Original Website: Making of TAOOT
Behind the Scenes of the Making of the Titanic Game
In Words and Pixels
The images of a doomed ship in Titanic: Adventure Out of Time were the work of CyberFlix’s artists Ani Chang, Bob Clouse, Billy Davenport, Paul Haskins, Michael Kennedy, and Alex Tschetter. The results of their efforts are the ship’s luxurious interiors and enormous exteriors; they are a key part of the game’s success and give players the eerie feeling of being back in time and onboard the great ocean liner as it races to its tragic end. But their detailed sets can also stand alone as haunting, high-resolution recreations of a lost era. So it was no surprise then, that Tehabi Books, a California publisher, contacted CyberFlix for permission to include such images in the new book Titanic: Legacy of the World’s Greatest Ocean Liner, an illustrated history of the famous ship.
“We’re proud to be associated with an undertaking of this quality,” says Rand Cabus, CyberFlix marketing director, who was responsible for ensuring that this interactive adventure partnered with various media organizations. “Tehabi reproduced several of our key images,” he explains. “The Parisian Cafe, a first-class cabin, and even the scrape with the iceberg are taken directly from the game.”
Cabus’s contribution was not just in the title’s promotion. The native Knoxvillian is also in the game playing the role of the fast-talking Parisian Buick Riviera, a gambler who spends the disaster vying for souls in the Titanic’s Smoking Room.
The continental con artist became a favorite with players with his first appearance in Dust, CyberFlix’s earlier title about a Western town. “Riviera is digital Eurotrash,” Cabus says. “One reviewer compared him to a ‘greasy version of Brad Pitt.'” He laughs. “Buick might be mad, but I take it as a compliment.”
High Seas, High Tech
It was one experience recreating the Titanic for CD-ROM. Quite another to visit the original’s resting site, says Andrew Nelson, the producer and writer of the company’s 1997 hit Titanic: Adventure Out of Time.
“I accompanied the 1996 Discovery Channel expedition off the coast of Newfoundland that August,” he says. “The mission was a high-tech effort, and the TV producers wanted to bring along our computer game to aid in the expedition.” Transferring electronic equipment in the open seas was challenging. “To protect my hard drive and monitor from the salty air and water, I put them in body bags from a morgue,” he says. “Very useful things, body bags.”
With space at a premium in the titanium-hulled Nautile, the deep-diving submarine that explored the wreck site, Nelson never took the two-mile trip to the bottom. Instead, he guided the international team of divers, scientists, and historians on digital tours of the reconstructed ship. After dinner many from the team would gather to play the adventure game. “They were impressed,” he said. “The divers especially. They thought the game was cool.”
What was the most memorable moment? “When the sub brought up a suitcase,” he says. “It was black leather, perfectly preserved after 85 years.” Upon opening it, the scientists discovered neatly folded shirts–as if they had been packed only yesterday. “It suddenly became quiet,” he recalled. “It was then the human dimension of the disaster hit us all over again.”
Nelson believes that interactivity has a great future in helping us recall the past. “I think Titanic proves it’s possible to use a computer hard drive for purposes other than battling spreadsheets or space slime. There are hundreds of fascinating locations to recreate and explore. I hope I get to do every one.”
Titanic Docks in Memphis
As CyberFlix began work on Titanic, the team of artists and programmers didn’t realize their work would become more than a computer game, but also part and parcel of the ship’s history.
“We were committed to recreating the Titanic as accurately as we could,” says producer and writer Andrew Nelson. “The experience of being onboard the Titanic was absolutely crucial to game play. We even include a tour function to let people explore and learn about the ship without having to actually play the game.”
It was that accuracy that caught the eye of Jon Thompson, executive director of Wonders: The Memphis International Cultural Series, the creators of Titanic: The Exhibition.
Titanic: The Exhibition features more than 300 artifacts recovered from the wreck site of the Titanic. The largest exhibition of Titanic artifacts ever presented opened in the Memphis Pyramid April 3, 1997. By the end of August more than 400,000 visitors from around the world had toured the exhibit.
“We consider ourselves lucky to have found the CyberFlix game with its wonderful Titanic graphics,” says Thompson. “These incredibly accurate images allow our visitors the opportunity to see the ship the way her passengers did.”
Selected environments from the CyberFlix title are projected in the Verandah Cafe gallery, a recreation of one of the first-class a la carte restaurants onboard the ship.
Titanic: The Exhibition ran in Memphis through September 30, 1997. For tickets or more information call 800.263.6744. After closing in Memphis, the exhibition moved to the Florida International Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, from November 15, 1997, through May 15, 1998. The exhibit is presented by the Wonders series in cooperation with RMS Titanic Inc.
Through the Past Darkly
Titanic’s dark and melodic score springs from the mind of Erik Holt, CyberFlix’s 24-year-old composer who has a degree in mathematics, a musical background in electronic composition, and an affinity for modern film composers Danny Elfman and John Williams.
Most of the title’s music are original Holt compositions, but he is quick to cite historical inspiration including Igor Stravinsky and electric guitar icon Joe Satriani. Holt also studied the music of composers popular in 1912–Chopin, Verdi, Rossini, Mahler, and others–to better evoke both the splendor and the sadness surrounding the Titanic’s disaster.
Some of Titanic’s music sprang directly from history, including a broadcast during the game’s 1942-era prologue. “Prelude in A” by Chopin was popular in World War II, as Holt, who consulted the BBC’s radio play list for that day, discovered.
“One of my favorite selections in Titanic borrows heavily from Chopin’s ‘Piano Nocturne No. 1’,” he says. “It’s a gentle, quiet, moody piece, and to me it embodies something of the spirit of the time: a lazy sort of prosperity when people felt nothing could be upset–especially the social order.”
Not all the music had its roots in 1912. “We began the production wanting to be as historically accurate as possible–using actual songs the orchestra played onboard,” says Holt, “But eventually we decided we wanted a more fully developed score. I worked solidly for three months developing the core themes. The result blends elements from turn-of-the-century period music with more-sweeping cinematic motifs.”
Sweeping or majestic, melancholic or suspenseful, Holt’s music is always enjoyable. “We wanted to give you something you could go away humming,” he says.
The Hunt for History
The Titanic: Adventure Out of Time CD-ROM game features a tremendous amount of period detail as well as plot developments tied to actual historic events. CyberFlix spent two years of exhaustive research to ensure that the cloak-and-dagger doings of its game take place against a backdrop of authenticity.
Historical and photo researcher Bill Broyles had an uncanny knack for unearthing obscure and fascinating resources. Time-yellowed documents, period photographs, monographs, and digital images were either Fedex’d to or downloaded by Broyles from websites, museums, and other sources from all over the world.
Broyles even found a retired teacher who had a collection of more than 50,000 vintage postcards. Some of her work can be seen in the game when players are asked to develop pictures of fellow passengers.
“There are resources everywhere,” says Broyles. “I never know what I’ll find.”
The Internet proved particularly helpful, Broyles adds. For general factual information on the Titanic, two of his favorite websites include:
Still, Broyles advises, the best resource for historical data-gathering is to, “Crack open a book.”
3D Artist Furthers the Efforts His Grandfather Began
When Paul Haskins began working as a 3D artist, he had no idea that his career choice would link him to a trade his grandfather took part in years earlier. As part of the creative team working on Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, the interactive entertainment title from CyberFlix and Hammerhead Entertainment, Haskins has spent almost two years digitally rebuilding the gargantuan ship on a computer. The detailed and historically accurate 3D recreation of the ship serves as the setting for a tale of mystery and intrigue taking audiences back to the night of one of history’s most famous disasters. As it turns out, Haskins, of Irish descent, is the grandson of a shipyard worker–Leslie Haskins–who was employed by Harland & Wolff, the Belfast shipyard that built and launched the fabulous luxury liner.
Though the elder Haskins worked at the yard in the 1930s, after the real Titanic had already been constructed, Haskins feels a link between his own “shipbuilding” and his grandfather’s.
“One of the main things that struck me about working on Titanic was the immense scale,” says Haskins. “The ship was as long as three football fields and had nine decks. Recreating that digitally in 3D, we were working with data files of immense proportions and huge amounts of complexity. Naturally, it hit a chord with me–I’m working with mathematical calculations to recreate the kinds of things my grandfather helped craft out of iron and steel.”
A team of 3D artists that also included art director Michael Kennedy and 3D artist-designer Alex Tschetter, began with a scale “digital skeleton” fashioned on high-end SGI computer workstations from the plans and blueprints of the actual ship. This framework was then outfitted with the details of the vessel’s fantastically ornate interiors–down to the domed skylight and relief woodcarving in the Grand Staircase and the tiled Turkish Bath decorated in 17th-century Arabian style. Building Titanic’s 56 individual sets, rendering the ship’s vast architecture and detailed appointments, and illuminating its interiors were tremendously complex undertakings that blended seamlessly in the finished product.