Filmmakers and game firms learn from each other

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The term convergence has been used and abused many times over the past 30 years of game development. But today, there truly is a blossoming marriage between the global videogame industry and the established entertainment companies of Hollywood. It is telling that when the surprise Warner Bros. blockbuster, "300," came out and earned over $445 million globally, critics compared the film's unique visual style to a video game.

"Movies like '300' and (2006's) 'Sin City' draw heavily from the artistic style of the original comic books," Outspark chief studio officer Nick Foster, chief studio officer of Outspark. "I think Frank Miller's visual language is iconic and has influenced cinematographers and game designers alike."

Hit movie franchises like Sony Pictures' "Resident Evil," which launched in 2002 and has a third film opening this October, were based on games that were influenced by filmmakers like George A. Romero. In effect, the mediums of films and games are coming full circle. Or more accurately, a pipeline between game developers and Hollywood creatives has been successfully paved.

"The last two to three years we've seen a convergence of the pipelines of both Hollywood talent and visual effects in games," Electronic Arts Los Angeles vp and general manager Neil Young says. "Today it's relatively easy to take someone from the Hollywood visual effects industry and transfer them to the games industry."

Talent is also migrating to interactive entertainment. Peter Jackson's Wingnut Interactive game studio, Vin Diesel's Tigon Games and John Woo's Tiger Hill Entertainment are all recent examples of Hollywood talent getting involved in the creation of original games. Jackson has been the driving Hollywood force behind a potential movie version of Microsoft's original "Halo" game, as well as other original IPs he'd like to develop into games. Diesel is working with Midway Games on "The Wheelman," which will debut first as a game starring Diesel and then as a movie from Paramount Pictures with the actor reprising the same role. Woo's first collaboration with Midway Games, "John Woo's Stranglehold," ships in August. It's a virtual sequel to his movie, "Hard Boiled" with actor Chow Yun-Fat reprising his role of Inspector Tequila for the game. The Blu-ray Disc for PlayStation 3 will include the original movie and the new game on the same optical disc.

"We've evolved from an industry that licensed Hollywood IP for games to one that now works with creators like Steven Spielberg to create original IP that can translate across multiple interactive and traditional media," Young says, referring to the three original games EA is developing with Spielberg. "That journey is accelerating as musicians, writers, actors and directors are all getting involved in videogames. The lines are being blurred between a great IP that comes from the imagination of a game designer and one that comes from a Hollywood creative."

Kevin Munroe, the director of Warner Bros. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" movie, got his start at game companies like Shiny Entertainment and Midway Games. Like a growing number of Hollywood CG auteurs, Munroe entered the world of storytelling through interactive entertainment.

"I think entertainment may become more interactive, rather than having games all of a sudden catch up and tell full movie-type stories," Munroe says. "I think it's a nice goal, but I think there's going to be movement on both sides."

Foster says that in the contemporary marketplace, games and entertainment companies are not just competing within their own market segments, but directly with each other for an individual's time. "That time is consistently being won by online games, and I expect to see traditional media companies looking more and more to transfer their successful franchises into the online game space," he notes.

Tentpole movie product like the "Star Wars" and "The Matrix" properties, as well as "Pirates of the Caribbean" have already ventured online with massively multiplayer online (MMO) games. People involved with James Cameron's upcoming film "Avatar" have said the director plans to debut the property online as an MMO before it hits theaters in 3-D. Other Hollywood IPs are also heading online, including "Star Trek," "Firefly" and "StarGate."

Young believes the blurring of which came first, the movie or the game, will become a moot point inside of three years.

"I'm excited about a future in which a table of creative minds are not defined by which medium they come from, whether it be television, movies or games, but as creators of content that can successfully bridge multiple mediums," Young says.

Collaboration between Hollywood writers, filmmakers, composers and actors is already on-going. But what the game industry is experiencing now with the recent launches of Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Wii is just the beginning of convergence potential.

"TV and movies are around today because of the great creative people the industry has and the business models they have created. Game makers need to learn from that," Young says. "The entertainment industry can learn the value of a team working collaboratively on a project and the marriage between technology and art that allows for the creation of games. I think it will be interesting to see what models game makers can learn from traditional media and vice versa."

Game publisher Ubisoft is learning from Sony Pictures Animation, having worked with the CG animators on both "Surf's Up" and "Open Season." The game company is expanding its Montreal game studio over the next five years and will add 500 employees to focus on non-interactive CG entertainment beginning with short films based on its "Assassin's Creed" video game.

"With the short films, we're going to learn how CG production works," Ubisoft CEO and co-founder Yves Guillemot says. "Our goal is to work more closely with Hollywood studios and talent so we can eventually make movies at the same time we create the games."

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