Before Toyota and its recent World of Warcraft
ad, Microsoft saw its entire Visual Studio web campaign centered around Fable
Gamasutra talked with interactive executive producer Kim Zaninovich, broadcast executive producer Jason O'Leary and producer Alison Cole from creative studio Exopolis
to learn more about the Defy All Challenges campaign
, and the technical issues in working with all digital actors.
Can you give us some of your background, on the Microsoft Visual Studio web campaign as well as other previous projects?
Jason O'Leary: I was the Executive Producer for the video portion of the campaign. Along with the interactive EP, Kim Zaninovich, and senior creative staff, I oversaw the initial concepting and development of the project, and established production protocol for the entire video portion of the assignment, including budget and schedule.
As the project moved into production, I oversaw all aspects of the job, ensuring budgets/schedules were being met through the day-to-day producer, Allison Cole, and creative staff.
Why did the team opt for machinima as the ideal medium for this web campaign?
JO: The use of machinima for this campaign came directly from the agency, McCann-Erickson/SF and the client, Microsoft.
The agency pitched the concept to its client and won them over on the idea. Visual Studio is software used by game developers/programmers, so machinima spoke directly to the consumer in that aspect. What the agency came to us for was the "how to pull it off" factor.
While most studios would have pitched creating the minimum amount of videos requested using original 3D from scratch, our idea was to create our own video game using the game engine Torque and incorporating 3D elements, which enabled us to make this campaign completely robust.
This approach yielded numerous edits, with a remaining bank of footage for even more edits down the road, so the campaign can live longer. It also allowed us to come up with the video mixer concept for the site, which Kim Zaninovich can speak more towards.
Machinima seems like it would be a hard sell for traditional advertising avenues. Was there any opposition to going this route early on, or was Microsoft more open to the idea of using game technology to promote a non-video game product?
JO: From what I've heard, McCann-Erickson's sell to Microsoft to use machinima got some interesting looks, but they quickly warmed to the idea.
Ultimately, when the project came across our desk, everyone seemed on board with the idea. The biggest obstacle to overcome was educating the agency and client on our process on how to pull it off. We did extensive research (and got a professor) before the campaign was even awarded, and I feel that really helped ease any concerns.
So, why Fable, and not something that has gotten a measure of machinima exposure already, like Halo?
Alison Cole: Fable
was a client choice. We initially wanted to build all of the game environments, but during our pre-production phase the client requested the use of one Microsoft's titles, and they eventually chose Fable
We don't have any complaints regarding that though -- it's a really cool game, and we already had a few people on the creative team who were avid Fable
players, so they already knew the ins-and-outs of the game.
How do the spots promote or draw interest in Microsoft Visual Studio?
JO: First, the genre speaks directly to the consumer, which I mentioned above. Second, the writers at McCann-Erickson wrote a really funny script that was tailored around what Microsoft Visual Studio users actually talk about -- what they hear and say in the office and so on.
McCann was great about really knowing the end-user, which is why the dialogue is so believable. When you put that along with video game characters in video game environments, it turns out to be a great sell.
What tools were used in the creation of these spots? Did you find the interoperability or lack thereof between these tools to offer any difficulties or benefits to the project?
AC: The game environments were built from a customizable game engine called Torque, which comes with a variety of tools for texturing, developing and modifying the gaming environment. Environmental assets, characters and animations were created and/or modified in 3d using a combination of Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Maya.
The game development was built using several programs, including Microsoft Visual Studio.
The game capture was done using Fraps Capture software with five gamers on five separate PCs; each operated an individual character or camera in the environment. This allowed us to capture multiple camera angles of each shot.
, which is not a multi player game, was captured in a slightly different manner. Each gamer was asked to capture a certain set of character actions in various angles so we could have enough footage to shoot with. This was by far the most difficult of the environments with which to work.
Once we moved into editorial we used Apple Final Cut Pro to edit and Adobe After Effects to create the end cards as well as creating additional environmental effects (like the explosive lightning seen in the spot called "QTA").
Right now the concept of using machinima in this manner seems pretty unique. Do you see your team and this project and being something of pioneers in this field? Do you foresee a possibility future campaigns using video games in a similar manner to promote non-video game products?
Kim Zaninovich: There are a lot of great stories out there that have been told using video game footage so far--everything from funny, irreverent shorts to longer form dramas. I think that as video games evolve and become more flexible, machinima will gain popularity as a valid form of film making.
"Pioneer" is a strong word -- and that should be used to refer to the folks who created this method of storytelling -- but I think that creating games just for capture and designing characters and locations specifically to create a narrative is a new take on the machinima process -- a new kind of workflow. We're a part of that movement for sure.
I'm sure that using machinima as a medium will be applied to advertising more and more, just as other forms of animation have been used in the past -- both in ads for video games and non-video game products.
The campaign's website also features a tool whereby users can create their own machinima videos using a library of stored sounds and clips. Have you seen any fruits of this labor yet, and if so, care to talk about any of your favorites?
KZ: At this point, no one creator or machinima video has emerged, but we're watching for it.
How has the project benefited from having professor and machinima expert Steven Schkolne on board?
AC: The professor functioned as both the lead game developer as well as our expert machinima consultant. From the start he was able to help guide the project towards a definitive machinima style. Certain actions and movements lack meaning or reference in the video game world, and it can be difficult to wrap your head around why a character can or cannot do a specific action.
Having Steven on board helped us in creating characters/environments/videos that retained the desired look and feel of a video game.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
KZ: It was such a great experience working with McCann-Erickson, and with a creative team that just "got" what we were trying to do, and had full confidence that we would execute it well. I can't praise the McCann creative team enough. Without their hilarious script and sharp creative eye, this campaign would have never happened.