Stan Lee's NHL-Themed 'Guardian Project' Created Using Video Game Technology

The superhero franchise, which could spawn an online game and TV series, is the first project to develop "Hollywood animation through a game engine," says co-creator.

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Stan Lee's latest venture, The Guardian Project, a collection of 30 superheroes inspired by each of the National Hockey League teams, was unveiled Sunday as a short film with voice-over by Lee that played on the ice, on the JumboTron and on a huge round movie screen during the 58th NHL All-Star Game intermission at the RBC Center and on the Versus and CBC Networks telecasts of the game.

The computer-generated Guardians were created by Guardian Media Entertainment, a partnership between the NHL and Lee's SLG Entertainment, using the same video game engine technology that powers blockbuster games like Epic Games' Gears of War franchise, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment's Batman: Arkham Asylum and Sony Online Entertainment's DC Universe Online.
Tony Chargin, co-creator of The Guardian Project and executive vp at Guardian Media Entertainment, said the company is using Unreal Engine 3 to develop an online game as well as a computer-animated television series aimed at tween boys. Further down the road, Chargin didn't rule out a console video game, since the game technology works seamlessly across all platforms.
"We are the first ever attempt at creating Hollywood animation through a game engine," said Chargin, who works directly with Lee on the project. "It's never been done before. We have far-reaching implications for what we hope to do with this technology, but it's enabled us to do some really intricate motion picture quality animation in a fraction of the time."
While the TV series is still "nine months to a year down the road," Chargin said the plan is to launch the online game by October of this year to coincide with the start of 2011-12 NHL season.
"Each of the superheroes derives traits from its city and team brand: The Oiler has a weapon that he plunges into the ground; the Bruin fights evil with his sonic roar; the Los Angeles King has his earthquake-inducing sword," Chargin said. "In the game, you're going to be able to use all the Guardian powers and square off, one-on-one, live against other players online."

GME created the characters and worked with Vicon House of Moves (HOM) to motion capture each of the superheroes with stunt actors in Los Angeles using Unreal. HOM brought the digital versions of these characters to life. Chargin said this data will be used across media to develop the ongoing story lines.
"Unreal allowed us to seamlessly blend CG characters with actual footage that we shot in Raleigh of the RBC Center, which we used in the launch film," Chargin said. "The game engine also has allowed our team of 75 to build elaborate environments for each of the Guardians.
HOM showed the CGI Guardians to NHL Fan Fair attendees in Raleigh over the weekend using virtual reality glasses in a booth rigged with mo-cap lighting. A video ran with Lee explaining the process of creating the Guardians to visitors.

The rollout plan for The Guardian Project will include an online presence, mobile applications, publishing, gaming, in-arena, broadcast, merchandise, promotional and sponsorship activities.

Chargin said the next big pushes for The Guardian Project will come at San Diego Comic-Con in July and New York Comic-Con in October.

Mark Terry, CEO of GME, said the NHL has more than 70 million fans worldwide to tap into. GME was selling T-shirts and comics based on this IP at the 2011 NHL All-Star Game.

Chargin said the hope is for NHL fans to come experience these new characters across media and for comic book fans and young boys who don't watch hockey to potentially follow the sport more.