Video Game Trailer Production: A Glance Behind The Scenes
Video game trailer production can sometimes be even more creatively demanding than many of the processes involved in game design. While that may sound hyperbolic, we need to understand what makes video game trailers great to grasp the brilliance behind them. They basically cram up dozens of hours and whole tomes worth of lore into a tiny 1-3 minutes reel that should give players everything they need to know to get them excited without giving away too much of the plot.
Studios today understand the importance of cleverly crafted trailers and their impact on sales and engagement. The gaming industry now understands they need to give games the same treatment Hollywood doles out when they promote their star-studded blockbusters.
Video game trailers now focus both on the story and innovative key features that make every title unique. Moreover, many video games today showcase solid acting talent to make them much more believable and immersive while potentially drawing in audiences attracted to well-established names in the entertainment industry. Placing these elements front and center during the first few seconds of a trailer is a surefire way to spark curiosity and keep more eyes glued to their screens for the rest of the show.
As you can imagine, cinematic video game trailers have become an art form. They show the world the amazing feats a studio is capable of accomplishing in a way that piques the interest of an ever more discerning audience.
But how do video game studios achieve the level of quality needed to compete against the experience and technical prowess of the movie industry?
Our Trailers & Cinematics Unit at Room 8 Studio was kind enough to let us peek behind the blinders and have a bird’s-eye view of the process of shooting a killer video game trailer.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Sandy Heslop, our head of CG for the Trailers and Cinematics department. Sandy Heslop comes from the Cinema and Television world and is now involved in several projects that seek to streamline our video game trailer production processes. He explains the challenges associated with video game trailer production.
Interviewer: How would you summarize the process of crafting trailers?
Sandy Heslop: There are some basic questions that need to be answered before we even start working on a new project. First, we must understand the client’s creative pipeline and choose a toolset that balances quality and production cost. We have a list of basic things we require from clients during the onboarding phase. So, we ask them what they want to achieve, the aesthetics that they have in mind, the intended audience and platforms for release.
Next, we put together a team with the right experience and skills for the project. Finally, we make sure our project managers are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to boost efficiency, productivity, and quality across the production pipeline. This allows us to fine-tune the entire pipeline, making it more flexible and scalable.
Interviewer: So, what’s the best management approach when dealing with creative projects?
Sandy Heslop: Well, this industry has no “one-size-fits-all” solution. Instead, you must employ an approach that allows you to leverage your strengths while following concrete principles to ensure you deliver high-quality results.
Over the past five years, our team has successfully delivered more than three hundred projects by following these principles.
Interviewer: So, what’s the secret sauce?
Sandy Heslop: Flexibility is paramount. Given the nature of the industry, every project must have its own feeling and character. So we must always pick the most suitable vehicle and tailor our production pipeline to meet the client’s specific requirements and commercial goals. Quality is also central to the process. Here, talent is what matters most. Since audiences today are drawn to captivating scenes and cinematic experiences, we make sure our team is made up of the best talents in the industry. Then, there is efficiency. Audiences today are much more demanding in terms of realism and image quality, and meeting these standards can be challenging if you have no access to the right technology. Fortunately, Room 8 Studio is always one step ahead in terms of processing infrastructure.
Interviewer: When talking about flexibility, you mentioned pipelines.
SH: Yes. Flexibility is about using the right tools for the job. Each project has unique needs, and our team benefits from immediate access to pipelines that are already put in place and deal with specific challenges.
Interviewer: But how do you define these pipelines?
SH: Pipelines refer to digital production lines involved in the process of trailer production. For example, you might have a team that has a pipeline that’s more Unreal Engine orientated. They would build their assets in different applications like Blender, Maya, or Cinema 4D and then feed them into Unreal, where you record your cinematics. Similarly, you can have a more straightforward pipeline where everything is done in, say, Maya or Cinema 4D, keeping everything contained in one piece of software.
Interviewer: Got it. And is there a way to determine which pipeline is right for a project?
SH: Well, it all depends on the client. Sometimes a client brings assets that come from different platforms. So we must choose a pipeline that helps us efficiently arrange the end-to-end flow for the assets we’re trusted with.
We also evaluate concrete aspects of video game trailer production. For example, different art styles require specific tools. If the client needs a trailer for an action-adventure game that shows a lot of explosive situations, we choose a pipeline that can efficiently process high-quality cinematics. For mobile acquisition videos for games with simpler graphics, we put pipelines in place that quickly capture the look and feel of the title.
Interviewer: I imagine that the type of game also influences the process of choosing a pipeline, right?
SH: That’s exactly right. Visual representation determines the general approach of our artistic and technical focus. Character-driven stories usually require us to aim our attention at elements such as facial expressions, emotions, and situations that convey the right feel and mood for the audience. On the other hand, first-person shooters usually shift the focus toward weapons, materials, and textures.
But there are other constraints as well. Budget often imposes limitations. We need to consider how much money the client can dedicate to trailer production before we decide on a specific pipeline. Then there is the availability of assets. If the client provides a rich library of assets, we choose the pipeline that can more efficiently process said assets.
Interviewer: Can you give us some examples of pipelines?
SH: Sure. We have several pipelines to choose from. First, there is the Unreal Engine pipeline, which is an industry standard nowadays. The main advantage is that it is a real-time engine. It means that it can show you how the end product will look as you work on your reel. It’s highly efficient, and we use it to create stylized or hyper real cinematic trailers in a very short space of time.
We also have a Maya/Arnold pipeline, a combination of applications that allows us to develop highly detailed 3D models and animations in Maya, then render them in Arnold for photorealistic results. This is a favorite when producing hyper-realistic video game trailers.
When we need to strike a perfect balance between speed and quality, we often opt for a pre-rendered pipeline that leverages the power of Cinema4d for 3D modeling and Octane for rendering. The results are quite impressive without being too resource intensive.
Interviewer: You also mentioned talent as an important element of the trailer production pipeline.
SH: Indeed. A video game trailer is as good as the people who work on it, so ensuring you have highly skilled and experienced in-house talent is absolutely crucial. Nowadays, the line that separates the film and video game industries is getting blurred as they both require similar skill sets.
At Room 8 Studio, we bring together incredibly talented animators and storytellers with ample hands-on experience in the film and TV industries, so we are always on top of current trends. We strive to achieve a richer, more sophisticated cinematic experience. Our knowledge and expertise in on-set live-action filming bring authenticity to our cinematic sequences. As the crossover between the visual effects world and the gaming world increases, we’ll be drawing on all available talents to help us achieve that competitive edge.
Interviewer: We have seen that newer video games require more processing power than ever. Does that impact trailer production as well?
SH: Yes, it does. Technology impacts not only the final product but also overall efficiency. Our team needs access to state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure to remain competitive. In the video game industry, we need to stay on our toes and adopt the latest tools that help expand our capabilities.
We are looking at cloud infrastructure for example, as it allows us to increase our computing firepower when we need it most. This opens up a world of possibilities as it streamlines our workflow and boosts our performance in terms of efficiency and productivity.
To sum up, our approach revolves around flexibility to adapt to our client’s needs, top talent that is able to capture the intended message and execute a seamless plan, and the proper infrastructure for a streamlined and efficient production line from concept all the way through to the final picture.
More than 50 game studios and developers have entrusted their vision to us, and our team at the Trailers & Cinematics Unit at Room 8 Studio now has more than 300 projects under its belt. These include amazing titles such as Titanfall Assault, Merge Dragons, Game of Heroes, Power Rangers: Legacy Wars, and Outfire.