Lights, Camera...

Case Study | Video Game Promo

This summer we had the pleasure of working with Focus Entertainment to produce a trailer for the release of their highly anticipated new game, Altas Fallen. We always know that when the phone call comes in from the team there that it’s going to be something fun.

Focus Entertainment is based in France, so it really is a compliment that they came all the way to the UK to work with us. We have done some lovely work together with them in the past. From Sean Bean giving a spine tingling reading of William Blake’s Little Boy Lost, to behind the scenes at War Hammer with Clive Standen. But this one was really out of the box!

They wanted to stand out from the crowd with a nod back to the video game ads of the 90s, a mixture of live action and gameplay. Those ads were always pretty ‘out there’ and quite daring. They pushed the boundaries of what you’d expect from a typical ad and really struck a chord with audiences as a result. The phrase ‘if you know, you know’ is applicable here – the ad may not mean much to the average onlooker, but to the fans, it’s so exciting. So the idea of surfing wizards in a ruined castle was quite frankly genius! But with only a month to do this, we knew we would be really up against it.

Unreal Engine or Real Life?

We toyed with the idea of making the trailer in Unreal Engine but ultimately we decided it just had to be in real life – it really needed to look realistic and immersive, so there could be no trace of anything digital that would shatter the illusion. 

Of course, Unreal Engine is renowned for its capacity to craft immersive digital worlds, but there were too many uncertainties. Would we be able to achieve the subtle, gloomy lighting conditions we wanted? Would the mist look realistic enough? Would we have enough time and budget to get all of these intricacies right? 

Live action presented challenges of its own but we are well-versed in problem-solving with these scenarios – it may have been our first time making a castle but it certainly wasn’t our first time shooting!

Bringing together the A-team

In the words of our Snr. Producer Jeremy: “This is only going to work if we deliver wonderfulness”

So, he worked his own magic and pulled together the most amazing crew of legendary professionals – they really were the best in the industry. Working with set designer Nandie Narishkin – who had previously worked on Game of Thrones and His Dark Materials (yeah some of us were extremely jealous)- the plans for the castle were drawn up. We had countless conversations about the sizing, the height of the set, how broken down it was, and even what colour the stone should be, to really nail that ancient, ruined vibe.

 Did we physically build the set ourselves? No, don’t be silly – our DIY skills aren’t that great. We worked with the team at 4WOOD Tv and Film Construction in Cardiff who blew our minds. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day but our castle was built incredibly fast, and it really did look like the real deal. 

There was only one place we wanted to film this- SandStorm Studios. The team there always go the extra mile and are one of the most talented and welcoming studio crews around. They also have a fab bit of kit called a Techno Dolly which was essential on a shoot like this.

The foundation stone for the crew was DoP Louis Blystad-Collins. We have worked with Louis for many years and his ability to create an atmosphere with lighting always astounds us when we look into the monitor. Combined with the great creative vision of Focus Entertainment’s Creative Director Dessil Basmadjian and Head of Video, Jean-Philippe Bouix, the results were bound to be truly amazing.  

The devil's in the detail...

When the 4WOOD team put the set together in the studio it really was breathtaking. It was really brought to life with the addition of those details that our crew worked on so tirelessly. Here are some of those little moments where experimentation and play really shone through:

Lighting and …LEGO?

Rather amusingly, our DoP Louis Blystad-Collins made a Lego version of the set to help plan camera movements (our favourite thing ever!). He also worked alongside the crew at Sandstorm Studios to perfect the lighting design and really complete the mysterious atmosphere. It really did look as though there was a sliver of moonlight subtly clipping the stone walls.

Famous Flooring

A lovely little easter egg was the fact that we got our hands on some stone slabs which were previously used on the set of His Dark Materials to use as the floor of our castle. Louis was absolutely delighted because these slabs now reside in his garden in the form of a new patio! (find out more about how we gave our castle a second life in our article on Sustainable Sets).

Sunglasses and a Surfboard

The ending, with the wizard chilling on the floor in a tropical paradise, was not in the original script – This was a spontaneous decision made by the directors on set and it works so well. It was such a lucky coincidence that a member of the crew just happened to have a surfboard, and the rest of the props were just bits we found around the studio! (thanks for letting us borrow them, Sandstorm).

The Big Day(s)

We had a total of six days in the studio, including three days before the actual shoot to rig, prelight, and rehearse. Once the lighting was ready and the smoke machine was up and running, the atmosphere began to get exciting as the crew saw the results of all their hard work. By the time we reached day one of shooting, we were rearing to go.  

Of course, we can’t get through this article without mention of our wizard. After Jeremy and Sara sorted through hundreds of potentials during the casting process, we all settled on Harry. It was the twinkle in his eye that did it!  And after hair and makeup designer Nicole Fairfield had finished with him he really did look the part. His performance was outstanding and his willingness to experiment and go off script was so admirable – we wouldn’t have got that shock factor with the surprise expletive or the cheeky end shot with the surfboard without him…

Lasting Magic

Perhaps it was the absurd nature of this project which really brought out everyone’s playful side,  but the real thing that resonated with us following this shoot was just how important it is to strike a balance – between focusing on the details and allowing elements of spontaneity. Giving yourself the freedom to ‘play’ and try out crazy ideas can really make the difference between an average video and an outstanding one. Whether that be making little LEGO models, or trying out a funny tweak to the script, there’s always room for something – don’t underestimate the power of having a little fun because it all shines through in the end result. 

When paired with a skilled crew and great attention to detail, perhaps a slightly playful mindset could be the key to success?

Before you go.. Watch the video!