Paul Younghusband visits Data Design Interactive and Artworld UK to reveal how they are going beyond gaming by leveraging their digital assets across many outlets.
For around 18 years Birmingham-based Data Design Interactive has been churning out top-notch games for some of the industry's most prestigious publishers. Working for Sony, Millennium, PSS, Psygnosis, Ocean and Infogrames on projects such as Pegasus Bridge, ROBOCOD, Rise of the Robots and Water World to name a few, Data Design has earned a reputation as one of the UK's top games developers. Their experience developing for the Spectrum, Amstrad, Amiga, Game Boy, PC, Sega Megadrive and, of course, the Playstation, put them in the perfect position to take advantage of the games industry's soaring popularity. But as we found out, the folks at Data Design have more than video games on their mind...
When Lego Media International approached Data Design to create their Lego Rock Raiders game the company knew that they would require a dedicated animation team. "That's when we set up Artworld UK, our sister company," says Rob Dorney, Head of Art Department. "We have a very good working environment here Data Design handles the game code, and Artworld handles the graphics and animation."
And they "handle" it very well indeed. For the last four years Artworld has been producing some of the best game and game-related animation in the UK. But they haven't just stuck with game animation -- the company has a wide range of TV commercials, Websites and even comic books that they've produced as a result of their astounding animation for games. "We've built up a great relationship with Lego Media," says Dorney, "in total we must have competed more than 8 projects for them."
Building a Company with Lego Bricks
Artworld's work with the Lego brand has established them as a force to be reckoned with. After they completed the animation for the Lego Rock Raiders game, Lego was so impressed that they commissioned Artworld to create the animation for the television commercial too. Then the work started flooding in: Lego Racers, Lego Alpha Team, Lego Creator, Legoland introduction animation, Lego motion simulator rides, Lego comics and more. "Lego were so impressed with our work that they actually asked us to help design some of the actual Lego sets that were going to go on sale," Dorney recalls. "It was really great to see our work in plastic on the shelves at Toys R Us."
So why does international toy giant Lego keep coming back to Artworld? "I think it's because they trust us with their intellectual properties," explains Dorney. "Their brand is the core of their business -- it's the key to their success. Everyone knows Lego. They feel that we portray their brand in a way that works for them. The character that we put into the characters and the way we tell stories about them obviously works. We seem to be on the same wavelength. We know what they want. And we get it right the first time."
Taking Animation Beyond Plastic Bricks
Artworld's work with Lego has led to them producing animation for other game developers too. In an astounding sequence created for the upcoming game WW2, Artworld recreated the D-Day landings in 3D. "That type of work is particularly challenging," Dorney states. "It's amazing how complex a sequence like that is. If you watch Saving Private Ryan, which features a similar scene, you'll see that everyone in the scene is doing something -- everywhere you look someone is being shot, or a mine is exploding. We had to recreate that nightmarish sense of busyness...and we had to do it in 6 weeks with only 11 people." And what's more, Artworld has yet to make use of motion-capture in a project. Using ingenious bits of programming the scene is pulled off with amazing believability.
The Digital Bridge
Because the work that Artworld does is 3D, they can use the fact technology to apply this 3D to Lego's different types of projects while cutting costs and maximizing efficiency. "It's really quite simple," Dorney says. "We can use the same 3D models and textures in a number of projects. We just build high-resolution models to start with and downgrade them for use in the games. We then use the higher quality models for the print and TV work." This way Artworld can apply their work to a variety of outlets for maximum return -- and the fact that their sister company, Data Design, is a games company takes this one step further. Not only can the two companies provide excellent games complete with top quality animation, but they can do the packaging, the TV commercial and even the Website.
"We're really interested in doing more Websites," Dorney confesses. "We've done Web work for Kinder Surprise, Gubble and Hot Foot. We're very excited about the Macromedia Flash format and are really pushing it to see how far we can go. It's great to take our 3D and animation and make use of the same tools and techniques to create work for a different medium. We've done a lot of animation and 3D graphics for comics and packaging -- creating interactive Internet solutions seems like a natural extension of that work."
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
Despite Data Design's 18 years in business, and Artworld's 4 years providing graphics and animation, it is clear that both are set for bigger and better things. As for what those things are, they're keeping very quiet. "We're doing a TV series for Winchester Television," Dorney reveals. "And I'm sure you'll see a Playstation 2 title from us next year too." And more Lego projects? Predictably, Dorney is being secretive. But it's clear that when Lego does decide to create another game, TV commercial or even another motion simulator ride, they'll know where to go. Straight up the M5 and into Birmingham city center. I'm sure someone there will be able to help them!
Paul Younghusband is editor-in-chief of Visual Magic Magazine, a publication focusing on the 3D graphics and digital effects industries.