In a bombed-out section of a futuristic downtown Los Angeles, a man sits on a tire next to an overturned car, staring at a computer-controlled screen fastened to his wrist, oblivious to the machine gun fire and bomb blasts around him.
The camera pans out to show an aerial view of a war zone, where jet pilot
The trailer helped make "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" a big hit for
"It's complex work, which our guys love doing, and it involves big teams over long periods of time," said Ben Hampshire, managing director of the Mill Los Angeles. The Mill also has offices in London and New York. "It's a huge and vibrant part of our business, and it's flourishing as games get more complex."
Even as major studios cut back on the number of movies they release, the growth of the video games sector has been a welcome reprieve for California's visual effects industry, which has been hard hit by outsourcing and global competition. Two of California's most prominent visual-effects companies filed for bankruptcy protection from creditors in the last year, at least in part because of reductions in work from the major studios.
But the fast-growing video-game industry has been picking up some of the slack, creating new growth opportunities for local effects houses. Their services are increasingly in demand as game companies look to create more realistic, movie-like images in response to consumer demand.
Some of the work involves so-called in-game cinematics — the effects that are embedded in the games — as well as 30- to 60-second commercials, with budgets of $250,000 to $500,000, that play a key role in promoting games.
The trend has been partly fueled by technology, with new and more powerful game consoles that have the horsepower to handle the large data files required by elaborate visual effects. At the same time, game players increasingly expect more sophisticated characters and scenes that blend live action with computer-generated images.
"We view this as a big growth sector," said Rich Flier, vice president and executive producer of advertising and games for Digital Domain in Venice. "We've seen a huge increase in the amount of work that we do" for the video-games sector."
Digital Domain, co-founded by
Another recent project was a trailer for Activision and Bungie Inc.'s "Destiny," directed by
Digital Domain and other effects houses now commonly use performance capture — the technology that Cameron used in "Avatar" — to create increasingly realistic-looking human faces and scenes in video games.
"Everyone's trying to crack that nut to see who can build the most realistic faces and have their characters react and emote and look like their human counterparts," Flier said.
Giant Studios, which operates virtual production studios in
Giant Studios produced about 60 minutes of content for
The firm's video-game business has increased 50% over the last four years, said Candice Alger, chief executive of Giant Studios.
"It has become much more lucrative over the years," Alger said. "Now they're doing these very elaborate cinematics, which are almost little films."
Another major player in the-visual effects industry also sees opportunity in the games sector.
Digital Domain rival Rhythm & Hues of El Segundo stopped doing games work this year when it closed its commercial division as part of a cost-cutting move. But the Oscar-winning studio, which did the visual effects for the acclaimed
"R&H plans to aggressively expand into the video-game business," said Lee Berger, president of Rhythm & Hues. "It's a new market and it's the type of work that is conducive to what we're already doing: creating full CG environments with animated characters."