The launch of Activision and Bungie’s incredible new game Destiny was accompanied by a live action trailer dubbed ‘Become Legend’, a spot directed by Joseph Kosinski for agency 72andSunny. The commercial made heavy use of real locations, practical costumes and effects from Legacy Effects and VFX by Digital Domain to show Fireteam taking on alien invaders at various game locations around the solar system. The game itself has stunning imagery, rarely seen before at this level in a game. Destiny takes full advantage of the new console hardware and so provided a high bar for the look of the live action commercial. We talk to DD visual effects supervisor Eric Barba about the work involved in bringing the look of the stunning world of Destiny to a live action TVC.
Prior to the shoot, Halon was brought on to previs the spot, with 72andSunny and Joseph Kosinski(Oblivion) also concepting and boarding sequences. Digital Domain then had a team on location with a survey station, pan and tile kit and cameras for acquiring on-set data. Earlier, Barba had instituted a photobooth shoot of costumes and weapons being built at Legacy Effects for later digi-double work, but also continued this process during the shoot.
Standing in for the moon, Mars and Venus environments were locations in Mexico, Arizona and Utah shot by DOP Claudio Miranda (a Oblivion collaborator with Kosinski) and embellished by Digital Domain. “That was Joe’s pitch from day one,” says Barba. “He wanted to make a live action version of the game. He wanted to shoot as much as possible in as crazy locations as we possibly could.”
Mars shots, for example, were filmed in Utah and Arizona in the Mojave and at a location near Lake Powell. The Venus shots made use of Mayan ruins that had been re-built by the Mexican government as a tourist attraction, while a final cave dive by the Destiny characters was shot at the Cave of Swallows. “Shooting at cave was pretty crazy,” recalls Barba. “There’s 500 steps to get down to it. You can’t base jump off there – you used to be able to do but they no longer allow it. Our heroes had to be tethered at the edge and then the launch gag was a digital double.”
One of the creatures the Fireteam encounter is the Cabal on Mars. “He’s a creature from the game,” outlines Barba, “but there he doesn’t remove his helmet. Bungie had given us amazing reference and game assets and Joe fell in love with some of the artwork he saw of this Cabal without his helmet so he said he wanted to see that in close-up.”
“Bungie was very specific about how the Cabal could move,” continues Barba, “but we did have a chance to create a funny moment when it would look almost rabid like a dog when he runs out of ammunition. When he throws the weapon down, it becomes a character animation exercise where we got to give the Cabal that funny Scooby Doo moment when the two grenades roll underneath him.”
In fact, this represented one of the main challenges for Digital Domain – adding in key moments but also working within the world already created by the game. “The trick to doing a live action spot to represent something that’s in a game is, well, a game is never meant to be in a live action world and has to function in a game engine,” notes Barba. “So our challenge was not only to re-build the characters and re-rig and re-texture and get the shaders working, but also get them to work in a live action world – in a four week post schedule.”
That quick turnaround was made possible via animation cycles for certain characters, such as the Hive, that were provided by Bungie, then augmented by motion capture work done by the Digital Domain team. But it was always going to be hard to complete so many characters in group and swarm shots. “I had a conversation with Steve Preeg our animation supervisor about the large amount of work involved,” recounts Barba, “and he thought maybe we can use Massive and I said we have to do it in four weeks! He said how are we going to do that, and I just joked, well, you’re going to write a little system that’s fast and easy and we’re going to populate it the old fashioned way. And that’s what we did! He had one of the riggers write a tool and incorporate some of the Bungie run cycles in them, and then we added the motion capture into the key hero ones as well.”
Another animation challenge was Ghost, the levitating AI robot character voiced by Peter Dinklage (as he does in the game). “He has to be the voice of reason and add his little quips here and there,” says Barba. “Bungie gave us very specific notes about little things like rotations and how long things take – so the animators had to work with both Dinklage’s lines but also Bungie’s notes.”
Digital Domain’s toolset revolved around Maya, Houdini, V-Ray and NUKE – turning out 72 shots for a 90 second on-air spot and a 2 minute online version. In addition to CG characters, weapon fire, explosions, digi-doubles and environments, Digital Domain also worked on the HUDs for Fireteam. “The idea there was,” explains Barba, “if you saw the spot without those close-ups on the faces, it could feel a little Power Ranger-y in that it’s hard for the viewer to connect to those people because you’re not seeing their faces. Joe and Claudio came up with this little rig we shot our actors on and then 72andSunny had some ideas for the HUDs and our team here first in After Effects and then in NUKE designed what they would look like.”