Team Fortress 2: “Meet the Spy”

When will the quality of video game animation rival the major theatrical animation producers? That day may already be here. Team Fortress 2 is a multiplayer on-line game created by Valve, and while the game itself doesn’t boast Pixar-quality graphics, they’ve created an impressive series of “Meet the Team” videos that tell the stories of the game’s characters.

The latest episode released last weekend, “Meet the Spy,” boasts some entertaining animation that would appear quite at home on the theatrical bigscreen. (Then again, with cinematic waste like Battle for Terra, Fly Me to the Moon and Space Chimps, bigscreen CG standards aren’t exactly what they used to be.) I don’t know much about the artists at Valve, but I’m told that the company includes veterans of studios like Pixar, Blue Sky, DreamWorks and ILM. Their experience is on full display in “Meet the Spy,” and despite my lack of interest in playing videogames, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

UPDATE: The directors of this piece are Jamaal Bradley, Aaron Halifax and Andrew Burke.

(Thanks, Andy Lyon and Barry Rooney)

Read more CGI

  • http://siskavard.blogspot.com corey

    I’m glad to see you posting this. I have been a fan of these shorts since the first one.

    Valve seems to be one of the few game companies to support good old fashioned animation as opposed to mo-cap like most others would. There are a lot of great acting moments in Half-Life 2 & its two episodes as well.

    Valve should seriously consider doing more of these, even after they have done all 9 characters.

    It would be great to see some behind the scenes stuff on these shorts (hint hint, Valve if you’re reading this)

  • Izzy

    Nice to see a video game that isn’t UGLY. It’s got a particular style–again, unlike most other video games–and a simple clarity that is not only appealing, but makes game play more fun and involving.

    I mean, it could’ve looked like THIS:

    http://latinoreview.com/news/new-pic-of-jim-carrey-as-ebenezer-scrooge-in-a-christmas-carol-6868

  • http://sopesope.blogspot.com/ Luis Sopelana

    The characters may not be Pixar-quality (I assume it’s because they’re rendered with the game engine as opposed to pre-rendered with more capable computers, hence the lower polygon count), but there’s a lot of thought put into them in terms of playability. Check out this document about their creation (if this is what corey meant, I’m all for it!):

    http://www.gametrailers.com/video/illustrative-rendering-team-fortress/23654

  • Brian

    I’ve been a big fan of Valve’s work for a while, and Team Fortress 2 is probably my favorite game by them. What’s surprising is how well the personalities of the various ‘classes’ shine through in multiplayer- Valve keeps adding extra little tidbits (new facial expressions, voice clips) to make the characters react to the events of a match properly.

    The videos are running using the in-game assets- pretty impressive, considering the Source engine itself is at least four or five years old now (practically a dinosaur in videogame terms).

  • Kris Pearn

    These guys are brilliant. I can’t wait to see more. Thanks for posting this.

  • RDee

    That was hilarious. Not a gamer, but i’ll keep my eye out for more vids like this.

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com Zekey

    actually , on a really superfast computer (and i mean FAST), the game looks pretty much as good as that cinematic. its a rather addicting game as well. sort of like unreal tournament, quake, and the iron giant had a baby.

    the characters even show facial expressions that reflect whatever is happening (i.e. eating a sandvich / beating someone in the face with a shovel). makes for rather amusing scenes of death when the online brawling gets thick and bullets are flying everywhere.

    you should watch the others. they arent as long but they are all funny in their own odd way.

  • Azz

    ‘Meet The Engineer’ is a perfect short. Everything about it – the engineers voice, the music, the slow reveal – screams WIN!

  • AdrianC

    My brother is an avid player of the game so he has shown me all of these “Meet the…” videos and I think this is one is my favorite so far. The visuals are very nice but I the character modeling remember the past videos looking more polished. Maybe it wasn’t and I just didn’t notice. Nonetheless, this looks much more appealing than a lot of CG out, whether it was produced for a video game or not.

  • http://siskavard.blogspot.com corey again

    That’s great Luis, but I’m more interested in their process for making the shorts. Do they have an actual production for just the shorts or do they pull some of their game animators off to animate these? Do they do storyboards, etc.?

    Just very curious! Can’t wait for “Meet the Pyro”

  • http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=052C631F61EE2838 Iain

    I like video games myself, but my time usualy goes twoards animation. I’ve never played “Team Fortress”, but the short is an intresting piece of work from a gaming studio.

    Izzy – “I mean, it could’ve looked like THIS:

    http://latinoreview.com/news/new-pic-of-jim-carrey-as-ebenezer-scrooge-in-a-christmas-carol-6868

    Same here. My hopes for “Christmas Carol” have come to a halt for now. I want to get excited for it, but the more I see new material the more I start to question.

    The texturing on Marley looks awful, but then again the movie isn’t fully complete until Christmas so that probably gives Zemeckis enough time to fix some things up.

  • brad Constantine

    There’s a big trend to go back to keyframed animation on games. Mocap has it’s place, but is limited to the abilities of the performer. I’m lucky to be at one of those studios that appreciates the potential of keframed. Great job, Valve guys…a leap forward in technique and entertainment. keep it up.

  • http://www.bishopanimation.com Floyd Bishop

    The next golden age of animation will not be in theaters.

  • http://markpudleiner.blogspot.com/ pudleiner

    Nice boarding, …the transistions between moments as they tell the story.
    Also, it has a good feel to the acting choices. Wasn’t just a free for all with the characters…. it feels like there was good supervision keeping it all consistant.
    Well done. :-)

  • Chris J.

    @Ian

    It pains me to write this, since I really WANT Zemekis to make some great films with his mo-cap process, but . . .

    What in Zemekis’ previous efforts makes you believe that he has any clue what needs fixing? His mo-cap films all have TERRIBLE production design. He should, in fact, hire the Valve guys to show him how a little abstraction when you’re designing characters actually makes them – well, CHARACTERS, and not stiff, creepy Poser figures.

  • http://meridiandream.com/ jim m.

    The game is fabulous. Worth the $30.

    Check out http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=4338 for a full rundown of the Art of TF2. They talk a lot about classical animation principles, specifically the strong-silhouettes to each class, allowing players to visually identify enemies very quickly.

  • http://dailygrail.com/blog/8389 red pill junkie

    ValVe is the cream of the crop :)

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    Looks amazing and funny. What does the actual game play look like?-Or, do you just watch the game like a movie?

  • Larry.

    Valve also has veterans of Tippett Studio and Weta….just fyi.

  • http://www.piratoslocos.com/WordPress Craig

    There are a lot of great animators working in games!! Valve gives their people TIME to animate. At High Impact we consider ourselves to have a good schedule but we are still doing 90 frames a day no matter the character count. It would be great to see you post more on the game end of things, this was a nice change of pace. And the valve guys definitely deserved the mention.

  • http://willfinn.blogspot.com/ Will

    I liked this but especially salute the voices! Solid performances, well directed too. The voice acting hits an ironic comic tone without constantly winking at the audience in old familiar ways. The pacing of the soundtrack is very tight too.
    Pretty refreshing–thanks for posting.

  • http://www.jeandenis.net Jean-Denis Haas

    Yes PLEASE! They should absolutely do a movie like this! Love the style, love the look! Photoreal CG with cartoony characters just doesn’t work for me.

  • Steve Gattuso

    “The game is fabulous. Worth the $30.”

    But if you add $20 more you can get The Orange Box, which had five games including the positively astounding Portal.

  • http://iggyk.blogspot.com iggyk

    Actually, if you download the HD version from Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/app/5260/), it looks very pixar-ish. The lighting, the polish, the sweet animation…it’s incredible.

    Anyway, nice post, for more from these guys check out their official blog: (http://www.teamfortress.com/) -it’s hilarious, at least I think so.

  • http://www.warrenleonhardt.com warren

    I don’t play games much, but I’ll play that one! It looks amazing. So well done! Thanks for putting this up.

  • Adam

    Here’s a video with some gameplay by each of the various classes – not particularly skillful gameplay, but… Oh well.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynrF2es08ds&fmt=18

    My particular favorite remains the first one, “Meet the Heavy”. It sold me on the game immediately, and even now it still gives me a grin. “Meet the Scout” is pretty great, too.

  • http://sopesope.blogspot.com/ Luis Sopelana

    I was checking out the rest of the videos, and found something truly amazing: they change the lip-sync for each of the languages the videos are dubbed in. Huge kudos to Valve.

  • Sam Filstrup

    Glad to see these finally got a post all the “Meet the…” videos are just pure genius.

  • http://done21.com Nick Pettit

    So, my buddy and I wanted our own TF2 switchboard like in the video… so we made one:

    http://tf2.done21.com/#3_3-4_5-1_7

    Have fun! :D

  • http://woweh.com Cadychan

    First I see you guys posted ‘Muscle March,’ THEN the new ‘Meet the Spy’ video? Excellent…gaming is FINALLY taking over Cartoon Brew….Muah ha ha ha! >:D
    No, but really, this makes me so happy. I’ve been an avid gamer my whole life, and it’s great to see that gaming animation can be just as good, if not sometimes better, than any hacked-together piece of crap in theatres.
    If anyone hasn’t seen the rest of the ‘Meet the _____’ videos, I highly suggest you hop onto YouTube. You will not be disappointed. :3
    “I’mma force a’ nature!”

  • http://kitsilva.wordpress.com/ Kit Silva

    You think this is good? You should see their work on Half-Life 2. The facial expressions are incredible, especially Alyx (when characters go off on their little tangents) and Dr. Kleiner (whenever he gets annoyed).

  • yvette kaplan

    Wow!!! Fast, smart, dark and FUNNY CG??? Amazing!!!!! Can’t wait to see more!!!! Thanks for the treat!!

  • http://thejack-slashhalen.blogspot.com/ Slash Halen

    Valve makes some the best video games ever. Just play Portal and you’ll see what I mean. TF2 is a great game as well, and I can’t wait for there next “Meet the Team” video.

  • http://www.zompist.com zompist

    I remember reading that the Meet The videos are done using the game engine, but with more detailed renderings of the characters than are used in-game.

    OtherDan asks what’s the game like… it’s a shooting game, pure mayhem. The artistic style is a clever fit since it allows the player to accept surrealistic elements (e.g. teleports and mediguns). There’s no story, but the characters are consistent (and hilarious).

  • http://www.nike05.blogspot.com Domo

    Dude! I’m one of Shawn’s students at SCAD and I saw the link he put to ur blog. man I LOVE what u guys do with this game, the character designs and acting are the best i’ve ever seen in any game or animation!

  • http://jazmcdougall.blogspot.com Jazmeister

    TF2 has a very subtle story that relies on pretty much zero expos. and, instead, is entirely inferred from the characters’ situational chatter, the setpieces scattered about each play area (health & safety notices, world maps covered in pins), and these excellent videos. They’ve been getting progressively more complex (see Meet the Soldier, then Meet the Sniper, and finally this one for the chronological sampling) and a little longer each time, and I don’t think anyone playing the game hasn’t had a little Team Fortress: The Movie fantasy.

    I play this game a lot. I think a game like Counterstrike Source has purer gameplay, but nowhere near the attraction of something so warm-hearted and fleshed out. That “Gentlemen” line is something your Spy will say as you head off to the frontline, and it just embodies The Spy completely. All his “taunts” – canned animations you can perform to add insult to injury, like waggling a flamethrower overhead – are composed, muted actions, like brushing some dust from his suit. Each of the characters are so holistic, it lends an intelligent air to something that’d be quite mindless without all the exquisite craftsmanship.

    Valve are good at that, though. Left 4 Dead has an interesting title movie that acts both as a hook to play the game and a tutorial also, showing the player almost every important rule about the universe they’ll be entering. I think animation and film techniques used in games are utterly fascinating, because the really great developers will leverage those techniques mercilessly to give their game added bite, without necessarily tacking more on to their budget.

  • http://jamalotolorin.blogspot.com/ Jamal Otolorin

    The Team Fortress shorts are always fun to watch. They often feature nice animation & interesting direction. Not to mention, the writing is actually decent. Didn’t Jamaal Bradley direct this?

  • http://www.pigeonimpossible.com Lucas Martell

    Yeah great animation and the story is terrific! Great setups, keeps you intrigued, and that through line with the kid and the knife was perfectly done.

  • Anonymous

    It’s great to see Cartoon Brew covering more video game cinematics as time marches on.

    I know the gaming community– or at the least the parts I frequent– has long been entertaining fantasies of a Team Fortress 2 animated movie or show of some sort. Sometimes it’s a movie people think of, as mentioned above, and sometimes it’s a series of shorts akin to the old WB Looney Tunes. Nearly every time it’s brought up, though, somebody mentions Pixar and people’s faces pucker up in ecstasy at the thought of a collaboration between them and Valve.

  • vinny mylo

    incomiiiiiiiiiiiing