Archive:Virtual Hollywood

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  • Published: 01 September 1998
  • Host:
  • Author: Paul O’Connor

The Designer Diary

Part 9: Virtual Hollywood

Somewhere on my hard drive is a vast ‘back story’ of Oddworld history: Mudokon mysticism, Glukkon corporate greed, the rise and fall of alien cultures… the works. It’s a master vision of where Oddworld is going, but I won’t tell you any of it. Partially, this is because I don’t want to spoil the surprises we have coming down the line. More importantly, I don’t want to ’tell‘ you when it’s so much more effective to ‘show’ you.

And that’s where movies really count. Oddworld’s movies are the best in the business. You can discount that as marketing hype from a company man, but it’s true. Stack our movies up against any game out there, and the other guy is going to come out second best.

To gain some insight on the Oddworld movie process, I cornered two of Oddworld’s movie-making wizards, head technical director Christophe Chaverou and senior animator Scott Easley. Both were among the half-dozen or so original Oddworlders. Now they are at the forefront of an eight-person animation department that would be the envy of a Hollywood studio.

According to Christophe, the process of making an Oddworld movie isn’t much different from the way they’d do it for television or film. ‘The script is written first, then storyboarded. Then we record the soundtrack. With all those elements, I create an animatic (a rough version of the final sequence) so that we can adjust timing, camera, lights, atmosphere, and basic character placement and choreography.’

These preliminary steps are critical to ensure a shot will work before committing to the more expensive rendering process. A single shot can take weeks to complete, so we can’t afford to get it wrong. When the animatic looks right, rendering begins. ‘We render what we call a low-res containing the final animation but on a “low-resolution geometry” with no texture,’ Christophe continues. ‘Once we make sure the animation is OK, we render “hi-res” characters and “hi-res” environments, eventually adding the particles to create smoke, steam, fire, and water.’

Of course, every video game company goes through these steps, so what makes Oddworld movies special? While movies have become common in today’s video games, not all movies are created equal. Most adhere to the quick and cheesy heritage of past game movies. This is one of the areas where Scott Easley sees Oddworld is different. ‘The biggest difference is we have people making the movies who actually hail from a movie production background,’ Scott says. ‘Instead of being mired in the “look” of computer graphics, we use the conventions of classic movie lighting and cinematography to tell the story and try to make things look movie-quality instead of passable. In short, we work to produce images that do not look computer-generated so that the level of immersion stays consistent when we switch from the gameplay to movies and back again.’

In other words, gameplay and movie presentation are rushing toward a common spot on the horizon… about which I’ll have more to say next time.

— Paul O’Connor, Oddworld Inhabitants, 12 August 1998

NEXT: Convergence