After wincing at one too many non-fiction programs with CGI sequences that look hopelessly second rate, and less than thrilled by the idea of trying to recreate historic battles by dressing up a bunch of out-of-work actors, Zeitfilm Media md Joerg Altekruse looked to his inner geek for an alternative.
The Hamburg-based producer wanted innovative images for his upcoming series Rebels of History, the first episode of which profiles Hannibal. Aware of the enormous amount of time, talent and money the booming video game industry puts towards creating authentic images for all types of scenarios, he decided to look into the possibility of piggybacking on their investment.
After attending E3 2005 (the interactive entertainment industry’s MIP equivalent, which takes place in LA in May), Altekruse realized he was on to something. Not only do the latest video games aim for accuracy, they’re produced in HD and feature sophisticated artificial intelligence. That means characters are capable of unscripted and emergent behavior, which is particularly advantageous for heavily populated sequences such as large battles.
Altekruse found what he was looking for in Ancient Wars: Sparta, a video game from rights holder Playlogic International that will be released at E3 2006. About three minutes of HD animated images were plucked from the game for the series’ first episode. ‘It’s not trying to be a complete reconstruction of reality – it’s not replacing CGI,’ says Altekruse, who intercut the sequences with live action footage and shots from Google Earth to juxtapose ancient and contemporary perspectives. ‘The trick is to blend these two layers in a way that enables the viewer to follow their fantasies about events that happened a long time ago.’
Altekruse estimates he saved about a third to half the cost of original CGI, which runs about US$8,000 to $12,000 per finished minute (plus another 30% for CG rendered in HD). The contract process was long, but he sees the potential for further collaboration between the factual and gaming industries. Since he’s already blazed the trail, Altekruse and Cologne-based Sparta producer IMC established glanz.leistung in January, to help broker such partnerships. ‘So much work goes into the historic field [of gaming] to get more convincing images,’ he explains. ‘I think there’s a great future for that.’