Activision Publishing and High Moon Studios tapped Digital Domain and Mothership Director Neil Huxley to create the unexpected teaser for Transformers: Fall of Cybertron that premiered December 10th during the 2011 Video Game Awards show on Spike TV. Powerful and dark, with a filmic look and feel, the :90 piece hooks gamers with emotional imagery, a haunting track and redemptive story, and reveals the entree of popular 'bots into the Transformers game world for the first time.
"We wanted to make a piece that looked like we went to Cybertron and shot it with real hand-held cameras," said Dave Cravens, cinematics director for High Moon Studios. "This is an emotional story and it has to feel like the viewer is right there. Digital Domain's virtual production process was like shooting live action, and Neil's creative approach allowed us to take this piece out of the traditional action mode to a higher, more artistic plane. You really feel for the characters and their situation."
Featuring characters from Hasbro's iconic Transformers brand, the piece opens with Optimus Prime carrying his longtime comrade Bumblebee out of battle, whose critical injury is the catalyst for the Autobots' redemption. Puscifer's "Humbling River" delivers a somber backdrop as the mood shifts to despair with the arrival of Megatron, and devastating excitement with the game debut of the Combaticons, who combine and transform into the towering Bruticus. The trailer ends on a hopeful, redemptive note with Grimlock, also a game-world debut, converting into the massive T-Rex to lead the Autobots into their final clash with their archenemies.
"We took a lot of cinematic cues from the Transformers and Terminator movies - eyes lighting out of the dark, lots of atmospherics and smoke, using fires on the battlefield to illuminate characters versus big light," said Huxley. "Camera and lighting were so important in a CG piece of this scope to provide a sense of scale. These guys are massive robots. We were mindful of depth of field and used a lot of wide angle lenses where appropriate."
Making the robots emote was challenging, as none of the characters had facial rigging for animation. "It becomes about theatrics and performance; selling emotion through visuals, with the music heightening it and creating mood," said Huxley.
Production began with extensive pre-visualization that included lighting cues, giving Activision a clear idea of how the piece would actually look in the end. Then, working in Digital Domain's virtual production studio, Huxley took pre-vis elements and a virtual camera onto the stage and directed the movement of CG sets and motion-capture actors in real time - shooting the CG story as if he were shooting live action. Digital Domain artists finished the spot with final animation, lighting and compositing. A team of 15 took the piece from start to finish in eight weeks.
"People are used to a certain type of trailer for a game like this," commented Rich Flier, Digital Domain Executive Producer, Gaming. "Activision wanted to take it to a different place - to give gamers something unexpected; more of a backstory that would set a completely different tone. In this piece you get more of the characters' motivation and you really feel for them and their situation. There's a little bit of hope, some redemption."
"We were able to take our experience working on the Transformers movies to create a look for this piece that was consistent with the franchise but delivers the unique 'Cybertronian' aesthetic of this standalone game series," said Ed Ulbrich, Chief Creative Officer of Digital Domain and President of Mothership. "And having virtual production in house meant that we could shoot these massive CG characters like live action, bringing more feeling and emotion to the piece and ultimately helping to elevate the game."