We once saw games as a way to extend the brand of a motion picture.
2019 is proving that it is the other way around.
by Scott Billups
Ever since the pixel showed up on our doorstep, media production has been assaulted with an unrelenting parade of gizmos, gadgets and innovations.
While we were being distracted by the reconstituted claims of stereo 3D and VR, a much more significant technology began impacting the production industry on a very fundamental level: Game Engines.
Video games have been around in one form or another since the early 80's, but back then each game had to be written to the specific hardware that they were designed to play on.
Pong and Tetris ushered in the era of arcade games while Atari led the charge into the home. Although they reached an incredible level of popularity in the PacMan era, they were all 2D
and contrary to popular belief, quite analog.
It wasn't until the 1990's and the rise of 3D CGI that third-party game engines started showing up. Now, rather than starting from scratch, game developers could license an engine that came with a suite of characters,
weapons, environments and scripts that would give them a substantial head start on the development process. By the late 90's games like Quake, Doom and Halo began dominating the landscape and teenage boys would
have yet another reason not to leave their bedrooms.
I recently attended the annual Game Developer's Conference (GDC) in San Francisco where all of the gaming companies, large and small, gather to cross-pollinate. This year was quite exceptional as they added a hugely popular adjunct conference for virtual reality developers. Perhaps even more amazing to me was the large number of friends and acquaintances from the production community that I ran into. At times it felt more like NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) than GDC. The reason for this on-going shift in production focus is due to the increasing relevance of game engines in conventional media production.
One of the most common uses of game engines is in the increasing popularity of Smart-Stages. Built around a high-powered game engine, Smart-Stages sync the virtual camera in the game engine to the physical camera.
When you pan, tilt, roll, pan, track, pedestal, focus, iris or zoom the lens on the physical camera, the virtual camera mimics those actions so that any CG set, environment or elements that have been created in the
engine are in perfect calibration with the scene in the physical world. When shooting live actors on a green screen stage, they become part of the virtual environment that is being created by the game engine.
When the physical camera moves or changes a lens setting, so does the virtual camera in the game engine.
As game engines and graphic software gets more and more powerful, their ability to create and maintain a believable environment gets easier. Many broadcast shows and a large percentage of commercials are generated
in this way and it is hard to imagine any cogent entertainment industry brand-extension without featuring a game as part of its Story World.
Motion picture production is being impacted by the game engine as well, and when combined with Augmented Reality becomes increasingly more important as an essential component of the emerging cross-media toolset.
In much the same way that Smart-Stages enable live actors to be composited into virtual or enhanced environments in real-time, the same technology set can greatly impact the physical production of motion pictures with heavy VFX.
By routing the camera feed through a game-engine based AR system, it becomes possible to view animated digital assists such as monsters, characters, giant robots and all sorts of supernatural events composited into the scene in real-time.
Today, gaming technology has advanced to the point where we are able to design 3D digital environments that can be populated with "photo real" characters of such fidelity that they can be used in the
full spectrum of media applications.
This advanced, scalable technology enables the repurposing of content for multiple platforms. By leveraging the power of modern game engines, Pixelmonger Studios has developed technology to quickly and cost efficiently create digital assets that can be deployed in multiple formats.
This dynamic versatility facilitates a multi-platform strategy that enables cost-efficient franchise creation.
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