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Wes Plate Interview

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[Wes the cop]


The following interview has mostly been adapted from email correspondence held between myself and Phantasmagoria 2 editor Wes Plate from December 1996 to June 1997. In July 1997, Andy Bellatti asked Wes a few questions of his own.



Anthony: Please explain the significance and origin of the picture at the top of this page. It is clearly a Phantasmagoria 2 screenshot (from Bob's murder crime scene at the beginning of chapter two) but it looks better than anything seen in the game.

Wes: The reason it looks better than in the game is that this is a frame from a DUK movie before compression. Also, this picture is under half size - the original frame size was 720x486 pixels [which is the standard NTSC image resolution]. I have some of my favourite movies on CD (in a much higher quality than the DUK movies of course) for my own use in looking for work. The cop carrying the flashlight is me.


[Phantasmagoria 2 production crew]

Anthony: Where are you in the Phantasmagoria 2 production team's picture that may be seen on the wall of Curtis's apartment, in the game's manual, on page 5 of the strategy guide, and above?

Wes: I am on the far left, hands crossed in front.


[Sierra building]
Sierra's building - in top left corner behind photo location information

Anthony: Where was that photograph taken?

Wes: On the front steps of the Sierra building in Bellevue, Washington [state, USA]. If you check out this URL: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/regions/northwest/NWFLOW/camera/pictures/cctv905.jpg, you will see a live picture from a Washington State Department of Transportation camera located near that very same Sierra building. Sometimes, when the camera is pointed just the right way, you can actually see the building. Sierra shares the building with a real estate company and an insurance company. There may be other offices there as well, but I know of these only. The name of the complex Sierra is located in is the "Lincoln Executive Center".

Further information on Sierra's building


Anthony: What are your opinions of the first game in the Phantasmagoria series?

Wes: When I started on the Phantasmagoria 2 project in March 1996, I had never seen the first Phantasmagoria. When I tried it, it was actually the first cd-rom game I had ever played. I was severely disappointed. I still have very little good to say about the first game, and while there are certainly issues with Phantasmagoria 2, I think technologically and dramatically it blows Phantasmagoria 1 away.


Anthony: In the Phantasmagoria 2 [PH2] credits, you are listed as an AVID Editor. What exactly is AVID?

Wes: Avid is a company in Tewksbury, Massachusetts [in the USA] called Avid Technology. They are the industry leader in digital [computer/disk-based] non-linear video editing. You can visit their Web site at http://www.avid.com. Basically, I am just an editor, but I specialise in editing using this particular system.

PH2 was edited using Avid's [top-of-the-line] Media Composer 8000. The particular version we rented used Media Composer version 6.01 running on a Macintosh Quadra 950 with a Daystar PowerPC upgrade card. This version of the Media Composer uses the ABVB, the Avid Broadcast Video Board, which is a modified Targa2000. The video was digitised using AVR8s, a compression setting that captures one field per frame at a rate around 180 Kb per frame.


Anthony: What do you mean by the term "field"?

Wes: NTSC video is made up of 30 frames per second, but each frame is actually two fields, or half a frame. The first field (I believe) is the odd numbered horizontal scan lines, then the next field fills in with the even numbered scan lines (i.e: 1,3,5,7... 2,4,6,8...) - so there ends up being 60 fields per second. PAL/SECAM is comprised of 25 frames per second, 50 fields per second. This "interlacing" is necessary for television, but gets in the way of computer displays because computers display their screens progressively like: 1,2,3,4... As a result, we captured only the first field, and this removed any chance of problems that interlacing could have caused.


Anthony: Where were you based during your employment by Sierra?

Wes: I was inside Sierra's Bellevue headquarters, surrounded by programmers.


Anthony and Andy: How do you summarise your role in the Phantasmagoria 2 production process?

Wes: Shooting would commence on set or on location. I would then receive copies of the shoot tapes, and a book of "logs". These logs note everything shot, with notes for which take was the "keeper" - the one the Director deemed the best. I digitised the keeper shots into my computer system, then assembled these takes into a movie. Some were easy like Curtis walking from the Bedroom to the Living Room. Not much to do there, except that I decided which frame we started on and which frame we ended on. The goal was to keep those movies as short as possible. That was a disk space issue. I made all the movies this way. As I edited each movie, I received feedback from director Andy Hoyos. Andy sometimes had me change a sequence, but designer Lorelei Shannon was typically not involved with the editing process. When she did come by to see the video, she usually loved what she saw.

Beyond that, I also sent the finished video sequences in carefully documented batches to the Sound Designer [Randy Yount] so he could finish the audio. After he was finished with a sequence, he would return the finished audio to me, and I would edit it back into the video, and export the movie as a QuickTime movie. That movie was then sent to another computer where it was cropped to 320x168 at 15 frames per second. That computer then converted the movie to an AVI, then that AVI was compressed.


Anthony: How was the videotape shot for Phantasmagoria 2 converted to digital format?

Wes: All the scenes were shot on Digital Betacam, after which these "shoot master" tapes were "cloned", or digitally copied. I received these copies to work with, to protect the original master tapes. I would then view these tapes on a playback machine that was controlled by the Avid editing software. Logs were kept on the set of the takes that were considered "keepers", and I would find these takes on the tapes. After finding these takes, I instructed the editing software to digitise the video, compressing it and recording it to my 36 Gb hard drive array. Once digitised, I was able to access the video to make edit decisions.


Anthony: When you edited the movie scenes, did they contain very limited or no sound? Did this increase the difficulty of your work?

Wes: I had access to all on screen sound. I edited this sound as I edited the movies. The only sound I didn't have while editing were the musical scores (they were written after I completed each movie), as well as sound effects. It was often difficult to edit scenes that were effect heavy. Many Alien World movies were cut and re-cut as I would first cut the bluescreen video, with no backgrounds to see. Then, as the effects artists worked on the composites and effects, sometimes the edit would change a little to accommodate their needs.


Anthony: How did you work with composer Gary Spinrad?

Wes: I would give Gary a VHS copy of the major scenes to be scored, then he would write music appropriate to those movies. He handed me a DAT [digital audio tape] with this music which I edited back into each sequence. Randy Yount was eventually responsible for the mix of the music.


Anthony: Who is Ken Smith? What was his role in producing Phantasmagoria 2?

Wes: Ken Smith compressed all the movies. After I finished a sequence, I would export it as a QuickTime [QT] movie (720x486 at 30 fps [frames per second]). We (me and/or Ken) would then set up a process where the QT movie was cropped to 320x268 15 fps and saved with no compression. This uncompressed cropped QT movie was converted to an AVI, then Ken used Adobe Premiere 4.0 [digital non-linear video editing software by Adobe.] and the Duck TrueMotion [digital video] compressor to compress the movies. He was in charge of the quality trade-offs involved with the compression, as well as just getting it done.


Anthony: Why use an Avid system plus Adobe Premiere software when they seem to be so similar in function?

Wes: The Avid system is a far superior editing device because it is composed of hardware and software. That makes it a lot faster. We used Premiere as a compression device - loading movies and then saving out using the Duck compressor. Also, the Avid software is installed on Apple Macintosh hardware, so we used Premiere on Windows to deal with video files in AVI format [which is native to Windows].


Anthony: Why did you use so many products from the Apple corporation?

Wes: The Avid Media Composer is only available on an Apple Macintosh platform, and, at the time, Adobe After Effects was likewise only available for the Macintosh. ProTools, the audio system, is also a Mac-based program. We used QuickTime [yet another Apple product], because that was the video file format compatible with the Mac programs. AVIs simply weren't compatible. Basically, we could not have produced Phantasmagoria 2 with only IBM compatible computers.


Anthony: What documentation did you deal with when editing Phantasmagoria 2?

Wes: There were many, many pieces of documentation used throughout the process. There was the script (there were many revisions to that), the storyboards/Director's shooting plans, and the Director's notes that shooting was designed around which were occasionally changed a little during taping. These notes were also sometimes given to me to get an idea of the intentions of a scene. There were many many notebooks of shooting logs, noting everything that was shot, with timecode/tape references and remarks. I would make lists for the database person to compile for tracking. These lists would note the AVI number (same as the DUK number), its edit status, its approval status, its export status, and its compression status. Lists of the movies were made for the Sound Designer, telling him where on his tapes to find each individual movie, and for him to track which movies were "sweetened". Similar lists went with me to Europe to keep track of which scenes were which, and which actors were needed for each sequence.


Anthony: Please explain the technical term "sweetened".

Wes: "Sweetening" is the process of finishing the sound in a video program. In my case, I would export to Randy Yount the Sound Designer a sound file for each of the movies. Randy would then embellish the sound, add sound effects, mix in the music, and make sure the dialogue was loud enough. Basically, he made it sound good. Imagine the opening movie without the ticking clock at the beginning, which leads to the big sound right before Dr. Marek and the Gurney come crashing through the double doors! Or imagine the Hecatomb shocking Curtis in the Threshold Room, but without any sound for the lightning!



[French Curtis]
French Curtis
[German Therese]
German Therese


Anthony: What did you do to promote Phantasmagoria 2 in Europe?

Wes: I travelled to Baden Baden, Germany for the German recording and to Paris for the French recording. I flew there alone. My job was to help keep track of the hundreds of sequences that needed to be translated, to match scripts to their video sequences, to answer questions about which characters were which, and what some of their words meant. [The original English speaking actors had their lines dubbed by these European performers.]


[German Curtis and Tom]
German Curtis and Tom



Anthony: Was there any movie scene that you found particularly challenging to edit?

Wes: I remember a scene near the end of chapter one, where Curtis and Jocilyn are talking at the Dreaming Tree - the scene where they talk about their trip to the park [probably 8710.DUK]. This movie was particularly difficult because the actors' bodies, hands, and expressions were never really the same from take to take from the different angles. If you watch carefully, you'll notice Jocilyn's hands are sometimes in different places on either side of an edit. This movie took a lot of effort on my part to choose edit points that seemed to flow together. In the end however, I think it is a very effective scene.


Andy: What about the interactive mental battle with the Hecatomb in chapter five? Did you experience any difficulties editing that sequence?

Wes: It took me some time to understand in my head what happens, and where the player is taken in terms of location.


Andy: Why do most of the Dr. Harburg movies fade in and out?

Wes: This is because Curtis was in different starting/ending positions in the movies than he was in the stills. Andy Hoyos felt it didn't make sense to have Curtis sitting in the still, then, when you click something on Harburg, start the movie with Curtis standing at the window.


Anthony: What did you do about any bloopers you found in the movies?

Wes: I did try and fix some continuity problems that I caught during production. For instance, in chapters two and four when Curtis is snooping in Warner's office, the computer monitor is on in the interactive stills. However, on the set, the monitor was off. So you would have had a situation where, in the movie, the monitor is off, then in the still it is suddenly on. I used Adobe After Effects [professional motion graphics/post-production software] to put an image on the monitor in the movies where Curtis opens/closes Warner's desk drawer. Also, nearing the end of chapter five, Trevor shows Curtis his card key right before he dies ("Curtis, listen, listen, listen!"). When he pulled out that card on the set it was backwards so that the photo on the front was facing him and the blank back faced the camera. I used Adobe After Effects again to track the blank card with a PICT [graphic] of the card key. It turned out pretty good.

[Trevor shows Curtis his card key]

There were also some dialogue issues. In the movie 4744.DUK (in chapter four), you hear Detective Allie say, "Hey! Get outta here!" In this movie, that line was never recorded by the actress - the plan had been to record it later. I needed to find similar dialogue and edit it together to create her missing line to Curtis. So, if you listen carefully, you will notice that "Hey!" and "Get outta here!" are each used in other movies. The movie 950.DUK (in chapter two) was another movie where a line was never recorded by the appropriate actor. In this case, it was the Hecatomb's line, "Of course you did!" So, late in the production, I went into the studio and recorded that line myself.


Anthony: Are there any other interesting points that you would like to share about the dialogue in Phantasmagoria 2?

Wes: There are a few things:


Anthony: How did you edit the gory scenes?

Wes: Well, there wasn't necessarily that much more gore filmed than was shown, but I did make the kinds of decisions as to exactly which frames to gore to use, when to cut out of them, and when to cut back. I guess the answer as to how is somewhere between design, work, talent and luck. My part of the project was to edit all of the video sequences, so I am intimate with every video sequence in the game. People ask me, "is this game gory?" Well, not to me - I have seen every moment of film too many times - but to others, it is an extremely disgusting game.


Anthony: Were the "more intense" versions of any or all of the sexual and/or violent scenes more explicit prior to editing?

Wes: No. The non-censored versions were not any more explicit on the set, however I did create the "less intense" versions of the various censorable scenes.


Anthony: Given your close familiarity with all of the DUK movies, you would have been in a good position to document all the numerous controversial incidents depicted in the game for the benefit of concerned people and organisations. Did you do this? If so, why?

Wes: Yes. Many people in the sales/marketing areas, as well as retailers, religious groups, and mental health organisations, all expressed concerns with the Phantasmagoria 2 material. We often made demonstration tapes with selected movies that were considered controversial - for instance: Little Curtis being abused, the sex scenes, navel piercing, as well as violent scenes. The tapes were to keep all parties current with the product's development, and hopefully allay their fears. If there had been too much concern, the game would not have been released or some of the movies would have had to have been cut.


Anthony: What scenes were permanently edited out of the game?

Wes: I never read Lorelei's original script (the seven CD version). So I don't know. There were some scenes that were shot and edited, but then later didn't make sense. For instance:

1. In chapter one, after getting punched, Curtis can talk to Trevor. In the past, you could click on him twice, and the first time Trevor would ask if Curtis had considered talking to anyone about it. Curtis said he had an appointment with a Doctor Harburg. Well, he doesn't make that appointment until chapter two. So it didn't make sense and was nixed.

2. There was a movie in chapter three where Curtis went to call Jocilyn, but hung up because he had a flashback of bondage sex with Therese. Well, that didn't happen until the very end of chapter three, and you can't use the phone in chapter four. So it was out too. [But see 5960.DUK on cd#3]

I think there were others too, but you get the idea.


Anthony: In the Phantasmagoria 2 strategy guide, it says that the character of Bob Arnold had scenes that were cut from the game. What further irritants did he inflict on his co-workers before he dies?

Wes: The way things were shot, none. Maybe there was something in the original script though.

Find out about these cuts from Don "Bob Arnold" Berg himself


Anthony: What other scenes were cut from the script and never filmed? What were the main reasons for cuts?

Wes: Originally, the Alien World was huge. Curtis was supposed to swim at one point! As for the reasons for the cuts: continuity, disk space, gameplay and budgetary considerations were all issues. Also feasibility - the Hecatomb was supposed to be among the bystanders watching Curtis and Therese have sex on the Borderline's "rack", but it didn't work. I can't remember why. On occasion, different types of changes such as having an AVI video replaced with a still screen (eg: the Christmas party photo on the coffee table) were made. It wasn't always realistic to show Curtis do everything in a movie context.


Anthony: What was the size of the Phantasmagoria 2 script? What types of information did it contain?

Wes: The script was hundreds of pages long and underwent many revisions. It would take forever to print. The script contained actors' lines, Lorelei's ideas for character direction, as well as game play indicators that explained when each movie would play.


Anthony: During what time frame was Phantasmagoria 2 filmed? What scenes were filmed last? Were the film clips converted to computer video format after all of the filming had been completed or was it done as the scenes were filmed?

Wes: February thru September 1996. The Alien World stuff was shot in bluescreen last. The last location stuff was the Dreaming Tree, and I think that was late July. The clips were edited as shooting progressed. As soon as the video for a sequence was finished, I could edit it. When I finished editing, it went through the compression process.


Anthony: Where was the bluescreen filming technique used in Phantasmagoria 2?

Wes: Bluescreen was used for all of the Alien World. Blue screening was used in the "fidgeters", such as Curtis standing in his apartment, or Trevor sitting at his desk. Also, some of the Hecatomb effects (such as the Hecatomb talking to Curtis in the Network Room after Trevor's death) were shot in bluescreen. Compositing was accomplished using Adobe After Effects (After Effects was also used to create many of the digital effects such as shocking eyes). These techniques are definite improvements over what was used for Phantasmagoria 1.


Anthony: Approximately how many hours of video does Phantasmagoria 2 contain?

Wes: Approximately four and a half hours.


Anthony: What type of video compression technology did you use?

Wes: We used the same digital video compression technology that was used in SpyCraft [by Activision]. It is made by a company called Duck and is called TrueMotion.


Anthony: What is Phantasmagoria 2's maximum frame rate on a top-of-the-range home PC ?

Wes: I suppose the faster the computer, the faster the frame rate, but there is a limit. You can only see as many frames as we gave you, and we gave you 15 fps.


Anthony: What is the purpose of the *.CLU files?

Wes: CLU stands for Colour Look Up. In other words, these are palettes for people playing the game in 8-bit colour mode.


Anthony: Why are the movies interlaced? Is this a Duck requirement?

Wes: You are talking about the black lines? As far as I know, this is not an option like it was in Phantasmagoria 1. Yes, as I understand, this is a programming thing, not a Duck requirement. The reason why the movies are that way is because you are watching the movies at a 640x336 resolution, and the movies themselves are only 320x168. The smaller size has disk space/data rate advantages. If you had the ability to play the movies outside of the game, you could watch them at 320x168.


Anthony: Why is there no half screen movie option in Phantasmagoria 2 as there was in Phantasmagoria 1 and Gabriel Knight 2?

Wes: I cannot answer the why. Duck does not limit what size the movies play back.

Tim Weiss's answers to these and other programming related questions


Anthony: Can you play DUK compressed movies whenever you want? What program do you use to do so?

Wes: I cannot now. However, when working at Sierra, yes - I could have. The PC I was using had the Duck codec installed, so it was able to play Duck movies, even through a standard AVI player. I know that a CD was used for the install. [The DUK movie codec is unavailable to end users - eg: computer gamers.]


Anthony: What is the story behind the Phantasmagoria 2 promotional MOV file that may be downloaded from Sierra's Website?

Wes: I am very familiar with the MOV file on that site - I edited it. The funny thing is, you were never originally supposed to see it. We made it, and then the producer said, "Let's use this for in-house publicity, but I don't want people to see it outside the company". Ok. Then the Public Relations people got it and suddenly the video got a life of its own. Weird. It was edited at the end of March 1996. By then only about half of the shooting was completed. So there was lots more stuff shot that isn't shown in that "demo". What you have there is only half representative of the game.


Anthony: What is the background behind the inclusion of Wes' Big Books of Tractors as Easter Eggs?

Wes: I have an interest in them that comes from my father. It seemed the book on the table should have been clickable. I wanted my very own Easter Egg, so I concocted those books.


[Exterior of Sierra building]    [Foyer of Sierra building]    [Reception desk at Sierra offices]
Sierra's building - (from left to right) - Exterior, Foyer, Sierra reception desk.

Anthony: On the Travel Map screen, what building in the real world is situated on the spot you need to click to activate the Easter Egg counter?

Wes: This is the location of Sierra's offices in Bellevue where PH2 was developed.


Anthony: After looking at the PH2 map, one gets the feeling that the locations of the various places Curtis visits have little or no relationship to their real world location. They are simply too neatly spaced over the map to be realistic. Also, WynTech and the Dreaming Tree are spaced quite a long way apart - strange considering the restaurant may be visited so readily during work hours.

Wes: Oh yes, the inconsistencies, there are many. Their real world location? Well, the restaurant, the nightclub, and WynTech are not on the map.



[Madigan Army Hospital]
Madigan Army Hospital


Anthony: Where were the following game locations and incidents filmed?

A) Mental Hospital
i) Exterior - where Dr. Marek bids farewell to Curtis and gives him Dr. Harburg's business card
ii) Interior - as seen in the Game Introduction
iii) Interior - as seen in Curtis's flashback sequence in ch3

B) WynTech
i) Exterior - seen at the beginning of the ch2 opening movie
ii) Interior - upper level rooms and corridors
iii) Interior - Threshold Computer Room
iv) Interior - lower level corridors

C) Dr. Harburg's Office - (The natural sunlight effect is particularly impressive.)


Wes:

A) Mental Hospital
i)
Pacific Medical Center on Beacon Hill in Seattle.
ii) Madigan Army Hospital in Tacoma [just south of Seattle - pictured above].
iii) This was a set built inside Butler Video Studios in Bellevue [near Seattle, in the same city as Sierra's headquarters].

B) WynTech
i)
ZymoGenetics, "located in Seattle, Washington, in the historic Steam Plant building on Lake Union".
ii) All film sets [at Butler Studios as always].
iii) Again, a set.
iv) Basement of Pacific Medical Center [pictured below].

C) Dr. Harburg's Office
Pretty good huh? They did a great job with that one. It is my favourite set.


[Pacific Medical Center]
Pacific Medical Center - in top right corner


Anthony: How large are the sets at Butler Studios?

Wes: Butler is one of the largest film studios in the Seattle area. I think if you could have seen the size of the sets you would have been amazed. I don't know the square footage, but it is big. Sierra used their entire set area during the production of Phantasmagoria 2.


Anthony: If you were asked to participate in editing another Full Motion Video computer game (for Sierra or another company), would you seriously consider the offer?

Wes: Perhaps, if there was a lot of money in it for me. I would be an excellent choice for the task because of my particular skills, and my experience on Phantasmagoria 2. I don't expect this to happen any time soon though. The cost of producing such top quality games is too high, and developers like Sierra aren't ready to pay.



If you liked this interview, please read the following interviews with other Phantasmagoria 2 cast and crew members

Don Berg - Actor

Lorelei Shannon - Designer

Tim Weiss - Programmer


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