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Assassin's Creed II Community Developer Q&A
by Linford Butler
As promised, the Assassin's Creed II Community Dev Q&A (wow, that's a mouthful), with CEO Yannis Mallat (YM) and Executive Producer, Jade Raymond (JR).


What is Ubisoft’s strategy on the convergence of film and video games?

(YM) Our Convergence strategy has one main and clear objective: to expand our video game brands and to develop them on additional platforms to provide a global experience to an extended audience. Convergence doesn’t only mean film and video games. It is open to all platforms and mediums that could support our franchises.

Over the past few years we have built our strategy step-by-step by developing an internal structure that would allow us to reach our objectives. First, back in 2007, we created Ubisoft Digital Arts, our internal digital content development team. A year later, to accelerate our strategy, we acquired Hybride Technologies, one of the industry’s most renowned VFX creators that worked on Sin City and 300. Between these two major steps, we also signed up the AVATAR deal which is another element of our convergence strategy since we are working on both the games but also directly on some of the movie scenes.

Most recently, we have also created our Comic Book publishing house to support the creation of some Assassin’s Creed 2 comic books and we also have other initiatives under way. We are convinced that the deepness of our brands can be transposed on other mediums and this is exactly what our approach is on Convergence.

Will Hybride be involved with the AC2 video game?
(JR) Hybride and Ubisoft Digital Arts are involved in the sense that their work on the short films has influenced the game. Although they are not working directly on the game’s assets per se, many of the film’s experts have collaborated with the team to bring a new level of quality to the game. The film’s weapon designer for example worked with the game’s art director on our weapon design. Once we saw working versions of the hidden blade and other weapons we were able to adjust each animation to make sure it reflected the actual weight and function. That’s the beauty of mixing two different universes such as cinema and video games. By sharing expertise, both spheres grow and improve one another.

Another good example of this collaboration is the common casting of our main characters. The same actor was cast in both the film and game so that we can work with actors to help evolve the characters. We’re going a step further than just photographic likeness. We’ve recorded the actor’s voice and mo-capped them for the game’s narrative sequences. This process really helps give more life and credibility to our in-game characters.

How will the films tie to Assassin’s Creed and/or Assassin’s Creed II directly?
(JR)The short films explore the events that happen just before the Assassin’s Creed II game starts. They revolve around Ezio’s father, Giovanni Auditore da Firenze and give insight on the game’s backstory and universe. We wanted you to understand where Ezio’s hate and quest for revenge come from. We want the player to really hate the bad guys even before they start to play.

Will the films be live-action?
(YM)Yes, the short films are a mix of live action and CGI. The technique Ubisoft is using is very innovative;the game environment is used at different stages of a film production. Using the game engine, the director was able to find his set location and extract them to create a layout. It allowed better definition of the production needs. Furthermore, the game engine was used for the creation of the virtual sets. As live actors were filmed on green screen they were then integrated inside the virtual set extracted from the game environments. The game sets are then enhanced for better integration with live actors. To a certain extent, it’s similar to the technique used in 300 and Sin City on which Hybride collaborated. For Assassin’s Creed: Lineage, Hybride has developed specific in-house techniques that allow them to directly project in-game environments on the set of the shooting, allowing the director and the actors on the green-screen set to have a real understanding of the spatial environment in which the action takes place.

Will CGI and special effects be used on all the films?
(YM) Yes, as all the shots were filmed on green-screen the virtual sets will be inserted on all of images thus allowing the actors to live in the environment. This will be true of all the films in the short films series.

How will Ubisoft Digital Arts work with Hybride on these films?
(YM) The Ubisoft Digital Arts team is actually deeply involved in the production of the shorts. Their experience is very strong in 3D while Hybride’s experience is really focused on compositing. So both teams are complementing each other.
Over 45 people of the U.D.A. team are actively involved in the movies’ post production work these days.

Is Jade Raymond or any of the Ubisoft development team involved with the AC2 short films?
(YM) Yes, the creative team behind the Assassin’s Creed video games was closely involved in the conception and development of the short films series and of course Jade Raymond was overseeing the whole project as executive producer on the Assassin’s Creed brand.

Will you be using any renowned directors to create the films?
(YM) Yves Simoneau is directing the short films. He’s an awarded director and scriptwriter whose work includes “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”, “Nuremberg”, “Marie-Antoinette”, “Napoleon”, “Les Fous de Bassan” among others.

Yannis Mallat claimed that the films would have unprecedented production value at the E3 press conference. How much money is being spent to create these films?
(YM) Just like our game productions, we are not revealing the specifics of the budget details. But the idea behind the production value is not just about how big the production budget is. Overall, the idea is to say that we are giving ourselves the means for our ambitions.

With the production of AC and now ACII (along our other AAA projects), we have invested significantly to produce some high-end games that have amazed millions of gamers around the world. We are bent on making these short movies visually as stunning as our games by using state of the art Hollywood production tools, processes and technology.

What does being a “full 360” Development Company mean to Ubisoft?
(YM) A full 360 degree development company means that we are positioning ourselves not only as a game developer and publisher but as a Company that is producing entertainment content on multiple platforms and mediums.

When will the short films be released?
(JR)They will be released close to the launch of the Assassin’s Creed II game. Right now we cannot confirm any details on how they will be broadcast.

Are there plans in the future to evolve from short films to full feature animated movies?
(YM)_When we announce our convergence strategy, we clearly stated that at one point we would be interested in at least keeping the control of our IPs when the time would come to bring them to the big screen.
Over the past 23 years Ubisoft has become one of the most successful game developer-publishers worldwide. However, we realize we can’t become movie creators overnight. There is a learning process that we have to go through to become full feature film producer-creators. We still have a lot to learn from this industry and this is what we are doing right now.

Were the team members from Hybride who are working on these short movies also involved in the production of 300 or Sin City?
(YM)Yes. Hybride has a lengthy 17-year experience in producing VFX for feature films. Some of the people working on ACII Lineage have participated in the production of not only 300 and Sin City but also on Journey to the Center of the Earth, Spy Kids…

What can Ubisoft learn from Hollywood and what can Hollywood learn from Ubisoft?
(YM)Ubisoft believes that there is a lot for us to learn by working with the movie industry. On one side there is the convergence of the content but on the other side, there is also the convergence of the tools and technologies.

We are finding out that there are a lot of similarities in the way we work and the way the VFZ and movie artists do work. We are often working with the same tools, but in different ways. We are convinced that we have to learn from them as much as they have to learn from us.

The movie industry is now over a century old, the game industry, around 30-years old. If there’s one area where we have some steps to make, it’s in the way we are telling our stories. The Spielbergs, Camerons and Jacksons, have a lot to teach us in that field, because our industry isn’t at the point it should be when it comes to telling a good story that transmits emotions.

In 10 years from now. What do you think Ubisoft will be like? A multimedia company working in all fields of entertainment?
(YM) In 10 years from now, Ubisoft will be an entertainment content provider.

Some game worlds have already expanded to movies (Square with FF for example). Will Ubisoft´s approach be any different?
(YM) Our approach is different because we are not focusing specifically on films or feature films. Without saying an approach is better than the other one, we believe in a step-by-step strategy. Strategically, we are putting the pieces of the puzzle together, learning our way through and sticking to our mission of delivering the best interactive content possible.

Will the Hybride artistic/movie experience also influence Ubisoft´s upcoming games?
(YM) It’s the objective and it’s already in full effect. But it is not limited to Hybride. The idea is to make sure that our whole Convergence strategy has a direct impact on how we also develop and produce our games.

We have to approach the creation of our universes with a much wider and open mind. From now on, the content we are producing for our games will also have a life outside of its original expression medium, but will have an impact on all the content that will be generated on the other platforms as well.

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- Linford Butler

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