I was getting ready to write a different post about how I think a lot of money could be saved on big production games, and I was going to use last year’s Beowulf movie for a certain example, when I reminded myself of just how HORRIBLE that movie was. For a budget of $150,000,000, Robert Zemeckis, one of my favorite directors of all time with movies like Forest Gump, Roger Rabbit, and Back to the Future to his credit, managed to direct a movie that makes one of the most beautiful women in the world, Angelina Jolie, look terrible (see image below). Through out the movie, I kept getting thrown out of my suspension of disbelief because the motion captured actors continually went so far into the “uncanny valley“.
Zemeckis, now with two of these expensive mo-cap, animated films under his belt, Beowulf and Polar Express, is set to release another one before the end of 2009, A Christmas Carol. Somebody must believe in the process.
If you are unfamiliar with the term uncanny valley, it was coined when computer generated images started to get close to photo realistic, but not quite close enough. People noticed that the closer to reality the images became, the more real they wanted them to be. I learned this lesson in a very painful way back when we created David Wolf: Secret Agent in 1988. For that product, we pioneered using real actors with cameras and digitizers to bring the images and animation into the game. We thought it would be a hit, but the more we put into it, the more we realized it was going to be difficult. It wasn’t a hit.
We continued to experiment with the process for a bunch more titles, but we could never get it right. IMHO, nobody ever got it right. Think about the real actor cut scenes in any game, and they always look like movie “wannabes”. My feeling from then on has been, if you want to make movies, make movies, but don’t try to make games into movies.
But, back to the uncanny valley problem. The absolute best computer animations that I have seen coming out of research labs are close to bridging the valley, but even they have tale tell signs that pull the viewer out of immersion. My prediction is that movies won’t solve the problem any time soon, and they will solve it before games so. If some of the most creative and visual people in the world with huge development budgets for a linear medium can’t get it right, what chance do games have?
-Jeff Tunnell, Game Maker
Make It Big In Games