PRESS RELEASE: Faculty, Students, and Industry Collaborate on Classic-Game Inspired Cinematic Projects
October 14, 2014
October 13, 2014 For Immediate Release:
Faculty, Students, and Industry Collaborate on Classic-Game Inspired Cinematic Projects
In an experimental teaching project, two University of Wisconsin-Stout art and design faculty members, Kevin Pontuti and Dave Beck, brought students together from multiple classes to explore the convergence of cinema, animation and games. Using the classic-game ZORK as inspiration, students worked in teams across two classes creating live-action and computer generated cinematics.
A video and blog that document the project have just been released: http://stoutcinemagames.wordpress.com/
“Our goal was to set up our curriculum, course structure and projects to more closely mimic the entertainment industry’s convergence within and around cinema, animation and games.” Pontuti quotes. “With our combined interest in transmedia storytelling and complementary research agendas, the idea to team teach our Cinema and 3D animation courses emerged. Building upon our experience from the previous year with implementing shorter cross-course projects, this year we decided to devote the whole semester to larger research and production projects. And since we didn’t have the budget for traditional team teaching (two instructors in one class) we decided to schedule our two courses to meet at the same time and near one another. This parallel scheduling meant that both courses could meet as one large group, separately and/or in small cross-course teams, depending on instructional and project needs.”
“Since we were framing the semester around the idea of Cinema and Game convergence, we decided to craft a project where the teams would create film trailers or hook scenes for a game that was being adapted into a film, or basically a game-inspired short.” After kicking around a number of story adaption ideas and existing games that could be translated into films, Pontuti and Beck decided to use the classic text-based adventure game ZORK as a point of departure for the project. (http://www.infocom-if.org/downloads/downloads.html)
ZORK is one of the earliest interactive fiction computer games, written in 1977-1979 by Tim Anderson, Marc Blanc, Bruce Daniels and David Lebling at MIT. The game was later divided into three sections and distributed by Infocom, and still has a cult classic following today. The “engine” understands basic text commands such as “Look Up”, “Go East”, or “Open Mailbox”. Each of these commands solicits a response from the game that describes the outcome of the command. “2015 marks the 35th anniversary of ZORK so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to celebrate the game.” said Beck.
As the faculty members finalized goals and teaching methods for the project, they reached out to Dan Gamsby of Cinema Suite Inc. (http://cinema-suite.com/) about using their soon-to-be-released software Cinema Director for the course. Cinema Director is a groundbreaking new previsualization tool that allows filmmakers and game artists to collaborate by making films within the Unity game engine. “Since most of our game design students were already comfortable with the Unity engine, it was a perfect stepping stone into Cinema Director”, said Pontuti. “It allowed our students to build upon their experience with a familiar software application and expand into uncharted territory”. Cinema Suite Inc. also provided their motion capture program, Cinema MoCap which allows users to use a Microsoft Kinect to quickly capture performances that can be mapped onto characters. “Being able to expose the students to Cinema Suite’s products allows them to get up to speed with Unity much more quickly and easily. Students that aren’t programmers can now collaborate as a team and quickly generate content with Unity,” added Dan Gamsby. During the product beta-testing phase, student leaders were able to communicate directly with the technical team at Cinema Suite providing input into the development process. “Our partnership with UW-STOUT was critical for the future development of our cinematic tools. This collaborative project gave us in-depth feedback on our products, and allowed us to make them even better for the general public” continued Gamsby.
With the increased use of computer generated imagery (CGI) and visual effects in popular films, new tools and methods for “previsualization” are being implemented in the to help directors, producers and highly collaborative production and post-production teams to work together. By previsualizing all the shots and sequences in a film, it allows all the team members to be on the same page when it comes time to create the film “for real”. In the past, storyboards were the primary previsualization tool for directors to help “imagine” their films. Although they are still often utilized, many productions are moving towards 3D visualization, allowing the entire film to be viewed in a format that resembles a low-resolution 3D animated movie.
Students working on the live-action teams were able to utilize a local natural landmark, known as Crystal Cave (http://www.acoolcave.com/). They used it as a filming location that the university rented out for the students. “We were able to connect with cave owner Eric McMaster and told him about our project. After our initial scouting visit, we called Eric back and asked him what the cost would be to rent the caves for some shooting time and were extremely pleased when he told us that he’d donate the cave rental time as long as we agreed to cover the cost of his tour guide to supervise the students. The one catch was that we had to wait until the bats started to stir out of their hibernation in late April or early May. ‘No problem!’”
In April, Pontuti shared the plans for the unique project with Canon at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Show (http://www.nabshow.com/). The NAB Show is an international trade show for cinema and television held in Las Vegas each year. Pontuti was delighted when Canon offered to provide a high-end specialized camera for filming in the dark caves of rural Wisconsin. Students were able to use the cutting edge Canon equipment for four weeks both in the caves and for other aspects of the project.
In total, the ZORK project included about 20 students working on various live-action, visual effects and previsualization teams for four-months. “The collaboration and teamwork component of this project cannot be undervalued”, said Pontuti. “Students had to adapt to team positions—director, cinematographer, editor, 3D artists, game engine scripter, etc. and learn how to best communicate and time manage these large multi-stepped projects. Since communication and teamwork skills are regularly listed as a priority for game and entertainment design fields, we’re always looking for creative ways to work these objectives into our classes”.
Pontuti and Beck plan to continue with their cross-course projects in the future.
Kevin Pontuti firstname.lastname@example.org
Dave Beck email@example.com
In-depth article and blog with student artwork and examples: https://stoutcinemagames.wordpress.com
Cinema Suite : http://cinema-suite.com/
For more information on the UW-Stout programs, please visit the following links:
BFA in Entertainment Design: http://www.uwstout.edu/programs/bfaed/
BS in Game Design and Development: http://www.uwstout.edu/programs/bsgdd/