While critics may now say a film’s action scenes “seem like a video game,” it doesn’t just seem like film and games are borrowing from each other. It is not only happening stylistically, but also at a deep technical level. At the Media Systems gathering, Chad Greene from Microsoft Studios discussed how the common basis of computation is leading to transformations in film and games, enabling borrowing between the two, as well as both borrowing from academic research.
Increasingly, previsualization is a major component of film directing, borrowing real-time, reduced-detail techniques invented for games. Artists working on computer animated characters and objects for film are able, using game-derived techniques, to see their work rendered as they craft it (rather than working on abstract representations and only occasionally rendering an image more like what the audience will see) making faster iteration and more refinement possible.
In the other direction, games are now borrowing many computational techniques from film, as well as emulating both the language of film and the look of particular technical artifacts of film (from lens flare to depth of field). This combination of greater detail and building on well-understood filmic forms is allowing games to create more immersive-feeling worlds, but it is also producing a new set of challenges. Greene particularly drew attention to the challenge of avoiding the pitfalls that computer-animated film and robotics have experienced with the “uncanny valley,” creating characters for interactive media that feel engaging and alive.
Of course, changes in what is on the screen and how it is produced are only part of the transformations currently occurring through computational media. Greene also discussed Microsoft’s Kinect sensor, sold as a way for audiences to control games and other Xbox experiences with their bodies and voices. Selling more than eight million units in its first two months of release (making it the fastest-selling consumer electronics device on record) the Kinect was a huge success for Microsoft. But Greene also described the significant mistake Microsoft made in trying to close the device off from the exploration of other uses by the open-source community. Luckily, through the efforts of hobbyist tinkerers an unofficial open-source driver for Kinect was available within days after launch, resulting in projects showing its potential for computational media applications in areas ranging from medicine to education. Microsoft followed soon after by officially opening Kinect to broader uses.
If you wish to discuss the ideas in Greene’s talk further, please leave comments here or take to Twitter with the #MediaSystems hashtag. Also, as with Bill Gaver’s talk posted last week, PDF slides are available on the main Media Systems page for this talk. And watch for Janet Kolodner’s talk next week!
This material is based upon a project supported by the National Science Foundation (under Grant Number 1152217), the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor, the National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Studios, and Microsoft Research.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, Microsoft Studios, or Microsoft Research.
About the author: Noah Wardrip-Fruin is an Associate Professor at UC Santa Cruz and the author of Expressive Processing: Digital Fictions, Computer Games, and Software Studies.