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Screens Within Screens: How Archipel Makes Video Game Documentaries

Screens Within Screens: How Archipel Makes Video Game Documentaries


As human beings move our lives further
and further into the virtual filmmakers will have to continue to answer the question
of how to make the screens we interact with every single day
look cinematically interesting. After all while you may be fully engrossed with
whatever conversation you’re having over text or whatever is happening on your
Twitter feed. People sitting on their phones or at their computers just
doesn’t look all that engaging when it’s captured on camera. Fiction filmmakers
have already been combative this and have found a plethora of creative ways
to make digital interactions appear on-screen since the early 90s. Texting
and emails have been crafted into every kind of bubble, font, and motion path
imaginable. Science fiction movies have always had a knack for communicating
more information via monitors and displays than they could without. But
there is one sub-genre of filmmaking based almost entirely on screens filled
with potential for rich visual storytelling that remains almost
entirely untapped. Let’s talk about video game documentaries – the good, the bad
and one independent production company that might have found the golden
approach. Video games and the process of making a documentary have a surprising amount in common They’re both interactive, pushing the user to connect with the world around them Their outcomes are driven by the successes, failures and choices of the person in the driver’s seat. And game
designers and documentarians both utilize visual elements to tell a story. Maybe these commonalities are why so many documentarians seem interested in
the world of the video game industry but regardless it’s a prime playground for
great storytelling. eSports is the most obvious example. The lives and careers of
gamers and coaches are littered with drama. Celebrity or underdog competitive
gamers can be complex and compelling characters for filmmakers to follow and
audiences to route for. The work of game designers is also a wonderful process to explore through the documentary form. Completing a game is an immense task
requiring an unfaithful number of dedicated hours. For indie developers the
competition to get a game recognized is fierce. There’s something equally
invigorating and tragic about watching such labor-intensive works of art fight
for any amount of financial success. The behind-the-scenes perspective of a
documentary gives the viewer an opportunity to investigate the deeper
meaning instilled in video games. Designers utilize aesthetics and mechanics
to tackle some of life’s greatest questions and challenges. Developers pour
their hearts and souls into these games and multi-billion dollar franchises are
built off of the fact that tons of people picked up a controller and felt something. And the empathy-driven documentary form is the perfect vehicle to unlock the
humanity woven into every single pixel “I was born with a congenital heart
condition. Why not put yourself into your heart and make it more personal because
for me that’s always the most interesting art.” So then why is it so many video game
documentaries end up looking like this video games some people they’re a blast
from the past something they used to do at the local arcade when they were
hanging out after high school of designing or playing a game can be an
immersive all-consuming experience that feeling is really difficult to emulate
once the cameras start rolling first there are the technical difficulties
that can come with filming screens worst case scenario this involves plasma
monitors cheap LCDs and mismatching frame rates that cause flicker but even
when flicker isn’t an issue there’s the problem of exposure the majority of
digital displays from laptops to TV monitors are going to be brighter than
their surroundings so if you expose for the screen the people are going to be
too dark and you won’t be able to register their faces and if you expose
for the people or the surroundings the screen is gonna be blown out and you
won’t be able to get any detail unless the crew is able to set up artificial
lighting for a scene which may not be possible if you’re in a convention
center or a public place the filmmaker is gonna have to decide if they’re gonna
expose for the person or the game the exposure problem has the potential to
ruin a really key shot the only moment where the subject and the game are able
to be in frame together instead when this is executed poorly which it often
is audiences are left with a cluttered poorly exposed image where most of the
frame is lost and no information is conveyed visually speaking of cluttered
video games are very complex worlds from 8-bit art style to 3d modeling each game
has its own color palette pacing and style which can be difficult to marry to
real-world footage in a way that complements both how do you take a
live-action shot like this and make it feel right next to something like this
corporate docks mostly tackle the merging worlds question with product
placement throw the games logo artwork or merchandise in an interview setting
and the audience will inherently understand that all of these visual
elements belong together the result is not only often ugly but disingenuous
other docks especially some of the early 2000s arcade films try to compliment the
busy video game screen by making everything busy resulting in overkill
and an eyesore of the movie the viewer is unable to appreciate the beauty of
the game or the live-action cinematography and any sense of cohesive
visual tone is lost documentaries are about people and it’s imperative to the
emotional impact of these films that the audience is able to feel a connection
between the character and the game composing graphics texts and color
palettes that complement the game’s pre-existing style is one way to create
unity and filmmakers are actively doing this
to greater and greater impact but how do you effectively capture that moment of
connection when someone sits down and Tunes into the wall of a game how do you
make an audience member watch that and feel something allow me
to introduce you to our capella filmmaking duo that’s exploring various
aspects of Japanese culture through documentary
you may recognize them from a recent video that featured on gaming journalism
polygons channel but they’ve also been making impressive works at their own
including a two-part series on the Dreamcast dock style mood videos set in
gaming conventions and interview based pieces on the development of games from
dead cells to secular Osho’s die twice with all of these projects they found an
approach to filming video games that requires just two things
abstraction and simplicity across their work arch Appel utilizes blurred images
to create tone and also essentially replace the establishing shot instead of
opening on a scene in a convention center with a shot like this the
audience is brought in slowly through more conceptual imagery a blurred frame
of a crowd gives the viewer enough information to have an idea of where
they are without overloading their senses this style carries over with a
shallow depth of field and minimal set design that’s featured across articles
live-action footage real-world shots are also heavily desaturated featuring
primarily off whites and pastels the results as the characters existing an
undefined space a dreamlike world that leaves the audience floating searching
for solid ground which they eventually find in the crisp dynamic images from
the games in contrast to the soft dreamy depictions of the real world arch fell
let’s gameplay footage be vibrant active and crisp through the audience the
resulting immersion can feel like a little bit of a taste of what it might
be like to be a player as everything literally comes into focus with the game
the camera doesn’t feel like it’s fighting for exposure and showing a
player interacting with the screen instead it leans into the subtle
contrast and Minds these moments for opportunities to create interesting
abstract and the camera may focus on the way the
bright particle effects reflect on to a player’s glasses collar or fingertips
and it’s some of my favorite shots the screen becomes the primary light source
in the frame emanating warmth color and life like a warm fireplace calling the
player home art repels minimalist approach to filming the real world
provides a series of gaps for the complex vibrant and stylistically
specific games they feature to fill this balance created by contrast creates a
feeling that neither of these worlds can exist without the other and while this
certainly won’t be the only way filmmakers discovered to capture video
games it certainly does feel light you

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