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Square USAs Final Fantasy

By John Virata
Square Co., parent company of Square USA, the Honolulu-based facility that brought us Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, is expected to sell its money losing film unit within the next three months, according to a story that appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser. The Tokyo-based developer of the Final Fantasy series of video games (more than 35 million copies sold worldwide) for Sonys PlayStation 2, announced it was looking for a buyer for part or all of the companys filmmaking unit. The company said it would exit the filmmaking business due to the tepid response last summer of its debut film, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.

A lot of people in the business of visual effects and game development have often said that the development period of a video game can often be compared to that of a feature length film schedule. Other forgettable video games turned feature films include Tomb Raider and Mortal Combat. These films, including Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, were in effect banking on the wild popularity of their video game counterparts. This can often be a risky scheme. While the effects for these films are usually spectacular, without a good storyline, the effects wont carry the story.

When will people learn that without a viable storyline, the movie has a better chance of going down the road to nowhere, Where "the storyline lagged but the effects ruled!" The effects created in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which brought us as close to photorealism as currently possible, have been equated to THE story. Those who saw the film, (myself included during a DMN sponsored field trip last Summer), enjoyed the effects but were left wanting in the story department. Even though the characters were entirely computer generated, the skin tones, Akis flowing hair, without good story to keep things flowing, everything gets muddled. For awhile, you are led to believe that these characters are real people fighting aliens. Then the story gets in the way.

What would become of Square USA if the film had indeed had a good storyline? Would parent company Square Co. still be looking to conclude a sale of all or part of its "filmmaking" assets and technologies? What would Square USAs best move be at this point?
Square USA lost a lot of money on its first solo movie venture, but in the process, the company did create some groundbreaking effects. The company and its cadre of digital artists have proven that they can create some pretty impressive effects for film, and they have also proven that they arent as adept as they had thought in getting into the filmmaking business. Keep in mind that Square USA did virtually everything, from leasing out some of the most expensive real estate in downtown Honolulu (Harbor Court on Merchant Street), to creating the story and the effects, to final "film."

In a "traditional" Hollywood sense, the effects facility (what Square USA essentially is versus a film studio), is usually contracted by the film studio to create a certain number of effects. Currently, 125 of Square USAs employees are working on another project with another film studio.

So, perhaps a marriage of convenience could be the best outcome for Square USAs filmmaking division nee effects division. For Square USA, building out a viable film studio may have indeed been its Final Fantasy. If the company can forge a relationship with a major studio similar to that of Pixar/Disney, or even forge ahead on its own as a full blown effects house in the mold of a Digital Domain or an ILM, its effects technology can continue along a path of technological advancement and growth. Square USA has proven that it can create first class film effects. It just needs a forum to showcase its effects in such a way that the effects dont get in the way of the story.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]
Related Keywords:filmmaking, special effects, storyline


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