Gaming Goes Hollywood

As Ubisoft opens a CGI studio to create linear entertainment, the convergence of film and game continues

Ubisoft's Montreal Studio has established itself as one of the premiere game development houses in the world over the past 10 years. Now the French game giant has its sights set on Hollywood. Ubisoft will open a CGI studio that will focus on creating linear entertainment. While its first efforts will be digitally-distributed short films to promote upcoming games like Assassin's Creed, over the next five years, Ubisoft CEO and Co-Founder Yves Guillemot sees the potential for CGI TV show production and feature films.

By 2013, Ubisoft hopes to have a team of 500 specialists in this new CGI studio. It's part of an overall effort to bolster its Quebec studios (Quebec City and Montreal) over the next six years to 3,000 employees. There are currently 1,600 Ubisoft employees working in Quebec. Ubisoft plans to invest an additional $383.9 million (U.S.) during that time to build up its infrastructure to tackle both linear and interactive entertainment projects. Guillemot said the goal is ultimately to create games and movies simultaneously in the same studio.

"The first short film for Assassin's Creed will be available a few months before the game," said Guillemot. "We'll supply this content digitally via the Internet. We're looking at outlets like iPod and Xbox Live Marketplace. What's allowing us to create this content is the fact that digital distribution is a common system to distribute product. Digital distribution will allow us to reach a large audience quickly and efficiently."

Guillemot said that it's important to note that the publisher will not go into theatres to start with on these CGI projects; Ubisoft will, however, use intelligent machines that will allow customers to edit and transform the content and add a little bit of their own personality into the short films.

Guillemot believes that the next generation of consoles, the next Xbox console and PlayStation 4, will open up new convergence opportunities between Hollywood and video game publishers. The Montreal Studio is preparing for these opportunities today by recruiting top Hollywood and CGI talent.

Guillemot sees the next five years as a time for the CGI team to learn the ways of CGI filmmaking, first in short iterations, and then in serialized and film versions.

"Early on, we may do part of the CGI movie for a studio, and over time, it's something that we hope a studio would ask us to do the entire movie," said Guillemot. "Television is the other direction we want to take because it's shorter and you can coordinate more regularly with production."

Ubisoft has been active in the Hollywood space, both with licenses like Peter Jackson's King Kong, Open Season, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Surf's Up; and working with Hollywood directors like Peter Jackson, Andrew Davis, Marco Brambilla, John McTiernan and Matty Rich.

"We think this studio will enhance our relationship with Hollywood directors because when you have to do the same thing, you understand their problems," said Guillemot. "You can understand what the problems are in the interactive industry and the entertainment industry."

Guillemot said that all of the experiences the Montreal studio has had, including the CGI film projects like Open Season, Surf's Up and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, have given the company a better understanding of what needs to be done and how it can be done in the interactive space. Now it can bring some of those things to the table for these new linear products.

Guillemot said Hollywood has been receptive to this new effort, but they want to see more.

"As soon as we can show them that the quality of the production we create is really high, they are interested," said Guillemot. "On TV projects, we will partner up with existing Hollywood studios. For theatrical, we'll start by doing digital production. We won't start with a theatrical goal in mind, but if some studios think we should change the content to release it in theatres, we're open to it. We are not closed to anything."

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