Interview:Interactive Dreams February 6th 2007

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Interactive Dreams February 6th 2007


February 06, 2007


Jim Belcher


Interactive Dreams


Jim Belcher talks about his role in the development of Zelda's Adventure for the Philips CD-i.



Once in a while the nostalgia of CD-i brings back lots of memories, especially when you read stories about the famous Nintendo link with Philips. Enjoy some words of Jim Belcher, who was responsible for the video blue screen, motion capture, and model animation, as well as the audio recording, mixing, and sound design for Zelda's Adventure. He also worked on other titles, for both Viridis and Philips.

Jim Belcher: I originally worked in the film industry back in the 80's but also knew my way around computers and digital technology. I also used to teach animation production at a local university. As a teenager I used to write my own computer games on the ancient TRS-80. My first CD-i title I worked on was Caesar's World of Gambling where I was hired to direct all the voice over for that title. You see at the time (early days of CD-i) most of the people I met at Philips were good at the technology part of the equation, but absolutely clueless when it came to other tasks like dealing with actors, scheduling productions, doing creative direction in a way that got the best out of people, etc.

Anyway, much later, I was hired at Viridis by the owners (Christopher and Lee) to help them with this title called "Zelda" that had just gotten green light for production at Philips. (In fact, the name "Viridis" was a play on the Latin word for "green" ) So after going through the production design, and realizing that they had absolutely no budget at all, we had to get pretty creative. This first big problem was the top-down motion capture of all the human characters to turn them into game sprites. Viridis had no money to rent a studio to shoot this properly; all they had was a 12x15 foot office with an 8 foot ceiling that I tried to turn into a studio. It was basically impossible to shoot anything from the perspective needed for top-down sprites, so I had to get creative to make it work.

What I did was mount a large mirror on the 8 foot ceiling and place the camera on the floor shooting up into the mirror and back down to human actor. For the walk cycles I put the actors on a black motorized treadmill with registration marks and shot video of them as they attempted not to fall off the treadmill and break their heads. (We took the hand rails off The background was extracted by our artists and sprites were created. If we didn't like the way a sprite looked or was animated, we would shoot it again. I painted one wall of the studio Ultimatte Blue so I could shoot all the blue screen FMV sequences. This was a total pain because we basically had no room, and for the longest time Chris and Lee were too cheap to install extra power lines for the lights. (One day I tripped all the breakers for the office lighting a scene, and it crashed all the development stations and servers. I got my extra power lines soon after that. Once the bluescreen video was shot, then we had to laboriously digitize every frame (no realtime capture at that point). I would let the capture run over night. The next day I would start the background (bluescreen) removal. This would sometimes take 4 or 5 workstations several days to complete a sequence. Very primitive, but we were working with Mac Quadra 700s.

One of the good things about working on Zelda was that I worked with Randy Casey, who was the lead engineer. This was one of Randy's first projects, and we got along well together. Randy eventually went on to Novalgic and was lead on a whole bunch of successful flight sim games from them. Viridis always seemed to have budget problems; eventually when the Zelda was pretty much done, they laid me off. (I also worked on other game titles for them at the time, most of them never released.) Anyway, I went on to Philips as a game producer where I managed their top selling CD-ROM game Fighter Duel, plus other less successful titles such as Voyeur II and a bunch more. Viridis, like a white dwarf that swells to a red giant, eventually had scores of people working there after I left (when I was there it was maybe 15- 20 people). Eventually Viridis couldn't make payroll, and many of their employees quit. The end came not long after that for Viridis.