How to convey the style, the feel and the atmosphere of a title that doesn’t yet exist? We talked with writer / director Tomek Suwalski and director / art director Jakub Jabłoński from Platige Image about the production of cinematic trailers for the biggest game publishers.
If you’re a gamer, you know Platige Image, even if you think you don’t. The iconic 2012 reveal of Cyberpunk 2077? They made it. The Witcher 1, 2 and 3 cinematics? It’s them. Skull & Bones? Total War: Warhammer II, Total War: Three Kingdoms? Frostpunk, Watch Dogs 2, Bloodlines 2? Platige introduced them all to the gaming community.
Kinguin: How much time do you have to make a game trailer?
Jakub Jabłoński, Director / Art Director: The one for Rainbow Six: Quarantine was created in 1.5 months. My trailer for Vampire: The Masquerade, which premiered before E3, took 2 months. There are, however, videos that take half a year or even longer, as was the case with Skull & Bones.
Kinguin: When you make trailers, these games don’t yet exist, is that right?
Jakub Jabłoński: It’s the most interesting thing about it. We experience what I call a time paradox. The paradox is that, usually, when a client orders a trailer, they want us to include very specific components (characters, environments, actions). At the same time, the game developers themselves haven’t implemented these elements yet, or sometimes haven’t even designed them.
These things often take shape as we work on our films, which, as you can guess, can be a challenge. There were times when we at Platige had to design stuff for our cinematics, and these things were later adopted for the game. However on some projects we got access to a very early version and basically beta-tested it so we could get a feel of the game.
Tomek Suwalski, Writer / Director: Also keep in mind that many games are sequels or remakes, or titles set in already existing universes. In their case there is no blank slate, we work on a fully realized world with its own set of rules and stories already told. But even then, if a game is a totally new project for the studio, before they do anything, they have to write down all the documentation of this world’s rules and visual style. This is the most important thing for us, because this is what we base our work on. Gameplay is secondary for visual storytelling. Still, clients usually provide what they can so we can understand the game and make the trailer as cohesive as possible.
Kinguin: So where do you start?
Tomek Suwalski: First we get a brief and talk with the client. Then we write a screenplay and / or a treatment. When both sides agree on the direction, it’s time for storyboards, and after they’re locked, we previsualize the trailer in 3D.
Jakub Jabłoński: At the storyboard stage, we make a rough approximation of the trailer. We edit the pictures with temporary music. Then we previz it in 3D, with the help of motion capture actors, adding the camera movement. This stage is the most important for storytelling. In the meantime, we create assets: character models, locations, special effects. We play with lighting and materials. This is called ‘lookdev’.
Tomek Suwalski: If we are also to design the sound for the trailer, we work on effects and mixing. When we have all of that, including animation, simulation, rendering and compositing, all that’s left is color correction and online editing, the so-called ‘finishing’.
Kinguin: Do you have a workflow worked out for everything or is there room for improvisation?
Jakub Jabłoński: Let me give you an example. Sometimes we model characters from scratch, but sometimes we scan our actors’ faces, as we did on Rainbow Six: Quarantine. We have a lot of space in projects that involve heavy stylization, like our feature film Another Day of Life, or Fish Night, an episode of Love, Death & Robots. In such projects some production stages suddenly turn upside down, in a very creative way.
Kinguin: How much creative freedom do you get?
Jakub Jabłoński: At times we get a script and simply have to direct it and beautifully render it in 3D. Most of the times, fortunately, we can write the script ourselves or co-write it with the client. Ads, trailers or cutscenes need to share the style, mechanics and story with the game, so we always get help from the developer. But sometimes we can create something crazy, something that’s not a literal part of the game, but shows its features metaphorically. The goal is to invoke certain emotions and convey specific information. We are rarely asked to just illustrate the contents of the game. There has to be hype. And questions.
Kinguin: We know you like to challenge yourselves or try new things, such as ink animation for Total War: Three Kingdoms, or packing more than 100 separate scenes to the Watch Dogs 2 trailer. Did you do anything like that for E3 2019?
Tomasz Suwalski: Sure. Our trailer for Dying Light 2 was made using the game engine, and the game dev team realized the environments. It was a completely new experience for both Techland and us. We transferred our way of filmmaking into the game world in order to ground the scenes in an already existing world.
Jakub Jabłoński: There are interesting things going on during mocap sessions, too. We meet some pretty outstanding people. Recently we had a Chinese wushu master who did jumps and cartwheels with a spear. On Rainbow Six: Quarantine we had Instruktor Wero, possibly the best female gun instructor in Poland, who played Ela Bosak in the trailer. We often meet with Maciek Kwiatkowski, the stuntman who played the Witcher himself as well as hundreds of other video game or trailer characters. Myself, I played a sexy vampire lady and a t-rex!
Kinguin: To sum it up, you have two months, sometimes less, to make a trailer. You have to make a documentation, work out the script, come up with a ton of creative stuff, modeling etc. Can you afford any wasted effort? Are there any unused scenes, like in feature films?
Tomek Suwalski: Producing a photorealistic 3D animation is very time-consuming and costly, so scriptwriting, storyboarding and previz are the stages where we can experiment and then scrap failed ideas. When we have the so-called ‘edit lock’ and move to production, there’s no place for scenes that will be ditched later.
Jakub Jabłoński: At times there’s a thing or two that get removed. This happens because the marketing team behind the game decides that they don’t want to spoil a plot point or a character. Usually we add stuff instead of removing it. Such changes, however, are the client’s secret.
Kinguin: One last question: do you play games? Especially games you made trailers for?
Tomek Suwalski: We do! It’s satisfying to play a game you spent months making a trailer for.
Jakub Jabłoński: I tried nearly every game I made a trailer for, but the best ones for me are the Total War series and Frostpunk. There are titles still waiting to be released, and I can’t wait to check them out.
Check out Platige Image and their amazing work at www.platige.com.