May 1, 2001
Interview with Adrian Carr
Taken from Prima Publishing's Tex Murphy: Overseer: The Official Strategy Guide
By Rick Barba
Adrian Carr comes from the Land Down Under and settled in Los Angeles, where he's worked for many years as a film editor and director. Rick Barba: This is your second time directing an interactive title, the first being The Pandora Directive. Are you starting to feel more comfortable in this medium?
Adrian Carr: Oh, yeah. I've come to terms with a lot of the technology of computers and CD-ROM. Once you start to grasp the computer side, you can start to apply film technologies to the process. Before DVD [Digital Video Disc] came on the market, we were talking about going at least 20 to 30 frames per second so the emotional impact of the performances wouldn't blur. Then DVD came out of the blue, and we got what I wanted and more - not only 30 frames per second but 24-bit color, boosting our color palette from 256 colors up to 17 million. Now you don't get that blotching effect around the cheeks.
RB: You get more nuance of expression.
AC: That's right. So I'm learning how to use the technology, plus we've got better technology this time. It's still time-consuming to do tracking shots. I know the technology's there to do automated tracking, but there's still the problem of home computers having enough memory to deal with the extra information. Cost is another factor. Chris Jones [Chief Financial Officer and actor, Tex Murphy] would be best be able to answer that. But as you know, time wasn't a luxury we had for Overseer. Basically, we shot the live-action portion, about 4 1/2 hours of content, in 34 days. The crew was so much more in sync with me this time, thanks to our experience together doing The Pandora Directive.
This time, I spent a lot of time with Mark Hulka [Video Specialist] compositing the live action. During the editing phase, I'd edit from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. But first, I'd start at 7 a.m. and spend two hours with Mark, then add another hour or so with him at the end of the day. We'd collect our backgrounds and choose different focus points for the background plates so we wouldn't have just a single plane of sharpness or softness. In the live portion of the video, there's not a graphic that's pinsharp; there's always a Gaussian blur on it, sometimes very subtle, but just enough to complement the video quality. In some cases, when using longer focal-length lenses, we were able to put the backgrounds in increments of de-focusing so objects close to the actor could be masked off individually and be given their own focus. That is provided you don't move the camera.
RB: You're in the process of answering my next question. Last time I talked to you [in Salt Lake City during final filming of The Pandora Directive], you said if you could do it again, you'd do some things differently. I wanted to ask what you're doing differently this time. Looks like you've changed your technical approach a bit.
AC: Definitely. And on the performance side, we had more time for the actors, delivering their scripts in advance before getting them on the stage. So they came in a lot more prepared, which gave me more time to spend on the staging of the sequences. We were very limited in that regard on Pandora.
RB: How was it working with this particular group of actors?
AC: Oh, it was great. The previous experience on Pandora was wonderful, too, but this time we weren't relying on such a big science fiction element in the story. Overseer's a lot more character-driven. You could really get into the meat of the characters. It's very film noire, very '40s detective style, but with that future sheen. So we had a lot more fun getting into character this time.
RB: That really shows in the performances, I think. Every game in the series has been a step up in cinematic quality. And this time, with Rebecca Broussard and Michael York...
AC: Michael [J. Saint Gideon] and Rebecca [Sylvia Linsky] were really great. The entire cast was wonderful to work with. I was really impressed with Henry Darrow, too.
RB: I was just going to say that. His Sonny Fletcher scenes are amongst the best performances I've ever seen in this medium. And how do you see Chris Jones progressing as an actor, particularly as he plays against these Hollywood pros?
AC: I think people will see that Chris is Tex Murphy this time. The leap that he took from The Pandora Directive to Overseer was enormous. He allowed himself to work with the actors, and not be intimidated by them. He learned some very valuable lessons and some nifty acting tricks. In Pandora, the other actors came in very sporadically to do their scenes. We'd do an actor, then a week or more would elapse. I'd go back to Los Angeles, Access would do some more prep work, and then I'd come back and shoot the next actor. It was tough. You had to gear up every time, and Chris would have to get back into character each time. That asked a lot of our crew and Chris.
But Overseer was shot more like a regular feature film. We'd schedule an actor for two days, the get the next one in the next day. We'd bring him in early, let him see how the shoot works so he's with it, understands what we're doing, sees some compositing so he can trust you. That's the biggest thing with the actors - gaining their trust. After all, we're shooting against a blue screen, with very few props.
Anyway, Chris was able to work more consistently with the other actors this time. He was constantly in character. Also, he learned the biggest lesson I can teach an actor, which is to listen. Listen to what the other person is saying. Then you'll respond. Don't just learn and deliver your lines, parrot-fashion. When you actually listen, you become interesting, and make us listen by the way you react. That is the art of film acting. Chris was very quick to pick up this technique; he's a quick study. As he employs his listening skills, he's becoming more and more crafted and grounded, and not so intimidated or frightened by it.
Best of all, he's doing it without losing his sense of humor. [Laughs] That's the one thing we maintain on our film set.
RB: Michael York's monologue at the game's end is a thing of beauty.
AC: Oh yes. As you recall, the studio at Access happens to be on a runway flight path of the airport. You're always hoping you get the shot done before a jet comes flying over. The night before Michael's big scene, I begged and pleaded with the universe to give me quiet. And we got a sudden snowstorm, so the planes were all grounded the next day. [Laughs]
RB: And I assume the growing professionalism of Chris Jones extends to your Access crew.
AC: Absolutely. All the elements are really coming together there. For example, Matt Heider and Jeff Abbott brought a feature-film quality to the music score, I think. Their symphonic score, with a touch of jazz, creates the emotional tapestry and impact necessary to experience Tex's world. I spent a lot of time with them, and Access's Jon Clarke in sound effects, trying to create a film quality to the finished audio track. The embellishment of sound can really make scenes "bigger" in a film, and we're learning how to add that quality to gaming.
Do you know about the next game?
RB: Aaron Conners talked a little bit about the plans. The ending of Overseer is pretty unambiguous about suggesting a follow-up adventure. By the way, you'll go down in infamy as the guy who shot Chelsee. [Carr laughs] You'd better not show up at the next E3 [Electronic Entertainment Expo], because Tex fans will be stalking you.
AC: I always remember the end of The Empire Strikes Back when they left Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Boy, was I pissed! [Laughs] And then it took three years for the next movie to come out. Well, I guess we used the same principle. The cliffhanger ending.
RB: OK, here comes a really interview-ish sort of question, but I'll ask it anyway. You've done interactive stories a couple of times now, which is a couple of times more than most directors in your industry. What sort of insight and advice would you pass on to a fellow director venturing into this interactive medium for the first time?
AC: Wow. [Sighs]
RB: I mean, in what ways is this medium different from what a film director is used to?
AC: For the "actor's director" it's a blast, because you get a chance to explore characters in depth and try alternatives with the different pathing. It's such a delicacy for actors to play roles like this, and for you to direct them. But once you've done that, you can get caught technically. The complexity of structuring this sort of shoot is so unlike what we do in films. Here, you work so far out of the structure, sometimes within a composite scene with three or four actors in the same shot, an actor will find himself working independently because of scheduling restrictions - well, that would throw off so many people.
On the other hand you have the technical directors, guys who like to move the camera, place low angles, high angles, dolly, track, that sort of thing. They too could have a blast, except for the limitations of a blue-screen set. Once you've accepted the fact that your set is inside a computer, and understand that the spatial relationships are identical to those on a film set, then you can begin to explore it and use it. The biggest technical restriction for now is your inability to move the camera. To keep the energy in the story, you need to rely on your skill in directing actors and getting dynamic performances. So to technical directors, I'd say hone your skills as a drama director or go take acting lessons. I've been doing that for years so I can understand and help actors with their performances.
Overall, it helps to have some background in both editing and drama. You can cover all aspects of the medium. It would be difficult to give your material to someone else to cut because it's so erratic and it's all on a blue background. So when you have close-ups on blue, you have to know when the lighting has shifted to know to whom you're cutting and why. Your spatial relationship, understanding your camera - well, Overseer was shot on a small stage with an acting workspace no bigger than 15 by 20 feet. But when you look at some scenes, the actors appear to be in huge antechambers, like the scene where Michael York and Tex cross the bridge. That was shot with our widest lens from the farthest corner of the studio. After the shot, we reduced both images to half size and positioned them on opposite sides of the frame.
For Overseer, I performed journeyman duties. [Laughs] I was my own DP [Director of Photography], first assistant director, script supervisor, editor, and often I was reading off-camera lines to Chris. It's just not a simple medium to jump into. In film, you can hide behind a good crew and just work with the actors. In short, interactive is not for every director. And I'm not saying I'm the only one who can do it.
RB: Maybe you are, though.
AC: [Laughs] I'd like to think so. No, I've just been fortunate to have a broad background in film, with my editing skills and interest in cinematography - which is what I wanted to do originally - and my understanding of the actor's craft. All this has helped me in working with Access, with their limited film experience and me with my limited knowledge of computers. Of course, in their computer graphics world, they are superior to most everybody, but I've managed to channel them into a movie-thinking process. The marriage has been good for all of us, I think.
Copyright © 1998, by Prima Publishing. All rights reserved. From the book Tex Murphy: Overseer, by Rick Barba. Portions © 1997-98 by Access Software, Inc. Displayed with the permission of Prima Publishing. To order this book, call (800)632-8676 or (800)531-2343 in the United States or (916)632-4400 for international calls. http://www.primapublishing.com
This interview originally appeared at
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July 24, 2012