Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Interview with Nedim Can İncebay, the Rising Star of War History Animation Videos

My relationship with YouTube changed remarkably 9 months ago when I bought a phablet phone to enjoy videos independent of the PC. Wasting no time, I dived into the videos about two time periods I was interested in the most: The Napoleonic era and the American Civil War.

Each historic video I watched, the more battle animation videos I came up to (almost all from medieval times). I showed particularly high interest in those videos, as I believe they’re the utmost level of war history animation videos. Almost in every land battle video, we see squares, rectangles or mostly circles scattered along a very well drawn battlefield, decorated with various icons representing their unit. When they charge each other, it is no more than cracks appearing on the units, rising dust all around the shapes or mostly, the smoke of gunpowder.

No matter how perfectly these videos are produced, the viewers always wonder in one, crucial detail: The actual battle scenes. Naturally, the action at the core of the battle decided the fate of nations. From the shield wall engagement in the Battle of Hasting to the heavy fighting on the walls of Constantinople, every history lover depicts the actual scene in their minds when they listen to the narrators, trying to give the best detail they can, mostly on still 3D images.

Now, things are changing fast. I realized this when I came up with one of the latest videos of Epic History, the Battle of Salamis. The video was definitely the best ever seen on similar channels so far. Besides the storyline, I took notice of the long, detailed animations of the video, which are hard to come by. In the end, I heard a name I discovered months ago and was stunned. The animations in the video were prepared by Nedim Can İncebay.

I’m not going to write about Nedim Can too long, but quickly dive into the many questions I asked him. All I can say at this point, he is a rare talent who came out of Turkey and with similar producers is about to open a new page in battle history documentaries.

Can you tell us about the process which has driven you to start making video animations and opening a channel on YouTube?

When Rome Total War 2 was released in 2014, the graphics and the gameplay really impressed me but I could only watch due to the lack of my system. When finally I was able to buy myself a system in 2017, I continued sharing screenshots on a Turkish Total War Facebook group. I had a slight knowledge of game modding from the times I created my own maps and changed game files in several games including The Battle for Middle Earth and Mount&Blade, and continued doing this on Total War. Eventually, I came to own a large archive of screenshots and said “Why I’m not sharing these as video clips?” Thus, I opened up my channel and started uploading cinematic videos. If they asked me then, of course, I wouldn’t say those were cinematic clips, many have changed since then. Actually, I didn’t have a concern about gathering views. I had knowledge of cinema and cinematography so I only wanted to add the simplified scenes on YouTube in the way I stylized, as to say “beautiful.” I check my channel rarely so I didn’t realize that my two videos grabbed around 15.000 views in 3-4 months. I was studying English Teaching at university so I was uploading my videos in English. This increased the comments I received and I started to see more comments on new video demands. Seeing these requests, I started thinking about producing more videos. This is simply how I got into this. I froze my education for a year and focused on my videos, which made things much better. ☺

How did you reach the skill level you have today in using video game engines?

I’m someone who loves digging into things but I don’t like watching tutorial videos for hours. That has driven me to learn how to change game files and editing on video editing software all by myself and took some time eventually. Also, my English level helped to get assistance from foreign sources. I worked on game files for weeks, even months to learn how to stabilize the camera and get the AI under control. Due to my lack of professional education, I am making an eyeball estimation on scene details and colours. The first screenshots and video clip I made doesn’t appear tempting to me but I realize progress in each of my work. This improvement sometimes shows itself in the factuality of the game animations and the camera angles. I want to study this field in future if I get the opportunity.

Can you tell us the process you choose the topics, preparing the storyline and even making the subtitles?

Actually, my videos didn’t even have a clear topic in the beginning. Thanks to my great interest in history, I was thinking, “Here are Seljıks and here are the Crusaders, I shall make a video of their battle.” The storylines were very simple and there were no subtitles. I don’t remember exactly when, but after some time I realized I wanted to make historical videos. This decision brings lots of challenges: The accuracy of the story, the special characters involved in that battle like the commander and the general, the date and location of the battle and the cinematic opportunities the battle would offer me while producing it. To give an example of my early works, due to not being able to construct it myself, I was choosing the most suitable battlefield in the game for the Battle of Manzikert. I was only adding the personality variants of historical characters like Alparslan and Byzantine Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes. In time, I learned to draw my own maps. I also started to add not only the main characters but also second, third-grade personalities’ models in the animation. These improvements were followed by subtitles and English dubs. In each video I made, I added something new and reached the point I’m now.

What resources do you use to verify the accuracy of battles from the Roman era to the Ottomans?

After determining the topic of my new video, I look into the period of the battle including the nations that fought it directly from the books about that period. In my early historical videos, I was not adding any information except the one I gathered from history websites and some articles, it was simply synthesizing the information I found online and using them collectively. Sometime later I wanted to go one step further and considering the addition of subtitles and dubs, I started buying many Turkish/English books. The books I’m reading are not limited to history books but also include fantastic universes series like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. Even though the accuracy of the battle map and even the armour of the soldiers are details I consider, I never came up with the idea of offering fully detailed videos. I’m interested in the visual side of history, so it is logical to provide a briefing at the beginning and at the end of the videos and get into action as soon as possible. Eventually, when you are searching for the Battle of Chaldiran there are many written sources but too limited videos and images. I would be sad if my videos turned into full “documentaries” instead of “short movies” depicting a battle or an event. ☺

Your animations differ from the ones we see in other channels in terms of storyline. What has given you the idea of changing the action during the videos?

As I mentioned, I don’t want my videos turning into documentaries. That is the reason the storyline is different from many other animations you see. I wasn’t even considering adding subtitles and dubs in the beginning but my followers insisted on these features. If you think of how many soldiers took part in the battle, where the battle was fought, which military belonged to which army etc, the list just goes on. In my opinion, using 3D animations attracts more viewers than using 2D animated/unanimated images. This is not only for historical videos but YouTube channels with different concepts trying to provide information about something. While game engines create serious challenges in certain details (like creating dramatic scenes which require too many details), I use 3D scenes from video games and edit them in a dynamic order to give them a cinematic impression.

How do you prepare the details like sound effects and the voices of the warriors?

Most of the sound effects I’m using can be found as default in the game. So, in a cinematic video, I create using Total War, most of the sounds belong to that game. But as I prepare almost all the scenes without sound, I edit that part later. For this, I’m using a separate sound file I have. In it, there are sounds of marching armies, battle cries and swords. Sometimes I use sound effects from movies independent from the background music. Lacking a comprehensive sound database, I produced videos like this for a long time. I hope I’ll have access to larger and better quality sound sources.

What are the hardest parts of creating battle animation? For instance, what was the hardest while preparing for the Battle of Cannae?

These are certainly the preliminary of the weather, the battlefield and battle units and the “key scenes” that have to be shown. These are the same for the other battles. From “key scenes” represent the unique part of the battles. For example, in the Battle of Cannae, there is a scene where Hannibal’s army encircles the Romans. The Roman army gets surrounded from all sides but the game units may not move as flexible as they are required. As you know, the units in Total War spread across a square area. They are not scattered or independent from each other. To edit this I change the game files containing unit gaps, numbers and values as much as I can. Nevertheless, there are times I don’t get the desired result. Eventually, most of the criticism about the Cannes videos concerns the lack of details in the encirclement scene.

What are the advantages or disadvantages of preparing animations about TV series?

It is much simpler if there’s a source that depicts the battle of the event I want to create. Unfortunately to get more audience and other reasons the accuracy of the content may be misleading. Nevertheless, if I find supportive visuals, I can get an idea of the atmosphere the battle of the event takes part in. Additionally, as concept artists take reference from model designers, TV series or movies help me in designing the characters and the scenes. We can consider the Pelennor Field Battle (aka Minas Tirith Siege). There’s a significant difference between the book and the movie, that is why I already had prepared a map to use in the trailer for the team develoğing the Lords of the Rings mode. If I decide to create a full cinematic video I will use the book for the storyline but in terms of visuals, I’ll be inspired by the castle and the battlefield seen in the movie for the siege of Minas Tirith. If I design something other than the example of Minas Tirith that director Peter Jackson came up with, many viewers may get confused about the place. Because many people memorize a structure bound to the movie when they think of Minas Tirith.

Can you tell us about the period that led to the collaboration with Epic Games? How many studios or directors have discovered your work?

Epic History contacted me via email. They told me that they’ve been following historical battles animations I created with Total War. I believe they meant the last 5-6 videos I added subtitles and dubs. They asked for help for their new video about the Battle of Salamis and I accepted with pleasure. I’m already trying to support history channels by sending video clips whenever I find the time. Other than Epic History, director Alper Çağlar had contacted me after a video of Game of Thrones I created and we worked on the “Pre-production” video belonging to the Göktürk trilogy. Due to my lack of technical skills, I have the desire to get an education in cinema. I’m already in contact with the creative studio of Total War, the Creative Assembly. Who knows what will happen in the future? ☺

Can you tell us a little about the preparation period of the Battle of Salamis video?

Other than what I usually do (and as expected from Epic History), I had a large file explaining how every scene will be created from which angles. They had requests including not using the motion camera too much and zooming into the scenes showing specific units. In total, they requested about 50-55 scenes. I normally create more scenes in case clients need more. Some scenes don’t meet my expectations or don’t satisfy the client. In this case, I try to recreate the scene by improving the missing details. It is vital to depict the scenes as a whole.

There are not many YouTube channels depicting history too accurately. How would you describe the clash of right and wrong on YouTube?

The history appearing on YouTube, even including the most reliable channels, may be biased. I’m not saying this only in terms of knowledge but also the language used in the production. In the Battle of Varna video, there’s a scene of the charge of the commander Wladyslaw to the janissary line protecting the Sultan. Even though he barely manages to break the line, he gets killed by a janissary. While a Turkish YouTube channel describes this as “he was taken down by janissaries”, a foreign channel mentions it like “he was surrounded by janissaries with his soldiers and died one by one while fighting bravely.” When I’m producing a video I try to assess both sides as neutral as possible. Also, channels may decide to use only one source as there are several sources for a battle or an event. This negligence shows itself most in the size of the armies in the beginning and the casualties suffered in the end. While most of the sources claim the number of the Ottoman army in the Chaldiran battle between 60-80.000, some channels who try to excuse the defeat to numbers increase the Ottoman strength to 200.000. We can also see this in the battles between the Ottomans and European forces.

You generally use Total War soundtracks in your games. How do you deal with the copyright for the music and the sound effects?

The copyright for the music could be really depressing. In most of the early videos I uploaded I used music that could be found on YouTube as unlicensed. Nevertheless, the producers were demanding the copyright fee later. One copyright violation claim was sent for a video with 2,7 million views after it reached 2,5 million. But after I started to use 4K videos, which has been a while, I’m mostly using unlicensed music belonging to Total War. So, I may use a Napoleon Total War scene music in a Roman video if I find it suitable.

Is the revenue from YouTube good enough to improve your projects?

As you know there’s a ban on sharing income information on YouTube but I can say that I’ve reached a level to produce videos continuously. While I’m having some low FPS problems, I can create scenes without a problem with the current graphics card I’m using. To produce better quality videos I think I’ll need a better GPU and processor. In Total War-like games, every moving unit (walking, running or engaging in battle) is considered independently and this may overload the processor more than the GPU.

What are your thoughts about Turkish YouTubers? Are we spreading good information?

Actually, I don’t follow many Turkish YouTubers. “Let’s Play” style gameplay or editing videos don’t get my attention so I can’t say much. As the channel numbers increase, similar contents are also on the rise. One of the channels I like to follow is “DFT Tarih”, which I collaborated with in the past. I find their content high quality.

Do you have any plans of establishing a studio and creating more comprehensive, different style videos?

I may have limitations when making a video animation with Total War or Bannerlord. That is why I am keen to learn programmes like Blender to prepare videos in a wider perspective. My area is the visualization of war history and I have no doubt my work will evolve in time. I could not expect my channel to reach such a level in the beginning. This is a period evolving step by step.

Your followers mainly demand videos from the Viking era. Do you have any plans for a series?

I’m currently working on three projects, so I can skip to another when I don’t want to continue with the other one. Preparing the storyline and the dubs all myself sometimes requires me to spend 2-3 months on a video. Viking themed battles are really in high demand so currently, I’m considering the Battle of Stamford Bridge. Besides that Siege of Belgrade (1456), I’m preparing trailers for the Rise of Mordor team who developed the Lords of Rings mod for Total War Attila and creating Robert’s Rebellion series in Game of Thrones and Battle of Watling Street. There are too many projects that I want to create and I hope I can overcome them all.

Are there any other comments you want to add? Please share them with us.

I don’t want to bore readers by writing too long. I see videos as a way to express myself that is why I really enjoy making videos. If there are any questions you have for me, please contact me on various channels and I’ll try to answer them as much as I can. I really liked answering your questions, all well thought out. I’m really pleased that you discovered my content and happy to answer your questions.

All images and the photo are courtesy of Nedim Can İncebay.


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