Electronic Arts’ Entis Excited by Real-Time Challenges

Content overlaps, CG characters don't

The “convergence” of movies and videogames may be as much hype as reality when it comes to both industries’ everyday business, but artists from both will be literally converging at Siggraph.

That’s why Glenn Entis, chief visual officer for Electronic Arts, will be one of the three featured speakers at this year’s Siggraph fest, where he will be talking about the biggest creative challenges videogame artists face.

It’s a topic that should be of interest to nearly every attendee, since artists are increasingly crossing over between movie and vidgame jobs.

Entis is a prime example. Having co-founded Pacific Data Images, the digital vfx house that went on to be acquired by DreamWorks and make the “Shrek” movies, he decamped to join the videogame biz in 1995, first at DreamWorks Interactive and then EA.

“The exciting thing about real-time graphics is that there are fundamentally different types of creative challenges,” Entis says of the talk he will deliver at Siggraph. “You have to make believable characters who will respond to unpredictable input. It’s not an optimization problem. It’s a problem that requires understanding psychology and how characters respond to their world.”

There’s a common belief that the most important way movie and vidgame artists can work together is to share assets. The CGI character or setting in a film could, theoretically, be inserted into a game.

While it does occur, vidgame artists say it’s not that big a deal. At Avalanche Studios, the development studio acquired by Disney’s vidgame unit primarily to adapt Mouse House toons, staffers say opportunities to collaborate with their new corporate colleagues are much more important than getting their hands on digital assets.

“In features, the way they build their models is so tied to the filmmaking process that they are really only usable to us as a template,” Jeff Bunker, art director at Avalanche, says of his studio’s work on the “Meet the Robinsons” game. “It was more important that, by being inhouse, we were able to have monthly meetings with the filmmakers and watch dailies so we could see where the film was going and stay in line with its tone.”

Vidgame consoles are getting more powerful, of course, and are advancing at a faster rate than the rendering power behind CGI movies. Industryites say it won’t be long until more and more of the assets from a pic can be dropped directly into a game.

“There has been a spectacular closing of the gap to the point where in some cases if you put a game and film side by side in a crowded Wal-Mart, casual observers won’t notice the difference,” observes Entis.

But vidgame and film artists aren’t just looking to move assets from the latter to the former. Insiders are hoping they have lessons to share both ways.

“We’re very interested in how they make things look really nice, but they’re equally interested in how we make things fast,” says Avalanche’s director of technology Rob Nelson.

As much as they have to share, though, Entis will be emphasizing that vidgames and movies are different art forms with very different goals.

“The difference between our two media is like the difference between canned theater and improv,” Entis says. “Our creations have to be faster and lighter on their feet. But if they respond well, the suspension of disbelief happens much quicker than it does for something that was pre-made.”

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