F3ar of Modus FXThe Cinematics Division at Modus FX teamed up with Digital Dimension recently to create 20 minutes of spine-tingling cinematics for F.3.A.R. - the third instalment of the popular game from Warner Bros. Interactive, which was released today. Developed by Day 1 Studios, the game was directed by Rocky Newton with the participation of acclaimed horror filmmaker John Carpenter. Working closely together with Digital Dimension, the primary vendor on the project, Modus created the looks and delivered evocative filmic imagery for 20 story segments, comprising a total of 189 shots.

“F.3.A.R. is a first-person shooter set in a very creepy environment. It’s like playing a game within a horror movie,” explained Martin Pelletier, VFX supervisor at Modus. “We were given a lot of freedom on this project to create the mood for the cinematics, as well as adding gory detail!” Work on F.3.A.R. involved a pipeline spanning two facilities and paired Modus’ Pelletier with Jean-François Ferland, Artistic Director at Digital Dimension. Along with look development, Modus provided lighting, simulations, and compositing. Digital Dimension created the layout, matte painting, camera work and character animation. The project lasted 6 months and involved 49 Modus FX artists and technicians.

The Look of F.3.A.R

Cinematics for the game began as basic storyboards, which Digital Dimension used to plan out each scene. Modus was then given low-resolution graphics derived from the game for each segment. Look development artists at Modus selected representative shots. They were then asked to explore ideas with those images to see how they might be evolved for the more detailed, narrative-driven graphics needed for cinematic sequences.

“Cinematics give the games their narrative drive and enrich the overall experience,” explained Pelletier. “If you can make that imagery really compelling, you add a lot of depth to the game, especially for a more story-driven one like F.3.A.R. We asked ourselves how we could bring these scenes to life visually, what effects we could add that enhance the spooky and gory atmosphere. It became a very creative and collaborative process with Digital Dimension.”

Once the look development team had ideas they liked, Modus assembled master shots and presented them to the client for approval. “They loved what we brought them and those shots became our references for the rest of the project,” said Pelletier.

For much of the work, Modus applied shading and lighting to existing models, but the primary characters in the game, Fettel and Pointman, needed to be enhanced in order to provide the necessary detail for close-up shots. Along with the game’s characters, Modus enriched the environments and added effects, including explosions, fire, smoke, fog and, of course, lots of blood.

“One of our favourite segments is the scene at Port Authority – one of the levels in the game,” laughed Pelletier. “In this scene, a character becomes possessed. We can’t give the story away, but let’s just say there is a lot of splatter! We had fun designing those shots.”

From the Cinema to Game Cinematics

There is a big difference between first-person shooter video game imagery and the composition of cinematics. In the game, the environment is like a playground – the imagery is focused on the interactive experience of the gamers as they pursue their objectives. Cinematics introduce narrative and dramatic elements – here the creepy environment has a different function: storytelling.

In support of this, Modus made extensive use of filmmaking techniques, such as rack focusing and de-focusing. Playing with the depth of field in this way enhances the eeriness of the shots and draws the viewer’s attention to different story elements. The facility used a range of effects, such as rolling fog, both to accentuate the three-dimensional feel of the space and to highlight or obscure different parts of the canvas.

“Our core expertise in film was a big help on this project,” said Yanick Wilisky, VP of production and co-founder of Modus FX. “Much of our feature film work is on ‘invisible’ VFX, so we have a lot of experience applying digital enhancements to live-action photography. Our cinematics team put that to full use on F.3.A.R.”

“You make discoveries when you move across genres like this,” added Pelletier. “Video games have a more immediate, ‘in-your-face’ visual style. I think we can learn from that in film. At the same time, we have developed very refined approaches to CG environments and effects elements, which can serve the gaming world very well.”

“We learned a few technical things, too” reflected Pelletier. “You don’t need to push the geometry as far as we thought. You can get excellent results from lower resolution models, even for the big screen. We’re constantly enhancing our efficiency at Modus and what we learned on F.3.A.R. will directly benefit our other clients and our ability to deliver high quality results quickly.”

F.3.A.R. is the second project for which Modus and Digital Dimension have teamed up. Recently the two facilities collaborated on the cinematics for Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest. Cinematics for F.3.A.R. were scripted by Steve Niles and directed by Rocky Newton, with John Carpenter as consultant. F.3.A.R. was released by Warner Bros. Interactive on June 21.