Sometimes when there's a built-in audience for an already popular property, great trailers are made, and sometimes it's clear that the trailer producers knew that how the trailer is edited isn't as important as just showing what the audience wants to see.Read More
How the heck do you get a job as an editor in the trailer industry? It's not that different from any sort of creative job you might want; you just have to know where to look, and what to expect.Read More
This was another gig that I was amazed to see in my inbox! I liked previous trailers for Dead Cells, so I assumed that they already had someone helping them out. When I saw their booth at PAX West this year I didn't even bother going to hand them a business card, because I thought I'd be stepping on someone's toes. Just goes to show you can never assume, but it all worked out in the end!
Dead Cells by Motion Twin is a 2D side-scrolling action rogue-ish game with procedurally generated levels. The game has some of the most beautiful, juicy art and animation that I've seen in a recent game. Before I got the gig I was holding off on purchasing it, because even though I heard it was very polished, as of the writing of this post it's still on Steam Early Access and GOG Games in Development.
Sufficient to say this is about as fun a game to capture/cut for as there can be. I usually favor working on games with narrative driven gameplay, but of course I also love really crunchy video game-y video games. The art, animation, sound effects, music, and snappiness made it a TON of fun to cut this trailer. I also don't often get to cut with epic music, so it was an all around delight.
Yoann Laulan composed a piece of music specifically for the trailer, which was exciting and epic in all the ways you could want for a trailer. A couple weeks before I started work, he sent me a draft. I listened to it, and had just a couple notes that I sent to him. Originally the electric bass in the beginning lingered throughout the whole piece, but something about it felt unresolved. The other note was that the cue felt like it had too many climaxes, so he tuned the ending, and then it was perfect!
Right before I received a build, Motion Twin created a Slack channel for the trailer, and wrote up a document for what this trailer needed to highlight. They wanted a very fast kitchen sink sort of approach with title cards and quick cuts.
"...focus on the “WOW I didn’t understand everything but it looks really amazing” effect. :D"
Title cards can be very boring in trailers, especially if they're being used to teach something to the audience, so I tend to avoid them if at all possible, but if there was a time and place for them, it's in a trailer like this. Action games like Dead Cells communicate well visually, because "player avatar hits bad guys, who explode into blood and gems" is something very easy to understand. Therefore, the title cards can be there just to hype the audience with some quick text.
Motion Twin already had made some nice and simple title cards from a previous trailer, so they sent me their After Effects file. For this trailer I spiced them up a bit with a lens flare, some glow, more particles and a slam animation.
I knew from the doc that they wanted to highlight new levels, the new boss, wall grab, enemies and weapons (not necessarily in that order). So after marking up the music cue, I put in placeholder title cards to see where they should fall on the beats, and also what order they should go in. Even though I prefer having few to no title cards, they're a nice thing to have when editing a trailer, because they're an easy way to start building your timeline.
I originally put weapons around the end, because I thought it would be a strong way to finish. But later I decided to put them first because it would give context and permission to use them in the shots that came after. I also assumed that new abilities and weapons are what would get the audience excited from the get go.
Dead Cells is a very good example of a game that is great to edit a trailer for. The specific reason is its animation and effects. When editing trailers I'm always looking for motion, and snappy actions to sync up with music. Dead Cells has this in spades with its ground pounds, weapons with weak and critical strikes, arrows, magic, explosions, teleportations, elevators, kicking etc. It's a mix of anticipation, hard hitting action, and climaxes that are *chef's kiss* for trailers.
No matter how many trailers I've cut, facing a blank timeline is still very intimidating. In my mind I don't want to put anything in unless it'll look immaculate, but of course this is INCREDIBLY UNREALISTIC. So what will happen is I'll agonized and writhe on the floor (slight exaggeration) until I somehow work up the courage to put something in. I decided that this time I would put in shots that were generally what should be in the section, but knowing that the capture was going to be terrible. Then, seeing those shots in there would help guide me towards what I needed. It's much easier to fix something that's bad, than it is to create something from nothing. This worked great, but it was still painful to look at the horrible timeline.
The debug tools for the build I had were extremely helpful. There are a lot of enemies, weapons, items, power ups, and status effects for just about every item. I was able to do this all from a handful of keyboard commands, and gamepad menus. I could also teleport between levels, adjust strength and health, and also make enemies ignore me.
For the wall grab I played a lot in the new levels using the ability, then cut together the two shots that were my favorite. Originally, the quick series of jumps was in a smaller space, but the camera moved so quickly that it felt too jarring, so I used jumps in an area that was about twice as wide. Any game that allows original Ninja Gaiden style wall jumps has a special place in my heart <3
The weapons section took a while to do because not all of them communicate well visually. I also wanted the rhythm of the abilities to interact with the music as much as possible. So when recapturing for this section I tried to use weapons at the tempo of the music in each section (as much as the weapon combos permitted). A very handy debug tool here was the ability to spawn any enemy from the game by clicking in the left thumbstick. This made retakes very fast and easy!
The other problem is that Dead Cells gameplay can look very chaotic when on screen there are multiple enemies, damage numbers, status effect text, sound effects, explosions, etc. In the game, the weapons have different "levels," the higher the level the more additional effects they have like: shooting grenades, arrows, or other status effects that add little icons to the player. This would've made the visuals more confusing, so I opted to use the first level for each weapon so that no additional effects would compete for attention.
With the audience hooked (hopefully) by shiny new abilities, I put the "New Levels" title card which wasn't as exciting visually because stuff isn't exploding, but the lull in the music paired nicely with the steady pans of the levels. The vocals in the music nicely climaxed out of this section, and I augmented it with a rise. In the debug build, I could move the camera freely throughout a level, so I used this to show how tall the Clock Tower level is. I added motion blur in After Effects using Reelsmart Motion Blur which is a great tool that will add blur based on the motion in the shot.
The enemies section was pretty easy to cut together. I'm not sure it's clear that the Golem teleports you close to it so it can hit you; I wanted to avoid making it look like the player had a teleport ability, so I tried to emphasize it by having the player running away when it happens. When capturing, the grenades of the cluster grenadier would occasionally blow up in a pattern that matched the music, so of course I incorporated that! Then for the boss, I just played a lot, and got lucky with a couple shots where I was playing well, and were very readable.
The end montage was an opportunity to just show some more abilities I didn't highlight earlier. Originally I had some other clips with action and precarious platforming, but we later changed the end text to "It's going to be... brutal," so the last shots became the player dying.
The final touch was the scene of the glowing moon after the first title card. I originally had a shot from in-game, but since it was just a scaling animation to mimic a camera zooming out there was no parallax effect; Motion Twin sent me a Photoshop file which allowed me to make the shot in After Effects with 3D layers.
And that's it! This was a short and sweet project. From the time I received the build to the final edit was about a week and a half. I got to cut with amazing visuals and music, which made it that much more fun. Lots of thinking of eye trace in this trailer because it's cut so fast. A bunch of the shots are zoomed in a bit so that I could compose the shots as needed for better eye trace.
Now that the update is out, it's time for me to grind out some more abilities in Dead Cells. I'm already up to about 22 hours, and most of that time was just from when I received the code, and was waiting for the developer build O_O
The Trailer Trove is a look at my favorite trailers, and why I love them so much. This is my look at the trailer for the 1998 film "The Thin Red Line" which I describe as a sumptuous feast of a trailer!Read More
Another gig I got from a referral by Kert Gartner!
I was pleasantly surprised and excited to see this email, because previously both Kert Gartner and Marlon Wiebe did great trailers for Drinkbox Studios on Guacamelee and Severed. Just goes to show you that there's a LOT of work out there, and when people have so much awesome stuff to work on, eventually difficult decisions have to be made.
The first Guacamelee game came out in 2013; it's a Mexican folklore inspired side-scrolling metroidvania game with beautiful art and animation. There's no game that looks anything like it. The game really tests your dexterity to circumvent all sorts of combat encounters and platforming challenges.
When Drinkbox came to me, they already had a rough animatic of the introduction, and music to use. My job was to take their final artwork, tweak the pacing, bring it to life with some animation, and add in a final gameplay montage, and sound design. Oh, and in 4k.
For the cutscenes they wanted some 2.5D parallax effects where appropriate. I was glad to hear that it wasn't going to be TOO much more complicated than that, because I don't consider myself an animator, and didn't want to bite off more than I could chew. Initially I started by putting everything in 3D layers, but in some cases like the very first shot it didn't really make sense because the objects weren't far enough apart to parallax.
For all of the 3D parallax shots, I used pt_Multiplane from AEscripts.com. It's a fantastic tool that will take your 2D layers, and set the apart in 3D space to a distance you specify without any of the size of the layers appearing different. This means it automatically compensates the scale of the layer based on the camera focal length and distance from the camera. Absolutely invaluable for this sort of project.
The second shot had the most layers by far. Everything was made in Photoshop using shape layers which meant that I could resize it to whatever I wanted without losing resolution. I worked off the original file which had a TON of layers for every single element; I had to merge several layers so that they'd be on the same plane, because it just didn't make sense for every single element to be offset in 3D space. For example, two hands for a character might be on a separate layer, but in physical space, they're likely about equidistant from the camera.
Initially with this shot I was really lazy about how I created the comp for each character. I just separated them individually with little to no regard for where they were in 3D space. But when I combined them into one comp and pressed the collapse transformations switch, the layers all went crazy; some were on top of layers they shouldn't have been have etc. So on a spreadsheet I wrote out what layers would be on what plane for every single character, and in relation to each other. pt_Multiplane also allows you to say from where to where in z-space layers should go. This worked perfectly the first time I tried it, phew!
I loved timing the guacamole dipping sequence, and adding super dramatic sound effects. Originally, Juan dipped the chip, the chip broke, and then he went back in to dip again, but I thought it wouldn't read that way, especially because it wasn't fully animated, so I changed it to just the chip breaking (with some reverb FX on the break sound effect)
One thing that Drinkbox paid really close attention to was how video compression affected the artwork. The first time I received art there were a lot more gradients, but when gradients get compressed you can get some bad "banding" where gradients get simplified into what looks more like a rainbow with discrete sections. To combat this, several pieces of art were revised to have solid colors instead of gradients.
The montage of quick shots was a lot of fun. I don't often use the Puppet Tool in After Effects, but I had to use it a bunch for this. You'll probably recognize the 80s movie reference in the shot of the arms flexing as two hands come together. That one was the most complicated one to do. I used PuppetTools to create inverse kinematic rigs for the arms, though one of the arms stubbornly refused to function properly so I ended up keyframe animating it manually. It's such a quick shot that I think it barely mattered. Some extra layers had to be added to the Photoshop file; since in the final pose one hand's fingers aren't visible, it wasn't necessary to draw them. So for just a few frames (if that!) the hand is there before grabbing the other.
Tostada also has some very light puppet tool animation on her limbs, and also I added some 3D depth of field blur to the enemy objects in the scene. For the final shot of Juan, I used the puppet tool to animate Juan breathing (I used Kert's Guacamelee trailer as reference) and also had to use the puppet tool to make the rooster head/necks wiggly. In early versions there was some artifacting caused by the puppet tool, so I had to change the resolution of the puppet segments to fix them.
Gameplay for this trailer was all captured by Drinkbox. My goal for this one was to just make it all flow very nicely. There's a lot of new stuff to show in this brief montage, and I wanted to make sure the audience didn't lose track of any of it. With the exception of the last few shots I'm pretty sure that the direction of motion at the end of each shot is the same direction that continues into the next. Then if the direction is changed in that shot, the following one also reflects that change. Of course I also did my best to cut to the music, and keep the eyetrace consistent.
That's pretty much it! A lot of the structure of this trailer was already there when I first started, I feel like I just tweaked it here and there so it all fit together better. I had a lot of fun making it especially because of the great music I got to work with, high impact shots with lots of nice action in them, and the voiceover set the perfect tone. It's also just so COLORFUL!
Before I start editing, I add colored markers to the music cues I might be using. This system makes it very easy for me to know the exact structure of the music cues so that I can find the section I need quickly and efficiently.Read More
I first saw Paperbark at PAX East. I really loved the art style and the adorable wombat, so I handed them a business card. Several months later they contacted me about making a trailer! If you've read my other behind-the-scenes posts you'll know that I get most of my gigs by referral; this is a nice exception that shows sometimes handing out cards DOES lead to work!
This is a simple teaser, but it doesn't mean that I don't have anything to say about making it. The build I was provided for the game was just one area, which was fine because this was just to tease the game and reveal the 2018 release date for PAX Australia, At PAX East I played it on an iPad; the wombat walks towards where you tap, and if you tap in the white space, some of the world is briefly revealed with the paint effect you see in this trailer.
The game starts with a lovely shot of the camera coming down to the wombat's lair before it stumbles out. Unfortunately this shot was too long, so I initially shortened the shot via a dip to white. For the final version we ended up creating a luma matte so that I could start the shot later, but retain the painterly reveal effect. I wanted to make sure it was as true to the game as possible, so lead programmer Ryan Boulton rendered the matte out, and I added it in Premiere.
One thing I have to remind myself is that game devs and video editors often use different terminology to describe similar effects. I had to explain what I meant when I said "matte." Maybe someday I'll make a glossary of terms to facilitate communication between our disciplines.
I was once asked how to approach a trailer for a game where there's not much action or movement. The answer is that "action" is relative.
This is a short teaser, and all of my clips are some variation of the wombat walking through the woods. So I had to pick just a few moments that had more going on in them than the wombat walking. Compared to walking, the wombat eating grass is pretty exciting! The wombat getting stuck in the log is EVEN MORE exciting, and it has an element of suspense to it. Will the wombat get out?? (also, awwwwwwww). Then the wombat hops over a different log and surprises some birds. The wombat getting stuck, then circumventing the other log is the climax of this trailer. Then the wombat rolling in grass, sneezing and walking away is the denoument.
See? Even a relatively sedate trailer can still follow a trailer's 3-act structure. At least, that was my thought while making it; maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. While making this I knew that I was mostly leaning on how cute the wombat is, but that doesn't mean I didn't do my best to follow the same ideas about trailer structure, music editing and game capture that I hope to bring to all my projects.
So the lesson is, that action and excitement can be found in everything as long as there's contrast!
Wheels of Aurelia takes place in 1970s Italy. You play Lella, who's taking a road trip on the Via Aurelia. It's an interactive visual novel where you're making dialogue choices, choosing which roads to take, and deciding whether or not to pick up hitchhikers etc. The art style, unique setting, and music are what really piqued my interest.
For the iOS 11 App Store, developers now have the option for three app previews instead of only one. Studio Director Pietro Righi Riva wanted to take advantage of that feature. I took this gig as an opportunity to get a new iPad Pro to replace my ailing iPad 3. I also rented an iPhone 7 Plus from Dyal Rental.
The logistical challenge was the multiple versions of each app preview. Wheels of Aurelia plays in portrait mode on iPhone, but landscape on iPad; each app preview needed separate capture, and graphics had to be custom made for each aspect ratio. That meant a total of 6 versions. I've worked on app previews in some agencies in Los Angeles, but in those cases, the apps displayed in landscape mode on both devices, so the solution was simply some creative cropping. This usually worked just fine unless there were UI elements formatted specifically for iPhone or iPad.
This was absolutely not an option for this project.
The other challenge was figuring out how to give myself the flexibility to choose dialogue, the car model, the different areas to drive through, and the timing of each individual element. For example, if I only took dialogue from the moment it occurred in the game, I might not be able to show a wider variety of backgrounds.
My solution was to capture the game with no character dialogue overlays, and recreate all the dialogue as separate layers in After Effects.
Oh, and each preview had to be localized in 6 additional languages.
3 app previews x 2 aspect ratios x 7 languages = 42 versions!
The amount of work was further compounded because:
- App preview #1 had 6 title cards + 7 dialogue scenes = 13 gfx
- App preview #2 had 5 title cards + 4 dialogue scenes = 9 gfx
- App preview #3 had 4 title cards + 5 dialogue scenes = 9 gfx
Multiply each of those graphics counts by 7, and that's about how many graphics files I had (not including graphics that didn't require translation). This probably could've been aided by some dynamic linking between Premiere and After Effects, but I've had troubles using that function, so I decided not to risk it on such a huge endeavor.
First let's talk about the fun stuff which is the story, direction and editing of each app preview!
The game is meant to be played in short sessions, because each trip only takes about 15-20 minutes, but it encourages multiple playthroughs because of the variety of characters you might encounter, and the multiple endings.
The main directive for these previews was that they wanted to make it clear that it's an interactive visual novel, not a racing game. I took a look at the original launch trailer; I wasn't sure whether or not the editor intended for the audience to read the dialogue in the trailer, and also there was an entire section with no dialogue overlays.
For these previews I wanted the dialogue to be the focus; the background would make it pretty, and add visual interest. I played through the game several times to see as much of the dialogue as possible, and did a breakdown to see what I had to work with.
The standout parts of the game are its characters, the setting, and time period. I don't know anything about modern Italian history, so I found it interesting when the characters talked about real life events.
I decided the previews would be:
- an overview of the game
- a look at the variety of characters
- a focus on the time period.
Each would also have to feature at least one moment when I could show the dialogue selection interface. I had to nail down the full screen title cards as soon as possible, because they had to be translated. I went back and forth with Pietro and Dana Trebella (who worked on the messaging for the game).
The first app preview takes the broadest approach; the dialogue focuses on the road trip, self discovery, freedom, and also some direct callouts to the features, such as choosing routes, multiple endings etc.
For the second preview I tried to show the humor of the game via its colorful cast of characters. I especially like the joke at the opening with the priest. My goal was to use dialogue to show the breadth of the characters. If they were all talking about the same thing, the audience would get a narrow view.
The third preview uses topical dialogue (for the 1970s time period) to show the audience how the game uses the history to give some context, and maybe even teach them a thing or two.
All together I think these app previews give a nice variety for the interesting facets of the game. Had I made a full launch trailer I would've tried to combine these all in one, but for iTunes, the app previews are far more important because it's the first thing a potential customer sees.
Something else we went back and forth on a bit was the pace of the previews. I initially went straight for the most exciting music cue, but Pietro was worried it seemed too action-y. His hope was to attract the audience who played games like 80 Days. This direction helped me to hone the feel of the first app preview; I used a different piece of music, and let the shots breathe a bit more.
Okay, back to some technical solutions I had to come up with.
The first hurdle was replicating the dialogue bubbles. The most important part was making bubbles that would dynamically change in size based on the text that was inside of it. I knew this HAD to be done by After Effects expressions, because the amount of manual work would've been unthinkable.
Unfortunately I'm not an After Effects Expression wizard, so I had to go looking for some sort of template. I found this preset on the Creative Cow forums which worked PERFECTLY; I just had to add some rounded corners, and adjust the padding.
I also found this expression for an easy to customize typewriter effect. As always, thanks to Dan Ebberts who always seems to be the person answering expression questions in the Creative Cow forums. Btw, every time I have to fix an expression I feel like a grow a new white hair. So thank you to all game programmers out there who dealing with this stuff on a daily basis, y'all are saints.
Another issue I ran into was how the bubble moves upward when a second line is added. There's probably an expression that exists that would've solved this problem, but since time was a factor, I added some hold keyframes that I would manually adjust for every single bubble. Menial and inefficient yes, but I eventually fell into a rhythm, and it worked fine.
I also had to recreate the dialogue selection bubble, which I did by using video as a reference and instead of trying to fit the particular easing animation in the game, I just did it frame by frame for simplicity; sometimes the easiest solution is just some elbow grease! (not to say that I don't wish I was an After Effects wizard)
With the bubbles all formatted, I created templates for the iPhone and iPad layout. Even with my templates there was still some case by case tweaking I had to do on nearly every single bubble, but it still was MUCH more efficient than doing it all by hand and/or doing it all via game capture.
After the versions were locked, the localization was simply a matter of a LOT of time spent cutting and pasting to/from spreadsheets. There was a lot of reformatting because some of the translations has some very lengthy words (I'm looking at you German and Russian!) After that, it was a lot of double and triple checking the translations. At one point working on localizations it was so late at night that I knew it was better to go to sleep, and continue the next day, rather than stay up late and work slow/badly.
I briefly toyed with the possibility of having all the graphics, and all the sequences in one ENORMOUS PROJECT. But I thought better of it, and decided to duplicate my Premiere and After Effects project files to be specific to each language. The last thing I wanted to deal with were the wrong languages being rendered out with different suffixes etc. This is also when I found out that in After Effects there's no way to batch change the destination for multiple Render Queue items, WTF???
Another tool I got to help with organizing was AE Global Renamer 2, which could batch rename comps and precomps.
Fortunately I only ended up making some minor tweaks to each language, mostly related to capitalization, and some translation fixes that were needed for how the dialogue or full screen graphics were being used in the trailer versus being used in the game.
Like I said, I learned a lot about scoping for this project, but it all got done, and the game is now available in the App Store! The one thing that miffs me is on the iOS 11 App Store, the previews start auto-playing with no audio (similar to Facebook), and there's no scroll bar, so people will have to watch the preview more than once if they want to see it from beginning to end with all the audio >_<. At the beginning of the project, Pietro told me Apple encourages the use of full screen graphics, this must be why.
There's certainly nothing out there like Wheels of Aurelia, so if you want a short visual novel set in 1970s Italy, please check it out!
A list of the different video specifications, and age rating guidelines necessary to get your video game trailers approved by the major consoles.Read More
Some of my favorite trailers are for love stories I either didn't like in the final film, or didn't find as affecting as I did in the trailer. What is it about the storytelling of a trailer that works differently from the final film that causes this to happen?Read More
"Mise en place" is a French culinary term referring to the set up required before cooking.
This post gets into the nitty gritty of how I organize my project folder structure, and templates for my editing projects.Read More
The Trailer Trove is a look at my favorite trailers, and why I love them so much. This is my look at the trailer for the 2001 film "The Caveman's Valentine" by Dave Rosenthal of Giaronomo Productions.Read More
Deconstructing the elements of a trailer is one of the best ways to learn how to make better trailers.
These are the key things that I focus on when I'm watching trailers analytically.Read More
The Matrix is one of my all time favorite trailers, and this post breaks down just why it must've been an absolute joy to cut. Topics discussed include: 3-act structure, selecting dialogue, and cutting in visuals.Read More
Another trailer for Absolver! The other trailers I cut for Absolver were the announce and PSX trailers. The process of working on this was the same as the others, where I was brought on strictly as an editor because they came to me with a rough draft and capture they did in-house. This trailer has a bit more of a central story to it than the other ones. The trailer depicts a relationship between two fighters who are meeting up at the top of a tower. The trailer flashes back and between the past when they fought side by side, and the present day where they seem to be engaging in some sort of final duel.
The main way I helped with this trailer was adding in some additional shots for the present day confrontation. I wanted to make sure the audience had enough shots to keep track of both the timelines. Some shots were the closeup before the Sloclap title card, the medium shot of the woman landing on the ground, the man turning towards camera, and the duel at high noon closeup on her hands. I also edited most of the gameplay using capture sent to me by Sloclap. Everything else I added to the trailer were very small timing changes here and there to tighten up moments or draw them out for dramatic emphasis.
After I was done with my part, it was sent off to the composer and sound designers to put on the final touches! Thanks to Sloclap for working with me; I'm so happy to be a part of these slickly produced trailers. I originally took on this gig almost exclusively from seeing screenshots, and know I made the right choice!
I got this project by a referral from Kert Gartner! Figment is an adventure game made by Bedtime Digital Games. I was immediately drawn to it by the mix of hand drawn art and 3D.
I didn't get much direction for the trailer, but since they were confident the art spoke for itself, they wanted to highlight the setting of the game, and the music. Figuring out how to highlight the music was the most difficult part of making this trailer. There are some boss characters in the game that literally sing! Of the game's music cues, very few stuck out to me as good for the trailer.
To help narrow down the music, I sorted them into categories based on the pace and feel of each piece. So much of editing is just a series of processes to eliminate options. I wanted to use at least a small part of a boss' song in the trailer, but I knew it couldn't work for the entire trailer (or at least, I didn't know how to make it work).
For the ending of the trailer I re-used the song in the reveal trailer by Trailer Squad, because nothing felt as climactic as that piece, and it had a very positive reaction in that trailer. But for this trailer I didn't cut to the lyrics until the trailer's climax.
The other idea I had for the trailer was based off of this remix video the composer of Figment put together by cutting together the main character hitting objects in the game. I briefly considered using that as the opening to the trailer, but decided that it wouldn't tell the audience enough about the game, and at worst would feel like I was trying to hide what the game really was by cutting so stylistically.
To help figure out the structure of the trailer I focused on the narrative by cutting together dialogue. The main character Dusty and Piper have quite a bit of banter, and some moments of exposition. The trailer didn't really fully click until I put in exposition from the Mayor character who speaks in verse. I realized that putting him at the beginning of the trailer immediately drew attention, because how many games have dialogue like that?
Certain lines of dialogue have a finality to them that dictate they come at the end of a section, and some sound like they should intro a new one, so I just went with it, and ended up creating a cold open.
For the section after the logo I used a piece of music that had some good energy for the exposition. This is also where I made a section that was similar to the composer's remix video. I thought this coupled with the Mayor's dialogue would make the trailer more interesting. Another happy accident was the rhythm of the Mayor's speech seemed to match the tempo of the music!
I went through one of the boss' songs, found a section I thought stood on its own pretty well, and just tried cutting it after the exposition. Surprise surprise, it sounded pretty good! I'm guessing it's because the cues are of the same or similar tempo. I requested an instrumental version of the boss' song to see if it would match better, but my original choice had better energy.
For the boss' song section I used shots of obstacles and combat because it matched the tone and subject. Piper's "Who the heck was that?" was a great line to follow up the end of the song, and segue to the last third.
Up to this point I'd shown the lyrical quality of the game, the quirky sound design, a couple puzzle-y bits, and the obstacles. The end is where I wanted to show on the somber and sentimental tone. My hope is the change of music, and titles say to the audience: "But wait, there's more!" The end montage focuses on puzzles, cool environments, and some music video-like Mickey Mouse-ing where the movement of the shots match the music.
That's pretty much it! I'm astounded I managed to put all those different pieces of music together, and have it flow together. At least, I HOPE it sounds like that. I didn't have many significant changes to make once I presented my first cut; they were very pleased!
A compilation of all the links you'll need to know the history of movie trailers, where to watch them, who makes them, and information about trailer music and sound effectsRead More
I was very surprised to see this gig in my inbox because I really liked the the first trailer for Orwell by Marlon Wiebe. It turned out Marlon was unavailable, so my name was on the short list for people to contact!
In a myriad of ways this project was a very different beast from my previous work. The game was still in very early development, so I was told that game assets available to me would be minimal. The only assets I was provided with were some logos and fonts. They wanted to announce at Gamescom with a teaser, and they already had a general outline.
The first Orwell game is about a future where the government possesses surveillance equipment with seemingly limitless ability to spy on phone calls, emails, social media etc. The selection of information is done by the player, and it’s assumed in the fiction that you are one of many working with a handler to prevent terrorist activity etc.
If you couldn’t tell from the teaser, this one is focused on information, and how it can be used to manipulate people etc. I wish we didn’t live in a time where it was so topical, but at the same time I hope it’s but one tool people have access to in order to think critically about the world.
The main idea was to use real life news clips cut together as a mood piece that would situate the audience into the subject of the game, and then reveal the game with a logo. I wasn’t sure if we were going to have access to voice talent or even if we’d be able to legally use the news clips, so I started with a couple approaches.
The first was just a dialogue edit of news clips very similar to the final trailer, but without any stock footage or motion graphics. I sent the first edit just to see if it was headed in the right direction, and added some sound design to ramp up the tension. I spent quite a while on YouTube looking up news channels, interviews and all sorts of videos related to current events or themes the client wanted to discuss in the game.
The second version I made was made using stock footage and some terrible scratch VO that I recorded by myself. My hope was if we went this route that I would work with the game’s writer to come up with some better lines, but for this version I tried writing some dialogue inspired by the many news clips I watched.
Even in those rough states, it was clear that the news clips version was much stronger, so we decided to go that route, and also incorporate stock footage into it. I also had to design motion graphics for the slow logo reveal.
The next version combined the news clips with stock footage and placeholder title cards for the graphics with some sound design to further show what I was going for. During the whole process we swapped out different news clips here and there. One concern was to make sure it wasn’t United States centered. Surprise Attack and Osmotic are in Australia and Germany, so that helped me get outside of my USA centered mentality. Though in the end, I think it still skews American since I was the one searching for most of the clips. This project made me acutely aware of how small my bubble is.
Since I was basically the only person with the time to look for clips, I was constantly aware that I should do my best to find a diverse set of voices. It still skews male and white, so that's something I would've liked to improve if given more time. For the video wall especially I did my best to keep the male/female ratio as close to 50/50 as possible, and include a variety of people of color. Overall I feel all right about what I achieved with the time and resources I had.
The other big part of this trailer was the logo reveal. I’ve owned Element 3D for a while, but I’ve produced very little using it because my lack of practice makes me favor designs that don’t require 3D. Of course, I know I’ll only improve if I push myself. This ended up being a good first project!
I started by creating a vector version of the Orwell logo and learning how to create something in Element using multiple masks/textures etc. To start designing, I created a Pinterest board just to see the art styles, colors, gradients and effects elements people made. When designing graphics I’m always self conscious of things looking too “clean” so I struggle to figure out how to dirty them up a bit. I also watched a LOT of “logo reveals” on YouTube which all have a similar format of extreme closeups on the graphics before a wide show revealing the logo.
For the graphics I knew I wanted to intercut the logo slowly forming, but initially I was just experimenting with using Element 3D, so early versions didn’t have the Orwell logo shapes aligning as they would appear in the final version. I won’t bore you with tiny technical details, but sufficient to say I learned a lot about groups and the various controls, but I still came out of this project feeling like I had soooooo much more to learn.
It felt like most of my time was spent rotating and adjusting position of the different pieces until I found a composition that was aesthetically pleasing. When I’m editing, the barrier between what I want to do, and actually executing is very low, but for 3D graphics it’s still INCREDIBLY HIGH which just means a lot of time futzing around because I don’t know precisely what buttons to press to get what I want.
For the final look of the news footage I experimented with some blue tinting, the TV Pixel plugin, and also film grain to dirty up the motion graphics. That seems to be the biggest takeaway for motion graphics, just add film grain :P I know that’s reductive, but it’s probably based somewhat in truth, because looking “too digital” I feel is definitely a concern for graphics.
I’m very proud of what I managed to make from virtually nothing, and happy I pushed myself to be more ambitious with my graphics than I have been in the past. It made me want to do some more 3D graphics, but it also made me want to do 2D graphics, because by comparison there’s so much less to think about when you remove that Z-axis.
In many ways this came together at the last minute. My main contacts were in Australia, and we had to be finished by end of day Sunday AEST time. That meant I was on my laptop between 11PM and 2AM Saturday night editing music in and tweaking the sound mix with the composer. I took some very quick naps while waiting for changes and feedback, but thankfully it all worked out.
I hope the trailer is received well. Obviously with such an amount of politically charged clips and subjects it won't appeal to everyone. My main worry was people finding it distasteful using the real life clips for a game trailer. I just hope I did my due diligence to make the trailer in a responsible way. I also hope to see what the final game is like, and how they tackle this very big and relevant subject matter.
About a week before Tacoma’s release, Steve Gaynor of Fullbright asked me if I had time to make a short 30 sec “available now” launch trailer. Of course I said yes, but I knew I’d only have a weekend to do it since at the time I was working an agency gig during the day, and on top of that I had another project I was already working on at night.
I managed to do this on a Sunday in about 7 hours (with some breaks for food/cats etc.), with only a few small tweaks the day after. My familiarity with the game greatly expedited my edit/capture creative decisions, otherwise I never would've considered taking on a project with so little time available. Well... it depends on the project :P
Steve’s initial idea was a short trailer that used the same music as the full trailer, and maybe some alternate takes from what I captured for E3. My first instinct was to avoid the full trailer’s music, lest the audience think they’re seeing more of the same from E3.
I constantly worry about fatiguing the audience with multiple trailers, especially when they're released in close proximity. If a game’s marketing campaign is going to incorporate multiple trailers, it’s imperative to make them unique enough to justify the audience’s attention. A guiding principle behind my creative choices is I never want the audience to think they’re seeing the limits of the game, and multiple trailers that showcase similar content is an easy way to do just that.
So instead I proposed a mini-trailer a la the Firewatch mini-trailers to show some pretty shots or a little vignette with dialogue from the game. Before working on this trailer I had booted up the game curious to see what sort of polish there had been since the end of May; I noticed some new subtle ambient music tracks. I requested all of that music, and one of them felt perfect!
My two ideas were: a montage of the Tacoma characters’ AR projections frozen in poses while the camera moves around them, and a version of that with a nice dialogue moment. As is often the case, the final result was a hybrid of the two.
First thing I did was cut down the music track from over a minute to what felt like a nice pace, but wasn’t too repetitive. The opening of the song doesn’t have much variation, so I made it shorter to get to the middle section faster. I also placed the title card and “available now” slate at the end, to block out how much room I had.
I went back to my selects strings from May, and the first thing I listened to was some dialogue from the space station’s AI, ODIN (by the way, future me always thanks past me for being organized, but also finds ways I could’ve organized better). For the launch trailer I considered using some exposition explaining the AR recordings central to the game, but found there wasn’t enough room for it in the story I wanted to tell. But since the plan for this trailer was to showcase the AR recordings, it was perfect!
I cut together a couple lines of ODIN’s dialogue, and not only did it provide the perfect backbone to the trailer, but its length fit the music! In fact, the breaks between the lines gave me a reason to cut the music down even further, and have it sound cohesive, and motivated.
With the ODIN dialogue cut in, I made a video outline using title cards to roughly block out the sort of shots I wanted to put into the trailer for each section. I didn’t know if Fullbright was going to be on board with this approach, so in the interest of time, I thought it best to show an outline before getting in too deep. I knew with this approach I’d still have the option of stripping out the dialogue, and going with the original plan. They ended up liking it, so I got started capturing!
For capture I re-rigged my improvised string/tape 3x3 grid for my TV, and set out looking for good still moments where the characters stood in interesting poses, or were arranged in a way that looked like it told a story. Moments when characters stand with their arms down aren’t very dynamic, but if the arms are in the air performing an action, it suddenly becomes that much more interesting!
For the climax I wanted to find areas that had a lot of movement in the frame when fast forwarding or rewinding, and then a bonus for characters going into the screen for the very end.
I was very pleased with the end result; Fullbright had just a few small tweaks, and it was done! I like that I got to solve multiple problems with this one trailer even though the original idea was just to show some pretty images and put a date on it. I think this manages to teach the audience a bit more about the universe, and set it to pretty images and music.
Tacoma is OUT NOW! Obviously I’m biased, but if you’re interested in unique game narratives, definitely check it out!
I keep saying this, but this was a dream project! I can’t help that there’s so much cool stuff that I want to work on!
Full Throttle came out when I was in high school; my first memory of it was watching a friend play it on PC. That was back when I used to go to Comp USA and Micro Center just in case a new game came out for Mac (I had no way of knowing release dates). I was OVERJOYED when I saw the box on the shelf. By then I knew the answers to all the puzzles, but I bought it, and loved it all the same.
I got this gig via Double Fine’s community manager James Spafford (aka Spaff). I’ve known Spaff since he was community manager at Media Molecule. We first met at a PAX West Double Fine party via Chris Remo of Campo Santo who at the time was Double Fine’s community manager. Chris and Spaff are two of the original founders of Idle Thumbs before it was even a podcast.
Around when Full Throttle Remastered was coming out, I talked to Spaff about making a fan trailer for it, and instead I got to make an official trailer for it! The most important thing about this opportunity is I had access to the clean dialogue files. In the game a lot of the dialogue is mixed with music and/or sound effects, so there’d be no other way to get that clean audio.
My approach for this trailer was exactly the same as the fan/spec trailers I make for games like Uncharted. Full Throttle isn’t a very long game, but I didn’t feel too much obligation to avoid spoilers since it’s been out for so long. I also felt emboldened by the previous trailers by 2-Player Productions which used shots from all over the game. Still, I tried to avoid certain story moments because I want people to experience the game for themselves.
The hardest part of making this trailer was finding the right music from the soundtrack. I only had the game’s score by Peter McConnell and soundtrack by The Gone Jackals to work from; a lot of it didn’t immediately jump out as having the sorts of highs and lows that are good for trailers. My main concern was that the best cue for after the logos was very energetic. One of the easiest ways to make a trailer monotonous is to have the energy level be the exact same the entire time. So if I started high, where could I go from there?
Fortunately the cue I used for the middle section did have JUST ENOUGH variation that it worked. There are also some very badass guitar riffs that worked wonders for the transitions. Of course the finale had to end with the main theme “Legacy,” which took things up another notch. The lesson here is that regardless of tempo, music with lyrics will always be more dramatic than instrumentals (in trailers at least).
The other thing I wanted to do was repeat the intro dialogue at the end of the trailer. This is something I took from the trailer for the movie Crank. I love that structure in trailers, and it felt especially appropriate to use for a noir like Full Throttle.
After doing my trailer sound design, I handed over my audio tracks to Camden Stoddard at Double Fine so he could insert the missing bits of sound design from the game that I couldn’t get clean, and do a full sound mix. I gave him a couple rounds of notes to tweak the mix (I could’ve done it in one round, but I neglected to mention something the first time, sorry Camden!). I’m SO happy with how the final mix turned out; the most important thing for me was that the music really carry the trailer since it’s such an important part of the game.
Full Throttle is one of my favorite games; I'm so happy I had this opportunity to make a badass trailer (at least I HOPE it's badass). Of course thank you to Tim Schafer and the original LucasArts team for the amazing game/memories, and the Double Fine team for the remaster!
I hope it encourages many more people to play it!