Titanfall: making the opening movie

The opening cinematic to Respawn/EA’s recently release Titanfall is a video that seeks to depict the background to the game. But unlike many cinematics, it utilizes more than just game assets – instead it takes advantage of both stock footage and final CG imagery to show a frontier-like setting where mankind is leaving Earth and equipping itself with mech-style Titans for battle.

Above: watch the final cinematic.

Helmed by Gavin Rothery, whose credits include VFX supervision on the film Moon, and production by London studio Spov, the cinematic was heavily influenced by footage edited together by Chris Abbas of NASA’s Cassini mission to Saturn. We talked to Rothery and Spov executive producers Dan Higgott and Allen Leitch about how the piece was crafted.

4Initial ideas and concepts for the cinematic differed greatly from the final look. “One of the original ideas was to show 30 to 45 seconds of in-game footage of Titans running around,” recalls Rothery. “I was really keen to back away from that because you were about to get into the game and run around as a Titan yourself.”

Instead, right at the end of the cinematic, the Titans are teased in a ‘gear-up’ montage sequence as their armor and weapons are assembled in a busy workshop. Prior to these Titan shots are images of human life and then the space travel. For this section, the early concept was something the team labeled ‘Lawrence of Arabia in space’. “It was going to be big panoramas, slow panning camera, beautiful color,” outlines Spov’s Dan Higgott. “Gavin helped us flesh that out a bit, and he also brought in another idea which became known as ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in space’, like a stand-off from the main parties. So rather than focusing on the grand panoramas, we instead focus on the character. We were trying to create some tension between three characters before the game started.”

3Rothery suggested a live action shoot – in a similar vein to the live-action Neil Blomkamp Halo shorts – but ultimately it was determined not to leave the game universe in the cinematic. A further brief made reference to the Cassini piece by Chris Abbas, especially for the realistic look and style of editing. Rothery then constructed a mood film from library footage, film clips and his own DVD collection. “It gave a nice sense of pace and running time and the speed of the cut which gave us an early on lead as to how much footage we might need,” says Rothery. “I was grabbing preview images from Getty and using the drop ship release from Aliens, and game intros – all kinds of stuff.”

“We used the mood film as a conversation point to plan our own film,” adds Rothery. “We did about eight or nine versions of it. We’d be getting feedback like, let’s try a really slow version, let’s try a version that’s fast all the way through. It’s useful to be able to work though that stuff at an early stage. And it’s great for tone, and also music. You can drop music in at this very early stage and it will give you a steer on tone.”

6For shots of ships in space, Spov re-purposed game assets, up-res’ing and re-building them slightly to suit the cinematic. Artists also ensured that camera moves reflected what they had seen in the Cassini edit. “Right from the beginning,” notes Higgott, “Gavin embraced that and said if we show a spaceship it’s going to be from a camera on another spaceship – there’s going to be shaking and imperfections. It had to feel like a real lived-in universe and we had to make every shot feel like a believable part of the journey.”

The final look involved treating image library footage to provide that “realistic monochrome paired-back feel,” according to Higgott. “We wanted to get away from CG space visions,” adds Spov’s Allen Leitch. “The Cassini footage had a level of distress. It’s beautiful in its own way because it’s a little bit fucked up. There’s a reality to that that really hooked Respawn.”

7Rothery notes that the grade was inspired by film noir – ’something you wouldn’t expect when you put Titanfall on to play’. “Obviously,” he says, “the literal definition of noir is black with one half keylight, and that’s kind of it. We didn’t end up doing that in the end, although one of the strange things is when you look at noir photography and look at space, space is the essence of noir photography in that there’s one huge keylight which is the sun and everything else is pitch black. It just seemed like a great opportunity to do something that had quite a lot of edge to it.”

The result is a cinematic designed to defy conventional game animatics but at the same time sets up the Titanfall’s atmosphere for players. “The core message was that the action in Titanfall was grounded in a human universe,” says Leitch. “So it’s not alien races fighting territorial battles on the other side of the universe. It’s human.”

3 thoughts on “<em>Titanfall:</em> making the opening movie”

  1. Pingback: I produce with Titanfall: making the opening movie | Audio Video

  2. Pingback: Titanfall: making the opening movie | Animationews

  3. Pingback: Titanfall: making the opening movie | Occupy VFX!

Comments are closed.