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                            Theatre of War

                                                                       (all videos can be watched here)                                                         

                                                              INVASION OF POLAND        


The "Invasion of Poland" video was my first "Theatre of War" video (including scenes of "IL-2 Sturmovik") and also the first one I uploaded to youtube. After uploading it, I had to realize that the edges of the frame were cut off and some of the actions happened outside of it and this plus the limited range of battle scenes and angles made me feel sad, especially because this video got the viewers attention like no other.

Around the time I made it I thought it was already the best I could squeeze out of this game video-wise. But, the actions and battles you see are taken from a pre-defined mission, I had no idea of using the editor and actually I just wanted to record some interesting scenes from a tactical game. Somehow I hadn`t have a feeling for the sometimes strange ways of unit behaviour yet and since I cannot change the game scripts or game code I only could take what the game offered to everyone.

After many positive responses especially from Poland I felt even worse, because the final "product" doesn`t have the quality I wished to deliver at that time. On the other hand it was my first try and I didn`t want to renew the first part of this little series even before the second part was launched. The game covers many engagements on the european battlefield of the second world war, so there was more to discover and after finishing the "Invasion of Poland" video I already had new ideas in my mind. And I rather pursued new imaginations than just make a "Invasion of Poland - Reloaded". And this feeling continued until today ... So, it`s not sure, if there ever will be a newer version of these first stages of the start of WW2. At least taken from a PC game...

There are so many stories that need to be told especially from a polish perspective, I would be happy should I ever get the chance in the future to realize one of them as a real movie.

In fact it shouldn`t be forgotten that Poland suffered the most of all nations in WW2.

                                      BATTLE FOR FRANCE 


A few days after finishing the "Invasion of Poland" video I began the part dealing with the western campaign and the german try of getting a grasp at France. Although I still used pre-defined missions as a background for the units and landscapes, this time I had a clearer view of what I wanted to show and how. The recording was as difficult and tiresome as the previous video, because there is no replay function and if you are not satisfied with a "take" you have to actually play another one. And if the mouse does what she wants, because your mouse-pad is from 1842, and the soldiers and tanks move everywhere except where you want them to go, you can imagine what it means to make even a little progress with the video. Additionally, the game physics are unpredictable, meaning, if you want to record an exploding tank you have to record some scenes around 20 times, because sometimes the shell goes through the armor, is deflecting or does nothing at all. And when you finally caught the exploding tank in the foreground of the frame you noticed some platoons just taking a break in the background forcing you to start all over again.

Eventually I was happier with the result than before, as I came closer to present what I had in mind.

                                OPERATION BARBAROSSA


This time I wanted to realize my own setup of units and their surroundings, so I had to manage the mission editor and that`s really not what I`m good at. Give me a hammer and a nail and I have no clue about what I shall do with it. However, it was necessary to get used to it, since I wanted to deliver a new watching experience. 

As a side effect I noticed that the progress of the series was followed by visitors of the forum of the russian game developer, 1C company, and by people who are working for or stand in close contact to them. And these guys sent me messages about how eagerly they awaited the entering of the russian forces...

Hm, of course I didn`t want to disappoint them, ... but how? I tried to stay as close to the real events as possible and captured a bigger variety of engagements as before. Close quarters assaults as much as long distance tank battles and that`s why the original version of "Operation Barbarossa" was 45 minutes long. I recorded way too much material than I needed being a normal user of youtube which allows you only to upload videos of 10 minutes length. On the other hand I was against dividing it in several parts. I know that you cannot put a campaign which lasted several months into one 10 minute video, but I wanted to keep it at least a little interesting, therefore I went through the hard lesson of editing and cut out many parts which were so hard to record at first, especially a complicated river crossing in which the units shot each other to pieces far before even reaching the bridge.

But, and this was the amazing experience in it, I didn`t miss the deleted scenes at all. In the end I got everything inside of the film I wanted to show. ...and the russian audience didn`t spank my bottom. In fact no one seemed to be annoyed by the huge drop of framerate at the massive end scene, probably because they knew about the hardware requirements of this game, and FRAPS, the software I used to record the in-game material, takes another toll of your available system power.

At least it was my hope that they were aware of these circumstances...

                        OPERATION CITADEL


For this part I only had one thing in mind: Action. A massive encounter of men and material. But, for the reasons I mentioned above, this massiveness could only be limited due to the extreme use of ones hardware resources. Furthermore, how should the german and russian tanks ever get in close range, since this game is meant for battles up to 2 kilometres of range? Meaning, it would just be luck if single units made close contact with the enemy, and elements of luck are really the worst enemy of your patience when you are recording.

So, for the first time I created different army setups. In scenes in which they have to cover ground to close in on each other both german and russian units were in the same group and not recognized as enemies, therefore not shooting at each other. To make it look like a fire-fight I had them shooting at the ground next to them and used the artillery for mean and backstabbing friendly fire barrages to give the idea of an all out assault.

As soon as the units reached each others battle lines I loaded different army setups in which the forces are declared unfriendly to each other, resulting in sudden real fire-fights. Of course the old "luck vs. patience" rule applied again, because you cannot manipulate the outcome of a shootout. And as I was never able to change scripts of units or they behaviour I had to wait for the result I wanted to see. Quite time consuming and on rare occasions resulted in a shootout with my wife.

The responses for this film were quite nice, viewers even sent me messages in which they expressed how touched they felt after watching it.

The "Theatre of War" video contest was coming up, so the responses for "Operation Citadel" charged me for giving it another try. The rules were that only in-game material from "Theatre of War" was to be used, therefore I had to neglect the integration of "IL-2 Sturmovik", although made and published by the same company, 1C.

For the contest I wanted to try something different. This film didn`t necessarily have to be part of the series, I thought more of a tiny story of its own and the idea of the single sniper was born. Afterwards I found it fitting as part of the series as well, so it turned out to be both. In "Theatre of War" you are not able to depict a large naval invasion which could do any justice to the huge effort the western allied forces went through, so I thought a single paratrooper sniper was able to demonstrate the courage in face of a much bigger enemy force on behalf of all allied paratroopers and maybe even ground forces. So, the idea of a "knocking out enemy communication installations behind enemy lines" video was born.

                       THE THIRD FRONT


This film was published in two versions, one for the contest without the "IL-2 Sturmovik/ Pacific Fighters" scenes and the one you can watch today with the aircraft scenes included. Making it faced me with new problems I did not have before, the one of sound recording.

As before, I built a complete setup for the scenes I wanted to record, but this time I had to maintain at least a little continuity since the film was meant as a "short story" placed at only one area of action. So, units which were "killed" before had to remain at their places and this forced me to use only the original setup from the start.

I had to go over and over these adjustments again as I forgot to include units which will be used in the middle or the end of the film. Additionally I delevoped new ideas while I already was recording, so I had to start all over again. For example, the appearance of the Jagdpanzer IV was not part of the first attempt, so I started to play the scenes as planned, then I got the idea of the "Jagdpanzer vs. Sniper scene", but since I haven`t put this unit in the game at first, I had to add the tank hunter in the editor and started to record all scenes from the beginning again, because of the continuity each unit had to be there right from the start, as I mentioned before.

And the presence of the tank units messed the sound up, because their engines were running the whole time, even if you let the crew disembark. I haven`t figured out a way to make them silent, so these rattling engines were not only annoying due to hours of recording, the overall sound was just not usable that way. The tanks had to show up at the end of the film and where is the surprise if you are able to hear them already at the beginning?

The only solution was complete new sound recordings of vehicles, environmental sounds and weapons effects. And that put a whole new level of work to a small in-game graphics video.

Being part of a video contest the film should at least deliver a tiny amount of entertainment and for me this means a hero, villains and a Hollywood-like one man army. However this formula didn`t please everyone. I received messages complaining about how I, as a german, could continue the american film industry tradition and let the german soldiers act like cannon fodder...

I never wanted these videos to be a substitute for a real documentary, after all these are just scenes taken out of a tactical game and shouldn`t be taken too seriously. On the other hand I think, the ongoing successes of the allied troops in France following the invasion and the increasing numbers of german soldiers who surrendered, speaks for itself.

After "The third front" I was not sure what to do next. Actually I had to continue with the series, but the contest was still running and the videos of the other participants grew in numbers. So I decided to make another one for the contest. I extended the story around the sniper and for the first time I knew that it takes two parts to present all the scenes I had in mind. Two parts of all new action, locations and a whole new setting. The work began...

                       A SNIPER`S DESPAIR


...but only 8 days remaining until the end of the contest, I really had to get started.
The recordings featured some of the most difficult arrangements I had to face to that date. My main idea was not only letting the sniper work behind enemy lines again, but also in the uniform of the enemy, trying to free an O.S.S. agent who is about to lose his cover.

Realizing this video required much more fake "action" than before. In one scene the sniper is supposed to take over a german motorcycle, but since there is no animation for a motorcycle rider falling off of his seat I had to think about another way of getting hold of the vehicle. In the film I`m insinuating that the sniper uses some kind of explosive device to chop down a tree, but that`s not possible in the game either. I placed an anti tank gun out of the frame, shooting at the tree in the right moment. And this procedure left enough room for errors, of course. The gun missed the tree, or the tree was falling to the opposite direction, the artificial "intelligence" had the motorcycle leaving the road or stopped it way before the tree.

So, many tries and keyboard biting moments later it worked as you see in the film. Some unit behaviour was completely beyond my understanding. At one point in the film the sniper and the O.S.S. agent should climb up the Königstiger tank and enter the driver`s and the commander`s seat. I wanted to let the O.S.S. guy driving the tank and the sniper sitting on the gunner`s seat, but due to the uniforms they were wearing the game wanted to place both at their appropriate positions matching their ranks. The O.S.S. agent`s uniform represents an SS officer uniform making him higher in rank than the sniper`s common soldiers` uniform, therefore the engine behind the game "thought" the only one who is able to command this vehicle is supposed to be the officer.

So, you have to find a way to work around these issues which is time consuming. I did it in placing another officer (who was just standing around as an extra) on the commander`s seat, so the game accepted the additional officer on the driver`s seat. Two officers, same ranks, the game stands down...

One of the hardest scene to realize was the one when both were riding through the explosions blast and the up twirling dirt. The wide and unpredictable blast radius made it a trial and error recording leaving both main actors dead in the seats for many times.
Another step in difficulty was to let them both ride up the hill with the tanks waiting for them, shooting at them and then just passing through these armored beasts. In the moment both tanks were facing each other the space between both gun barrels was many times too small for the game engine to allow a passing of the motorcycle, causing it to stop or turn around.
After the motorcycle had passed both tanks should shoot at each other and in my imagination I have dreamt of a nice explosion making this exaggerated situation even more unbelievable. But neither did they shoot at each other at the same time, nor were there any explosions. Again I had to find a solution to work around this insubordination. Preferably while I was taking a shower and imitating my favorite songs.

I placed a Jagdtiger with its huge barrel behind the Panther and the Jagdpanther. In the hope both Jagdtiger could persuade the other two tanks to go up in flames, adding more "wow" to the scene, I started recording. The result was that the Panther and Jagdpanther completely neglected their opposite opponent and turned to face the Jagdtiger which I placed in their backs...
After hours of trying I only could get one tank to explode while the motorcycle was still in the frame. Unsatisfied I decided to go with this result as time was narrowing in on me.

Editing and the addition of sound effects left almost no time for a part I was unsure of: Dubbing the film.
At first I wanted to go completely with subtitles, but then I decided against that, because I wanted people to enjoy the visuals without being bothered by reading subtitles all the time.
I had only one day left to put the final touch to the film when I decided to record some voice files and their integration lasted much of this last day. In the middle of the night I converted the video and uploaded it in the morning before work, but the upload was interrupted forcing me to leave work earlier to be able to upload it again. Fortunately Germany lies ahead of time in the time difference to the USA leaving me a few hours before the end of the contest.

This project lasted around 100 hours in 8 days with 3-4 days of regular work in between. Of these 100 hours only 2-3 were possible for the voice recording. But there was no time left anymore for the post-work of these voice recordings as I planned before.
I always thought about it, if it was the right step after the result of adding these crude or raw voices turned out to be far away of what I intended to do. After uploading it I only hoped that people were able to focus more on the images I chose and neglect the "voices part"...

For almost two weeks there was a threatening silence from the american publisher who hosted the contest. There were no announcements or declarations about the delay and participants as well as fans of the game who followed the competition grew impatient, me included. Did they forget about us?
After the silence came the storm, as usual. The contest was prolonged for another two months.
I had already started with the new video, in order to get my hard drive space back I deleted all the original "Sniper`s Despair" files which left me nothing for a new voice recording. Hmpf.

If I had known this...

No need to rush, no need to dub in 3 hours, no need for one person to try and speak 8 or more characters. It is no secret that this situation left me somehow not happy.
The new end of the contest came closer and all were thrilled what will happen next. Will there be a "next" at all? Yes, there was a next, wiping all the doubts away. The new contest end brought the announcement of the winner ...and that was my video. All the pain went away and my little, damaged heart eventually recovered.

Seems the images of the video kept the balance to the overweight of bad dubbing.

It was nice to see that many online game magazines throughout the world reported about the contest and the video. However, a few people in the russian forum of the developer criticized the Hollywood-style action and the lack of realism. But this time for me the "entertainment" intention was bigger than before and I really wanted to present a different experience than the one you get when you actually play the game.

One easter egg has gone unnoticed since the release of the video: All german tanks carry the number of police or emergency services around the world (with no political intention, of course). I thought it would fit to the germans desperate situation in the film of stopping both agents.

A very nice gesture of the russian developer was to collect signatures of many staff members for the contest participants. Since I have not found a spot on a wall in my flat which is worth to be decorated with this poster, why don`t I place it here, in the meantime?

Another last "Theatre of War" video was about to follow, but this required a new kind of approach. Extensive use of compositions and post work.

                                    THE ANVIL


This film should contain a battle scene in a city, but in "Theatre of War" it`s not possible to enter buildings and there was no real city which could be a set for the final scene of the video. So I had to create this city artificially and took images of other PC games to build a background. 



All the other fight sequences also were staged as in the previous films. The units didn`t shoot at each other, were just firing the rounds somewhere else, close to the units they were supposed to fight against. The burning wrecks, the tracer fire and different dust and smoke elements were included in postproduction.

The Tiger tank I threw on its side by including a series of 22 screenshots which I took from ground level to bird`s eye view. 

The last scene with the Churchill flamethrower tank was a tricky camera movement, because the MG 42 units in the building were not there. The british soldiers in the foreground are hit by the blast of the Churchill which was firing and then moving into the frame after the camera panned back. But precise timing was essential, because the Churchill tank shouldn`t collide with one of these indestructible flower pots in its front, otherwise it would stop and start going backwards at once, messing up the recording.


Unfortunately youtube worsened the quality of the video after extending their service to HD. The tracers in the intro are hard to recognize at all, which is a pity, since I placed each of them by hand. My master has a resolution of 1280*960 and really looks so much better than the youtube version, but uploading it in HD again doesn`t seem like an option for me, suggesting it would be a new video though it is from February 2008.

All videos include the "Theatre of War" ( 1C) and "IL-2 Sturmovik/ Pacific Fighters" (Ubisoft/ 1C) game engines.

Composition of destroyed Caen was made with elements of:

"Company of Heroes Opposing Fronts" (Relic Entertainment/ THQ)
"Medal of Honor Airborne" (Electronic Arts)

The making of "The Anvil" lasted 3 months. As the end credits reveal I never wanted to stop after that and was thinking about one last part, but then I developed other ideas which looked quite intriguing. Also the perspective of another 3 months work for a game video didn`t lift my spirits.
Although many people suggested ideas or wishes for possible future videos there were others who criticized the graphics which looked outdated to them and therefore suggested to move on. 

However, more than the look of the graphics I was fascinated of the video possibilites you get. Almost complete freedom of the camera and in arranging the units, and I haven`t touched the scripting at all. Can`t imagine what possibilities open up, if you unleash the scripting hell.

After all, making these videos was a nice experience for myself, a journey and I think also a good training.

Now it`s time for something else...

                                                                                                        Up again?



    "Stories from Emona I" (click image to get to the free album)