Gaming Software Offers Cheap Alternative to Hollywood Animation Tools
Pixar's computer-animated blockbusters such as "Toy Story 3" still rule with both film critics and the box office, but smaller filmmakers have begun harnessing the power of video games to create animated movies and shows without Hollywood-sized budgets.
Such software known as game engines allows developers to create the virtual worlds where millions of gamers play. The same game engines can even create in-game movies that interweave storytelling into the game play.
All of that knowledge was second nature to Jason "Jace" Hall, owner of HD Films, because he started his career as a game developer and producer. His approach also convinced TheWB.com, which had commissioned the online-only webseries "Chadam" based on the leaner Internet economics of creating movies or shows for the Web.
Faced with the challenge of translating the surreal work of avant-garde California artist Alex Pardee into "Chadam," Jace turned to the Unreal Engine 3 software that powers popular games such as "Batman: Arkham Asylum" and "America's Army." [Video Games May Shield Soldiers During Nightmares ]
"In his head, if you want to do computer animation inexpensively, you use a video game engine," said Todd Roy, producer of "Chadam." "It was just in his DNA."
Roy said that the limitations of "Chadam" budget made the Unreal Engine 3 a good fit for the business model. His informal talks with people at Pixar convinced him that the difference in using a game engine came out to tens of thousands of dollars versus millions of dollars for a traditional animation engine.
Roy and Hall also wanted to do something that had never been done before with a game engine, and thereby push the boundaries of traditional filmmaking.
"No one had made a feature-quality film with a video game engine before," Roy told InnovationNewsDaily. "Five years ago, it couldn't have been done."
Other shows have used game engines and the preexisting characters of games such as "Halo" to act out humorous or dramatic stories in a puppeteer fashion a style known as machinima. By contrast, HD Films used the graphical power and tools of Unreal Engine 3 to create the original characters and landscape of "Chadam" from scratch.
But there was no "easy button," according to Roy. Building from the bottom up still required a small team of artists, animators and motion-capture actors to spend a long period of time creating "Chadam" a trade-off of time for money without having the massive resources of a Pixar.
Such lean Internet economics meant that Roy and the others "didn't buy houses up in the Hollywood hills" after they made "Chadam." But Roy remains optimistic that game engines could empower a new wave of lower-budget animators and filmmakers even if they won't necessarily challenge the Pixars of the world.
"As long as you're being creative and original, it doesn't matter whether a story is told through a Pixar engine or a game engine," Roy said. "But it might open up the playing field if game engines became more accessible and easier to use for a wider field of people."
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