All About: Diablo III Cinematics with Marc Messenger
We had the opportunity to interview Marc Messenger – Brand Director of Cinematics over at Blizzard – when we hit up the Diablo III launch day back on May 15th. It was the first time Marc was getting interviewed for non-Blizzard publications (his first feature was on the Blizzard blog for WoW: Cataclysm’s cinematics) and he regaled us with interesting facts about cinematic development in Diablo III. He also signed our review copies of Diablo III. But before this feature dissolves into a puddle of squealing fangirl goo, check out what we talked about!
RGB: Blizzard worked with Peter Chung of Titmouse Animation Studios to produce the ‘Wrath’ anime cinematic. Were you involved in that collaboration?
MM: No, actually, it was a total surprise to me. They were doing that as a separate assignment and I was really excited when I saw it for the first time because I had no idea they were doing it. It’s very cool.
RGB: Can fans expect to see more of such tie-ups? I thought Wrath was pretty well received.
MM: Yes, I would hope so. I mean, these things are always experiments; we try something new, and we wanted to see what the reaction from people was. Did they get excited, they did want more? And if there is positive feedback, you know, I’m sure we will be exploring other venues. We’re always looking for other ways to get the lore of our games out. And this is just one more way to try to do it.
RGB: As cinematic director, how would you choose between a cutscene or an anime like Wrath?
MM: That’s probably the first anime that we’ve ever done, so in the past it really has been more about ‘are we going to do it as a pre-rendered cinematic’ or ‘are we going to use the in-game engine’. And those choice have been mostly related to StarCraft and WoW. Diablo, up to this point really hasn’t had [in-game engine], we’ve pretty much done everything pre-rendered in Diablo in the past.
But, as I said before, we’re always looking for other ways to express these ideas. So it really just comes down to what’s the idea we want to express. What do we think is the best vehicle for telling that story?
RGB: In your interview for the Cataclysm cinematics, you said that there were specific functions of the cinematics there, like how they were supposed to convey a sense of awe to the player. What do you think the role of cinematics is in Diablo III?
MM: Cinematics play a fairly important role in telling the story because there are a number of times when you get to a place in your gameplay where you want to convey a very epic story point, or you want to convey a very subtle story point, and there’s just that moment where you have to decide: is this something that can be handled by the game or does it need the cinematic treatment?
There’s no formula to making that decision. We get together with the game team and we all talk about it, and sometimes we change our minds. Sometimes we start out one road and we say, you know, actually, it would be better to do it as a cinematic. So it’s just about an open dialogue between cinematics and the game team when making these decisions.
RGB: Do you think the cinematics in Diablo III are going to convey a sense of awe to the player?
MM: The cinematics in Diablo III have really two to three functions. They’re helping to tell the story, and they’re trying to immerse you in the world of Sanctuary. And so, it’s important that we fulfil both of those obligations. We want to be as smart as we can with the filmmaking side, and we want to also not do cinematics that deal with things that would be really awesome in the game itself. Sometimes you want to separate something and save it for the game because it would be so cool to actually play through that moment, as opposed to just watching it as a movie.
But then there are other times when a movie is just the appropriate choice. Beyond that, it really is about trying to immerse the player in a really high-res version of the game, so that you really feel like you are in that dark, scary world.
RGB: What were some of the most difficult scenes to animate in D3?
MM: I can only speak about the ones that already have been released. I’d say we had some really huge challenges in the Black Soulstone. Nick Carpenter directed those pieces and I think he did an amazing job, and the fidelity of Leah, her skin, her hair, her eyes, the subsurface of her flesh – it’s just fairly astounding how real she looks.
And it’s tremendously difficult. It requires everybody to be on their game and I was just extremely impressed with the way everyone pulled off all that.
Hopefully this has been a nice insight into in-game cinematics for everyone. When interviews come from the back-end of games, they’re too often focused on how the game works, and why it works that way it does. Given that Blizzard has some of the coolest concept art and cutscenes in the industry, it was nice being able to talk to Marc about his role in Diablo III.