Blurred Lines: The Cinematography of Filming And Gaming

Continual advancements in computing power, coding sophistication, and hardware seem to be bringing about the continued, some would say inevitable, marriage of video games and movies. However, this union is not a fledgling relationship, since video games have been flirting with extra-game elements since Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. As simplistic as their cutscenes were at the time when compared to the complexity of "cinematics" today, they still signaled a move towards incorporating some form of cinematography into video games. Improved resolution, photorealistic techniques, innovations in 3D scanning technology and motion capture are all working to help video games and movies make huge strides in levels of realism only dreamed of twenty years ago. Many of today's triple-A titles contain extremely intricate plots that require their cinematics to relay their stories for gamers. At the same time, today's action films, when not based on a video games themselves, contain enough CG and VFX work to be called, at the very least, "game-like" in their appearance. Producing movies like Transformer: Age of Extinction takes hundreds of CG/VFX technicians producing enough Autobots, Decepticons, and Dinobots to fill a fairly intricate video game.

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Today, the production of games and movies share many of the same traditional terminology and concepts that have been a staple of film making history for over a century. Like film makers, game dev’s and designers work with “cameras,” shots, lighting, angles, cuts, views, sets, rigs, filters, blocking, tracking, depth of field, projection and fly-throughs (i.e. crane shots). All of these terms indicate a very intimate relationship, at least from a production standpoint, between films and games. Although the industry’s “holy grail”–an interactive movie/video game hybrid–still remains in the distant future, it would seem that film makers and game designers are actively working toward the same ends.

Game studios like Ready at Dawn are pushing next-gen games, like The Order 1886, across the lines that separate games from movies. The game differs from most in its ability to produce seamless transitions from its game play to its cinematics. The cutscenes are less about literally cutting away from the action (something many gamers find annoying), but in keeping similar camera perspectives within both game play and cinematics. Ready at Dawn’s creative director, Ru Weerasuriya, states that the studio’s intention was to “build something that actually feels so immersive that it reminds you [of] watching a movie, but at the same time it’s still the gameplay that you find in regular games.”

To achieve this cinematic feel, Weerasuriya says designers digitally created the imperfections inherent in film camera lenses like lens curvature and chromatic aberration. “It’s those imperfections, states Weerasuriya, “that make you feel like something is alive.” The term Ready at Dawn dev’s coined for their technique is even called “filmic.” (See the full video interview with Weerasuriya here). Take a look at the video below to see a few examples of how this is being handled with next generation games.

One important consideration that comes from the merger of movies and video games is the role of the traditional cinematographer or director of photography (DP) in video game design today. If Weerasuriya’s statements are an indication of the general direction that dev’s are taking their games today (i.e. more like a movie), then it would seem that cinematographers have a bright future within the gaming industry.

If you want your game to look and feel like a movie, with all its cinematic “imperfections,” then you’ll probably need technicians who are trained to create and identify that look. This would hold true for cinematics, game trailers, and game play design itself. However, until traditional cinematographers become a standard within the gaming industry, dev’s can stay ahead of the curve by learning the basics of cinematography, the principals of optic systems and the many rules and conventions that have developed over the past century of film making. Before you know it, you’ll be saying “Lights! camera! render!”