Ubisoft merges videogames and film making

Posted at 06/08/2009 7:30 PM | Updated as of 06/09/2009 12:52 PM

LOS ANGELES  - French videogame powerhouse Ubisoft is building its movie-making muscles.

While pairing films with videogames is a long-running trend, Ubisoft is rising to a new level by collaborating with famed director James Cameron on a title crafted as an extension of his highly-anticipated 3D movie "Avatar."

"Ubisoft didn't want to just put something flashy on the screen; they wanted a soul behind the videogame," Cameron said during a press conference with Ubisoft at a recent Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles.

"The world of the 'Avatar' game is, in some ways, considerably richer than what you are going to see in the film."

Cameron said the film and videogame teams have worked so closely together that ideas from each side have been incorporated into the other.

"We are learning from the best," said Yannis Mallet, head of Ubisoft's Montreal studio.

"The film and videogame industries are on lines that are not quite parallel, so let's anticipate that the talents are converging and build collaboration so the whole is greater than the sum of the parts."

Ubisoft was free to create its own characters, vehicles, and weapons for the videogame, as well as embellish on settings on the fictional moon called "Pandora" where the film story takes place.

"Ubisoft challenged themselves to set the bar pretty darn high," said Academy Award winning Cameron, whose films include 'Titanic' and 'Terminator.'

"We are all pretty passionate about making 'Avatar' the coolest new game out there; I can stand here now and tell you the guys at Ubisoft have done it."

The "Avatar" story centers on a magical, lush "Pandora" where an indigenous tribal population living in rain forests is standing against an Earth-based corporation's efforts to plunder the world of precious minerals.

Players of the videogame choose whether to side with the corporation or the natives, one of whom becomes a love interest for the protagonist.

The main message of the movie is to see and understand situations and things through the eyes of others, according to Cameron.

The famed director said he wrote "Avatar" about 14 years ago but the technology to realize his vision hasn't existed until now.

"This film is way beyond anything I've done before," Cameron said. "Which is why it has taken four years. To put that in perspective, 'Titanic' took two years to make."

The film and the videogame are due out late this year.

Ubisoft is a believer in the convergence of films and videogames, and last year bought Canadian special effects firm Hybride, which worked on animated action films "300" and "Sin City."

"We started a year ago developing tools that will let us create games and movies at the same time," said Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot.

"We are still very junior at creating movies, so why not join forces with the best of the best to make our visions come to life?"

Guillemot revealed at E3 that Ubisoft will be working on projects with more famed-film makers including Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg.

Ubisoft will be releasing this year short films based on its blockbuster "Assassin's Creed" videogame, a sequel to which will be released in November.

Ubisoft has also acquired the rights to make a videogame tied to a "Tintin: The Secret of The Unicorn" film being directed by Spielberg and scheduled for release in 2011.

"Ubisoft is going from a simple developer and game publisher company to a full 360-degree content provider," said Mallat.

"We are excited about our future. The aim is to bring together videogames and Hollywood."