The realms of gaming and the film industry are coming together in a harmonious convergence, as the technology and expertise of both fields are being shared and utilized to create impressive results. This was the primary discussion during the latest episode where I invited the accomplished filmmaker and game designer HaZ Dulull.
Dulull began his career in the late 90s as a video game intern, ultimately transitioning into the movie industry where he contributed his skills as a visual effects artist on high-profile projects like “The Dark Knight” and “Hellboy II.” He later took his experiences and created HaZimation, a production company involved in a wide range of storytelling formats, including animated films, episodic series, and video games.
His journey across these two industries is representative of a broader trend in the world of digital creation. I was excited to discuss the sharing of tools and knowledge between the gaming and film industries, a phenomenon that has been more noticeable lately with the development of technologies like Unreal Engine 5.
This trend is now seen in major film and television projects, such as “The Mandalorian,” where virtual back sets are being used extensively. More independent projects are also benefiting from this sharing of technology, and artists from both sectors are gaining valuable knowledge from the exchange.
Dulull recalled how hard it was to transition from the gaming industry to visual effects for film, given the perceived snobbery of the film industry towards gaming professionals. However, with the quality threshold of animated films matching the one of video game cinematics, he says, the gaming industry’s influence is being acknowledged more than ever.
The next significant point of convergence, Dulull argued, was the adoption of Unreal Engine and Unity, game development platforms, in the filmmaking process. These technologies have leveled the playing field for creators with great ideas but limited resources, allowing anyone to create visually stunning projects with limited or even no budget.
The adoption of Unreal Engine for pre-visualization is a case in point. Dulull explained how he used the technology during the pandemic when traditional filming was put on hold. Pre-visualization, or “previs,” is a technique used in filmmaking to visualize complex scenes before filming. It helps map out scenes and ensures that the actual filming process goes smoothly. However, the quality of the pre-visualization made possible with Unreal Engine was so high that it was often mistaken for a first-pass animated film or video game cinematic.
This led Dulull and his business partner, Paula Crickard, a veteran post-producer in the film industry, to embark on creating a 90-minute animated film using Unreal Engine. They were able to secure two Epic Mega Grants from Epic Games, the creator of Unreal Engine, to fund their ambitious project.
This convergence is transforming the way creators work, allowing them to achieve high-quality results with freely available tools, such as Unreal and Blender. Dulull’s journey, from the gaming industry to film, and back again, offers an insight into the potential and the future of digital creation, where the lines between industries are blurred, and technology leads the way.
UEFN and the Future of Gaming
As the gaming industry continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate, the boundaries of what is possible are continually being pushed to their limits. One HaZ has shared his insights on the exciting developments happening within the Unreal Engine Fortnite (UEFN) platform and its potentially transformative impact on the future of gaming and content creation.
HaZ recently recounted his journey within the gaming industry, from working with Codemasters in the Midlands to his involvement with Kuju Entertainment (now known as Headstrong Games) in London. There, he worked on a game called Battalion Wars for Nintendo GameCube, providing an early example of his foray into the industry.
A significant turning point in the gaming industry came with the introduction of the Apple iPhone, which helped catalyze growth in the industry. It opened doors for other industries, such as movies and effects, to contribute to the gaming world, helping artists transition between different professions using the same tools. “So overall, very beneficial as an artist,” he noted.
Currently, he sees a surge in potential with the Unreal Engine Fortnite (UEFN), especially with the announcement of several former Riot and Blizzard developers forming a new studio to specialize in its development. He witnessed this firsthand at a recent Game Developers Conference (GDC) where Epic Games’ founder, Tim Sweeney, spoke about the future of the metaverse and Epic’s direction.
The reveal of UEFN’s capabilities was described as “a game-changer,” comparable to Steve Jobs introducing a new iPhone. It promised a ready-made audience base of over 500 million users, allowing content to be seen and played on platforms ranging from PlayStation 5 to Xbox, Nintendo Switch, and Android phones.
The HaZ also shared his experiences working on UEFN projects, noting the challenges and rewards of creating high-quality content within the platform’s unique constraints. “The whole thing Fortnite has been well known for is its players can create stuff, user-generated content,” he explained. UEFN, however, opens doors for creators to build original worlds and content, using existing Unreal assets but with some restrictions.
For instance, player characters cannot be changed due to Epic’s economy of skins, and there’s a size limit of 400 Megs per project. Yet, these limitations can encourage creative solutions and optimized work, much like film creators working on a tight budget.
UEFN comes equipped with its in-built game mechanics and physics, allowing creators to focus more on the gameplay and user experience rather than building a game from scratch. This, he argues, democratizes the process of creation on a commercial level.
In a fascinating development, world partitioning—a feature from Unreal Engine 5— is also now part of UEFN, enabling creators to design expansive landscapes that load up quicker than traditional methods.
The HaZ highlighted that the rise of UEFN presents not only creative opportunities but also commercial avenues. For instance, brands can have their products gamified within the Fortnite world, as seen recently with Nike creating its own world inside Fortnite through UEFN.
Ultimately, the growing interest and investment in UEFN signal an exciting new phase in the world of gaming, merging game development with other industries and creating a more democratic space for content creators.
Video Games and The Metaverse: The Inside Story of a Transformative Journey
Just a few years ago, HaZ and Paula founded a company with the intention of making movies. They began in London, built their team, and shifted focus to animated films when the pandemic struck. Little did they know, the road ahead would take them far from their original plans and plunge them deep into the world of video games and the burgeoning metaverse.
“We were storytellers, still making movies for the streamers, cinema,” HaZ recounts. “We never imagined having a games division.” But the advent of Web3 – a term describing the convergence of decentralized blockchain technologies, virtual reality, and AI – altered the course of their journey.
“Obviously, to me and my colleagues, it’s just walking around in an environment. But that tech people in Silicon Valley were floored. It blew their mind.” Using Unreal Engine, the game engine used to create Fortnite, HaZ and his team crafted an interactive trailer that left spectators astounded. They successfully transported all elements from the trailer into an Unreal Engine-based game project.
As a result, their company pivoted from making films to developing a massive multiplayer online game (MMO), similar to the kind of experiences users will have in the metaverse. They hired server engineers, game developers, and specialists in creating massive digital worlds.
“In fact,” HaZ recalls, “I told my guys we’re going to make an MMO. I never once told them it’s going to be driven by blockchain technology.” Staff retention was key, and the appeal of working on a massive online game retained his team’s interest more than working on an abstract Web3 project.
This was just the beginning of their adventures in game development. Following their shift into this field, HaZ and his team made an unexpected discovery while creating their animated feature film “Rift” using Unreal Engine. They found it much easier and enjoyable to animate a car chase sequence by driving the car using an Xbox controller, switching it to game mode, and recording the results.
“We got a really cool sequence,” HaZ shares, “and we’re like, that was fun.” So, they decided to host a game jam session, where Sam Rabelo, an environment artist and part-time game developer, stood out. He managed to put together some blueprints for the game, and his contribution earned him a promotion to lead game designer.
With a newfound passion for game development, the team put together a demo of their game and released it on Steam as an early access title. The response was mixed, but the constructive criticism allowed them to improve the game. Microsoft noticed their efforts and invited them to apply to their ID@Xbox program, which supports independent developers. This invitation led to HaZ’s team receiving Xbox development kits, marking their official entry into console game development.
HaZ attributes much of their success to the accessibility and versatility of Unreal Engine, which is friendly to generalists and supports experimentation across different areas of game development.
As they delved deeper into game development, HaZ and his team couldn’t ignore the broader shifts in the industry. The concept of the metaverse, despite its recent negative connotations, still carries much potential. The metaverse can provide a space for people to connect and engage in shared experiences, similar to what MMOs have been offering for years.
Moreover, the gaming industry’s longstanding history and culture are only now being discovered by those outside of it, largely thanks to the recent advances in graphical fidelity. “We finally caught up,” I explained. “I think it’s definitely lowered the barrier and heightened respect between industries.”
The transformation of HaZ and his team’s business is a testament to the potential of the game industry and the rise of the metaverse. They’re now helping to bridge the gap between the movie industry and game development, illustrating how adaptable and fluid the creative process can be when guided by new technologies. The lines between gaming, film, and even the metaverse are blurring, and the results are opening up a new frontier for creativity.
The Convergence of Gaming and Cinema
The once clear boundary between games and movies is gradually blurring, and I believe we may soon reach a point where no perceptible difference exists. As game developers and creators are taking a front seat in the creation of films and television shows based on popular games, a new era in storytelling is emerging.
The directorial efforts of Neil Druckmann on the series adaptation of the game “The Last of Us” have particularly stirred the pot. The transition of game directors like Druckmann into the role of executive producers in film has signaled a considerable shift in the media landscape.
One notable project in this new wave of convergent storytelling is an animated show based on the video game “Mutant Neo Zero.” In 2020, game developer The Bearded Ladies and publisher Funcom partnered with U.S. studio Pathfinder and Heroic Signatures, a Scandinavian company that owns IPs like Conan the Barbarian and Mutant Year Zero, to create this show. With the initial pitch concept “Guardians of the Galaxy meets Mad Max Fury,” the team sought to leverage existing game assets to develop the show. It was a smart, cost-effective strategy, considering the game developers’ years of work in creating an immersive, detailed game world.
While this approach was initially met with skepticism by some, the proof of concept was quickly validated with the release of a sizzle trailer on IGN, where it gained significant traction. This example showed how the use of game assets to create film content can also serve as a means of market testing, a method that was previously used by the team behind Deadpool to convince 20th Century Fox to finance the film.
The current trend also underscores how the tables have turned in terms of influence between gaming and cinema. For a long time, game studios looked to films for inspiration to make their cutscenes and dialogues more cinematic. Today, it’s not unusual to see films referencing video games, as seen in the fourth installment of the John Wick series, which features a top-down sequence reminiscent of the game Hong Kong Massacre.
This shift isn’t just limited to creative influences; it also applies to business aspects. Major production companies like Blumhouse and Bad Robot have established video game arms, signifying the increasing integration of gaming into Hollywood’s entertainment culture.
There’s no denying that the success of games, now a multi-billion dollar industry, is contributing to this shift. From the top-down, everyone is a gamer, with video games becoming more mainstream and accepted in popular culture. The rise of games like Fortnite, which has a massive player base, has significantly pushed this acceptance forward.
Despite the challenges that come with using Unreal Engine and the limitations set by platforms like Fortnite, the creative output has been impressive. Developers are rising to the challenge, using limitations to fuel innovation and create engaging content for an increasingly diverse audience. As the industry grows and evolves, game developers are starting to see the value in letting their creativity flow within set boundaries rather than aiming for limitless expansion.
This convergence of games and cinema is more than just a new way of telling stories. It’s an economic and cultural shift, a new way of looking at creativity and storytelling that draws on the best of both worlds. This paradigm shift encourages young developers to step into the industry, reinforcing the idea that creativity thrives within constraints.
The introduction of artificial intelligence into the mix could further shape the industry. For now, the convergence of gaming and cinema is paving the way for a more immersive, engaging, and interactive storytelling experience, promising exciting developments for both industries in the years to come.
AI and the Future of Creativity
As technology progresses at a staggering rate, questions regarding the future of creative industries have become more urgent. The rise of AI and machine learning tools has sparked a fierce debate between those who welcome the efficiency these technologies offer, and those who fear a world where creative roles are usurped by algorithms. Amid this controversy, pioneers of the digital frontier engage in vital conversations, shedding light on the future of creative work in the AI era.
“Dont learn Unreal. Don’t even think about art, man. You just type that stuff up, and it generates it for you,” HaZ quipped during a discussion. The sentiment behind this lighthearted remark encapsulates the concerns many artists share about AI’s increasing dominance. They wonder, what will the industry look like when anyone can generate art at the press of a button?
The fear isn’t entirely unfounded. AI has already begun to leave its mark on creative disciplines, from music to visual art. One recent example is the emergence of AI music on platforms like YouTube, where listeners can hear digitally synthesized renditions of Frank Sinatra performing “Gangster Paradise.”
However, the criticism aimed at AI creations is akin to mocking an infant. The technology, while promising, is still in its early stages. Yet, one can’t help but marvel at its potential, ten years from now. “I am so impressed how ready it was day one,” I noted, illustrating how quickly the technology has developed and how much room it has to grow.
AI isn’t just a tool for creation; it’s also a resource for inspiration and innovation. As I highlighted, “It’s forcing creatives to be more creative.” The true value lies in the artists’ ability to leverage these tools to enhance their work and tell captivating stories.
But there are ethical concerns. The discussion touched on companies like Blizzard, praised for using AI ethically, training it on their own data. Others utilize AI to facilitate faster creative processes, echoing the same sentiments about responsible use: “But use your own content. That’s what I say.”
The reality is, resistance to AI, similar to the initial backlash against outsourcing, is likely futile. I pointed out, “We’re complaining about outsourcers years ago… It’s happening, dude.” The digital transformation is inevitable, and the current landscape is reminiscent of the early ’90s when critics scoffed at the idea of online news and mobile content.
Just as magazines and newspapers had to adapt to the digital era, creative industries must brace for an AI-driven future. The technology will have its fair share of misuse and growing pains, but ultimately it holds immense potential. As HaZ pointed out, “AI is going to be like that as well,” referring to the inevitable ubiquity of the technology.
The power of the internet, coupled with the prevalence of social media, has made it possible for these conversations to occur on a global scale. The emergence of AI has sparked debates about ethics and fair use, creating a space for regulation and ethical standards to develop.
In the end, perhaps the most critical takeaway from the conversation is the need for adaptability. As AI continues to evolve and shape the creative landscape, artists must be ready to evolve with it.
“We’re just going to have to adapt,” HaZ insisted. As the discussion drew to a close, the sentiment was clear: the future of creativity is bright, and while AI plays a significant role, it will always be a tool, not a replacement for human ingenuity and emotion. The story of art, much like the story of humanity, is one of constant adaptation and innovation. AI, for better or worse, is the latest chapter in that saga.