REDMOND, Wash., Aug. 18, 2003 — "The Man Behind the Motion" is a seven-minute film about a motion-capture artist searching for motivation. But it's also the story of an innovative marketing plan for the Xbox game "Midtown Madness 3," how two college film students reunited to make the film, and the accolades and awards it has received.
The satiric film -- the brainchild of Microsoft Game Studios writer Fred Northup -- has helped turn on a mainstream audience to video games by sweeping the Judges' and Audience Choice awards during this year's First Sundays Comedy Film Festival in New York City.
In "The Man Behind the Motion," Michael White, played by Pacific Northwest actor Michael White -- all the actors used their real names -- is the best motion-capture artist in the business. Motion capture is a technique in which the movements of actors are filmed. The movements are then digitally converted to give video-game characters realistic graphical movements.
White's director, Randy Dixon, finds that White's high-maintenance style is causing Dixon to question why he's in the business. Enter White's agent, Troy Mink, to defend his client: "Did you see him in 'Project Gotham Racing' as a driver? It was emotional, man."
"Michael White has dedicated his life to motion capture," says Northup, content writer with Microsoft Game Studios and writer and producer of the short." And in this film, we follow his journey to capture the perfect dive for 'Midtown Madness 3's' diving pedestrians. "
Of course, it's a "mockumentary" -- documentary plus "mock," a genre of films that includes "Best in Show" and "This Is Spinal Tap." Motion capture wasn't used in making "Midtown Madness 3," where computer animation is used to portray pedestrians dodging speeding cars, but it's often used in the making of video games. Xbox routinely hires professional athletes to provide motion-capture acting for games such as "NBA Inside Drive." So Northup saw an opportunity to inject humor into a situation in which people dress in dark jump suits and wear reflective orbs.
The script flowed naturally for Northup, whose background includes producing fake commercials for NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live." While on a business trip to New York, he met with Ryan McFaul, a friend and former classmate at New York University's film school.
"I just loved the idea," McFaul says. "I had never done anything like this and thought it sounded great. And Fred's an amazing talent with the skills to pull off a project like this."
As the director and the editor of the piece, McFaul wasn't the only one intrigued by the idea. Microsoft Games Studios approved the mockumentary, and Northup and McFaul soon went into production. They hired a local film crew and employed actors from Unexpected Productions, an improvisational theater group to which Northup belongs.
"The Man Behind the Motion" took only three days to film and a week to edit, yet the results have surpassed expectations.
"This video has created a lot of buzz around Midtown Madness 3," says Scott Lee, product manager for Microsoft Games. "Gamers love it because it pokes fun at them. And it works as a viral thing, where word of mouth through the Internet has given it exposure without advertising."
Indeed, from a marketing standpoint, the film has been a huge success, as e-mails praising it have arrived from all over the world, including rival video-game makers. For a madcap game with cars racing on sidewalks, the film reinforces the positioning of "Midtown Madness 3." And since the game went on sale in June, the mockumentary has enjoyed continued buzz. It shipped with the game and was included with the official Xbox Magazine, it's being hosted by dozens of game and film Web sites, 25,000 viewers have watched it on McFaul's Web site, and even more have watched it on Xbox.com.
At the First Sundays Comedy Film Festival in New York on June 1, " The Man Behind the Motion' won both the Judge's and Audience Choice awards.
"It's rare for a film to take both awards," Northup says. "And this was judged by people that really take comedy seriously."
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