Thoughts / open discussion on cinematography in video games:
Specifically when working on different video game titles. With GDC around the corner, it's inspired talks such as this.
The other is a world of dark humor, where death rarely gives way to pause, guns are the next best thing to currency, companies make or break lives, and greed...well, greed is a driving force that defines the population as a whole.
As an artist, there are a number of different ways you can research your medium. For Game of Thrones, the footage from the TV show is something I constantly watch. There are certain things the TV show has set by the Director and the DP (Director of Photography).
Some examples; the camera appears to be locked into place a lot of the time, with some panning and tilting from that fixed point. Dolly/Trucking can happen, but only to typically drive a point home, expand on an important moment, or when the characters are traveling (more often than not, it's going from side to side). Crane shots do happen, but are mainly used during an epic moment or wide shots of a new location. Normally the only time it breaks these rules is when a fight scene happens. That's when the camera goes handheld and follows the ebb and flow of action.
For Borderlands and a huge fan of the game series, there are a lot of different places I've found inspiration. The game itself being one of them to be sure. But there are actually very few "cut scenes" in the game itself. A lot of those moments happen right in front of you from your perspective (to make sure you feel a part of that moment). Then there's YouTube for the game/DLC trailers and Claptrap webisodes.
Aside from that, there are certain movies that can help inspire as well depending on the situation/scene. I've looked at "The Good, The Bad, The Weird," "Hot Fuzz," "The Raid," "Mad Max," and even "Trigun." All have moments that could be plucked and put into a Borderlands game.
The camera moves a lot more freely in Borderlands. A lot more hand held and a lot more dolly and trucking. Extreme zooms (something you'd never see in Game of Thrones), can happen here depending on the action or what needs to be focused on.
All this I try to keep in mind when working on these games. Aside from these things, I also keep all three volumes of "Master Shots" at my desk. These books really help break down wonderfully made scenes in a wide array of movies. From character placement, pacing, FOV (Field Of View)/DOF (Depth Of Field), camera movements, etc.
Aside from the tools in how you shoot a scene/inspiration, you then go through a mental list, asking yourself; Do I have a fight scene? A scene with a lot of dialog? Where is this happening? Inside? Outside? How many characters are there? Who's in control in the scene itself? Who has the power? Does that power shift? What's the pacing? The tone? Where does my scene fit into the overall story?
You try to take all of this; the inspiration from the subject matter, the rules of cinematography, what the writer/designer intended for the scene, what the director's vision is, and you start to build your scene.
The interesting thing is, it doesn't even stop there. If you want to delve a touch deeper, you also have to keep in mind you're making a game. Because creating a scene for a film is different than creating one for a game. There's a different layer to character and camera work when you add the extra element of a person in control of someone. Right down to what side are characters placed in the camera at the end of a cut-scene? This can matter for when we hand control of the character to the player. Another instance that can come up; what do we show the player but not a certain character? Or vice versa? Do you want to separate the two?
I learned a lot when I went to film college, but it's that player element you don't learn until you start working at a game studio. Because it does change things.
In the end though, you do start to develop a "wheel house" of sorts. I find I love scenes that are one on one, two characters interacting, moments to let a scene breathe, where you can see the gears of someone's mind working. Like the scene with Clementine and the dog in season 2 episode 1 of "The Walking Dead" (even though the end to that scene crushes me). Or Episode 2 of Game of Thrones, where Talia is there with Rodrik when he wakes up from surgery.
On the flip side I also love Borderlands action scenes. The quick whip cams, zooming in/out, showing a moment of decision on a characters face, camera following the action of a weapon, large groups converging on each other, explosions, all screaming; "Bad ass!"
So you start to find you have a knack for certain things, a certain style. Stuff that can almost be like a finger print. That's where I start asking for different scenes sometimes, different scenarios. It's nice to be comfortable in certain settings, and I do relish those moments, but I also want to keep on learning, to keep on growing. As fellow artists, I think you can all understand that desire.
So when I get those different scenes, I go back to the drawing board. More examples, more reading, learning what I can from different scenes, movies, other video games. That wonderful cycle continues.
If anything, there is one saying that I try to always remember as I go from game to game;
"For every one thing I get good at,
there are two more things to learn."
It's a subject I find myself very passionate about!
I hope you enjoyed my keyboard clatterings.
Feel free to discuss more below, I'd love to hear more thoughts, ideas, questions on the subject!
Vi et animo,