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Bron Digital is making an animated film called Gossamer, and it is unveiling a related game dubbed Gossamer: Secrets of the Heap on Fortnite today.
The Fortnite game is a playable experience meant to explore the 3D animated world of Gossamer in a way that will help fans understand the lore of the upcoming animated film, said Jason Chen, executive vice president of Bron Digital, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The playable Gossamer experience was built with the newly-released Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN). And the Gossamer-inspired digital assets are now available for creators in the alpha version of Epic Games’ Fab marketplace.
Los Angeles-based Bron Digital is a virtual production company that has built its core content around Epic Games Unreal Engine, and it has been the recipient of an Epic Games Megagrant in the past. Three years ago, at the beginning of Bron, the company decided to use the Unreal Engine to make its animated films, as Epic Games was making a big push into digital creation beyond games, said Chen.
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A game and a movie
The expansion of Gossamer’s intellectual property into Fortnite marks Bron Digital as the first entertainment studio to build an animation project in Unreal Engine and use UEFN to publish an interactive experience in Fortnite, while offering the IP’s assets to other creators who are building digital worlds in the Fortnite ecosystem.
The Gossamer animated film, based on the book of the same name by Lois Lowry, is currently in production at Bron through the end of 2023. In the meantime, Bron is today releasing its playable Gossamer map, Secrets of the Heap, in Fortnite Creative.
“We are thrilled to be part of the UEFN experience and took the same approach we use for film and television production and applied it to the creation of this experience,” said Bron cofounder and president Brenda Gilbert, in a statement. “Players will be able to see a combination of feature film and interactive gaming techniques, stemming from all our incredible artists, to deliver the next evolution of multimedia.”
As Bron expands its content offerings beyond film and television, the brand-new Fortnite island of Gossamer, which is a sandbox open world, allows Fortnite players to explore a completely new map filled with immersive surroundings that interact with characters from the Gossamer world.
“When creating animated assets in a game engine, the overall approach to story must change as you have the flexibility to take your high-end environments, props, and characters, and re-purpose them for consumers of interactive games and experiences,” said Chen. “We’ve been using Unreal Engine for virtual production and real-time animation workflows on several projects, and when we heard about Epic’s Unreal Editor for Fortnite and Fab, their new digital asset marketplace for artists and developers, the path forward was a no-brainer.”
One world with multiple narratives
The story centers on Littlest One, a fairy and Gossamer in training. Gossamers enter human households each night to guide them through their night’s sleep. In the world of Gossamer, fairies and humankind intersect in a dream space where sweet dreams and nightmares collide.
In the Fortnite adaptation, Littlest One has transported players into a Dream World to combat the Nightmares created by the Gossamer’s immortal enemies, the Sinisteeds. The Gossamer experience is a horde-based game where users can individually, or with a group, battle their way through Nightmare creatures in order to get to the Heap Gate, a portal into another world. The player has to protect the world of the Gossamers and humanity itself.
Bron’s film adaptation of Gossamer stars Forest Whitaker, Thomasin McKenzie, Vera Farmiga, Richard E. Grant, Alanna Masterson, Wilmer Valderamma, and newcomer Courtney Rosemont as Lil. Grammy-winning artist and producer Timbaland and business partner Gary Marella, the co-founders of online music marketplace Beatclub are executive music supervisors for the property, which will feature a soundtrack to be released with MNRK Music Group.
Aaron Gilbert said in an interview that Bron has always had animated films as a focus. But this is the deepest it has gone into the digital filmmaking side of things. A few years ago, the streaming wars heated up and lots of projects were greenlit. Now the environment has cooled off and projects are consolidating.
But that period opened up a time of experimentation.
“We trying to tell stories that can work across multiple media,” Aaron Gilbert said. “In this context with Epic and our animated movie, we’re also going to have slightly augmented storylines that will live inside Fortnite. And then we’ve got other exhilarating consumer products that are going to be attached to this property for the long term as well.”
The idea is to build the brand for Gossamer so that the film’s IP can be familiar to fans.
“We come from a background in traditional live-action, visual effects and feature films,” Chen said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we wanted to rethink the way that we were doing traditional animation by using the technology of Unreal. There have been huge leaps and bounds in the quality and the usability of the engine for entertainment.”
He added, “We also thought, since we’re in the game engine already, why not think a little bit more holistically about it, and use the game engine for our game. So we actually created our assets for a lot of our shows with the engine and the purpose and knowledge ahead of time that it was going to be in a game and a film.”
Chen and the team at Bron Digital had a long relationship with Kim Libreri, CTO of Epic Games.
“They’ve been a huge supporter of us embracing the engine for animation production,” Chen said. “And this is kind of the next foray into what truly multimedia can be for the future.”
They were early users of Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) and did a lot of work adapting animation assets made with the engine to work in Fortnite.
“Gossamer: Secrets of the Heap is actually a representation of what you’ll be seeing in our animated show,” Chen said.
“In Fortnite, we took a lot of those story elements just rethought the experience to make sure that the user and the player are still engaged in the gameplay, but also still engaged in the story,” Chen said.
The Fortnite experience is a horde-based game where Nightmares are chasing you on a path as you make your way through the abandoned city of the Heap. Players can follow along from the game release to the film release and understand the Gossamer story. Those who finish the game can have insights for the film.
Bron has also released digital building assets from the world of Gossamer on Fab, the next-generation creator marketplace from Epic Games that is now available as an plugin in Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN). Additional asset packs are dropping ahead of the April 10 launch.
During the State of Unreal keynote at the Game Developers Conference, UEFN was revealed on stage and released as a public beta the same day, and the alpha of Fab was also released to the public as a plugin for UEFN.
Later this year, Epic will bring together its marketplaces to launch Fab, a unified marketplace where creators can find, publish and share digital assets for use in creating digital experiences. When it launches, Fab will host types of digital content including 3D models, materials, sound, VFX, MetaHumans, and more.
In 2022, Feature.io partnered to manage the online Gossamer world where Bron previously released digital collectibles including Gossamer characters and their village, known as The Heap. The Gossamer world virtual community continues to grow with many exclusive offerings and events planned. Bron is now remaking the NFT-based digital collectibles with a focus on higher quality.
Gossamer’s Open World is an independently created Fortnite experience and is not sponsored or administered by Epic Games.
The single ecosystem of games and film
One of our themes at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2023 event is the single ecosystem of games and film. Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, will be among the speakers talking about that at the event on May 22-23 in Los Angeles and May 24 online.
Aaron Gilbert said that money from the game side wasn’t the driver, though he said Epic Games was an incredible partner. Overall, the companies worked for about six months.
“During COVID, when people were home alone, they wanted to engage with content and also be part of a community at the same time and interact with their friends and be social,” Aaron Gilbert said. “That’s just how people want to consume content nowadays. And then for us, that’s the new challenge that Jason talked about earlier. How do we build our narrative that can live both in a film world and then also live in a gaming world?”
Chen said the team designed the experience in Fortnite to be one where people would come back to it again. The game experience runs around 30 minutes to 40 minutes. There are about 50 different ways you can navigate through the village of the Heap.
In the game, you meet Littlest, the main character in the feature film. She asks for help in protecting the Heap from the Nightmares who are starting to take over.
“Until you and your team successfully get rid of all the Nightmares and stabilize that area, only then does the other portion of the map unlock,” Chen said. “This gives you a sneak peak of what will come in the movie. We actually thought about the area very much like a theme park, like Disneyland, and how they use scale and optical illusions to represent the size and scale.”
Chen said that over the long term the company will deliver different experiences in different environments to its fans.
“We want players and audiences to understand what it is like to be a fairy and a human,” he said. “When you’re a fair at three-inches tall in a bedroom, this environment feels like the Grand Canyon.”
Aaron Gilbert said it has been fun adapting the company’s knowledge from making live-action films to interactive storytelling.
“As a company, we’ve shifted a massive amount of our focus into this world,” he said. “We’ve been in the animation business since our inception. Gaming has been new for us, and Epic has really helped us transition over from being primarily a film company to a company that will go on to tell our massive world stories in the Fortnite environment.”
Gilbert added, “The technology is just staggering. Jason has done such a great job building out the animation and now gaming part of our business. We’re going to take that knowledge that he has created and bring it across to the other part of our business in the live-action world for appropriate projects.”
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