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from: http://pc.ign.com/articles/698/698421p1.html

GDC 06: LucasArts and ILM: A Case Study in the Convergence of Games and Film

A high-level look at how LucasArts is fusing games and movie teams in-house.

by Douglass C. Perry

March 24, 2006 - On the final day of the Game Developers Conference 2006, LucasArts clarified that it's prepared for the future convergence of movies and games in a way no other company could. Over the last three years, Industrial Light and Magic and LucasArts Entertainment have toiled to merge their two high-tech companies, and finally their "blue-sky" goal has reached fruition.

During the one-hour lecture entitled, "LucasArts and ILM: A Case Study in the Convergence of Games and Film," Chris Williams, project lead, LucasArts, and Steve Sullivan, director of R&D, ILM, addressed how their two companies, virtual strangers to one another, have merged geographically and technologically. More significantly, they explained how the result will drastically affect the production and quality of their films and games as the next generation of systems arrives.

Last year, LucasArts and ILM moved into the same buildings, the Letterman Digital Arts Studio, a newly developed part of San Francisco's national park, The Presidio. Commencing in 2003, executives from both teams proposed joining both studios. In 2004, LucasArts restructured and the brainstorming began, and Zeno, the underlying tool upon which both games and movies will be made, began the shift from Linux into Windows. The following year LucasArts committed to the next-gen pipeline. In 2006, the first game to show off the collaboration of their efforts will be the new multi-platform Indiana Jones, to be unveiled at E3 2006, and due on next-generation systems in 2007. All future LucasArts games will be based on the Zeno platform, Williams explained.

Zeno was created to take advantage of the Academy award-winning tech skills from ILM with the game development of LucasArts, building a next-generation game development pipeline and toolset from which both could prosper. As many as 15 engineers are dedicated to building it, and the team comprises a mixture of LEC and ILM staff, who share offices. There is no "CTG" -- central technology group, and the tools will never actually be finished: it will always be in development. The first fruits of the teams' labor will be shown in LucasArts' two next generation games (one of which is Indiana Jones).

Among the many struggles the two teams have had include balancing the use of both Windows and Linux, creating tools with high usability, smart interfaces, and are stable, and ramping-up and training.

Components of the Zeno tools feature WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editing for level editing, familiar controls and manipulators, and an asset browser. "Zeno is great at handling complex scenes," said Steve Sullivan. "It is used to handle incredibly complex scenes such as those in Pirates of the Caribbean. The tool is also flexible, scriptable, and highly scalable. And...we own it."

The tools provide powerful ways to manipulate and show real-time lighting, pre-calculated lighting using ILM's pipeline and renderfarming, real-time and accurate previews of dynamic lighting and shadowing, HDR (high dynamic range) support, and ambient occlusion support. There is an excellent particle editor, a materials editor, and LucasArts has its own digital actor studio, enabling motion-capture work in-house. The team is able to blend animation, and work on non-linear animation, facial animation, procedural animation, in addition to having access to a physics workshop, into which Havok tools have been integrated.

Sullivan also announced that Lucas has started a new studio in Shanghai, planted to take advantage of the country's skilled labor force of excellent animators. A game studio is also in development in Shanghai.

One would think that the shared Zeno tools would only be beneficial to LucasArts, given that ILM is so far ahead in its technical achievements. Not so, explained Chris Williams. The shared techniques also benefit ILM. That technical team now has more interactive authoring capabilities and previews of shots, access to real-time physics simulations and improved user interfaces, procedural animation and character user-interfaces,

multi-user authoring environments, and remote collaboration.

In conclusion, Williams said, there are a few hard-learned takeaway points. Joining the two companies has been really hard, even with a mandate. But game and film technologies really do complement each other. And even though the cultural gap is huge, the next generation of games and movies has provided motivation. Lastly, integrated frameworks need gestation and many iterations to reach their full potential. "It's a big win to know that we're doing it the 'right way.' And, once we get it right, we can then make the process fast."


I think only good things can come from this. The visual effects and technological advances from ILM joining with the gaming world? This sounds pretty sweet, and I would like to get my hands on those Zeno tools.

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I think it's a bunch of hooey and another mistake by Lucas. Real time graphics are indeed getting pretty nice but they will never catch up with prerendered tech - the latter simply has the time advantage over the other and no matter how fast games get, prerendered effects will be a few steps ahead.

I can see NO way that game graphic technology can benefit film effects, and the way prerendered models are built they're basically useless to efficiency-minded game developers.

I'm curious to know how exactly their compounded workflows will be laid out and managed; I'm thinking it will wind up being a bigger headache for everybody involved, against pretty marginal gains.

But then, this is a bunch of speculation and only the guys on the ground know how it's working out (wouldn't it be nice to hear their opinion, I bet it differs from this feel-good press release).

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I would care more if Lucasarts was still making adventure games. But they aren't. So I don't.

My thoughts exactly. There was a time when I couldn't wait to play their games and I've completely lost that feeling. Bring back Full Throttle to the PC ! :) (last attempt got cancelled)

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  • 3 weeks later...

I imagine the new Indiana Jones game will be an adventure, in much the same way as Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia games are adventure games. I always feel those types of games are far more rightfully defined by the "adventure" genre than point and clicks, as good as those were/are.

Good luck getting that position with LucasArts if its what you are after Ferret :)

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