Making of the Global Operations Intro Movie
Matthew Robin Leigh
Last August after I got back from a vacation in Mexico I was given the task of creating and directing the intro movie sequence for Global Ops. Previously I had done the real time movie sequences in Homeworld: Cataclysm so it was exciting to get behind the camera and do shot direction and story telling again.
I was pretty much given free reign by the game’s in house producer Dan McBride and game designer Chris Mair to do anything with the movie I wanted as long as it captured the essence of the game. Through all the movie concepts that were being thrown around the one constant was the idea of the unflinching eye of the satellite. It fit perfectly as it could see anywhere on the earth and it isn’t controlled by a particular nation so it remained a neutral entity.
The satellite and subsequent space shots was the first thing I worked on. The satellite itself was modeled in Maya and textured using a combination of Corel Draw and Adobe Photoshop. The camera and satellite were animated and rendered out then taken into Photoshop where Steve Mumford added a frame by frame post processing technique to get that ethereal glow reflection on the metal surfaces. The earth was then rendered out as a high resolution still then composited behind the satellite in Adobe Premier.
The heads up display for the satellite camera was designed in Corel Draw and then brought into Photoshop to do the subtle translucency and glow effects and output as a Photoshop file that could be used in Premier. The topography seen through the satellite’s camera lens was created in a fractal terrain generator. I had to paint in the outlines of the continents and their raised and lowered areas then let the program generate the images. I rendered subsequent stills of the terrain for where the camera zooms in closer. In both the Mexico and California sections where the town or dam is seen from far away are Photoshop composite matte paintings where the level and roads leading up to it were painted in overtop of the fractal terrain renderings.
Once all the elements were together the terrain stills had to go through a very painful compositing process. The clouds seen moving over the surface were Photoshop generated fractals that were distorted and animated in Premier. If you look closely you can see another layer of animation of the clouds’ shadows moving over the ground. Next the in between zoom effects had to be placed in and they were accomplished with a simple scaling of the terrain stills coupled with both an animated zoom and blur filter that did a single frame cover up that allowed me to slip the next closer terrain still in. Finally the animations of the terrain were desaturated, tinted blueish green, run through a video noise filter, and then were placed under the satellite heads up display graphics.
All the heads up display animation was done in Premier where there were around 20 layers of graphics to animate and move in time with the terrain animation. If you are looking for it every time the heads up display is shown the clock in the top center is accurate to the time that has elapsed.
When it came to the level and character action sequences we primarily used the game art. An attempt was made to capture game footage but the capture technique we had available to us was horrid so the decision was made to do it all in Maya. The Mexican courtyard was the only place where the attempt was made to uprez the geometry and you can see it in the roundness of the arches and the curved plaster walls of the church. The rest of the geometry and textures remained relatively unchanged.
I wanted the action sequences to be as tense and understandable as I could make them in a three and a half minute long movie and I wanted the movie to look as realistic and cinematic as possible given the assets on hand. It was also the intention to show 3 classes, 1 view mode, and 1 death per team for both the Mexico and California sections.
I wasn’t sure whether the characters or level graphics would hold up detail wise in a prerendered movie so very early I tried to hide as much as possible using depth of field and motion blur. In the end a lot of the close-ups of the characters looked great but I kept the post processing effects on because it kept the movie looking more realistic and gritty and as a director it allowed me to control where the audience was focusing their attention.
Both Fred Dee and Steven Kong did all the character animation for the movie. They were still finishing animations for the game but every spare hour they could get were spent working on the movie sequence. Almost every piece of animation was created from scratch except the loading of the grenade launcher, which was animated by Richard Kim for use in the game.
All the muzzle flares, shell casings, smoke trails, and blood sprays effects were composited by Steve Mumford. He used a cool little sprite animation program called Illusion for the shells and smoke effects. The blood was arduously hand painted in Photoshop as were some of the muzzle flares. The only CG muzzle flare shot in the movie is the Heavy Gunner spray and that used some of the textures and techniques used in the actual game.
The helicopter explosion is probably the most controversial thing in the movie. I needed the film to end with a bang and the only thing I could think of was blowing up the insertion vehicle that the terrorists use. I constantly got heat for making this decision because it isn’t something that is possible to do in the game. The explosion was created in Lightwave and was animated to match a camera move previously done in Maya. The rendered Lightwave explosion was slipped in between a Maya rendered background and foreground plate of the Maya rendered Demolitions Expert and was then given a zoom blur effect to make it look more forceful. Later on a plume of smoke was added after the explosion dissipates to imply the helicopter went down in the river below.
After the majority of the shots and elements for the movie were completed Roger Savoie began working on the music score and sound effects. There were about five different variations of the score for the film each with their personality. In the end we chose the one with the most intense action movie feel.
There were some problems that were encountered while making the movie. I lost one of the cuts of the movie late one night and never made a backup so I had to re-cut the entire movie in a few hours. The water that was created for the dam level was animated backwards so it flowed back up into the dam. I didn’t want to spend another late night rendering it over again so the satellite shot that shows it flowing the proper direction is actually the mistake shot running in reverse. The terrorists on the dam were at one point wearing rubber presidential masks but we were asked to change them so the shots needed to be re-rendered out with the new mask textures. The grenade reload shot was rendered with the wrong view arms and was later fixed and re-rendered with the proper Demolitions Expert geometry and textures. There are still two or three continuity problems but I’ll let the viewers find them.
The movie took almost 4 months to complete and used every piece of software in my computer. At one point there were five other people helping me complete matte paintings, animation, post processing, compositing, and sound. In the end the movie runs almost exactly 3 minutes and 30 seconds and that is over the time budget I was given by about a minute.
There are two in-jokes I placed in the movie. Both have to do with the dates that are displayed on the satellite heads up display in Mexico and California. Mexico reads September 24th 2001, which was my 27th birthday, and in California it reads September 27th 2001 and that is a secret!