June 13, 2013 at 5:37 PM ET
If you've been watching the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) this week, you've probably seen a lot of sleek trailers for upcoming video games. Many game developers use E3 to tease gameplay footage in order to give gamers an early glimpse of what a highly anticipated game like "The Division" or "Titanfall" will actually look like in action.
But as the kerfuffle over Sega and Gearbox's eagerly awaited-then-critically-lambasted "Aliens: Colonial Marines" showed, fans have become wary of any heavily produced videos that claim to depict actual gameplay. Cinematic trailers, on the other hand, can offer a sort of proof-of-concept for a new game without owing the same debt to realism (think "Dead Island" trailer).
That's where Blur Studio comes in. Founded in 1995, Blur has worked on such popular game franchises as "Dragon Age," "Bioshock" and a number of different "Star Wars" titles. In 2010, the video game site Kotaku dubbed Blur "the Pixar of video games."
Still a small company with a distinct start-up feel, Blur only brought one trailer to this year's E3 — the new CGI trailer for "Batman: Arkham Origins." But that was more than enough to keep the studio busy since the beginning of 2013.
Derron Ross, an animation supervisor at Blur, told NBC News that a team that eventually grew to around 20 performers, animators and filmmakers started working on the new trailer in January after getting a few bare-bones directives and a sample of gameplay footage from "Arkham Origins" publisher Warner Bros.
"We get sent gameplay footage so we could assess the fight moves and see if we could mix it into our choreography to have something that's true to what the game is going to have in it," Ross said. "But Warner Bros. just told us they wanted to reveal Black Mask (the game's chief supervillain), they wanted to reveal Deathstroke (another slightly-less-super villain), and they wanted it to be Christmas time. The rest was pretty much up to us."
Since Ross was working with a relatively small team and has a background in both martial arts and acting, he ended up suiting up to play all three of the major villains in the trailer and even Batman himself in one shot.
"I've gotten to fulfill a lot of dreams playing Jedi Knights and Sith Lords at the same time," Ross joked. "But I have to say, villains are fun to play. They're evil and twisted characters, so there's more to play on and think about."
The glamour of stepping into the shoes of superheroes and Jedi knights aside, Ross said that there can be some downright eerie moments given how much motion-capture and facial modeling technology has improved.
"The one that is still the creepiest role to play had to be playing myself as a Tyger guard," Ross said of his role as one of the unlucky henchmen who ends up falling prey to Batman in the trailer. "Being tortured and then seeing my face three-dimensionally represented was just like: 'Whoa, this is too spooky.'"
While Ross admitted that producing trailers is still a distinct field unto itself, separate from the game industry, the tech behind video game engines and cinematic CGI work are both improving so rapidly that he thinks they'll begin to merge in the next console generation. Visually stunning games like "The Last of Us" and "Beyond: Two Souls" have already begun to bridge the gap between film and interactive media already, after all — something Microsoft promised to take a step further with its video game/television show hybrid "Quantum Break."
Does this mean that CGI producers like Ross will eventually become obsolete? Maybe someday, Ross said. But he's more excited about the possibility of game engines becoming powerful enough to allow filmmakers like him to work directly within a video game itself to produce their work — either as an element of gameplay or a stand-alone film. Describing some of his work on the "Arkham Origins" trailer, Ross already sounds like he's stepped into this virtual movie set.
"Some of the cameras angles you see in 'Batman' have a handheld feel to them because I'm actually going back into the motion-capture space, " Ross said. "I have a shoulder rig with a screen so I can see the 3D world playing in the monitor. Then I can track the action, react and move to the fight!"
"That's almost like a game engine that we're piping through," he continued excitedly. "As I move through the space, it's almost like I'm in the game world."
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: email@example.com.