Dungeon & Fighters comes to life on Shanghai stage

George P. Johnson took on the challenging task of producing a 3D hologram concert.

Tencent’s brief for the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Dungeon & Fighter (DNF) in Shanghai was fairly straightforward: The Chinese gaming giant wanted to put out a performance that would make the best use of its own music IPs.

Joey Khor, executive creative director, George P. Johnson, already had a good grasp of the psyche of gamers when he undertook the briefing. “It’s not just a game anymore, it becomes the whole world,” he told CEI. “Becoming the whole world” here means creating an immersive experience, and the stakes are high for ardent fans who eat, breathe and sleep the game.

Khor and his team decided to bring Seria Kirmin, NPC (non-playable character) in the game as the host of the 10th anniversary concert through live motion capture hologram. Essentially, the team took a 2D-character and rebuilt it into a 3D-character that served as a skeleton.

Speaking and moving through a live actor behind the scene, Seria Kirmin kicked off the show with a tribute to the game while she also “battled” with a real deejay on the stage. Other shows lined up during the night include a performance by pop star Jolin Tsai and other singers, a DNF-themed fashion show, as well as a live game throwdown among the audience.

Khor contended that using hologram in concerts was not cutting-edge technology; the technique was first employed during the 2012 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to bring the late Tupac Shakur on stage. “It’s more of how we can best use the tech to expand into the content, that’s where we always came from,” said Khor.

VR animation was included in the performance only to enhance online viewing. The lack of live digital engagement was crucial, Khor said, as techniques such as VR and AR at a live performance would defeat the purpose of creating engagement and immersive experiences.

“The audience loved the character so much. It's not just about using hologram, it’s really about creativity and how to bring life into the character itself, animation of the character, the small little nuances, [how] she winks her eyes, [how] she waves to the audiences…” said Khor. “Our intention was to make a digital character as ‘alive’ as possible, not the other way round."

Meanwhile, stage lighting was a main concern for the projection of the hologram character on stage. For instance, glass screens could not be used but were replaced with a translucent cloth instead. Khor explained that lighting from the audience was however not an issue since the stage at the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center, where the concert was held, was far from the seating arrangement.

Stage design was also crucial. More importantly, the design had to fit the IP of the game and Khor credited the Tencent team for their hands-on involvement with the production. The production cost of this scale amounted to single-digit millions (in RMB) and took about three months from planning to completion.

Nevertheless, Khor was pleased that the concert was a resounding success of its own with 4,000 live audience members (from lottery-based tickets) and 33 million online views at its peak. But on hindsight, the perfectionist in him thinks that there is still room for improvement.

“We were quite ambitious when we first started. But then again it was time... I wish we could have done a bit more research, I really feel we needed to have a deeper understanding on the technical aspect, we could actually make it a little bit more interesting from every aspect, in terms of maximising the budget to create more content,” Khor said.


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