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Civilization III: Developer Update: Civ-Specific Abilities

The Making of 'Civilization III: Play The World' Cinematic Opening


By Kevin Margo
Firaxis Games

Hi everyone! I've been asked to talk a bit about the artistic principles and processes we artists at Firaxis used in the making of the cool little movie seen at the beginning of Civ3x. I hope that this will bring some insight and interest to any Civ fan, artist and gamer alike. Many of the concepts discussed here are universal, meaning that they can be used as a guide to bring understanding to the many creative visual mediums (film, theatre, television, fine art, games, etc...) that enrich, influence, and question our lives and our world.

Opening Movie Detail

Production Specs
A team of three artists and one sound engineer/composer worked feverously over a span of 4 months to complete the cinematic. Many long nights were occupied trying for the perfect shine on the armor, just the right amount of blue in the water, the confident footstep, exactly the right moments for lightning to strike, and the overwhelmingly intricate scaffolding for the spaceship. All of that fueled by a passion for animation and games. The software used includes Lightwave for modeling and animation, Photoshop for texturing, After Affects for editing and compositing, Pro Tools and Digital Performer for sound.


Goals and Early Development
The artistic goals were defined in the initial concept phase of production. It was agreed upon that representing the various eras and social aspects of the game such as culture, nationalism, war, industry, and science were important. Also, visual cues such as feet or repetitive actions should be used to symbolize the march or progression through time that the Civ3 player embarks on.

Storyboard Detail

Using these ideas as a basis, sequential images called 'storyboards' were drawn to quickly get an idea of what the subject and composition should look like in each scene. Our storyboards were pencil sketches on Post-It notes. These little yellow guys worked great for rearranging the order of scenes and shots in the cinematic in an efficient manner. The next step was to create an 'animatic', which is an animated version of the storyboard, maintaining simplicity and conveying each scenes timing and motion. The animatic was also used as a guide to the composer for writing the score and creating sound effects. The scenes were constructed in a 3D environment using crude shapes to represent complex props that would be incorporated later in the 'final'. As the name suggests, the final phase was when all animation, props, lighting and sound are detailed, refined, and brought to a successful conclusion.


Composition and Timing
There are several techniques that movie directors will use to achieve the desired emotional responses by the viewers. One of the ways is through composition or framing. Some questions we asked ourselves are: How close should the camera be to the foot? What characters or objects should be included in the middle age scene? Should the camera be angled up or down when looking at the rocket ship? Move fast or slow through the factory?

Composition Detail

When comparing a frame of the Roman legions and a frame of the middle age battle, the differences become apparent. The composition of the roman scene consists of several horizontal and vertical shapes repeating across the frame. The sun provides a simple, direct, and clear light source. These visual cues give the viewer a feeling of formality, solidity, and structure which we had planned in the storyboards. Now let's examine the medieval scene. Nothing about the composition suggests the cohesiveness of the roman scene. All shapes are skewed on angles. There is no sense of rhythm or timing in the soldier's movements. The environment is dark and foggy with lightning striking in the distance. All these elements create a world that is very chaotic, confusing, and dynamic, which was also planned for in the storyboards.


The use of color can also have a great impact on how viewers interpret images. For example, when someone says orange, you think 'HOT!' and when someone says blue you think 'COLD'. These lessons taught in elementary school art classes carry through to the most sophisticated artwork. It's amazing that a simple color can create such an emotional reaction. Let's take a look at the riverbank from the ancient era scene and the factory scene.

Color Palette Detail

The color swaths are very pastel and muted. Also look at the grayscale values of those same colors. They are very similar, nothing extremely black or white. This conveys a feeling of softness, serenity and calmness. Now look at the factory scene color swaths. There is an overall gray color scheme with hints of intense blue, yellow and orange. There are also more bright whites and dark blacks. This creates a more foreboding and dramatic image, suitable for the dangerous working conditions in the early days of the industrial revolution.


The more technical side of our cinematic is seen in this example of feet. Using our 3D software, a simple box is manipulated, refined, and textured to create realistic feet. In a sense, it's working with virtual clay that is pushed, pulled and chiseled to achieve the desired result. The same process was used to create all the characters and props seen in the cinematic, including this final model of the roman legion.

Modeling Detail
Roman Legion Detail

A finished model needs a way to have movement, personality, and life infused with it. A complex "bone" system much like the way a real skeleton works is merged with the model and used to deform its arms, legs, and torso. For instance, the 'forearm' bone will control the forearm area on the model and the neck bone will control the neck area as well as the head of the model. As the artist animates the skeleton, the model automatically bends to follow.

Animation Detail

Sound also played an enormous role in the mood and feel of our cinematic. In a minute and a half, the movie transitions smoothly from ancient times to modern times. Music and sound effects needed to reflect these smooth transitions. Instrumentation was the main tool used to achieve this. Surprisingly enough, the first melody heard in the ancient era scene derives from the plucking of an egg slicer. Guitars, lutes, and synthesizers were also used. One beat spans all the eras helping to create the final cohesive result.

Hopefully this provides Civ fans with a better understanding of the choices and methods used by the artists at Firaxis. Even better, maybe this diary will spark a young Civer's interest in the creative process and lead him towards an artistic career in the future, perhaps even at Firaxis!

The Team:
Art - Alex Kim, Dennis Moellers, and Kevin Margo
Audio - Mark Cromer

'Civilization III: Play the World' is available in stores now!

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