Can someone please explain to me why I’m staring at a monkey holding a skull? Ok, it’s just a mural, but still, it’s way too early for this. I can’t worry about the meaning behind this oddly creepy painting right now though, because I’m a woman on a mission. Mario, the art director of H5G’s 50 West studio, has decided to let me join his team as they shoot footage of models for a few upcoming games.
As I walk into Acme Studio in Brooklyn, I’m excited and terrified, but my worries are quickly dispelled when I see that a number of H5G artists are already there. I expect to be regarded as an intruder, but instead my fellow High 5-ers offer me an earnest welcome.
Before long, the rest of the H5G crew arrives on the scene. We take the opportunity to check out Acme Studio while waiting to get started. The studio and prop shop, which has hosted events ranging from high-fashion photo shoots to star-studded launch parties, is pretty awesome; you walk in and instantly get the sense that many cool things have happened here. Everywhere you turn, in every nook and cranny, there is something new to discover. The multitude of stuffed and mounted animals adorning the walls makes it seem like a mystical junkyard curated by some wacky taxidermist. Even a trip to the bathroom is like falling down a rabbit hole and landing in some macabre Wonderland where golden skulls and porcelain cherubs commune together. If there ever was a place created to foster creativity, Acme Studio is it.
Time to get to work! The production is on a tight schedule, and who better to make sure everything runs smoothly than Lori, one of H5G’s project managers. She’s a time-management pro; calm yet assertive, she gets the job done. (Disclaimer: I was paid with baked goods for this endorsement.)
The goal of the shoot is to photograph and film professional models who will be used as characters in two upcoming games. The slots couldn’t be any more different: one transports players to the roaring ’20s, while the other is an adventurous tale of a hidden world inhabited by mermaids.
In just eight hours, three things need to happen. First, Alina, the photographer, needs to shoot eight different models, individually and then collectively. Second, the crew needs to film green screen videos of each model. Third, they must get reference shots for an additional game they’re working on. Of course, none of this is possible without the glamour squad first working their magic to transform the models into characters straight from the games.
Scott, an H5G digital illustrator on set, gets down to business. He has approximately one hour before the real photo shoot begins to get all the shots he needs. Two models, John and Angel, have just arrived on set, but the pros are ready for business. John loses his shirt while Angel strips down to a bikini ready to model for Scott and I watch as he directs them into making the various poses he wants. Click. Click. Click. He swirls around them snapping shots from different angles. As a digital illustrator for 50 West, he will refer to these photos when illustrating characters in order to create the most lifelike poses and facial features.
The team’s efficient use of studio time and space is quite impressive. Right now, there are two shoots going on at once. To my right, Alina is photographing Ava, one of the models, who has been transformed into an iridescent mermaid. To my left, H5G animators are filming John, who is decked out like Indiana Jones, in front of the green screen. This particular footage will be used by H5G’s marketing video editor to create a game trailer.
After a fast-paced morning, things have started to slow down. It’s time to change games. Thanks to the creative powers of Alina and Mario, who had expertly create an impromptu set with props from around the studio, the atmosphere quickly changes from that of a high-energy action film to a subdued elegant 1920s parlor. To top it off, Mario sets the mood and shows off his DJ skills courtesy of an old-time jazz station on Pandora.
I find myself off to the side watching the action as Mario approaches. For the second time today, he asks me what I think of the shoot, and I reply that everything is looking great. “This is what I envision when I think ‘Play Real’,” he says with excitement while gesturing toward the models being photographed. As he explains how playing slots made with real people instead of animations will add another dimension to the games, I can’t help but become just as enthusiastic. I get the feeling that it’s moments like this when Mario really loves his job and I realize that it’s passion like this that makes H5G such an industry leader.
That’s a wrap! It’s been a long day, but it’s finally time to pack up and head out. There’s no way we’re leaving without having a little fun of our own, however. We gather for a group picture, and suddenly everyone is channeling their inner Heidi Klum. Who knew there were so many aspiring models at High 5 Games?
The time has come to bid adieu to the team, Acme Studio, and Brooklyn. The best thing about today was getting to watch my colleagues excel in their professional element. The amount of talent and enthusiasm for the work being done was palpable, and it was simply an honor to witness it first-hand. I know the finished products will be well worth the hard work.