Fox Orders First Machinima Comedy Pilot Heel


Roger Ebert might not think they’re art, but the value of video games as a storytelling medium is growing indisputable, especially since the rise of the machinima process — which Fox Broadcasting is now taking a swing at.

Fox has ordered a pilot presentation of the Reveille/ project Heel, which a release describes as “a love story between a man and his sociopathic dog.” The premise seems like one that would fit right in with Seth McFarlane’s animated comedy empire, though writer Chris Cluess has no Family Guy credits to his name — just Mad TV, Night Court, Cheers, SC TV and the 1991 Simpsons video game. (Not too shabby.)

While production is being overseen by Reveille, the team, including executive producers Andy Shapiro and CEO Allen DeBevoise, will work with the writers to help create the seven-to-nine minute presentation. By using “one of the major game engines” (which is as yet unspecified, though options include Unreal, Source, and Crytek) to create the animation, DeBevoise stated that “The creative team can alter camera moves, lenses, angles, character performances and edits in real time, thereby rendering the episodic animated television show into a virtual sitcom style of production.”

DeBevoise also promises that since the content lives in a game engine, new “interactive applications” will be possible for the show’s future as a home video property, with consumers potentially being able to interact with the series like they would a video game. “Because the show is running inside a realtime interactive application,” he said via phone, “You can layer interactive applications on it very simply. Or you can just watch it.”

According to DeBevoise, Fox’s interest in Heel was driven by the quality of the script, not the technology involved. “There are consumer experiences that are added thanks to the machinima process,” he said. “But in the end it has to be a good show. And at the end of the day, Chris wrote a really great script that’s really funny.” It doesn’t hurt, though, that the cost of producing a pilot using machinima is “a lot less expensive when compared to a traditional computer animation budget.”

This is the first project to come from the Machinima Comedy Lab, which was announced in December 2008. And while the lab’s intention was to create content for online distribution, not a major network, if Heel isn’t picked up by Fox for series it might find life elsewhere. And if all that happened was that it ended up on, that wouldn’t be so bad. The network has gone from 37 million monthly views in January 2009 to 108 million monthly views in March 2010.

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