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Interview: Team Bondi’s Brendan McNamara on “L.A. Noire,” Part 1

Interview: Team Bondi’s Brendan McNamara on “L.A. Noire,” Part 1 (photo)

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After re-envisioning the Western with last year’s hit “Red Dead Redemption,” Rockstar Games’ next game takes on a new archetype of 20th Century cinema. “L.A. Noire” put players in postwar Hollywood in the shoes of a young police detective, working to quell crime on multiple desks in one of the precinct houses. Austrailian dev outfit Team Bondi’s been developing the game for several years, but will finally see release on May 17th. Now that the game’s in the home stretch, studio head Brendan McNamara can talk about what’s gone into making the

Brendan, can you give a quick rundown of Team Bondi history. How the studio came together and how long you guys have been in business for?

We’ve been in business since 2004 basically when six of us came out from London to Sydney to start Team Bondi. And previous to that, we worked at Sony, where we had our own label within Sony called Team Soho. We made the Getaway for Playstation 2 and, when that did very well for us, we came out here.

We wanted to do this thing called “L.A. Noire,” so we came out here and set up. And that was for selfish reasons, as I had little kids and I just wanted them to grow up in Australia because I think it’s a fun place to grow up. We started with six people and we’ve been up to about 120 at some places in the project. We’re about 80 people at the moment. And it will wind down some more as we come to the close.

So, “L.A. Noire” has been pretty much the all consuming passion of the studio since its inception, right?

Yeah, yeah, No, I think there’s other people who can do more than one thing at once but it’s probably not me. This title’s been pretty all consuming in terms of what it’s asked of you, and what’s been asked of the team. And I’m probably just not capable of doing more than one thing at once.

A big part of the story with L.A. Noire is the MotionScan technology, and what it allows you guys to do in terms of facial animation. Which came first, was it the idea for the technology or the idea to have a game mechanic of a detective reading faces?

When we initially set out to do this way back in 2004, we thought about why crime fiction is so popular, throughout cinema, and on TV. There’s something attractive
about the whole whodunit thing and sitting there and trying to work it out for yourself, whether that’s in a novel or whether that’s in TV. People obviously like the whole idea of trying to get to the bottom of a whodunit and trying to be able to make up their minds up for themselves. We were wondering how we could do that in a game.


Obviously, some of it was, can you just runaround and pick up clues, and decide for yourself whether that thing is important? Even that sort of stuff was difficult. Because most things in a game, if you just go pick them up, they’re just going to submerge into your hand.

So we wanted to be able to pick them up, and look at them, and examine them, and turn them over, and do all that kind of stuff. Then we started talking about what’s the key scenario in this kind of game beyond the clue-finding? Once you’ve done the crime scene and you’ve found your evidence, you’d get a list of suspects. And you whittle all those suspects down to whoever you think is the person who actually perpetrated the crime.

You get them in a room, and you try to break them down, and get them to say they did it or why they did it or all that kind of stuff. That part was obviously the key to that kind of TV show detective experience. We were thinking for a long time about how we could do that and we knew when w we needed to try and pull that off. I’ve been working in motion-capture for the last 12 years or so, and I’ve never been convinced that facial motion capture could actually pull off that “what you see is what you get” believability.

What was it about the current methods of motion capture that you felt was lacking?

The previous ways of recording a performance have focused on capturing bone structure and animating around that. I’ve been doing research for a long time to try and do something where it was more about the outside of the face rather than the inside. It’s the muscles on top of the cheekbones and what have you that do all the emoting, after all. We pitched that to Sam and Dan, and some of the other guys at Rockstar, and they were saying that level of fidelity would be what was key to pull off the kinds of things we had in mind.

Having said that, I don’t think it was actually working in a really good way until probably even 18 months, two years ago. What we had in previous iterations was this giant text adventure that you’d play with all these characters on screen who weren’t saying any of the dialogue.

It was all just text on the bottom of the screen and we could just foresee that everyone was going to go, “Wow, what’s this all about?” Thankfully, there was a bit of hooray moment when the MotionScan began to work as we wanted. Faces started to go in the builds of the game and people could actually see what it was like, and sort of capture what the game was all about. We were really lucky, in a sense, that the guys hung in there for so long to let it blossom into what it was going to become.

It definitely sounds like you guys came at it first from the idea of wanting to create this kind of fiction, rather than wanting to create some new technology first.

Oh, yeah. That’s definitely true. I look at film noir and even things before that, like “Metropolis” and Fritz Lang. The thing that I really liked was how, with the use of two or three lights in a scene, you can get so much drama. I think that’s pretty amazing in the older cinema.

When we first went over to a new generation of console, I knew we could do fancy simulated lighting on the Xbox 360 and PS3. The question then became how do we want to express ourselves with lighting? Then it dawned on us: well, why don’t we do film noir? But, as familiar a concept as a cop show is to most people, we wanted to do a fresh kind of game. The core game mechanic isn’t shooting people; the core game mechanic is asking people questions.

And do you feel there’s some confusion about that? Because you guys are working with Rockstar, people expect an action-heavy chaotic experience. When I sat down in front of the game a couple of weeks ago, I was actually pleasantly surprised by how much different it was in tone compared to some of Rockstar’s other titles.

When people first sit down with it, they generally seem to be kind of shocked, that A) Rockstar would do this kind of game, and B) how the audience would react to it. But we’ve found that most people who have seen it think that Rockstar are the only people who would do this kind of thing. They’re the only people who are brave enough to try and go out and try and create a new genre. They kind of did that back in the day with “GTA,” and created that kind of sandbox mayhem. Now they’re saying, there’s an older audience out there. It’s a potentially much broader clutch of people, who’ll be wanting different kinds of game experiences.

What we’ve seen throughout development is a lot of people sitting on the sofa playing “L.A. Noire” with their girlfriends and friends and passing the controller around, and almost playing it like a TV show. It’s kind of an interesting phenomenon. We like to imagine three or four people sitting there at home watching an episode of “CSI” or playing a case in “L.A. Noire,” and all being equally entertained. It’s different from the normal game experience, I think.

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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