February 12, 2007
Ubisoft Blurs Distinction Between Films and Games by Branching into CGI

Here's another interesting--and natural--step in the world of convergence, this time from a video game company. For those who haven't seen the news this weekend, Ubisoft has announced that it will be entering the movie business, making its own animated CGI films based on the type of animation used for the company's games.

The company announced Friday that it would be adding a thousand people to its staff as part of a larger initiatives to expand game development. The plan is for this increase to take place over the next six years.

The company's announcement was that it would be investing as much as $383.9 million over that time to bring in those new people to Monreal, with half working on developing films while the other half works on traditional game development. The film division will initially make shorts that will be distributed online, some of them based on their video game properties, such as initial plans for an 8-minute film based on Assassin's Creed.

This would expand the size of the company's workforce in Montreal substantially, with 1,600 employees currently located in the city, according to a story from John Gaudiosi of Hollywood Reporter.

CEO Yves Guillemot emphasizes that "the convergence between (video games and animated films) will intensify in the coming years as new hardware for playing games becomes more powerful." Since the company predicts a future need for animation up to cinematic snuff, the idea is to branch into the CGI film business.

WSJ reporter Nick Wingfield writes, "The plan is for Ubisoft's game and movie teams in Montreal to increasingly work with the same underlying computer generated imagery on their respective projects. Already, game developers working on titles based on movies are sharing some material with each other."

Interestingly, the WSJ story also indicated that Ubisoft's plans are to eventually create online films in which users could "manipulate the faces of characters, a capability found in some games today."

And, as Gaudiosi points out, the work is foreshadowed by a variety of Ubisoft connections to CGI movie content. He writes, "Ubisoft's Montreal studio worked with director Peter Jackson and Weta on the King Kong game last year, and it's finishing up a game based on the Warner Bros./Weinstein Co. CGI property Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Ubisoft also is working with Sony Pictures Animation on games based on such CGI features as Open Season and Surf's Up."

Certainly, from a technology perspective, this seems to be a connection that makes sense. Nevertheless, many have assumed that convergence would likely flow from "traditional" outlets like film and television into new media, so some are surprised at this bold move in the other direction from a video game company.

Does convergence move us more toward a model in which companies are known less for the medium in which the work is produced and more for the style of work or quality of the content?

Maybe that's too grand of a generalization, but this certainly indicates a further blurring of the lines of the traditional platform distinction that continue being redefined.



This should be an interesting experiment to watch, considering how Square-Enix failed with Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Hopefully this will prove that the concept can work, and FF:TSW tanked due to an iffy storyline and possible international differences in aesthetics.


Geoff, those are all good points, and they tie back to a point I cannot emphasize enough: at the heart has to be a good story, when you are doing anything narrative-based. These extensions will work if they are organic, etc., and it makes sense from a technology standpoint, but if they are going to try and deal with the same media property in both platforms, then there has to be some degree of fidelity in making these fit together.