Lights, camera, assassin

Lights, camera, assassin
Michael French

By Michael French

October 8th 2009 at 8:30AM

How have the Assassin's Creed II mini-movies influenced the game's development?

As if having to manage hundreds of staff wasn’t enough, the Assassin’s Creed team is also spearheading Ubisoft’s move into movie-making. The Montreal studio and sister company Hybride – a nearby special effects house acquired last year – are now working together on a series of short Assassin’s Creed: Lineage films. Its production alongside Assassin’s Creed II is having direct ramifications on the game’s development, says producer Sébastien Puel…


How much crossover has there been between the production of these mini-movies and the game development team?
We’ve shared all the preparation and research work done by the dev team during conception to create costumes, weapons, props – all historically accurate and common between the game and the short films.

Historians did research, then concept artists from the game team made illustrations of each costume, then a costume maker from the film team made the real costumes and then those influenced the final 3D models in the game.

Another good example of collaboration is the common casting of our main characters. The same actor was cast in both the film and game so that we can work with actors to help evolve the characters.

We’re going a step further than just photographic likeness. We’ve recorded the actor’s voice and mo-capped them for the game’s narrative sequences. This process really helps give more life and credibility to our in-game characters.

This collaborative process involved people from a lot of different backgrounds; all of the virtual items like clothes, props and weapons now have a real life replica.

What staff, resources and assets are you able to share?
The writer for Assassin’s Creed II, Corey May, worked closely with the AC: Lineage scriptwriter, William Raymond, in order to make sure both stories were linked and stayed true to the original story.

Also, the 3D game environments were exported from the Anvil game engine and then imported in XSI by a completely new process developed by Ubisoft in conjunction with Hybride. 50 per cent of these environments were partially re-used and re-worked on the texture and geometrical levels and then exported for use in the film.

As live actors were filmed on green screen they were then integrated inside the virtual set extracted from the game environments. The game sets are then enhanced for a better integration with live actors.

To a certain extent, it’s similar to the technique used in 300 and Sin City on which Hybride has collaborated.

The film’s weapon designer worked with the game’s art director to iterate on our weapon design, once we saw working versions of the hidden blade and others we were able to adjust each animation to make sure it reflected the actual weight and function. This process really helps give more life and credibility to our in-game characters.

What resources can't you share?
One obvious thing we were not able to share was the motion capture, seeing that AC: Lineage is a live action film. Also the in game-characters could not all be used in the film series as the AC: Lineage storyline explores the events that happen just before the Assassin’s Creed II game starts, revolving around Ezio’s father, Giovanni Auditore da Firenze. Finally, the music used in the film series was by George Clinton, not Jesper Kid who created the music for Assassin’s Creed II.

How can you see these two fields overlapping or informing each other as time goes on?
Ubisoft believes that there is a lot for us to learn by working with the movie industry.
On one side there is the convergence of the content but on the other side, there is also the convergence of the tools and technologies.

We are finding out that there are a lot of similarities in the way we work and the way the VFX and movie artists do work. We are often working with the same tools, but in different ways. We are convinced that we have to learn from them as much as they have to learn from us.

The movie industry is now over a century old, the games industry is around 30 years old. If there’s one area where we have some steps to make, it’s in the way we are telling our stories. The likes of Spielberg, Cameron and Jackson have a lot to teach us in that field, because our industry isn’t at the point it should be when comes the time to tell a good story, or to transmit emotions.

The beauty of mixing two different universes such as cinema and video game is that by sharing expertise both spheres grow and improve one another.