TRAILER: Portal Creators Valve Getting Into Movies With Underwater Sci-Fi Western, Deep

Deep character designs

Originally conceived as a comic, the underwater sci-fi Western Deep is now being realised as a movie with an ancillary, playable video game component. It’s quite tricky to beat the explanation in the press release:

The Deep team has been working in collaboration with Valve, one of the world’s most successful video game developers whose hit titles include the Half Life and Portal franchises. Valve has provided the Deep team with new tools and technologies based on the developer’s Source game engine. The tools enable flexible cinematography and editing, a simplified character animation process and economical lighting, sound and visual effects. Render time is cut to nearly nil, enabling rapid revisions to animation, which brings dramatic savings in time and money over traditional production.

Originally conceived as a graphic novel by [J. Barton] Mitchell, Deep will initially be produced as feature film; however, producing in a game engine means that the characters and environments in Deep can easily translate to a game format. The team has already begun work on a playable level to be distributed via Steam, Valve’s online game distribution network, and plans to create additional content for digital distribution and provide opportunities for user-created content in the Deep universe.

I’m all for a little bit of transmedia, but I have to admit some scepticism. Using a video game engine to animate a feature film doesn’t sound like it will end well.

The director of Deep is to be Shane Acker, previously responsible for the winning stitchpunk short 9, and its not quite so successful feature length version. He says he’s chosen this project for its character driven narrative:

Deep offers real sci-fi credentials but the story is rooted in the complex motivations of the characters making tough choices between right and wrong. I’m excited to be part of a team that is redefining what storytelling in general, and animation in particular, can be.

And what is this character driven narrative, pray tell?

With the feel of an underwater Western, Deep is set in a not-too-distant future when what’s left of humanity has moved undersea to stay alive. The story revolves around the crew of the nuclear submarine Norwood as they race to uncover the secrets behind the Wayfarers, a mysterious splinter group with the potential to wipe out humanity altogether.

Okay, don’t tell. Just sell me the context and sci-fi-ness. I’ll come back later to see what it was that Acker is excited about.

So, could this Source engine produce a decent looking film? You can be the judge of that as I’ve been able to dig up this first teaser trailer that shows both footage and pre-viz work.

Deep teaser trailer from Shane Acker on Vimeo.

What Deep has done to Acker’s planned Thomas The Tank Engine film is not clear. Maybe it has sunk it. Maybe it has run it off the rails. Maybe it has… no, I can’t think of any more.

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