Tue 22nd Apr 2014, by Rory Fellowes | Readerproject
FMX 2014 in Stuttgart finished on Saturday, but that was only the beginning for me. I plan to follow up on the brief comments I was able to make about features of the conference with in-depth extended interviews and discussions. I am currently setting those up. There will be the opportunity for a more detailed look at the technologies that were showcased at FMX, as well as the thoughts and ideas explored and expressed, and from time to time no doubt I will chuck in my own musings on the way things are going, or may be going, or could be going.
We are on the threshold of a whole new era in visual media technology, at least as dramatic as the advent of CGI in the 1990s, and maybe as dramatic in the way it will disrupt all media industries as printing was to the production and distribution of books back in the 17th Century.
I have a feeling everything is up for grabs, all our preconceptions are going to be challenged and a lot of methods, skills and career threads are going to be gone in the next decade, to be replaced (of course) by a whole new palette.
So thank you for reading these columns and giving me a front row seat as we hurtle into the future!
Today’s title photograph is of the students here at Der Haus den Wirtschaft, where FMX 2014 is drawing to a close, who have been appearing at intervals in costume, slightly spoof versions of various Hollywood productions. Today the theme was Star Wars. All that was missing was someone dressed up as the Lego version.
This has been a fantastic week. Everyone I talk to agrees it has been one of the best, if not the best FMX so far. Tribute must be paid to all the volunteers who have made this event run as smoothly and easily as it could ever hope to be. But special tribute must surely be paid to its organiser, its team leader, the Programme Chair, Jean-Michel Blottière.
There is much more going on here than I could hope to attend let alone report, so I have had to make choices.
I live and work in Ireland so I was particularly interested in attending the panel discussion put on by the VFX Association of Ireland, hosted by Michael Wortmann of Chimney Group’s Berlin office. The panel consisted of Dave Quinn, CEO of Windmill Lane, Dave Burke, CEO of Piranah Bar and Jim Duggan, CEO of Screenscene, and Liam Neville Head of VFX at EGG Post Production.
VFXAI is a semi-formal grouping of these companies so they can combine to sell the idea of bringing VFX work to Dublin, where they are all based. This idea of promoting a destination rather than a load of individual companies all competing in an ever tighter market is happening in other places, not least Baden-Würtenburg, where FMX is based, where the Animation Media Cluster, Stuttgart Region (AMCRS) was set up a few years ago.
Of course, personally I recommend Dublin!! You watch the movies, commercials and TV shows and probably don’t think about where or how the films were made and finished, but in my experience there is always a distinctive feel to the work of different nations (I have worked at one time or another on every continent except Antarctica), and the Irish bring their special brand of creative sensitivity and love of colour and music, their sense of harmony and aesthetic beauty to their work. Plus there are some great tax breaks for productions that come to Ireland, producers please note.
A memorable meeting I have had here was with Miguel Ortega and Tran Ma, creators of “The Green Ruby Pumpkin” and now their latest project, “The Ningyo”.
You can read more about this creative couple and both their films here on CGSociety (links below), or just Google it, but I have to put in my ten cents worth here, because I want to honour these two modest, warm, generous people, who are making their films in circumstances that completely contradict and step outside the ethics of most of the presentations, film projects and games that are here at FMX 2014. They are making a fabulously beautiful film of an intriguing story, based on the Faust legend but taken into a world of their own creation. If Leonardo da Vinci had lived now, with the tools we have, I expect he’d be beating on their door asking to participate.
Yesterday I met the thrillingly energetic and visionary director Alex Kiesl, of Unexpected, a Stuttgart production company. This was interesting to me because Alex is working on a $40 million feature film he hopes to make soon, for which he is currently raising funds, having invested €300,000 in a promotional teaser. This could be the direction of future cinema, small production companies producing films alongside the high budget projects of the big studios.
Jim Duggan of Screenscene in Dublin suggested to me that not too long from now there will be a two tier film market. You may go to see a major production, paying $50 a ticket and making it as big a night out as currently going to the opera or the theatre can be, or you might pay only $10 to see a low budget independent film. The point being, as in all the potential future pathways of media, anything can happen.
On this last day I have focused on two tracks at the conference. This morning I had a very interesting and informative conversation with Peter Mitev, the CEO of Chaos Group. Chaos Group was founded in 1997 by Peter and his colleague and friend Vlado, who leads the R&D team. I looked on their website which I guess was written in 2012. It says there they have 100 people in the company. Peter told me today that they have 140 employees. That is a 40% expansion in less than two years. Clearly, they’re growing fast.
Vray and Phoenix FD are the core products. My brain was melted once again as I tried to comprehend the thinking behind their product, the mathematical analysis of light so it can be reproduced in Computer Graphic Imagery.
We discussed the way they have shifted their focus to take advantage of hardware developments, moving the processing from the CPU to the GPU, or to both working together, to speed up the feedback. We discussed (briefly) the principle of raytracing, which can be used to analyse any form of bouncing, from the main one, the bouncing of light, to a bouncing rubber ball. Then you find a way to guide the processor so it delivers a result at ever-increasing speed.
But the quote I will always remember from this conversation, overlaying and informing and explaining the achievement of this excellent company came in the last few minutes of our conversation. We were talking about the company’s tireless pursuit of ways to satisfy the demands of the artists. This is who they work for. I asked Peter if he himself did any drawing or painting, but he said no. He reached into his bag and brought out a camera (it looked like a Canon 5D, but I’m not an aficionado). He said “This is how I express myself in visual form.” He smiled (a very pleasant smile, incidentally, from a very personable man).
“I love light,” he said.
The rest of my day was spent attending the panel discussions organised by the USC 5D Institute, at the School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, directed by the brilliant designer and future thinker Alex McDowell, whom I met and told you about in my blog yesterday, 24th April (see below).
These panel discussions explored the possibilities for future production. A core idea was what Alex called non-linear production flow. There are terms used in the industry to describe the stages of production, specifically, Pre-Production, Production (or Principle Shoot) and Post-Production. Within Pre-Production the concept of Previsualisation (previs) has grown up in recent years. Essentially, this is making of a a simplified animated version of the final film, a moving 3D upgrade of the storyboard process. In Post-Production we have seen the rise of VFX, the Effects made in computers and added onto the raw shoot material.
In non-linear production these processes are running in parallel, and the quality of the previs images have become increasingly sophisticated and high resolution. 5D have been using MGS Photon to create designs that can be looked at by the director as a virtual world, with the actors in the set, lit and staged as they will be in the final shoot.
Vray are currently working on a render engine that will allow the director to see that incorporated footage with full quality lighting, delivered in realtime. This means in essence, the director and the actors will be able to prepare their shots with everything in view, even when they are shooting on a completely greenscreen stage.
What happens next? The 5D panel discussion tried to answer that question, and it made for a very interesting day of debate. Many intriguing suggestions were made, but the feeling is and has to be that it is very hard, if not impossible, to give an accurate prediction. The discussions today focused on animation production, but it is obvious that there is an overlap coming that will blur borders between entertainment forms, both of delivery and storytelling, that will produce new forms we will, with luck, find surprising and satisfying.
Everything we have now we will keep, of course, but new technologies, new education techniques and new audience expectations will make changes that we cannot accurately anticipate. Storytelling is the elephant in the room. Will it stay the same or will the storytelling ideas of narrative games influence the way we develop future films and other story media?
I had a fascinating conversation with Dennis Lenart of Telltale Games about the concept of alternative progress storylines. Narrative games are responding to a story demand that is incomprehensible to my generation of film makers, and yet they are the norm for the new generations. As with so many of the meetings I have had here, I hope to be able to follow this conversation up with an in depth interview with Dennis and his colleagues at Telltale Games.
Consider this. If you had asked a playwright in 1870 what he thought would be the future of drama, he certainly would not have thought about film, let alone interactive computer games. Our conversations about the future of computer generated media are like having a conversation in 1700 about the future of printing. Who knows what the future holds? Media and its technology are sitting on the lip of a volcano and no-one can really say where the lava will fall when it all explodes. We are on the cusp of a technological disruption in all the media represented here equal to that of the advent of CG or the invention of colour printing.
I believe we are at the very beginning of a new world of entertainment. Exciting isn’t it?
Day 3 and the place is buzzing. New speakers are arriving, ready to bring their stories to the audience and discuss the future of our industry with its newest recruits, a future that frankly, it looks pretty hard to predict in the light of the enormous changes taking place, the technological disruption that is taking place even as I write. I have seen presentations in one hall that are already being outdated by presentation in another hall. On the same day.
If I could clone myself say half a dozen times, I might be able to convey something of the variety of discussions and technologies being revealed here. But there is only the one me, so these reports can only give you a glimpse. To get the full picture, you will just have to get here yourselves next year!!
Disruption is the name of the game this year, or should I say, these days, because it is an ongoing process that began to grow exponentially in the last few years. I have been in the film game since 19-Please-Don’t-Remind-Me and I have seen a lot of changes in how we all approach the wonderful, mysterious task of making entertainment media productions, be they films, TV shows or games, and all the transmedia cross-overs in between.
I started out in traditional animation, mainly stop-motion when the process was, load film in the camera, expose it (very slowly), send it to the lab, and put the rushes on a Steinbeck to edit it. That was it, from a five minute short for children’s TV to a major Hollywood production (they didn’t make blockbusters back then, just successful movies on a ratio, so I have been told, of 9 failures to every success, the film that financed all the others).
Then along came CG, the first major disruption technology that has changed our world in the last twenty years. We all know the computer revolution has reached into every walk and sphere of life, but in film, it has taken the whole bath and thrown it out, baby and all, and as is being discussed here on a daily basis, we are moving into a whole new world of production theory, that is being called Virtual Production.
The coming of CG changed the direction of my career, the careers of everyone in the film and TV industry. I re-trained in CG, but now we are witnessing a second wave which I and many like me believe is changing things on a level equivalent to that first shock.
Now we have render engines and output technologies many times as numerous and diverse as the shampoo selection in Tesco’s (when I was a boy we washed our hair with soap. Full stop), many times more ways to deliver the data to the render engine of choice. It is an act of high intelligence and magnificent memory just to recall all the possible ways to do anything, let alone to command the techniques and skills required to do them in your chosen software(s). It’s a struggle I sometimes feel I am losing. As Homer Simpson once said, “Every time I learn something new, something old falls out.”
Along with the events I have attended I have had the opportunity to meet with some of the industry leaders here, and I’d like to talk about those meetings today. Two with people who see difficulties and dangers in the future, “it ain’t like it used to be” responses to the changes taking place, and two with people who are leaping into it all with joy and optimism.
The two optimists I referred to are Alex McDowell of 5D Global Studio and Jeff Wagner of Side Effects Software, the makers of Houdini.
Alex and I worked together back in the 1980s on several pop videos, so it was great to meet him again after all these years. I stayed in Europe, but Alex went to Hollywood, where he is now established as one of the American film industry’s leading designers, working with many top directors, notably Stephen Spielberg, on the breakthrough sci-fi movie “Minority Report”, one of my personal top twenty movies of all time. These days he teaches at the University of Southern California, where he runs a course called the World Building Media Lab.
Using Houdini’s procedural node based architecture, Alex is experimenting with his students in developing total world experiences, generating stories out of the environments they create, letting the world inspire the behaviours and stories of the characters he and his students put in there. Just like real life, in fact.
I was reminded of Stephen King’s advice in his book “On Writing” . He tells the budding writer not to worry about plot, but to create a situation, then put some interesting people in there, and watch the story grow. It is an organic form of story making, that will sit well with the franchise philosophy of modern producers, and it will, if all goes well, open up whole new strands of storytelling for the entertainment media of the future.
Meanwhile, over at Side Effects, Jeff Wagner and his colleagues are creating a form of CG asset generation that has built in procedural bases that allow the designers and artists to create the world and life of their productions in a freeform way. Alex spoke about developing what he calls the DNA of cities, of cross-breeding city styles to create new city concepts, new landscape concepts. New worlds. Jeff and the people at Side Effects are building the tools.
Alongside the software they are developing and perfecting, Side Effects specialise in what is called elsewhere Customer Support, but that hardly describes what this ebullient, charming, and highly articulate enthusiast and his team are ready and willing to do for his clients. About ten minutes into the conversation parts of my brain started to turn to custard with the data overload I was getting from Jeff. There is a wealth of new thinking arising from these developments.
I hope I will be able to publish here a much longer dedicated interview with Jeff, so we can give you all the technical detail, all the potential, all the ambition of the Houdini developers.
I should add, that I cannot possibly attempt to report, let alone explain, what he talked to me about concerning the wood and the forests that surround that, but imagine buying a car and having the ability to redesign and reshape every aspect of it to your personal requirements and taste, and still be able to drive it out of the shop fully street legal and ready to go until you run out of destinations. Oh, and bring it back in to the garage whenever you like for a tweak or redesign here or there. And they’ll deliver this, those Side Effects folks, with a smile and a nod and a thank you for your interest. Look forward to reading that extended interview here.
It would be unfair to contrast these two enthusiasts of the future of the industry with my other two interviewees, as if those others are somehow pessimistic and negative about the future. They are not, but theirs is the artists’ view, and they both work in a film craft that looks like it may still retain its freedom of expression, its place in the process, and not get written out of production practice in the way some of the producers I’ve heard here seem to want to do. They are Concept artists.
I enjoyed Andy Serkis’s talk. He is clearly a brilliant and very personable guy, but he has plans to motion capture human actors to generate animation data for animals. Sad to say, he is advocating an approach to this arena of production that threatens to reduce animators to clean up technicians, doing the minimum of work to polish the material the motion and performance capture delivers. You want to ask, why don’t you trust animators to do their job anymore? Or, for that matter, why not motion capture the animals themselves?
Well, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, so maybe I’m wrong, but I was not alone in that room in thinking this was the direction he and his producers are trying to push the VFX industry, away from the artists and towards a high level control environment.
Now let’s turn to my not entirely pessimistic but pretty sardonic people, Martin Bergquist of Avalanche Studios in Stockholm, and Ravi Bansal of MPC (in a string of cities around the world). They are Concept Artists. And maybe, just maybe, concept is one area they won’t be able to make procedural. We can but hope.
Ravi told me a story of how he got his first job some twenty years ago (and if you attend one of his excellent talks, wherever he gives them, he’ll probably tell you this too). To get that job, as Concept Designer on “Sleepy Hollow”, he did a quick sketch of the spectacles Johnny Depp wears while riding to the interview on a train.
I haven’t seen it but I gather it is a fairly basic pencil drawn delivery, a bit shaky where the train hit the points or went round a corner, or just bounced along the track, but the producers he showed that crude sketch to knew how to interpret it and they gave him the job, which should be no surprise because Ravi is a brilliant artist, and you’ve seen the results of his work over and over again, maybe most recently on “Tintin”, but also any number of other projects. He draws and paints like an angel.
So does Martin Bergquist. Both of them emphasised the absolute necessity of being able to draw, not just for concept work, but also all other aspects of design and animation (I agree totally). You need that eye to hand understanding of the thing you are creating. It is like muscle memory.
My wife made her career as a Costume Designer, and in her day you sent in concept drawings for the director to study before bringing back the artist and his designer to discuss the work provided in the game. Nowadays, designers submit Mood Sheets, photographs, bits of cloth, historical reference material, anything but drawings.
What has happened is that that producer who saw the potential in Ravi’s little sketch has gone and he’s been replaced by someone who cannot interpret a concept sketch, or lacks the confidence to sign off on something so rudimentary. He needs to see something finished.
It first happened in music. 40 years ago you could demo a song for a producer with just a voice and a guitar. Now they won’t listen unless it is at least a full-on Garageband production, and preferably better than that. So that concept sketch now has to be a fully realised Photoshop work of art, or he doesn’t know, or rather, is insecure about approving the design. There’s a lot at stake of course, the budgets have gone up exponentially, but the feeling is, the art is going out of film making and being replaced by the Tried and Tested method of franchise production.
I just hope Alex McDowell’s open architecture story building approach gains traction, and film producers remember that why we go to the cinemas is to get a new experience, to see something we can relate to and be excited by, that surprises us and maybe frightens us or comforts us - is it a horror story or a love story, a comedy or a drama? We want to see something fresh, not a repeat of a film concept that was great when they did it the first time, but is looking decidedly worn-out now.
But how we deliver that story to the audience, well, that is entirely unpredictable in these exciting, interesting times.
Day 2 and I’m sitting down to write this diary at 1.30 in the morning, after another long and engaging day at FMX 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany, the talks, my meetings with leading personalities from the industry, a dinner hosted by FMX, and finally a party at the Institute Francaise here in Stuttgart.
The first event of the day that I attended was a presentation by Volker Engel of Uncharted Territory talking about their work for the Roland Emmerlich movie “White House Down”. To be honest with you, this isn’t a movie I would bother to see, just another thrills-ville movie playing to American paranoia about the outside world, usually portrayed as terrorists, as in the case of this film. But as a technical exercise, a marvel to look at, it is yet another very well accomplished Hollywood film.
This was another talk in the Virtual Production track here at FMX 2014. The previs work done on this movie would stand up as an animated TV series. Every shot was considered with the idea of this style of previs being to anticipate all possible alternatives in the final stages of the edit, effectively making final cut decisions before a single frame of the film was shot. Emmerlich, according to Volker, is a very hands-on director, who understands all the possibilities and pitfalls of CG technology, and willing to use CG wherever it can help him. He directed the previs much as Cuarón directed the previs for “Gravity”, fully engaged and using this part of the production process to eliminate future problems.
Using an Ncam system that allowed him to view the greenscreen shots on monitors with the background plates already in the shot, Emmerich was able to make directorial decisions much as he would have done in the day when everything was in camera. As I say, not my kind of film, but the shots were awesome.
I then went along to a presentation by the Houdini team, but I will be meeting with Jeff Wagner tomorrow so I will write about that in my Day 3 diary. During the remainder of the morning I met other interesting representatives of software developers, and I will report back on those conversations later.
Undoubtedly, the central event of the day was the presentation by Andy Serkis of the latest Planet of the Apes iteration out of WETA, produced by Fox, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. The event began with a security process that would have been little different if we were queuing to meet the President of the USA, but as we stood in line it seemed excessive for a presentation by an interesting actor giving a talk about his work on the latest take on the whole “Planet of the Apes” franchise. We were obliged to surrender our phones and cameras lest we decide to pirate the material we would be shown, and went through metal detectors to assure the organisers we were going in without any means of recording the event.
But within a couple of minutes of talking, Andy won us over. Andy Serkis is a very talented, very dedicated man who has taken on the whole process of motion and performance capture and perfected it as a means to create surreal events for film. The results of his work lie in a new arena between live performance and animation. Matt Reeves, the director, insisted on using only motion captured footage for the film. Animators polished the data coming from the mocap, and they added in any ape moves that a human cannot perform, but essentially he used the mocap as a sister process to shooting a live performance, as if he had had a cast of intelligent apes to work with.
The results are amazing. After all that security I don’t know what if anything I can tell you about the film, but suffice to say, that given all the clever use of technology and the wonderful work of the actors, it is a story of family, tribalism and resolving conflicts between alienated groups. And if that sounds almost divorced from the concept of intelligent apes confronting marauding humans, that is how it should be. Film, when it works, takes its stories and lifts them to the point where they can speak to all of us, echoing ancient stories and myths, and creating something that is simultaneously relevant to modern times.
Which brings me to my meeting with Jon Landau. There was a mix up in the morning over the available space for interviews, and Jon had taken a room I had previously booked to talk to someone. As thanks to me for not asking him to move, he gave me some of his time later in the day.
I have said this FMX is about the emerging processes of Virtual Production. What I should ad is that this is yet to be defined. Each person I have listened to has a different take on what is the idea behind the phrase. Jon’s is traditional, grounded in the best traditions of filmmaking, but also tuned in to the new technologies of filmmaking. He is here to promote the development of James second film in the “Avatar” franchise.
What he says is that Cameron is making films that are all about the story, not about the grand budget. What makes a film work for Jon, and by implication, Jim Cameron, is that it touches on universal themes. He made an interesting point: the seminal Ridley Scott film “Alien” was essentially a horror film. Cameron’s sequel, although rooted in the same concept, was a love story of a mother and child.
Photo by Reiner Pfisterer
As Jon put it, “One man’s cliché is another man’s archetype.” Or to put it another way, “Jim makes films on universal themes and sets them in a variety of genres.” That is why he can touch his audience, be they in L.A. or a remote village in the back of beyond.
So for Jon and Jim the Virtual Production process is still an immediate, hands-on process. He calls previs, visvis, because what they see in the initial shot is the material they will use in the final. They have developed an alternative digital camera system akin to but very different to Ncam (as used by Roland Emmerich), which they call Simulcam. In this camera system, they can put the CG plate with the live action performances in the eyepiece of the camera. Looking through the eyepiece, they can see the virtual world and any CG characters in the shot, just as if they were all in the real world.
I have not covered all that I did today, not the events I attended nor all of the meetings I had, but I will get to those at a later date. For now, I’m going to grab some sleep and get ready for another exciting day at this really well organised and totally absorbing festival.
It’s the first day at the festival and the crowds are pouring into the impressive Haus der Wirkshaft building. Wirkshaft means economy, and the Haus is the home of the Baden-Wurtemberg financial arm of the state government. FMX are given the building for the festival week no doubt because it is a big player in the local economy, and you can see why, as both audience and presenters have flown in from all over the world to be here. The crowd is massive, every lecture hall is filled.
One of the main tracks at this year’s FMX is on Virtual Production. Essentially, Virtual Production means the use of CG technology to enhance the process of making feature films, to save money by ironing out any production issues, and to allow the director to see what he will get from the VFX work in the final cut. This means previs, creating 3D CG mock-ups of the film; through VFX and all associated processes that go into creating the exciting shots we expect in today’s films; to postvis, the final production phase, compositing and editing it all together. Not long ago such CG technologies were the province of low end TV graphics and games, but in the last few years they have become integral to the very top end of movie making.
At the same time, developments in realtime game technology are moving that industry towards feature film quality. What this means is that the gap between games and feature films is closing.
To start the day I watched half an hour’s worth of animations made here at Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg. FMX is organized by the Institute of Animation, Visual Effects and Digital Postproduction, the film and animation department within the Academy. The work varied from obviously student level, fairly ordinary, derivative 2D animations, to a couple of very high-end concepts, the excellent “Rollin’ Wild” series of funny vignettes involving unfeasibly rotund animals, and “Wrapped”, a beautifully realised film about the world being taken over by the jungle. The good news is there is a steady stream of talent coming into the industry. The bad news... Well, there isn’t any bad news. With experience and with the tools they will have as the technologies develop, these students prove that the film media industry is very much alive and well.
Next I attended a presentation on the making of “Gravity”, given by Max Solomon, the Animation Supervisor at Framestore. This was the first talk in the Virtual Production track. Probably, most people reading this will have heard the story of the making of “Gravity”, how it was in previs for over a year, how the director Alfonso Cuarón worked closely with the team at Framestore to work out the film in detail before the principle shoot, and how in the final result, just about everything except the faces of the actors was CG.
Cuarón is famous for his storyboarding, and according to Max, the storyboards he gave them took a load off the work of the previs team. Every sequence was there, frame for frame, and it was possible to plan all the shots from those boards. When they began work on the film they discussed fairly standard FX techniques, flying rigs and carefully edited in-camera trick shots. The old techniques of illusion. But it soon became clear that to get an authentic feel of the weightless environment it was necessary to create everything in CG. Zero gravity movement is a complex mixture of slowness and unstoppable momentum, meaning slow motion and sudden rapid movement. Things float in zero gravity as long as they are left alone. But they don’t stop moving once they get started.
As the film developed, the collaboration between the many departments involved became more and more complicated. To cut 10 frames from the edit was a major disruption. It had an effect on every aspect of the production, lighting, animation, simulations, and VFX. It was a massive task but, working all the hours God gave them and a few he didn’t, they did it.
Few Oscars have been as well deserved as Framestore’s for the VFX on “Gravity”. I watched the first landing on the moon on TV back in 1969. After that, I used to dream that one day, somehow, I would go into space. Well, after seeing “Gravity” in 3D IMAX, I don’t need to. I’ve been there, and Max is one of the main people who made that experience possible.
I also attended two very informative and intriguing talks from the games industry. The first was given by Kenneth McDonald and Teppei Takehana of Quantic Dream, makers of the innovative “Beyond Two Souls”. What they showed us was the highly sophisticated level of motion capture now employed in games, the vast library of movement they put into the engine. According to Teppei, there are more than thirty thousand separate motion files in “Beyond Two Souls”.
The motion capture is divided into two distinct types, using different camera setups and software: body capture and performance capture. Body capture is the familiar form, capturing whole body stunt movements for the game characters’ actions. Performance capture is about tracking the actor’s facial performance, the emotional performances that give the game an added dimension of engagement for the player such as previously we could only get from watching movies.
Up to 90 tracking points are applied to the actor’s face, and the animation rigs incorporate hundreds of bones to simulate the subtle movements of the human face. “Beyond Two Souls’ features two A List actors, Ellen Page and William Dafoe, and Kenneth and Teppei showed how necessary that quality of performance input now is.
Not so long ago there were sections of any game that were called FMVs – Full Motion Videos – which were short fully rendered animations. These would pause the realtime engine to allow for scene loading, and mark the junction in chapters in the story. In Quantic Dream’s production, the realtime is cinematic and seamlessly inserted into the gameplay.
Then, at the end of this first day, I went to see Cevat Yerkil give his presentation of the extraordinary “Ryse – Son of Rome”. What Crytek have managed with their world-renowned realtime engine and their latest technological development, Cinebox, is to make a total immersion game as good looking, as thoughtfully lit, and well acted as a feature film. Coming from feature film work myself (most of my career has been in film and TV, only that one year in games was the exception), it was almost endearing to hear Cervat talk about the need to give high priority to lighting design and script, as if this was an innovation, but of course, in games it is. In the past such subtleties were simply beyond the capabilities of the software, or even more so, the hardware. But no longer. Ryse has the look and feel of a feature film, but you, the gamer, are moving the action. Even the choices offered in Two Souls seems already clunky by comparison.
I have often thought we are close to a time when entertainment media is interactive, and this new game is pointing in that direction.
There’s much more going on here at FMX, and other talks I attended that I will write about later, and in the Marketplace there are stands for new hardware and software, crowd simulations, motion capture systems without markers, new lighting and rendering technologies, plus a whole track on Concept Art, but right now it’s 9.00pm and I’m going to grab my first bite to eat since breakfast and then attend one of the parties they are putting on for us.
If you’re not here this year, be sure you don’t miss it again!!
Ironing shirts and counting socks, getting ready to pack my bags for a week in Stuttgart, Germany, to attend the FMX Conference and Festival 2014.
CG Society have invited me to cover the event in a daily blog, so keep an eye out here for posts Tuesday to Friday next week. The events programme is intense, it will be a task to decide what to see, who to listen to, and where to go, and I’m expecting my legs, arms and brain to get worn to shreds by the end of the week, but it will be exciting and fun.
I’m particularly interested in developments in what is becoming known as Disruptive Technology, and the effect that is having in forcing a total rethink on how we make movies and how we distribute them. Transmedia is another part of the same story, the cross-platform creation of film-game-book-whatever projects that link all those media forms together, and the play of the creative input and the interactive input and all the possible permutations of that. Forget everything you know, the 21st Century world of media is all brand new!
I’ll be attending the Irish Film Board and VFX Association of Ireland events, as Ireland is my home and the people in the industry here are a very talented, industrious, dedicated, fun bunch to work with. You should all be heading for Dublin with your VFX projects!
I’ll seek out as many young film-makers as I can (and if you’re reading this, please seek me out!) to hear how they see their way forward in an industry that is changing and/or losing all its traditional ways and established career paths. I’d say we are heading for exciting times for media, or as the Chinese would say, Interesting times... What Giants will fall, what Davids will appear, how will we be viewing media ten years from now, or even five?
FMX sets out to discuss all of this and more. I’ll be listening, doing my best to understand what the heck is going on, and writing about it. Watch this space!!