ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
MAKUTA AND THE DIGITAL HOUSEFLY
Makuta Visual Effects in Hyderabad, India did outstanding work on Eaga, the hit feature film directed by SS Rajamouli. My friend Pete Draper, Division Head & Chief Technical Director at Makuta, has included a good sample of its shots on Eaga on the studio's latest show reel. I am fortunate to have worked a bit alongside this talented group of animators, and let me assure you that it is not easy to give a digital fly an illusion of life. (Can you spell "ecto-skeleton"? Terrific job, Pete!
"DISNEY AND LUCAS SITTING IN A TREE, K-I-S-S-I-N-G!"
The big question mark for me regarding Disney's purchase of All Things Lucas is whether it will slow Lucas's advances in feature animation. Rango was jaw-dropping awesome to watch, and I have been waiting eagerly for the next ILM animation project. So, now what? On the surface, it does not appear that Disney has much of an incentive to build feature animation at ILM because it already has Pixar and its own Disney Animation Studios. I'm just saying.
ACTING FOR ANIMATORS WORKSHOP SCHEDULE
November 19-22 Irish School of Animation Dublin, Ireland
February 18-22 Animex Intl Festival of Animation & Computer Games, Teesside, England
The Future of Game Cinematics
Cut scenes are on my mind because of a recent New York Times article about the escalating migration of games away from consoles toward mobile devices. The largest studios are set up to create big games for big budgets, and those big games work best on big screens. If the migration continues, what happens to cinematics? They won't look as good or have the same punch on a hand-held screen. I am going to go out on a limb here and predict that game cinematics are endangered altogether. Think about it: Cut scenes have always been an imperfect device for delivering story points and character development. Most games with cut scenes give the player aesthetic whiplash because he can empathize with characters during the mini-movie, but he cannot empathize with them during game play. Let me explain.
Just about everybody in the industry today will acknowledge that a game is not a movie. You play a game and you watch a movie, apples and oranges. Cinematics were originally intended to be tiny game/movie hybrids. There used to be a lot of lunch break discussion about whether or not a game could "make you cry". As an acting teacher, I can tell you that, yes, it is possible for a game to make you cry, but probably not with cinematics. The thing that makes you cry is empathy, identifying with the emotions of an on-screen character. A baseline requirement for empathy is physical distance. It is a fact of human nature that you cannot empathize with yourself, and that is why a player cannot empathize with his own avatar. In order for a game to pull the player into an emotional/empathetic transaction, most of the job being done today with cut scenes must be achieved through game play. In an ideal game, there would be no cinematics at all. And in order for that to happen, game designers -- especially Level Designers -- must have a working understanding of empathy.
Fumito Ueda brilliantly blazed the trail to empathetic game play with Ico ten years ago, but that game was not financially successful enough to spawn imitators. Now would be a good time to take a fresh look at what Mr. Ueda accomplished. The secret ingredient in Ico is that Ico (the player) is the only character that can actually do things. The queen's daughter, Yorda, is sort of an emotional train wreck, hesitant and afraid. She won't take the kind of risks that Ico wants her to take, and so he must assist her in order to save her. The player empathizes with Yorda through the POV of Ico precisely because the player cannot fully control Yorda's behavior.
I usually tell a personal story about empathy in my masterclass. It concerns a young friend who was playing one of the Sims games a few years back and put a female character in a room with no windows or doors. "I figured she would starve to death in there," he explained to me in an e-mail. "But then she surprised me and started crying! And she wouldn't stop!" My friend finally figured out that his only option was to take the girl out of the room altogether. "I had to find some other way to kill her," he said. Whoever came up with the idea of the crying girl was on the right track for empathy. The set-up is similar to the one in Ico. If my friend had been able to flip a switch labeled "Cry/STOP Cry", empathy would have been impossible.
With all of this in mind, I have a few suggestions for developers that want to be the first to cross the finish line when cinematics go away:
1) There is, in many game studios, a systemic division between programmers/writers/designers and animators. In the future, that wall must come down. The technical side of the studio - let's call it the left-brainers - must have a better understanding of human behavior - the right-brain part. It is a mistake to assume that animators alone control character performance. This is the reason that, whenever I teach at a game company, I practically plead to have the designers and writers attend the class along with the animators. The fix for the cut scene problem begins with game design, character analysis and scripts. Therefore, the launch team must take actual for-real human behavior, including the ability to empathize, into account from Day One.
2) Scripts for most games today are woefully, if understandably, dialogue-heavy and frequently banal. This is particularly true in cinematics because they are the device used to convey story points and exposition. The fact is that acting has almost nothing to do with words. That is something else that Fumito Ueda understood with Ico. (Miyazaki understands it, too, BTW.) Eliminate all dialogue that is not absolutely essential. Animators are like stage actors to the extent that they can only work with the script they are given. Even Anthony Hopkins cannot save some of the scripts out there.
3) Level Designers are going to have to carry more of the load. It is essential that Level Designers in the future know as much about story and acting as the animators and scriptwriters do.
4) Mocap has a lot of room for improvement. It is getting better, but mocap directors still need to learn better how to communicate with actual actors in terms that actual actors understand. A big part of Gollum's success was that Peter Jackson is a live-action director, and he cast Andy Serkis, a well-trained classical actor, in the role. They knew how to talk to one another in a common language, and the result was that the animators had rich data to work with.
5) Finally, please include your animators in these studio adjustments. Just as the design side needs to learn and incorporate more of the performance side, so too should the animator have a better understand of the design side. Nobody has to get fired in this transition. Each member of the studio team needs to expand his knowledge base and become more of a generalist than a specialist.
This will take a while, so be patient. You can't be brilliant in a hurry.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks