Video game trailers have quickly become a very important part of whether or not players are interested in an upcoming release. Game trailers and teasers can make or break a launch – and with that said, creating a good one is no easy task.

Much like movie “previews,” game trailers are marketing tools designed to excite and entice players into wanting to discover more. They should offer a peek at a game and provide a “feel” of what the viewer is to expect once they start playing. Not to mention, they should just be fun to watch and make people want to share.

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At Plarium we’ve been betting big on game trailers and have really seen them work for our MMO hardcore strategy games on social networks, browser and mobile platforms. Now we want to share a deeper look at how our Visual FX team tackled the task of creating the Total Domination cinematic trailer and the lessons we learned along the way.

Putting the Wheels in Motion

One of the first challenges we faced when creating a cinematic trailer for Total Domination was the lack of human resources. For starters, we didn’t have a dedicated cinematic team, so we had to build one. We needed more 3D artists, animators and VFX artists. We were lucky to have one VFX artist from the beginning, and part of the team was recruited internally from our Art Department. The rest were hired from outside the company, and we also outsourced sound and music, because we had no internal resources for this.

TD Image 7Once in place, the team’s primary focus was on quality. Despite their limited staff, the VFX team knew that they couldn’t compromise quality and that their work should match the work of world-class VFX teams.

First, a concept outline – which includes the overall goals of the video, main idea and script – has to be put in place just to make sure that we share the same vision. Next you have to start working on a rough story board with scenes, defining what each shot will be about. This consisted of an animatic sketch – the underdeveloped fragments that marked the shots. The real animatic is usually a long way off, and getting there can take many iterations and research for the right shots, angles, and so on.

It’s important not to censor yourself or your team’s ideas in the concept phase. Our producer and art director, Dima Volovikov, dismissed any notions of using the quicker and cheaper route – he brainstormed difficult shots to raise the bar even higher!

Tools of the Trade

Everything in Total Domination was animated manually in Maya and 3D Max. The pipeline was distributed through several different programs: the composition and most of the animation was done in Maya, while the lighting, shading and VFX were done in 3D Max.

TD Image 5Plarium has a large art department as well as concept artists. Since the team had access to large amounts of graphic content and ready-made models it made the process much quicker and efficient. However, some of the existing models needed some extra touch up work; others were done exclusively for the cinematic purposes (such as the scorpion and the large robot).

Using different media and software can also be rather tricky. A perfect example of this is using Warp animation from Maya to Max and rendering the entire VFXs while making sure it remains seamless. To make sure it looks right, you have to render the slow-motion parts in 96fps to compose it correctly. The time-warping curve was then exported to Nuke. Each key slow-down data was implemented for Time Warp in Nuke.

When it came time for adding shadows, silhouettes and fragmentation we used 3D Studio Max for character splitting, and used the Voronoi algorithm for fragmentation. To optimize the geometry, we removed small details that didn’t alter the silhouette of the model. The building demolition seen in the video, as an example, was made using RBD dynamics (RayFire).

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All in all, it took our VFX team about 4 months to produce this video – not including the 2 months spent building up the team. So know that in order to get a solid, impressive result, you have to work with your marketing and development teams and start garnering the assets nearly a month in advance.

End Results and Lessons Learned

Looking back now, we understand that we should have set aside more time and resources for pre-production – especially in terms of concept art, storyboards, and sketches. Not having these materials finalized caused some creative confusion within the team that arose from having unclear or differing visions of some of the scenes.

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If we had to create another cinematic, we would most likely opt for one unified color scheme. This would require less than half of the modeling work and save us a lot of time as we assembled the final video. For this project we ended up using four different color schemes; and while it was challenging and provided us with some useful experience, we’ll probably cut that down to something more manageable for our next project.

We also learned some hard lessons about the sound design, scoring, and the sound effects process with this trailer. We only started working on the sound and music at the very end of the project, very close to the delivery date. This pushed back completion of the video and cost us a lot of time fine-tuning the music and SFX. Fortunately, we had great partners – Jesper Kyd did an amazing job on the score and Andrew at Wabi Sabi studios got us exactly what we were looking for in terms of SFX –  but we would have saved everyone a lot of time had we included everyone in the process from the get-go.

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“Overall we are quite happy with the end result of our work, but we’re now starting to realize some of the mistakes we made in the process,” shares Viacheslav Lisovsky, lead, direction, animation, rigging, Plarium. “Going forward, we can certainly speed up the processes, plan and organize the pipeline in a more effective way. Having said that, the most important aspect of making this cinematic trailer is the priceless experience each member of the team gained throughout the process.”

If we can give one key take way from this whole process it’s this: It’s virtually impossible to make a video using only the best practices in the book – something will always come up that requires you to think “outside the box”.

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Vyacheslav (Slava) Lisovsky is the Lead of the Plarium Cinematics Team. He has been working at Plarium since 2012. Slava graduated Kharkiv the National University of Radio-Electronics in Kharkiv, Ukraine.