26.01.2021

The World’s First Cinematography Video Game

I’ve talked quite a bit about planning and pre-lighting around here.

It’s the number one key to getting results like the folks on big-budget sets with tons of resources. The number one resource they have that you don’t is time. Most highly budgeted projects allow ample time for pre-planning and pre-visualization – and the execution of the plan itself.

Previz (or pre-visualization) has always been a big-budget Hollywood tool, and it has largely only been available to studio productions. Up until now.

With Cine Tracer – a relatively new offering from Matt Workman at Cinematography Database – you can build, pre-light, pre-frame, and pre-block your scenes – and capture them in nice-looking storyboard images. And you can do all of this in a video game framework. This means one thing for sure – it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

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When I started this video I didn’t intend it as a full-on review. The game is still in early release, and as such, the developers are pushing constant changes to the software, and the product has changed a great deal since it first launched. These are my first impressions and thoughts on a product that is already extremely solid, with amazing potential, and plenty of room to grow.

To my knowledge, Workman is working on this one pretty much solo.  So as you can imagine, he’s doing the best he can – and he’s done a phenomenal job. This is much more than just a video game. Even in its current form, it’s a professional filmmaking tool. (I’m pretty obsessed with it right now.)


The Interface / Controls

Much to my amusement, the player can navigate the sets and maps with a jetpack. At first, this just seems like a fun nod to the player, but as you spend time with the program, you start to realize how beneficial it is. Using a physical person as a sprite, you can get a sense of scale – and what it might be like to actually move about these sets. (A “God mode” cam is also available if you’d prefer to play without the sprite.)

The control system is really intuitive (especially if you’ve ever played any top-down-style computer games), and before too long, with a little bit of practice, you can build any look you want.

There’s a really intuitive system for adding cameras, lights, props, furniture, and actors. It’s all in one menu, and it’s very responsive. Workman starts the game off with what I’d consider the perfect lighting kit – you’ve got lekos; Aputure 120Ds; quasars; and big, soft diffusion frames. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more fixtures soon, but this is enough to get started.

I’d say the most impressive part of the game is how easy it is to use the control system. This game is as fun as Sims or RollerCoaster Tycoon, but for filmmakers. I’m not even joking.


The Building System

The building system for this product is truly genius. It’s like playing Minecraft or Fortnite, but you can build real environments, extremely quickly. I can’t wait to see how much more robust this system may become. It’s as easy as clicking icons to create walls and doors and windows (whatever you need). It becomes a secondhand language extremely quickly. This is perhaps my favorite feature.

This is a virtual version that I created of our office here, on the first day I started using the software. The system is that easy. Before long, I suspect I’ll be able to go on a location scout, snap a few pics, and build a virtual version of whatever scene I want to shoot there.


Storyboarding

Once you have your virtual camera set up and framed the way you’d like, you can capture the frame just by hitting the ENTER key. This will create a _ls.jpg image file in your project folder.

This would be really helpful for creating storyboards and compiling them in a program like Photoshop or InDesign.

There is also an in-game storyboard feature that stores all of your frames and images. It will save the focal length, and you can name the shots or add any comments you might want.

I’m wondering if, in the future, there will be some way to export – or save – an image of this portion of the interface, to save the extra step of going into a different application to put the storyboards together…

Cine Tracer is already a home run, as far as I’m concerned, but I can definitely see potential for further improvements. I can’t wait to see where Workman takes the software in the future – I’ll be following along, every step of the way.

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