Turning the Page - Uncharted: Drake's Journal
Carolyn Petit browses Nolan North's book, Uncharted: Drake's Journal, to discover if there's buried treasure within.
What do you get for the Uncharted fan that already has every Uncharted game? If that fan has an interest in the creative process behind Naughty Dog's series of globe-hopping, swashbuckling adventures, then consider Uncharted: Drake's Journal - Inside the Making of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Assembled by Nolan North, the ubiquitous voice actor best known for playing Nathan Drake, this collection of photographs, text blurbs by North, and quotes from people involved with the massive undertaking of making Uncharted 3 touches on just about every facet of the game's production. It ranges from the rental of a new motion-capture studio prior to the beginning of filming all the way to the implementation of vital bug fixes just hours before the finished code needed to ship.
Reading Drake's Journal is a lot like listening to a commentary track on a DVD in which the actors tell amusing stories about their experiences working on the movie; you get to vicariously experience a bit of their sense of camaraderie. Drake's Journal makes the work environment on Uncharted 3 seem like a very pleasant one indeed; one in which people were happy to work hard because they were having so much fun. For the actors, part of the satisfaction of working on the project clearly came from its collaborative nature, and it's interesting to read about how suggestions and contributions from the actors often made their way into the game. (Cutter's claustrophobia is one example.) The sense of camaraderie is enhanced by the fact that these people have worked together on several games now. It's not just the actors who play recurring characters like Drake, Sully, and Elena that return from previous installments. Graham McTavish, who plays Cutter in Uncharted 3, played antagonist Zoran Lazarevic in Uncharted 2, and Robin Atkin Downes, who plays Talbot in UC3, played Navarro in the first game, as well as Tenzin in UC2. (Nolan North squeezes in fun details throughout the book, such as the fact that both he and Robin Atkin Downes have played titular princes in Prince of Persia games.)
If your notion of acting in a game like Uncharted is one of actors in comfy studios reading lines into a microphone, then Drake's Journal will shatter that perception. Working on Uncharted 3 was a physical process, and you see many pictures of performers acting out brawls, leaping through the air, being suspended and yanked around by cables, and more in an effort to create believable animations for the game's various action sequences. The book gives you an appreciation for Naughty Dog's unwavering attention to detail. The team went to great lengths, for instance, to make sure that Nathan's animations as he stumbled up and down the sand dunes of the Rub' al Khali looked authentic, sending a team out into the Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California to study the sand's behavior, as well as get footage of people traversing the dunes.
Though most of Drake's Journal focuses on the work done in the motion-capture studio, Nolan North takes time to appreciate the efforts of people involved in every aspect of Uncharted 3's production. He writes of the sound team's creative work in devising effects that communicate the right amount of impact. Drake's punch, for instance, includes the sound of telephone books being thrown into a leather jacket, among other things. North also introduces a visual effects artist who spent weeks getting the muzzle flashes for each of the different types of guns in the game just right. (This is just one of several details mentioned in the book that very few people are likely to notice while playing the game.) North saves his most glowing praise for Naughty Dog's creative director, Amy Hennig, whose hands-on involvement with just about every facet of each game's creation he believes to be vital to the identity and success of the Uncharted series.
The photographs that make up most of Drake's Journal aren't stylish or impressive; they look like candid snapshots rather than professional photos, and most of the actors look pretty silly in the motion-capture suits they're wearing in the majority of these pictures. So this isn't an elegant coffee-table book, but North's good humor makes him an affable tour guide, and the book's casual approach toward capturing what it was like to work on Uncharted 3 makes it an inviting glimpse into that process.
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