Disney ain’t what it used to be. This is by no means a bad thing, of course. The Princess and the Frog was something of a return-to-form for the company last summer, but the days of surviving on a yearly animated film release based on a classic fairytale or legend (or Shakespeare tragedy) are long gone.
Modern Disney is Disney-Pixar. It’s Epic Mickey, Warren Spector and Steve Jobs. It’s also Black Rock Studio and Split/Second.
This summer, Disney will be running a campaign of mentorships aimed at viewers of it’s Disney XD channel – generally boys and girls between 6 and 14, though the mean age likely increases around the time Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is on – in an attempt to get them excited by the prospect of their future careers.
As part of that scheme, alongside other oppourtunities like meeting Darren Bent and Tinchy Stryder, Disney’s game developer subsidiary Black Rock Studio will be opening it’s doors to a host of XD viewers in order to give them and idea of just what it is like to make video games for a living.
“Aim High is an inspirational format that really deserves a positive message to kids,” says Black Rock audio director Steve Rockett, one of the assigned metors at the studio.
“It inspires young people to try and get the most out of life and give the best to whatever they do.”
Black Rock lead designer and joint-mentor Ian Hudson agrees with this: “It’s a great way to introduce kids to these sort of jobs that they may be interested in, and to show them that they are viable and something they should go for,” he says.
“I’m not sure how the industry is pushed as a career in schools, but kids love playing games so to be able to invite them to come and try making games and introduce them to this career is a pleasure.”
Both men seem passionate about sharing their knowledge with what could well be the next generation of coders and designers.
“I think this idea is comparible to what has been going on in the music industry in the past few years in that it shows we are becoming much more accessible, and now people see it for what it is – a great place to work,” says Rockett.
“There is huge job satisfaction and in a place like Black Rock you get to move around between jobs within a single company as much or as little as you see fit, which is very interesting.”
In terms of what Black Rock’s contribution to Aim High will be, both men are excited about the plans they have in place.
“Well firstly the kids will meet us in the early afternoon, and with me they will spend their time in the studio learning how the audio for Split/Second was designed,” enthuses Rockett.
“I will introduce them to the whole team and explain how the audio is created. I will take them through the process of creating different sounds for games, all basic but very important and interesting stuff. We will listen to car engine sounds and look at how to capture them, and have a hand-on go at basic recording as well. At the end of the day, we will try putting some of those sounds to pictures, hopefully showing the kids how easy it can be to enhance a visual image with good sound design.”
Hudson is equally passionate about his new reposibilities as an Aim High mentor.
“As the lead track designer, I will be showing our guests how we create tracks, and specifically those that we created for Split/Second, which are very different to any others that we have created,” he says.
“We will take them through the processes of animation, environment art, track design and so on. I think the most exciting part of the process myself is when you see a track that you have designed in-game for the first time, so hopefully we will be able to get the guys doing just that and getting to play their tracks inside the Split/Second world.”
Both men are also acutely aware of the potential issues in convincing boys and girls of a certain age group to get involved in anything that may fall under the remit of ‘work’. They seem convinced, however, that they have the magic formula to pique their interest.
“Kids love playing games,” Hudson laughs.
“When they see their ideas appearing in those games, well that’s just thrilling, and it definitely gives them the idea that this isn’t that hard to do and they have the ability to do it. I think it will attract a lot of people. The kids will get to say ‘oh that’s how you do it, I understand it now’.”
Rockett is equally certain of the ability of Black Rock’s set-up to inspire and facsinate their visitors.
“It’ll be inspiring, I think, for them to see just how quickly you can get things up and running. I think they’ll enjoy that,” he adds.
“I also think it will be seen as a positive move from us in the whole. The industry is here to stay, and I think that opening the gates like this sends out a really important message to everyone.”
The success of the project will be a difficult thing to ascertain without travelling several decades into the future to see what the Black Rock kids will be up to at that time, but Aim High certainly scores points for proactivity and good intentions. Hudson is also keen to point out that the whole thing would probobly struggle without the aid of Disney.
“It’s such a huge name, and going through Disney XD will provide us with massive exposure. That’s obviously a plus for us, to know that we will be going through such a big channel with a massive audience. So it’s great both ways. None of this would have been possible if we had been an indie studio.”
Disney ain’t what it used to be.