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Producing Animation and Games for Mobile Devices

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

As the fastest growing media segment, mobile devices rely heavily on games and animation. In fact, Disney reports that games have the biggest appeal on users within mobile. Earlier this year, a panel of key players (hosted by PGA Mobile Co-Chair John Heinsen) at the CTIA Wireless conference discussed the producer’s role in developing mobile games and animation for wireless devices.

The producer is key

Panel experts agreed producers are an integral part in all aspects of game and animation development. "The producer is really the glue in designing, developing, and producing the game itself,” stated David Postal, Senior Producer of the Domestic Wireless Disney Interactive Media Group. To develop the "best user experience” producers must be aware of all devices on the market, as content should be equally engaging for high-end as well as lower-end devices. To stay on top of the mobile network, Postal adds, "Producers recognize audience insight is equally important, as the user experience should be constantly improved by advancing tools such as touch screens, favorites menus, and the introduction of additional games that consumers would enjoy.”

Saving time and money are a priority at mobile, so producers utilize existing content several times over to focus on the above priorities. For example, when developing a game Disney will utilize and repurpose different pieces of pre-existing content—for instance, releasing one version of a game with a Hannah Montana-themed "skin,” and a second version with a Justin Bieber theme.

In the beginning

As mobile pioneers, Animax has been producing mobile animation for six years. Through trial and error they have mastered mobile games and animation by developing projects such as How to Cook Like a Soprano , ESPN mobile, Hot Shot Photo DARTS, PopZilla.TV, Little Pim’s Word Bag, and Fun For a smooth project run, at the beginning of any assignment Animax producers ask the following questions: Who is the end user? What are audience expectations? How will users experience this animation piece? The answers to these questions – arrived at with as much clarity and specificity as possible – will impact developing decisions and increase work efficiency.

A journey like no other

Lin Tam, co-founder of Digital Munch, shared her four-month journey developing DJ Music, an iPhone game that is played in sync with music. As expected, there were challenges; most fell into three categories: technical, design, and production. Technical challenges included coding the algorithm in the game (the music component made the algorithm extremely complex), the installation of a cocos2d engine (after Digital Munch invested substantial man-hours building their own game engine), and finally the optimization, framework, and performance testing, which took longer than expected, particularly the prototyping and play testing to determine the final look and feel of the game. Design challenges consisted of redesigning the game’s appearance several times to fit the iPhone. Producing challenges included staying within budget parameters, scheduling , managing overseas teams, training new staff, advising current staff, communicating between technical/design/and business departments and finally translating those conversations into reports to upper management in a language management could comprehend.

After all is said and done, Tam’s best piece of advice to mobile producers is to have a plan for the unplanned.

What does the future hold?

The next evolution of gaming will be focus on Flash and HTML5, social gaming, free primary game offeringswhichinclude fees as one progresses to higher levels, virtual currency, and game advertising specifically targeted to the end user.

While the iPad is the most widely-adopted new mobile device of the past six months, technology continues to advance rapidly. Meanwhile, the relationship between development and execution bring hurdles such as the need to publishing numerous times for diverse devices, and unfamiliarity with a game’s target audience. Future mobile developers should tackle these stumbling blocks through a focus on developing the ability to publish one time for all devices, creating faster machines, and increasing user interactive capabilities.

Tam concludes, "Making a game is not easy. But at the end of the day, when you see all the pieces fall together, it is well worth it.”

By Gina Traficant

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PGA Dodger Day 2010!

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Article and Photos by Michael Quinn Martin

Last month, PGA members enjoyed our annual PGA Dodger Day at Dodger Stadium. The 57 PGA members in attendance sat in what was formerly known as the "Mannywood” section next to the Dodger Bullpen and each received a complimentary "I Sat In Mannywood” T-Shirt (in English or Spanish!) Unfortunately, with Manny Ramirez on the disabled list, and subsequently traded to the White Sox, maybe it should be called "Podsednik Place” after our new left fielder Scott Podsednik.

The PGA members were treated to a pitchers’ duel between two veteran 35 year-old pitchers: Hiroki Kuroda for the Dodgers, and Livan Hernandez for the Washington Nationals. Before most of the PGA had taken their seats, Kuroda had given up a two-run home run to Ryan Zimmerman in the top of the 1st inning that put the Nationals up 2-0. Kuroda settled down and pitched a gem, retiring the next 17 batters he faced to keep the Dodgers in the game.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Ryan Theriot singled. Andre Ethier then doubled and James Loney walked, which loaded the bases. Matt Kemp came to the plate and nearly hit a grand slam home run, but was robbed by Nationals right fielder Michael Morse with a leaping catch at the top of the wall. Theriot tagged up and scored from third base. Morse threw the ball to second baseman Adam Kennedy, who threw the ball to first base to try to catch Loney off the bag. Unfortunately, Washington had left first base unmanned. As the ball went into foul territory, Ethier ran home to score and get the Dodgers even at 2-2.

Kuroda left the game after 7 innings. Hong-Chih Kuo pitched a scoreless 8th inning and Jonathan Broxton pitched scoreless 9th and 10th innings to help set up some extra inning Dodger heroics. With the score still tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th, Ronnie Belliard walked to start the inning. Podsednik singled to put runners on first and third. Ethier was then walked to intentionally load the bases. Loney came to the plate to face Washington reliever Scott Burnett, and slapped the ball into right field to score Belliard from third with a walk off single and a 3-2 win for the Dodgers.

PGA members who arrived early got autographs from some of the Dodger relief pitchers Jeff Weaver, Ramon Troncoso, Kenley Jansen, and Hong-Chih Kuo, who were signing autographs at the bullpen fence next to our seats. This event was planned by the PGA Events Committee, which encourages PGA members to get involved and suggest future events. See you next year at Dodger Stadium!

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PGA Credit Definitions: Video Games

Posted By CJ -, Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Look at Video Games Credit Definitions for New Media Producers

Click to view the Video Games Credit Definitions
While film and television have enjoyed official accreditation for decades, new media producers have been the new kids on the block; not until now have their credits had the official endorsement of the Producers Guild of America. On April 5, 2010, the PGA’s Board of Directors officially ratified a clearly defined set of job descriptions and guidelines covering producing titles in new media. The result of three years of research and careful drafting by the PGA’s New Media Council, these new credit guidelines cover a variety of different and discrete new media platforms. Over the course of the coming weeks and months, we’ll be highlighting the various platforms represented by the New Media Council, and the job definitions for each. This week, we are proud to present the Guild’s job definitions for members of the producing team for video games.

New media producers are in the vanguard of storytelling via digital platforms and are proud to have the Producers Guild’s acknowledgment of the importance of their contribution to entertainment. These guidelines, like those for film and television credits, set an important stake in the ground, allowing for consistent and fair accreditation in new media across all platforms. Credits represent and reflect the body of work, the reputation, and the creative personality of any accredited producer. With objective and consistent credit standards, new media producers can present themselves more effectively to potential employers, and appropriately recognize the work of their teams on projects they oversee. And of course, proper accreditation serves as an essential yardstick for membership in the Producers Guild.

This groundbreaking work represents yet another phase in the development of new media as art and commerce. No longer will new media platforms utilize a "Wild West” mentality when it comes to credits, inventing new credits one day and then discarding them the next. As the industry continues to embrace digital platforms, not only as marketing and social networking tools, but as storytelling vehicles unto themselves, we are proud to see the PGA taking a leadership role in recognizing and codifying these essential contributions.

We are well into the new century. The Producers Guild of America continues, like so many of its members, to look forward. Storytelling is, after all, agnostic of platform; the PGA recognizes and celebrates all of it, continuing to keep its eyes on the horizon.

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The Challenges of a Sustainable Production

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Scott Greenberg, Production Manager of Cooper, discusses the challenges of a sustainable production on our PGA Green website. Stay tuned for more from Scott as he blogs about his experiences managing an environmentally conscious set.

Scott talks about recycling a car crash on the set of Cooper

To learn more about eco-friendly film and television production click here.

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The Ali Paradigm

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The Ali Paradigm
by Chase Adams

Ali LeRoi, television producer and writer, is probably best known now as the co-creator and executive producer of the comedy Everybody Hates Chris, but before he’s finished, he just may be known as one of the men who changed the paradigm by which television shows are created and released. Exhibit A: his latest project, the sitcom Are We There Yet? starring Ice Cube and breakout actor Terry Crews. This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of 'Produced By' magazine.

Executive Producer/Director Ali Leroi

When we caught up with him in his downtown office, the experiment with his partners — Joe Roth of Revolution and Ice Cube of Cube Vision, whose movie Are We There Yet? serves as the inspiration for the TV show — was in full swing.

"The television world has adopted a lot of what has happened in the film world,” says LeRoi, "most notably, how TV has started to put such an emphasis on how a show opens. It’s just like what you saw happen in film, where suddenly,people who live in Missouri know what a film’s opening numbers are. And films live and die by that opening weekend. We’re seeing that now in TV, where a show has to connect immediately to survive.

”While the emphasis on those opening numbers may be an easy way for networks to gauge how a show is doing and garner some free marketing to boot ("The No. 1 New Show Thursdays at 8!”), LeRoi points to several television classics that took time to build an audience.

"Seinfeld, Cheers, Everybody Loves Raymond, those shows opened low and built on word of mouth. People told other people, ‘This is a good show.’ There’s a reason Chuck Lorre’s shows stay on TV, it’s because people watch once and recommend it to other people.

"Keep in mind that studios and networks are in two different businesses,” LeRoi continues. "Studios are in the distribution business; they want to build a library of content that they can sell today, tomorrow, for the next thousand years. Networks, on the other hand, are in the business of selling advertising. And advertising is something that you’re either selling — or not selling — in the here and now, which puts increased emphasis on those opening numbers. At a certain point, networks are asking, ‘Are we selling advertising on this?’ If the answer is no, well…” LeRoi trails off, leaving that dire fate to the imagination.

"So what you get is what you see on the TV today: a lot of reality programming and fewer traditional multi-camera sitcoms. And reality programs are a good business for the networks to be in; they’re cheap and they deliver eyeballs to sell advertising. But it’s a terrible business for studios to be in, because no one wants to watch reruns of The Biggest Loser in Las Vegas or whatever.”

Within this tightening spiral, where does the studio that’s looking to produce content go? Presently, they are literally taking million-dollar shots on shows that get 22 minutes to connect or be put out to pasture — it’s an expensive gamble.

Here’s where LeRoi and his partners have attempted to change the manner in which new shows are brought to market.

"After the success of House of Payne by Tyler Perry,” he explains, "Debmar-Mercury [the distributors] were looking to replicate that model. Together, we came up with a different way of doing things, a way that I think is better in terms of letting a show develop and giving the studio greater odds that their investment won’t be gone after just one show. It works like this: We brought the financing in to film 10 episodes. We’ll do an on-air test, meaning that they’ll air 10 episodes of Are We There Yet? If it meets a certain predetermined rating, it triggers an automatic pickup of 90 episodes.” For the network, it’s a smart play because they’ll get 10 episodes at a very friendly cost. The financiers will break even with their license fee — and if the show is a go, they’ll get to sell 100 episodes to syndication at a profit. For the executive producer, like LeRoi, the main difference is not receiving fees up front, meaning that he holds a true partnership back-end position.

"We’re not reinventing the wheel with regards to the content of multi-camera sitcoms; we’re reinventing how they’re made.” He summarizes, "Boiling this down to its purest essence: We’re betting on ourselves here.”

UPDATE: We are proud to note – as reported in Variety – that Are We There Yet? has received its 90-episode pickup from TBS. "Getting Are We There Yet? picked up feels like we won,” LeRoi declares. " We put it on the line and it worked. It's like the opposite of what happened to David Caruso when he left NYPD Blue.” Congratulations to Ali LeRoi and his producing team on helping to re-invent the TV business. Keep betting on yourselves, guys.

Obviously, the rewards are high, but so are the risks — if the show doesn’t catch on after 10 episodes, LeRoi gains only the experience. But in his opinion, the potential is worth it.

"The multi-camera sitcom is part of the lifeblood of American television. And they’re gold mines for their syndicators. A hundred years from now, people are still going to be watching Seinfeld. If you look at the environment today,there’s not a lot of them to choose from — it’s all reality this and reality that. So there’s a real space to fill.

"On top of that,” he observes, "you’ve got a generation coming up that's been living in the multi-camera-sitcom world their whole lives— I’m talking about the kids who’ve been weaned,literally, on iCarly, That’s So Raven, The Suite Life,etc. — and so while the idea [of multi-camera sitcoms] might seem retro to us, to them, it’s the world they know and love.”

Changing the business model has changed the creative process as well. LeRoi feels for the better."TBS has been fantastic. They gave us some very easy-to-hit and broad ‘musts,’ and from there on out, for us, it’s really been live by the sword or die by the sword. But which ever way it turns out, it’ll be truly the best sword that we, the creative team, could have produced.”

LeRoi, who also directed all 10 initial episodes, feels that as a true partner in the business of the show, he was given more freedom creatively. "With a network in a typical situation, they give you notes for certain things because they’ve seen those certain things work before.That tends to drown out the singular voice that anything good needs to rise above the mediocre. But if you watch this, you’ll see that we’re not copying what Tyler Perry did. I think my voice really comes through; I think Ice Cube’s voice really comes through. I think these important voices come through on Are We There Yet? because we’ve set things up this way. It’s funny, when we were doing Everybody Hates Chris, Chris Rock used to joke with me that you always get notes from an executive about the character that the executive relates to the most! We didn’t have to deal with things like that on this show.

"Even the way we shot it was different than anything I’ve ever done. One of the prime concerns was shooting the initial 10 episodes as cheaply as possible — but doing it well. Toward that end, we shot in Connecticut to take advantage of the tax credits that they’re offering. A lot of states are offering these, but you can get out there and find that there’s not an established field of talent or crew to put the show together. But when you’re shooting in Connecticut, you’re just a train ride from New York City, which means we had access to all the crew we needed and were able to get really great actors who happened to have some time to swing by between Broadway shows.

Essence Atkins and Terry Crews rehearse during the episode
"The Rat in the House."
"And before shooting these episodes, I met with people that I’ve always looked up to, directors who shot, and a few others, and I asked them what we needed to do to make this show work visually on a budget. Based on those conversations, I built the stage [primarily a large, open living room] so that there are all of these spaces within it to move over and have mini scenes. There’s the entrance way, the couch, the place where the kids play video games — it’s all on one set, which creates both an ability to move around and a change of scene and you don’t get that crampedness that I think some sitcoms fall prey to.

"On Everybody Hates Chris,” he notes, "we were doing eight scenes in 22 minutes; using these mini-areas, we’re at about 16 per show. I think it creates a nice flow.”

All of LeRoi’s preparation has paid off. The show itself does not at all come across as "done on a budget”; the production values are comparable to any other sitcom out there. Terry Crews’ family on Are We There Yet? is African-American, but they feel like any family in America trying to deal with stepchildren, money concerns and relationship issues.

"Like I said,” LeRoi states,"we’re not copying what Tyler Perry has achieved. And back in the late ’90s, there was a big issue about subdividing audiences into white and black. But the problem with subdividing is that eventually you’re carving some pretty thin slices of the pie. If you’re saying someone has this niche of the black audience and we’re going for that niche of the black audience … well, I’d rather make shows about and that appeal to people out there trying to make their mortgage, trying to make their marriage work, trying to raise kids. That’s what’s interesting to me. That’s what I want Are We There Yet? to be about.”

Obviously, when watching a multi-camera show about an African-American family whose problems are more family based than race-based, a comparison to The Cosby Show is inevitable.

"Some people have said that, after watching a little of Are We There Yet?” he confesses. "But for me, even to compare anything to that is almost a sacrilege. Bill Cosby is the greatest family comedian America has ever produced. I think for people to see this and say, ‘Hey, they’re operating in that field,’ that’s fine by me, but you know, when people say that after seeing this show, I’m honored, but like I said, to me, that’s a little too much.”

Are We There Yet? is currently airing on TBS, where it will enjoy a 10-episode run. Initial reviews have been very positive and Terry Crews indeed seems to be an actor on the edge of breaking out. If the show catches on, it seems only logical that more potential series would replicate this model rather than betting everything on a single pilot episode. Here’s wishing Ali LeRoi and his partners the best.

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