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CGI History Begins with 'Game Over'

Game Over, UPNs new sitcom, is TVs first CG-animated primetime series. DKP Effects is meeting delivery challenges with artful technology that flows through theGRID.

The fun starts after the game ends for the Smashenburn family. From left, son Billy, dad Rip, daughter Alice and mom Raquel, with pet Turbo in front. All Game Over images © 2004 Carsey-Werner-Mandabach.

Computer animation is sexy and hot. Perhaps a little too sexy and hot in the aftermath of Janet Jacksons breast baring controversy during the Super Bowl telecast. Game Over, the first-ever CG-animated primetime network comedy, makes its debut March 10 on UPN, and has already incurred the wrath of its network, which reportedly ordered the deletion of a two-second glimpse of female buttocks from the pilot.

Starring the voices of Lucy Liu, Patrick Warburton and E.G. Daily, among other top names, Game Over takes a wild, comedic look at what happens to popular videogame characters after the game ends. In this show, the protagonists the Smashenburn family live far-from-ordinary suburban lives in an alternate videogame universe filled with action heroes, monsters and cartoon characters.

The idea for the Carsey-Werner-Mandabach production was ripe for development, but the real challenge was finding a CGI shop that could deliver fully rendered, quality computer animation to meet Game Overs demanding primetime TV shooting schedule.


Dan Krech, founder of DKP, and his team created theGRID to save time on Game Overs production schedule.

Enter 20-year-old DKP Effects of Toronto, Canada, founded by Dan Krech and the producer of 3D-CGI animation for scores of feature films, TV series and more than 3,000 commercials. DKP is solving the time crunch problem by using its proprietary production system dubbed theGRID Graphical Realtime Information Display on Game Over.

The Game Begins

[Game Over creator and exec producer] David Sacks really wanted the show to be 3D, and we really co-developed it together, comments John Morch, vp of business development for DKP. We embarked on a 12-minute pilot, and now we are producing 22 minutes of CGI for each show.

DKP is working on six episodes of the action-packed 3D comedy, which features a race-car driving Dad (Rip); a gun-toting, monster-fighting government agent Mom (Raquel), who is at the center of the animated debate over nudity; a hip-hop loving, trend-obsessed 13-year-old son (Billy); a 15-year-old save-the-world sister (Alice); a weird 300-pound family pet (Turbo); plus anime love interests, zombies, elves, tomb raiders, soldiers and anything else that has ever appeared in a video game.

Were delivering full CGI on this series at almost unheard-of speed, says DKPs vice-president of production, Terry Dale. There were some 280 character designs for the first six shows. The characters came in as design sketches and alterations were made based on the timeline requirements, he says, adding, We have worked very closely with the series producers, and theGRID makes it possible.

By using theGRID, anyone involved with the series production, located anywhere around the world, can be directly involved with every step of the production process from character and background design, storyboard, scene layout and animatic, to final animation.

How theGRID Works

Essentially, DKPs theGRID is a productivity maximizer. The process allows every story element to be available for live and immediate feedback at the same time that it is being designed and animated. Any editorial change only takes 15-30 seconds to change on the production floor, Dale says.

TheGRID uses state-of-the-art technology to create state-of-the-art art. From building the asset list for each episode; constructing, rigging and texturing each character; moving into layout and animation; and finally into lighting, rendering and compositing, theGRID impacts everyones role, every step of the way.

We use a very strict naming convention, advises Dale. So anyone looking for a specific Maya sequence, for example, will be able to load it and its ready to go. We use it for props, sets, audio everything. Any changes become part of the auto system, and they will be reflected right away. We can roll out the tape at any part of the day and it will be the most up-to-date.

While using theGRID is not limited to executive reviews and approvals, it does speed things up in that area tremendously. We can do a conference call and get remote approval within an hour, notes Morch. Clients who are out of town feel theyre part of things and have creative control, not separated.

Game Over shows its wild humor when 300-pound family pet Turbo dons a rabbi disguise.

The key to theGRID is evolution. Even after just two shows, we could tell how we could put in more time-saving methods, says production vp Dale. Were trying to get so that the directors and the animators have full control. Its a very collaborative process and a very educational one.

What theGRID Makes

So, theGRID makes 3D animation fast, but does it make 3D animation good? Well, were making a TV show, not a feature, but everyone who sees it says the quality is very good, says Dale. Its really a new standard for 3D.

DKP opted for using keyframe CGI rather than motion capture for Game Over, although the company previously worked on the Scourge of Worlds: A Dungeons and Dragons Adventure interactive DVD project that utilized MoCap. Game Over is a toon project, so we wanted to be broader, for the gags, Dale says.

In fact, theGRIDs flexibilty has proven invaluable for adjusting the animation to ensure scripted jokes are achieved. The timing is very important, and we sometimes have to go back and adjust things to make sure the visuals work right, and we arent losing the gag, Dale says.

Raquel enlists Alices help in a pod chase.

Game Over creator and exec producer David Goestch says, Getting so much emotion out of these characters, and working directly with DKPs designers and animators at the same time they are actually animating, has made producing Game Over more like a live-action sitcom than an animated cartoon.

Because Game Over is set in a videogame world, there are lots of explosions and other unusual effects to create. We generally dont touch the effects until the animation is approved, comments DKP vp Dale.

However, the beauty of working on an animated series is that once an effect has been achieved, it can be reused. Yes, we have a library of canned effects that can be customized if they need to be bigger, faster or brighter, Dale says.

Raquel shows off her trophy  a villains head.

Artful Technology

DKP has some 80 computer animators working on site and on theGRID to make Game Over a reality. The shows supervising director, John Rice, also worked in-house to help get the project underway.

As an artist, you may think that automation may hinder the creativity, but weve found it hasnt, says Warren Lawtey, head of visual effects for DKP. Its huge fun working on the show, and our animators love it.

One way DKP has found to keep things fresh is to give animators different characters (and creatures!) to work on. This show has men and women and monsters and aliens and all kinds of things, Lawtey says. Every animator gets a chance to work on everything. We try to mix it up on purpose... it makes us better animators.

spacer.gifGame Over Vital Stats

What: Game Over When: March 10, 8:00 pmWhere: UPNProduced by: Carsey-Werner-MandabachCreated by: David Sacks (The Simpsons, The Tick) Developed by: David Goetsch (3rd Rock From the Sun), David Sacks, Jason Venokur (3rd Rock From the Sun) and Ross Venokur (The Tick)Executive producers: David Goetsch, David Sacks, Jason Venokur, Ross Venokur, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Mandabach (That 70s Show, Grounded for Life, Whoopi, The Tracy Morgan Show).Supervising director: John Rice (King of the Hill) 3D animation production: DKP Effects (and the GRID)


Still, DKP animators have already grown attached to certain Game Over characters, and have even added to their personalities. Its been exciting to see the show develop, says DKP vp Terry Dale. By the third or fourth or fifth show, there are certain character traits that reappear, like a gesture or the way a character will move his hand.

There are some pretty smart guys working on this show. Its really funny, and the Carsey-Werner-Mandabach people are really into videogames, Dale says. In the end, its all about the acting and story, and not the technology, agrees Morch.

Still, its theGRID that has made Game Over a 3D possibility. Currently, theGRID is a DKP proprietary process. Is the company willing to share?

Everyone asks us that, laughs DKP vp Terry Dale. Its an in-house productivity tool and it reflects the philosophy of our company. Right now, we dont have any plans for selling [theGRID] outside.

Janet Hetherington is a graduate of Carleton Universitys School of Journalism. She has covered the Canadian animation industry extensively, and writes short fiction and comic book scripts as well as non-fiction. In 1999, Hetherington received a Canadian Aurora award for excellence in science fiction and fantasy. She resides in Ottawa, Canada, with her partner, artist Ronn Sutton.