Go behind the scenes with UNCHARTED 3 - The Reveal

Check out the behind the scenes documentary “UNCHARTED 3 – The Reveal” on YouTube and via the PlayStation Network Store. We also take a moment to profile the 2 Player Productions crew – Asif Siddiky, Paul Levering and Paul Owens. You don't want to miss any of this!

By arne | Twitter @arnemeyer | Friday December 17 2010

Go behind the scenes with UNCHARTED 3 - The Reveal

We’re honored to have worked with 2 Player Productions to provide our community with a stellar behind the scenes look at all the work Naughty Dog put into creating the reveal trailer and all the announcement activities for UNCHARTED 3: Drake’s Deception. You may know 2 Player Productions from their acclaimed documentary Reformat the Planet, as the documentary force behind the first season of PATV, or for their Infamous Developer Diaries – I cannot recommend enough that you watch all of those videos as soon as you can. I first heard of 2PP back in 2008 when Reformat the Planet was making a splash at SXSW – I may have downloaded the entire film from the streaming file because I liked it so much, don’t tell! It couldn’t have been more awesome to find out earlier this year that forces were already at work to bring 2PP and Naughty Dog together in the first of what I hope is a lengthy partnership to provide an exhaustive look at the game development process. “UNCHARTED 3 – The Reveal” – the first part of a two-part documentary series – premiered on the PlayStation Network on Sunday, December 12, and is also available for viewing on the Naughty Dog YouTube channel. Part 2 is scheduled to be released in early 2011. Check out the whole first part in our embed code below. We’ve got an insightful interview with Asif Siddiky, Paul Levering and Paul Owens included after the video. The cinematography, the camera work, the editing, in your releases are all top notch. What are the backgrounds for your team prior to 2PP? Paul Owens: Asif [Siddiky] and I went to film school together, so even back then (I’m talking eight years ago) our styles were syncing and we were mutually respectful of what we each were bringing to the table. Once we graduated, we worked for a number of years documenting feature films, developing a style of shooting and editing that we thought was simple, yet stylized. I formed 2 Player Productions with Paul Levering in late 2005 and immediately asked Asif if he wanted to be involved. Then we were able to pretty easily transfer our old techniques over to the gaming world. Asif Siddiky: Paul Owens and I met in 2001 as freshmen enrolled in the same film production program at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Over the years, we worked on a lot of the same projects and eventually lived together with five other kids in our major. During the summer between our third and fourth years, we (along with our classmate, Jim Guerriero) were hired to shoot a behind the scenes documentary for a locally produced feature film called Shadowboxer (2005). Although the movie never saw a wide theatrical release, we maintained a good relationship with the first-time director, Lee Daniels (at that point, he was mostly known for having produced Monster's Ball (2001)). Within the year after our graduation in 2005, 2PP was born and I moved to New York City but we continued to produce BTS documentaries for Daniels' next two projects, Tennessee (2007) and Precious (2009) in between various freelance gigs – documenting everything from poetry festivals and weddings to off-Broadway plays and real estate videos. Somewhere in there I also shot an independent film called Natural Causes (2008), briefly interned at the office of documentary legend Albert Maysles (an amazing opportunity I regrettably had to exchange for steadier paid employment at a bank), and spent my last year in the city creating video content for an online shopping network with Owens. All of this was happening parallel to the work 2PP was doing at the time shooting live chipmusic shows and profiling the artists for Reformat the Planet. So ultimately, I think our technique was shaped (and continues to be shaped) by this wide variety of experiences -- allowing us to try out different ideas with each project and implement the successful ones in future shoots.
imageDo you have any film or documentary inspirations or people whose work you look up to? PO: I think we're all pretty obsessed with “This American Life.” It's a good thing to watch just before an important shoot, just to be reminded about the possibilities of documentary filmmaking. Paul Levering: The work Penelope Speeris did on The Decline of Western Civilization is really amazing. We also enjoyed watching through the entire "Long Way Round" series recently. I think the best documentary work is simple and true to its subject, it doesn't need to be flashy and expensive, just honest. AS: Personally, I'm most directly inspired by Errol Morris' "First Person" (2001) series, the video episodes of “This American Life” (2007), and pretty much anything made by Werner Herzog or the Maysles brothers. They all have a knack for turning over these seemingly unremarkable stones and revealing them as gems. I'm also a huge fan of movies like Sans Soleil (1983), The Times of Harvey Milk (1984), Soy Cuba (1964), and the cinematography of Roger Deakins, Robert Elswit, and Christopher Doyle. Their fingerprints may not always be immediately apparent on the surface but each one significantly impacted my perception of how the medium can be presented in one way or another.
I got to know about 2 Player Productions because of your Reformat the Planet documentary – what ended up driving the shift towards only profiling lesser known aspects of videogaming to including doing high-profile work with commercial studios like Sucker Punch and Naughty Dog? PO: MONEY. Kidding, kidding. Actually, we see the gaming world as one single entity that has very commercial aspects, and then more underground facets. We tend to focus on the more human side of things with our work so most of our themes are universal ones that anyone can share and relate to. Whether it's underground chip music or a blockbuster video game, the human elements are the same. PL: It's exciting to try and show a personal side of the games industry people may not be familiar with. To many consumers these are large faceless companies, but we have the opportunity to help create a human connection. I think that’s very rewarding. When people have passion for a project they work hard and pour themselves into it, regardless if it's an indie game or a AAA title. I hope as we move forward we can continue to work on both. AS: I think it was just a matter of opportunity. Our interest and our intentions have always included both ends of the spectrum because they carry and equal weight in our minds. Reformat the Planet, back when it was still called Play, was originally meant to paint a much broader portrait of the world of video game music that would take you from an underground chipmusic show in New York to Koji Kondo's living room and examine all the facets in between. Obviously this never happened and we scaled it back a bit but it ended up being a valuable experience upon which we could cut our teeth. When we screened Reformat the Planet at the Penny Arcade Expo in 2008, we didn't have DVDs available for retail so we loaded our booth with all kinds of colorful chipmusic merchandise on behalf of some of our film's subjects. This eventually caught the passing eye of a producer at Sony [Computer Entertainment America], Sam Thompson. Intrigued by the concept of original music written on vintage gaming gear, he ended up going back to his hotel with some CDs a burned copy of the movie. Before PAX was over, we were already discussing how our style could fit in at Sony. It was through his advocacy that we were given access to these amazing studios and we can't thank him enough for that.
imageWhat’s your process in determining who to work with, in terms of sourcing music for your commercial pieces? Do you have a few go-to performers? PO: A lot of our friends are musicians from the chip music world and it's become a symbiotic relationship. Their music ordinarily wouldn't be heard anywhere else and so by allowing us to use it we expose a lot of people to it, while at the same time lifting the quality of our work up as well. It gives us an identity too I think and keeps us connected to the chip music world, which is what 2PP initially formed to document. PL: With Reformat the Planet we set out to show people that there is more depth to the chip music world then they might expect. We're continuing to drive that concept by bringing the music into projects where people may not expect to hear it, but it still works. PO: As far as favorite musicians, I used pretty much every Alex Mauer track in existence for season one of Penny Arcade: The Series. For the Uncharted doc, I wanted a more mature sound, so chip musicians like Failotron and Bear & Walrus seemed appropriate. AS: We typically draw from our friends in the chipmusic community for a number of reasons. Most of the content we put in our pieces is already freely available under some form of Creative Commons so the conditions surrounding their use are straightforward and mutually beneficial (i.e. free music for us, free exposure for the musician). But, more importantly, we feel as though there's a strong conceptual link between that sonic aesthetic and our approach to this subject matter. Their music is detached from the actual experience of playing video games in the same way that our documentaries are less focused on the specifics of gameplay and more concerned with the process behind their creation. It also doesn't hurt that our go-to performers are amazing musicians in their own right. Alex Mauer, Anamanaguchi, Bear & Walrus, Cheap Dinosaurs, Disasterpeace, and failotron in particular can always be counted upon for that perfect soundtrack.
The vast majority of behind the scenes work covering the commercial side of the industry appear to be high production value promotional pieces – how do you feel your 2PP work fits in or brings something new to the table? PO: We're not really part of the industry so that gives us more freedom to explore other elements of the games, without having to worry about if what we're doing will help the game sell. We've benefited from being outsiders for sure. PL: That kind of work certainly has a place but it's very far removed from what we set out to do. I think you can boil it down to our content being about the people behind the games, while that content is just about the games. Even when they have the actual developers talking, they are just hitting selling points about the game, so you don't really get a sense of who the people behind the scenes are. When I look at how the majority of gamers see the industry as a whole, there seems to be a vast emotional disconnect. People love games but they don't see the effort that goes into them. Nurturing a concept of respect and educating the consumer about the process of game development can only lead to greater loyalty, so I think there is tremendous value in what we do.
What kinds of topics do you think are underserved in BTS pieces – what would you like to see more of based on your experiences so far? PO: A typical Behind the Scenes piece will usually discuss the new features of the game or the graphics in order to get the fans excited to play it. Problem is, once you've played the game there's no reason to go back and look at the BTS again because you already know that information. They need to tell you what the game doesn't--about all the passion and hard work that went into crafting a work of art, not a product. PL: I'm very disappointed when I go to watch some recently unlocked bonus content and find nothing but commercials for the game I just finished playing. I think you can appreciate art on two very basic levels; the intended purpose of the piece and the human effort that went into creating it. I'd like to see people have more opportunities to take games apart and see the basic elements. I'm a big fan of the The Document of Metal Gear Solid 2 disc – it basically spread out every component of the game and gave you control to manipulate them freely. There is something very tangible about that, like going back stage at a play or being on a movie shoot.
How did you come to work with Naughty Dog on a BTS for the announcement trailer? PO: Sam Thompson, a producer at [SCEA], saw our Reformat the Planet doc and was intrigued by our ideas about a new type of game development doc. He gave us the freedom to try out our style on a piece about the making of Infamous for PS3. I think based on that, he was willing to trust us with the Naughty Dog gig. Without someone like Sam constantly supporting us, we would have never made it as far as Naughty Dog. He's pretty much the reason we're here. PL: Many potential projects came and went after the work we initially did on Infamous. Most of the time these would never get off the ground just because of how difficult it can be to find that right window of opportunity to slip into a games development cycle. The Penny Arcade series kept us busy for the better part of a year, and just as work on that came to a close, Naughty Dog was getting into Uncharted 3. I was set up to meet with Naughty Dog and talk about some ideas for a BTS, and now here we are.
I think I recall that when you came to our motion capture stage to start shooting “UNCHARTED 3 – The Reveal” that was your first time shooting Naughty Dog and at our motion capture stage. What were your initial impressions once that day was over? PO: I thought that I was seeing a lot of stuff no one outside Naughty Dog had ever seen before. I had a realization that we could really show the fans a whole new world. PL: I was aware of how Naughty Dog worked in motion capture, but that still didn't really prepare me for the kind of open, almost black-box theater style of production that was taking place. It was always my impression that motion capture shoots would stick firmly to a script and not allow any variation, and in most instances that is totally true. The degree to which Naughty Dog allowed the actors to improvise was fascinating. In wasn't even just allowed, it was encouraged that they embrace the characters and explore any number of ways a scene could play out. AS: That we had entered an environment populated by some of the leading players in the field. It was the same way I felt after hearing the guys at Sucker Punch talk about their work. It wasn't the physical scale of the production or the impressive technical capabilities of the mo-cap studio as much as it was the clear expression of everyone's vision coupled with the willingness to experiment, improvise, and act upon gut instincts. It is often said that there is no vertical hierarchy at Naughty Dog – that good ideas are incorporated into the project no matter from whom they come from. After that day at the sound stage and our subsequent visits over the following months, we began to appreciate how essential that was to creating the best space to develop games in as a team.
imageHow does your shooting and editing process differ, if at all, when you’re working for a “client” versus for your own work? PO: It doesn't really. I think we just do what we feel is right. So far it hasn't gotten us in trouble (yet). PL: There are always preconceptions for a piece when it comes to doing contract work. Generally I try to keep pre-production outlines as simple and vague as possible. Sure a client is going to want something done a certain way to meet a specific need, but documentary work is at its heart an organic process. You are there to capture the feel of an environment, not bend it to match a preconception. It can be difficult to explain that when going into a contract job, and I tend to fall back on trusting the final product will speak for itself. AS: From a shooting perspective, I don't think there's a conscious effort on our parts to approach the two any differently. We do what we feel best suits the project at hand regardless of who it's for and, thankfully, we've had the good fortune to work with people that respect that creative freedom and don't try to tell us what to do all the time. As an example, our Sucker Punch series shared some tonal similarities with a piece we produced about circuit-bender Pete Edwards (which was technically for CurrentTV but we treated it as our own work). When we shot and edited the live musical performances for the PAX 2009 DVD set for Penny Arcade, we were able to inject it with the same loose, kinetic energy we had grown comfortable with while filming chipmusic shows.
UNCHARTED 3 – The Reveal” is the first part of a two-part series, what can you tell us to look forward to with Part 2? PO: In part two, we get to see the emotional release of getting the trailer out there. The Naughty Dog team has been working for a year on this game already and I think in part one, we really explored their insecurities about their progress thus far. Now that the world is responding positively to the trailer, I think the company is finally ready to start making the game for real. PL: I find it interesting that there are no real big egos at Naughty Dog. Even though members of the team have to deal with these high profile media events, they are all still out to put the game first instead of becoming famous themselves. I hope we can portray that accurately as the team is thrust through this gauntlet. AS: More shots of Christophe's dog. Learn more about 2 Player Productions at www.2playerproductions.com or follow them on Twitter at @2PProductions.

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