One of the cool things about the animation/VFX industry is that it’s continually evolving beyond the established parameters. The artistry of a well generated scene or special effects sequence is now no longer confined to a piece of film, but has also begun to take on an interactive element as video games move closer to the cinematic boundary.
Pipeworks Software, based out of Eugene, is at the heart of this constantly shifting field. Ever turned on an Xbox or Xbox 360? Then you’re familiar with their work – they did the boot loader animation for both systems. Last year, they had multiple games sell over one million copies each – a first for the company. One of these was “Zumba Fitness” for Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360 (the others were “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy” and “uDraw Studio”). In June, “Zumba” surpassed “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D” to hit #1 on the UK retail charts after seven months on the market. It is currently the only non-Nintendo product in the best selling of the week and is the #1 game on the whole in Europe and #2 in North America.
If the project didn’t seem complex enough from the start – taking a super popular fitness franchise and translating it into a video game – “Zumba Fitness” was a launch title for the Kinect for Xbox 360. “When we started out, the Kinect didn’t exist. It didn’t really have a name, the hardware didn’t exist,” says Senior Producer Shelby Wills. “There are always challenges with that when you’re the first one going through the project and figuring out how to make your game while they’re still developing the hardware. So it’s interesting. You make a lot of assumptions and some are true and some are not.” Rather than being put off by the lack of concrete information, Pipeworks embraced the challenge whole heartedly. “Part of our culture has always been that we like to take on these kinds of challenging projects,” says Wills.
Aside from creating for not-yet-existing hardware, one of the biggest challenges came with designing the environments and levels within the game. The way “Zumba Fitness” works, your environment gets more complex and full of elements the better you do. For the Pipeworks crew, the trick was to design environments that were interesting from the moment you started, yet still had some place to go.
Pipeworks worked closely with publisher Majesco Entertainment, as well as representatives from Zumba, throughout the project. The game features three celebrity Zumba instructors: Tanya Beardsley, Gina Grant and Zumba’s creator Beto Perez. “In a lot of games what you’ll do is make a 3D model of somebody,” says Wills. “But we decided that we wanted to do actual video footage that was processed to look like them.” To do this, the team from Pipeworks worked with Funnelbox Motion Picture Studio in Oregon City to digitally capture each instructor performing their routines. The two companies often work together on projects with Funnelbox providing the cinematic support for Pipeworks’ games.
Inherent experimentation aside, Zumba Fitness has turned out to be one of the most popular games not only from Pipeworks but for the Kinect on the whole. It’s also available on the PS3 Move and Wii – the latter which is notable because for the week of July 2, 2011 it was the top selling game in the world. Pipeworks is, unsurprisingly, secretive about their upcoming projects but there’s little doubt that as they keep developing and working on the cutting edge of the industry that there will be more Oregon-produced games topping the global charts.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abN-m-lgyE4
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Written by Lindsay Harrop.
As an intern with the Oregon Governor’s Office of Film & Television, I get to observe Oregon’s film industry from a unique angle. Over the course of the summer I’ll be writing periodic pieces about the exciting cinematic endeavors occurring across the state and how the film industry impacts Oregon (and vice versa).