Who is Shane Acker? Well, for starters, he seems like a pretty cool dude. He’s also the director and the creator of the critically acclaimed computer-animated short film 9, as well as its feature film remake of the same name, which was produced by Tim Burton (but did not star Helena Bonham Carter). And he’s also the director of a live-action remake of Thomas and Friends. So as you can see, he’s sort of a big deal.
But what’s Brown Bag Films, I hear you ask? They’re a Dublin-based animation studio that have been producing some pretty successful, and cutting-edge animation films and TV series. Just 3 months ago, their Doc McStuffins became not only the highest-rated, but also the number #1 pre-school TV show in the entire United States. And with Oscar and BAFTA animations for some of their other works, we can start to tell that these guys, too, are sort of a big deal.
What happens when you combine two big deals? You get one extremely humongous deal, in the form of DEEP, a computer-animated feature film directed by Shane Acker, produced by Brown Bag Films, and written by J. Barton Mitchell. Described as an “undersea Western“, DEEP takes place in the aftermath of World War 3, when the remnants of mankind have taken shelter beneath the oceans, inside the wrecked, sunken ships of yesterday. The story revolves around the crew of the nuclear submarine Norwood, as they make contact with, and discover the secrets of the Wayfarers, a mysterious society of scientific intelligentsia, who carry the power to save the Earth - or destroy it. With a budget of 15 million euros (high for Europe, but relatively low for the U.S), DEEP currently remains in the early stages of pre-production, and a tentative release date has not yet been set.
But what’s the catch? Take a look:
The DEEP team has been working in collaboration with Valve, one of the world’s most successful video game developers whose hit titles include the Half Life and Portal franchises. Valve has provided the “DEEP” team with new tools and technologies based on the developer’s Source game engine. The tools enable flexible cinematography and editing, a simplified character animation process and economical lighting, sound and visual effects. Render time is cut to nearly nil, enabling rapid revisions to animation, which brings dramatic savings in time and money over traditional production. [...]
Producing in a game engine means that the characters and environments in “DEEP” can easily translate to a game format. The team has already begun work on a playable level to be distributed via Steam, Valve’s online game distribution network, and plans to create additional content for digital distribution and provide opportunities for user-created content in the “DEEP” universe. [...]
“The collaboration with Valve has been a wonderful experience for all of us,” said Little. “The opportunity to produce it in this groundbreaking way gives us great creative freedom and allows us to leverage new distribution channels and platforms.”
Yes, folks. Coming soon to your cinemas: the world’s first Source-powered feature film. Along with what sounds like a pretty solid game tie-in - featuring Steam Workshop support to boot. Yes, this is starting to sound like a dream come true.
Let’s think this over for a bit. Through impressive cinematic video offered through Team Fortress 2, the Left 4 Dead franchise, Portal 2 and Dota 2, Valve have proven that the Source engine can serve as a solid way to create a motion picture. But this is the first time we’re seeing an outside team picking up Source for use in cinema – and this is a really, really high-profile project too. These guys could have picked literally anything else – but they went with Source. That has to mean something, because no matter who made the first move, something had to have caught Brown Bag’s eye enough that they didn’t look back.
We might also see distribution of DEEP over Steam itself, which would definitely be a success. But the biggest advantages of using video game tech to power a cinematic experience? It’s the sheer potential for cross-media content, like the aforementioned game tie-in. And if Valve has anything to do with that game tie-in, it’s safe to say it’s going to be pretty awesome (which is pretty exceptional, considering the majority of these so-called ”movie games” end up being repulsive failures). And again, with Steam Workshop support, it seems like DEEP is going to be a hit for gamers and moviegoers alike – perhaps it’ll even manage to fuse those two audiences together in a way that’ll be more meaningful than ever before.
On top of that, they also state that their alliance with Valve has given them access to “new tools and technologies based on the developer’s Source game engine“. Now, since a film doesn’t need to run on computers or consoles, expect to see Source looking its absolute best in DEEP.
Valve and Brown Bag will likely be pulling out all the stops, and implementing Source’s most advanced engine features, making for a true cinematic experience that might just make its past endeavors in the noble art of cinematography… look more like the stone age. Who knows – maybe Brown Bag are even playing around withValve’s next-gen technology for DEEP. And it’s all the more intriguing, considering DEEP may only see the light of day by the time we’ll already be well into the next (eighth) generation of gaming tech.
But yes – I am eagerly waiting to hear more about DEEP. And by god, I will watch it in the cinema, and I will buy the Blu-Ray, and I will obtain the assorted TF2 promo hat. In the name of Gabe.
Sources: MarketWatch and Variety.