studios . Hall oversaw the development of a diverse slate of games, such as Blood, TRON 2.0: Killer App, Condemned 1 and 2, and F.E.A.R. 1 and 2. During his game-development days, Hall was competing with Epic Games’ technology, as well as id Software’s Quake engine, as his studio licensed out its Lithtech engine to game developers.
“In order to do my job correctly, I had to understand exactly the entire feature sets of all of the engines at all times and their rate of progress and how they worked,” explains Hall. “As we looked at this project, I was able to easily evaluate what technology makes the most sense for what we were trying to do, and Unreal Engine 3 was the clear winner.”
Real-time Graphics and Game Engines Converge
What HDFilms is trying to do -- and they’re close to completing the job -- is build a digital pipeline utilizing video-game engine technology that will allow this team to create stories using computer-generated imagery for the Web, television and movies.
“This is an amazing development,” says Tim Sweeney, founder and CEO of Epic Games and creator of the Unreal Engine technology. “For decades, non-real-time graphics packages evolved to meet the needs of cinematographers, while real-time game engines grew up independently to serve gaming. We’ve now reached a tipping point where the two come together, and the workflow of the real-time tools is so effective that digital artists can create better results more quickly in a game engine than in an offline rendering solution.”
Marti Resteghini, vice president of HDFilms, says the tools of Unreal were designed for storytelling. After all, video games as a medium are essentially highly interactive stories.
“It’s only recently with the huge upswing in video games as a creative pool for feature films that Hollywood has become aware of this,” says Resteghini. “But the truth is, from Pitfall! to BioShock, games have long been focusing on heroes (or anti-heroes) and their journeys, which is what movies are about. With added software like Unreal Matinee, Unreal has become a hybrid of game-engine and traditional-rendering software that creates a virtual environment similar to a Hollywood sound stage, complete with moving characters, lighting, camera, lenses and sets.”
HDFilms found that one of the key advantages of using video game technology was that it kept the costs down and allowed a core team of three to create the bulk of the work over an 18-month development cycle. At the height of production, when the team was heavily animating content, that team number rose to 12, including some outsourced work. Like Hall, everyone on the production team came from the video game industry. In fact, one of Chadam’s storyboard artists, Jon Mayshak, worked at Epic Games on Gears of War in the same capacity using the same Unreal technology.
The World of Chadam
Chadam originated as a character featured on the album covers for the rock band, The Used. He lives as the “chosen one” in the hyper-stylized and exaggerated metropolitan island city of Vulture. His power of imagination is strong enough to physically change his environment and, therefore, his world . . . to save it from evil. The dark, fantastical Web series focuses on Chadam, who has retreated with other survivors after a series of attacks by the serial killer known as Viceroy.
“So in the story that we are telling, you have, on the one hand, a character (Chadam) with the strongest imagination in this world, but he has suppressed it for years, and on the other hand a character (Viceroy), a freak of nature born with absolutely no imagination, wreaking havoc on the world in hopes of stealing enough imagination amongst this scared community of citizens to make him almighty,” says Pardee. “And with so much imagination involved, CG is proving itself to be the perfect way to freely tell that story.”
Photo Credit: Screen shot image from http://www.thewb.com/shows/chadam
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for the past 17 years for media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNET, Wired magazine and CBS.com. He is editor in chief of GamerLive.tv and a game columnist for Reuters and RhMinions.com
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