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Speaking With the Blizzard Cinematics Team 57

TheFrunj writes "Blizzard's games, such as World of Warcraft and StarCraft, are perhaps known for their breathtaking cinematics as much as for their gameplay. The process behind these cinematics is complex, involving an entire modeling and coding team — they even needed to make their own physics engine! AtomicMPC has the full story behind these incredible videos. Quoting: 'Storyboards become animated storyboards (thanks to a storyboard team who are also trained animators) complete with temporary music to help set the tone and get the pacing right. Then the animators and modeling team get involved, creating a rough 3D version of the final animation. While the modeling team works on characters and environments, the animators work with very low polygon characters and as the models are refined and updated the animations are refined. This is also where production technicians get involved, supporting the more technical developments like hair and skeletal systems for the characters. And then the effects team kicks into gear. '"
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Speaking With the Blizzard Cinematics Team

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  • we want more (Score:3, Interesting)

    by omgarthas ( 1372603 ) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @01:23AM (#28105401)
    Too bad we just get one of these each year or so :(
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by DeadDecoy ( 877617 )
      Ya, my first question would be why they haven't made a movie yet. I don't care if it's starcraft, warcraft, or diablo, I'd drool over it just the same.
      • Re:we want more (Score:5, Interesting)

        by adamkennedy ( 121032 ) <adamk@c[ ].org ['pan' in gap]> on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @01:34AM (#28105485) Homepage

        Setting the scene or the tone for something is easy.

        You have a couple of shiny eye-candy "hero shots", maybe introduce the opening of the storyline.

        That's the easy part. Tons of shitty movies are able to put together a pretty awesome looking trailer.

        Putting together enough complexity, story telling and depth to carry an entire movie is a whole different kettle of fish.

      • Re:we want more (Score:4, Informative)

        by fractoid ( 1076465 ) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @03:14AM (#28105937) Homepage
        Yeah, if only they were working on a WoW movie []...

        I also hear there's another movie called "Wh*res of Warcraft" if that's more what you're looking for. More like a naked blood elf chick dancing on a letterbox and less like an epic world in conflict though.
        • by adolf ( 21054 )

          What's a "Wh*re"?

          • It's a whore when I'm posting from work. And here's [] some links [] for which I likewise didn't want my daring googlation appearing in company logs... (unsurprisingly NSFW)
            • by adolf ( 21054 )

              Hey, fractoid:

              Fuck you, and your sanitized, "SFW" web.

              Cum-guzzling stool pigeon. Rot in hell. Go become a professional zoophile or something if your boss can't bear the thought of the word "whore" showing up in the logs.

              In fact, tell the boss to get bent if he's even looking for the word "whore" in logs. Have him get doubly-bent if such logs are even existent.

        • by Krneki ( 1192201 )
          Make love, not war.
      • by Abreu ( 173023 )

        Ya, my first question would be why they haven't made a movie yet. I don't care if it's starcraft, warcraft, or diablo, I'd drool over it just the same.

        Because Uwe Boll would end up directing...

      • Square (as in SquareEnix), famed for their CG in the Final Fantasy games, tried making a movie ... and the product, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, didn't turn out so well for them.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's amazing how the high quality of Blizzard games is instantly noticed. I remember back in 2001 when I was amazed by the cinematics of Diablo 2. When I was at my friends house watching the Diablo 2 intro, I said "that's high quality texture!" "What?" he said. That was in Syria, right next to Iraq. I wonder how many Iraqi's have played Blizzard games before.

      "...the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the

  • by shidarin'ou ( 762483 ) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @02:30AM (#28105701) Homepage

    As a compositor, it's probably just me, but it seems like every article on post production effects (for movies, games, commercials, etc) spends so much time on modeling, effects and lighting that by the time the writer has hit the compositing part of the pipeline they've- oops! run out of time.

    There are fantastic modelers, trackers, texture artists, lighters etc in the pipeline, but here's the thing- all of us share the burden of producing a good looking shot equally.

    Without a good model, no amount of work by the texture artist lighter and compositor can make the shot look good. Without good texture art, the lighter will never get good light play off the model. Without good lighting, the compositor's workload increases 100 times as he now has to "fake" lighting and shadows in 2d. Without good compositing, excellent lighting, modeling and texturing will still scream CG to any audience.

    Personally, I find it very cool to be at the end of the pipeline- things come to me and I get to throw them into the pot; stir and make the entire shot come together. I feel bad for the modelers and animators who don't get to see their final product- what I send to the client is what I see on the big screen in another month.

    Of course, being at the end of the pipeline would be cooler if all the magazine editors didn't run out of space at the end of the article :(

    • by Jartan ( 219704 )

      Why would Blizzard use compositing? All their movies are full cg with stylistic rendering. They probably have a touch-up crew for the final piece but there wouldn't be any reason to call that person a compositor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Animaether ( 411575 )

        A compositor usually does more than a little touch-up. These days, a compositor may very well be expected to add rim lighting to an output render using nothing but the original output render with its auxiliary data (normals, z-depth, etc.)

        I agree with GP poster than compositors usually don't get very much attention, even though the compositors are often the ones who make a render 'work'. Granted, this is more true when it needs to integrate with physical effects or a live action plate, but it still applie

      • by jackbird ( 721605 ) on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @08:58AM (#28108329)
        All professional 3D is heavily composited. If anything, moreso than live-action greenscreen shots, as not only are foreground elements often rendered separately from backgrounds, but shots are rendered in a number of passes (diffuse color only, lighting only, reflections only, ambient occlusion only, global illumination only, etc.) in a way that would be impossible to photograph. This serves a variety of purposes:

        -Much more flexibility to adjust the look of a shot in post without waiting for rerenders. Sometimes each individual light's contribution is rendered seperately so that the lighting can be completely altered in post by adjusting a couple of layer opacities.

        -Decouple backgrounds/environments from characters. If separate artists are working on these, they don't have to wait for each other. Also, having less data in each artist's 3D scene makes their workstations more responsive, things less likely to break, and they get more done.

        -Much less artist time spent tweaking parameters and waiting for test renders before rendering the shot. The compositor can accomplish fine-tuning of the color and lighting much more efficiently than a 3D artist can if the pipeline is set up properly, especially as rendering to unclamped floating-point color is becoming the norm.

        -Render-intensive effects like global illumination and subsurface scattering can be accomplished just as well with 2D compositing tricks in a fraction of the render time for many shots.

        -Effects like specular blooms and glows are so much faster to do in post, and without having to commit to a certain intensity or spread ahead of time.

        -Ability to use photographic elements in conjunction with 3D. For one of the Warcraft 3 trailers they shot a matte using white paint dissolving in a black kiddie pool to do a blood-in-water effect that would have pushed or exceeded the limits of fluid rendering technology at the time.

        -Ability to use different renderers for different aspects of the shot. Want the totally-smooth Sub-D's Renderman gives you, lit by mental ray's final gather? Or a background rendered in Maxwell or Vue behind rigged characters that render before you get old? No Problem.

        -If passes like normal direction, pixel velocity, Z-depth, and UV coordinates are rendered, it is possible to make fairly radical changes in post, like replacing textures or adding depth of field/motion blur, without tying up the render farm. Clients being the indecisive creatures they are, this is a Good Thing.

        On the Blizzard Starcraft DVDs they mention in the commentary that Starcraft was the last time they didn't use compositing and did everything in-camera, and it shows. On one of the shots they point out that the background (which they composited in-camera by using it as a background for another render) stops moving about 2/3 of the way through, but they didn't have time to fix it, as it would have meant re-rendering a bunch of layers.

        There's a huge jump in the quality of the Blizzard cinematics between Starcraft and Diablo 2 - this is partially down to technology, as they moved off 3D Studio DOS to 3DS Max, but also largely due to the use of compositing as a fundamental step in the 3D production pipeline.

        • Ahem to this.

          I used to work at an animation studio where they outputed 27 different pass PER FRAME just for compositing.
          And this was a small, no-name animation studio in israel.

          God knows how many passes pixar or ilm produces...

    • As a compositor

      Just to make sure I understand...

      The Wikipedia article on Digital Compositing, [], talks mostly about alpha blending, scaling and color correction.

      That doesn't sound right, so I'll assume that the job of everyone else is to produce Lego bricks, and the compositor's job is to assemble a Lego model from the individual pieces. (That'd make sense, seeing how "composi" is also a prefix of "composing", as in music composition.) In movie terms, a compositor is the Di

    • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

      by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) *

      Can you please tell them to put down the cutscenes for 5 fucking minutes and finish Starcraft II?

      It would be nice if it came out before the fans of the original Starcraft are all collecting social security and unable to afford the 16-core, 64gig RAM systems that it'll need to run.

      Even a successful company like Blizzard can miss the bus. The boneyards are littered with the corpses of great game companies who put so much thought and effort and time into a game that by the time it came out nobody cared or the

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by rcuhljr ( 1132713 )
        Could you have any less clue about Blizzards development track record?
        • He's got a point, Blizzard got their start doing console development, and any console dev worth their salt would have a sequel out for a hit game pronto and by god it wouldn't take 5 years or heads would roll. Ever since they went PC only their dev cycle has slowed down tremendously, lazy bums. You've seen the Diablo 3 video, right? Does it look that much different from a Snowblind engine game like Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance from 2002? It doesn't even have a rotatable camera! Diablo 3 is the game Bli

  • Will be nice when graphics improve so much that their cinematics-engine coding-team ends up developing the new gameplay engine for the next iteration of the game at large :P Still, WoW will never split the graphics engine, other MMOs tried and failed. Instead, they continually make upgrades that make it prettier at the top end while still supporting low-end rigs.

  • "Finally we can learn to make our next good game since Space Invaders!"

  • by jonaskoelker ( 922170 ) <jonaskoelker&yahoo,com> on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @04:36AM (#28106541)

    I have mixed feelings about the Starcraft cinematics.

    Video-production-wise, they were not just par but good (or higher) for the course. They were interlaced, not exactly high-res and 256 color palette (IIRC). But damn those zergs attacking the terrans in the science vessel sent you "omg, this is baaad".

    But narration-wise, they didn't do much. The first can be summarised as "two terrans get ambushed by zergs in the wastelands". Great, but that's only a minor piece of the story. The bulk of the story is told, not shown (nor played).

    To me, they seem like they're bling which is there mostly for the sake of being bling. That doesn't mean they're good bling, though ;-)

    Let's compare to Warcraft III (Say, reign of chaos since that's what I know best). Each campaign has two (pre-rendered) cinematic videos: one at the beginning and one at the end. During the game there are video sequences for briefings and story development. They are rendered on the fly, by the game engine, and the transition back and forth between playing and watching is quite smooth.

    Also, you feel like you're participating in the store more (in WC3). I think it's the interspersed videos showing your characters (well, units) playing out the zero-choice points in the story. By having it shown rather than told, you experience the story more cohesively (the individual "story points" have more and stronger connections). It might also be that the story is "narrower": it doesn't skip over too many events (so the "story points" are closer together). It might also just be a better written story, not sure.

    I think Starcraft has a good story with an interesting theme: the struggle of control vs. freedom and rebellion against governmental, familial (Kerrigan "vs." sibling cerebrates and a parental Overmind) and religious authority.

    But Warcraft III beats it on execution, on how the story is told.

  • Being someone who has studied animation and storyboarding, I really am not surprised that Blizzard go to such lengths for their cinematics...though this article probably gives some insight to those who don't really know much about the animation industry.

    Also, it's nice to see Blizzard getting kudos because while they're probably not the only ones who put so much work into their animations, they certainly have produced some of the best game cinematics I have ever seen.

    I think it would be safe to say that co

  • they even needed to make their own physics engine

    You mean, like pretty much everybody else back then?

  • Am I the only one? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <> on Wednesday May 27, 2009 @06:43AM (#28107333) Homepage

    Am I the only one who could care less about cinematics in video games?

    Any time I am playing a game and a cut scene occurs, all it does is remove me from the game play, and I just find the "skip" button as quickly as possible.

    When I am playing a game, I want it to be interactive. I want control, I want to act as the character. Cut scenes and cinematics totally detract from that - they take me out to a third person view they act like the "third wall" still exists, when in the rest of the game, it does not exist.

    At the end of it - if I wanted to watch a film, that is what I would be doing, not playing a video game.

    I wish all of these cut scenes and cinematics were just add-ons later or dropped; imagine how much quicker a game could be released if so much time and money was not invested in this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Am I the only one who could care less about cinematics in video games?

      No, but you are in the minority. Many people are very fond of video game cinematics.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Threni ( 635302 )

      > Am I the only one who could care less about cinematics in video games?

      If you mean "could NOT care less" - that is, there is nothing you are less concerned with - then I agree with you. I just punch the fire button/left mouse until the shiny nonsense goes away and I can play the game. They're like the adverts of the games world, aren't they.

      Take Open Arena - I can click on the menu item, have the title screen appear in 1 second, and be playing in 5 seconds. How would the experience possible be impro

      • In Open Arena, it probably wouldn't be improved. In a game that's actually trying to tell a story, it could be improved immeasurably.
        • I think he's complaining about something other than in-game cinematics. He's talking about those terrible, animated company logos that pop up every single time you run certain games. Often times they are even unskipable(I'm looking at you EA). You really should be able to get into a game within 5 seconds of opening it.
        • by brunes69 ( 86786 )

          No - There is no need for them. If you want to tell a story, do it through the game play, not cut-scenes.

          Again - if I wanted to sit down passively and watch a movie, then that is what I would be doing! Not playing a game.

          As games get more and more interactive it is just going to become more and more annoying.

          Imagine in years ahead where you are in a VR type of simulator where you are actually running around through rooms chasing someone, and you walk through a door, and all action stops so you can watch som

    • You're not alone, but don't hold me to your expectations either.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by T.E.D. ( 34228 )

      Generally, I agree with you. However, the cinematic interludes in Diablo II were so good, they made a rather entertaining (if smallish) movie in and of themselves.

      The effect made them kind of like a reward for successfully completing a stage. Which is exactly what they are supposed to be.

      Anyway, Blizzard knows there are people like you, which is why every one of those interludes is skippable.

    • Am I the only one who could care less about cinematics in video games?

      No. But this doesn't make them less cool.

  • If they could fire all these cinematic guys, the money spent on them could be better spent on game designers and programmers. We'd get better games and the cinematic guys can go get jobs in hollywood like they should have done to start. I play video games for good gameplay, and go to the movies for good cinematics. They actually don't mix very well as one is completely passive and the other an active activity.
    • While I don't disagree, I feel that some people play games for the story. Blizzard games especially tend to be steeped in lore and having rendered, beautiful cinematic scenes help unfold that story.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Elfboy ( 144703 )

      I play video games to be entertained.

      Short little video clips as a reward for finishing levels fall into that category. Have games from other companies abused it in the past, yes.
      Does Blizzard get the play/watch ratio right? Hell yes.

    • I can see where getting out and going to the movies is much more active than sitting on your but passively playing video games. But while sitting there, why not have a cool little short display that is what your are playing only at a much higher resolution and fully animated?

    • I suppose. I think there's something to be said about the mood set in cinematics that can't be with gameplay alone. Someone mentioned a cinematic of the Zerg attacking a science vessel, and you really get the feeling of how ruthless, unrelenting and uncompromising the Zerg are, and how terrifying engaging an opponent like that might be. Sure, the cinematic is just an example encounter and not terribly important plot-wise, but it adds a great deal to the realism of each individual conflict and a sense of d
    • You don't know much about making games, do you? Throwing more designers/programmers/money at a game isn't necessarily going to improve it, and in many cases it will complicate things and cause your end result to be worse. You also make a horribly incorrect assumption that the money Blizzard saves by cutting on cinematics would directly improve gameplay. Blizzard is a very huge, profitable company they could hire enough designers/programmers to create 20 AAA titles if they wanted to. And I highly doubt

There's no future in time travel.