Killzone 3 cinematics director Jim Sonzero was feeling the heat. Long, brutal days turned into nights — nothing new to those in the game industry. Sonzero wanted actor Ray Winstone to get in Malcolm McDowell's face. That's when they started to pretend like they were kissing.
"These guys are real pros, yet are still always goofing around and having fun," says Sonzero. "They delivered, in spite of the fact that sometimes the scripts were handed to them only hours before we had to capture their performances." And their speeches were long, with production assistants holding up as many as thirty or forty cue cards at a time. Winstone's and McDowell's performances hands down make Killzone 3 the most engaging title in the first-person-shooter series.
"There was one scene where I really wanted Ray to get in Malcolm's face," recalls Sonzero, who got his break in the movie business back in 2000. Winstone was millimeters from McDowell's face, screaming. Then, the two famed thespians suddenly started pretending they were making out. "It was hysterical," says Sonzero. "The whole set was cracking up." A lighter moment on a breakneck shoot.
Killzone 3 was two months behind schedule, and there was a push to get the game out the door. "It was probably the most intense, complex project I have ever worked on," Sonzero tells Kotaku. Veteran Hollywood director Sonzero was not new to the game industry. He directed the cutscenes for Resident Evil 5 after catching Capcom's eye with his feature film Pulse. And he was brought on board to do the same with Killzone 3.
Cinematics are the in-game, movie-like cutscenes. They require that the director storyboard, set-up cameras, helm motion capture and direct actors, as well as decide camera angles, construct scenes and oversee editing. Game studios often bring in film directors to execute the cinematics, as they require Hollywood-level expertise and experience.
With Killzone 3, Sonzero says he was involved with every step. "I was briefed by genius designers at Guerrilla Games with 5 to 8 scripts for each level, environment art, geometry and character design," he says, adding that there must've been 30 or so intense action scenes — stuff you'd find in the third act of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Sonzero got to work creating storyboards, which were then turned into moving storyboards (animatics) with stand-in music and voices to see how they flowed. "The game designers would usually have game geometry at different levels of completion by the time we would get to the mocap stage," he says. Sonzero would have to capture some scenes, based on his best guess and nightly notes from Guerrilla Games.
"As the project evolved we realized it was a leviathan," says Sonzero. "It was at least 5 times bigger in scope than anyone had imagined." While the production certainly wasn't easy, Sonzero says that working with Sony Computer Entertainment and Guerrilla Games made him ten times the better director.
"Storytelling is what a film director does," says Sonzero. "Creating game cinematics is storytelling with different tools." What making game cinematics has taught Sonzero is the craft of making incredibly dynamic action sequences efficiently at an incredible pace. "Playing with state of the art technology and virtual cameras made me a better director on so many levels."