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.