RTX Red Rock Designer Diary #2

We hear about the development of the cutscenes in LucasArts' upcoming action game.

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Entry #2 - 03/26/03

By Adam Schnitzer
Supervisor, LucasArts

Lots of irons in the fire! We are producing both in-engine and prerendered cutscenes for RTX Red Rock. What's the difference? In-engine cutscenes take place in real time in the game engine. The actions of the characters and camera are scripted so that the player watches them like a movie, but the footage is not prerecorded. Prerendered cutscenes, on the other hand, are produced like an animated film. In the end they exist as individual frames of a movie. With prerendered cutscenes, you do the same kind of rendering and postproduction effects that you do to create an animated film. One of the advantages of the in-engine cutscenes is that they don't require all of that postproduction work; they play in the engine and use all the same lighting and effects that the engine uses. The advantage of the prerendered cutscenes is that they look better. Game engines aren't quite at the point yet where they can support film-quality images.

RTX Red Rock will use its real-time engine for a lot of its cutscenes.
RTX Red Rock will use its real-time engine for a lot of its cutscenes.

So, in order to really set the mood, we're prerendering our game intro and closing cutscene. That accounts for about eight and a half minutes of animation. That may not sound like much, but producing eight and a half good minutes takes time. (On average, a single animator produces about eight seconds of animation per day.) And I'm always surprised at the amount of time and effort it takes in postproduction to render the frames and create the effects. It's labor-intensive work.

Our project leader, Hal Barwood, just gave his final approval to an important scene at the end of the game. I don't want to give anything away, but a certain very large spaceship comes to a bad end. One of our effects artists has been working overtime to create a truly spectacular explosion. You can almost feel the reverberations as the thing goes up in flames.

We have a great team working on the cutscenes for RTX. I'm glad that I can rely on our layout artists, animators, lighting artists, render wranglers, and effects TDs to come through with the goods. We finished our work on the opening cutscenes a few months ago, and we're just now putting the finishing touches on the ending sequence. Our postproduction team is in high gear. We've made a lot of use of Maya's particle effects capabilities. It has come in handy for dust, smoke, sparks, and falling rocks. It's not an easy thing to master, and our team has had its struggles getting the particles to behave the way it wants them too.

The artists are using Maya to create the in-engine cutscenes and then converting the animations to a format compatible with Red Rock's own animation system.
The artists are using Maya to create the in-engine cutscenes and then converting the animations to a format compatible with Red Rock's own animation system.

But I have to say it looks great. We've gone through a lot of revisions, and the final product has been worth all the effort. Now the sound department is starting to do its work. I'm looking forward to hearing what sound effects and music they come up with.

On the in-engine side, we are now in the process of implementing the cutscenes in the game. The cutscene team creates the animations in Maya, and our programming team writes the scripts that allow the Maya file to be interpreted by the game engine. With more than two hours of in-engine cutscenes, and a lot of variety among them, there is a lot of programming work to do.

We've worked very hard to try to make sure that the transitions from gameplay to cutscene and then back to gameplay are as smooth as possible. Our ideal is to have the cut that happens between gameplay and cutscene feel like a cut in a film.

One obvious problem is that you are moving from an experience in which the player motivates the camera to one in which the game designer is in control. Another is that you are often moving from a camera style of continuous action, unbroken by a cut, to a more traditional, cinematic style with cuts.

The designers are using filmmaking techniques in crafting Red Rock's cinematics.
The designers are using filmmaking techniques in crafting Red Rock's cinematics.

Filmmakers have developed strategies that help the audience move from one shot to the next, across the cut, with minimal confusion. The place where there is maximum potential for an audience to become confused is on the cut. Establishing a stage line, being consistent about screen direction, cutting on the action--these are all ways of getting from shot to shot smoothly and efficiently. The goal is to be able to make cuts that are unnoticed by the audience. The best kind of cut is the kind you don't see.

We've applied these filmmaking strategies to the cutscenes in RTX Red Rock. And I think it's paid off. I think we've managed to avoid that unpleasant jump that often happens when the cutscene starts and you try to figure out where you are and who's talking. I think the game player will notice the difference.

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