For A Just Cause
Square Enix and Avalanche Studios put on this contest for Just Cause 3 to produce a trailer. I decided I’d give it a shot and put in 54 hours in just 10 days to produce a 2 minute cinematic trailer to submit. Here’s a run down of how I built the trailer using Premiere Pro, Speed Grade, After Effects, and Sonar Platinum.
The very first thing I started doing was researching what a 1 minute, a minute-thirty, and a 2 minute trailer each look like. I gravitated toward films I liked and remember watching the trailers for. So then I would grab copies of those trailers to import into my project to get a sense of timing and cuts and pacing.
The first one which I drew most of my inspiration from was the Furious 7 Superbowl trailer.
The pacing is filled with fast, hyper cuts which exaggerate the action in the scenes and clips the editor was pulling from. I also paid close attention to what exactly they were giving away in the story, and what story was developing out of the trailer (I’ve also watched the movie).
I referenced The Mazerunner trailer which clocks in at 2 minutes and liked the particular pacing.
A third trailer I referenced was Dawn of Planet of the Apes. While I loved the pacing and buildup of suspense, there was a clear focus on 1 particular monologue and building up suspense and drama by using longer shots. Too slow for an action-packed game trailer.
BUILDING THE CUT
I had no clear Idea of how I would start the trailer, but the first cuts that came together in my “practice cut” sequence I placed to the Razihel track (Tick Tick Boom Boom Ft. Splitbreed) which is a song that Square Enix licensed and packed with the Contest content kit. After I spent a little bit of time cutting together an action driving scene to make it look like a chase, I needed to start figuring out the trailer’s narrative and where in the trailer “story” that sequence could go.
In the video clips provided there was only gameplay shots. There was no story dialog or monologue. I thus set out upon the internet to scour whatever game footage I could find that had voice or story context to it. I found five various game trailers and imported those to work with. From here I began sifting through roughly 49 minutes of total footage.
With a rough idea of what the story held, I found the dialog and monologue clips I wanted to use to build the story for this cinematic trailer. Once I started cutting in the shots I went looking for “b-roll” clips to cut between. At this point I realized I needed to start producing the music underscore so I could get the fine cut down, figure out the more detailed nuances of pacing and allow me to start cleaning up and filling the gaps in what I was piecing together.
I really liked the particular cutting methods used in the Mazerunner trailer’s opening sequence, and I tried to emulate that a bit in my transition where Rico is diving toward the jet and the plane explosion.
I tried a few different cutting methods and it just seemed either too jumpy or lacked a clear resolve. It wasn’t until I started the sound effects in a separate project that it really came together: using a heartbeat pulse to conform the timing of the cuts and breathing over the chopped up sounds in the background.
I went back and forth between Sonar and Premiere Pro constantly, using Premiere Pro to bounce out updated renders of the video as I was cutting it to make sure I had all the timing information in the video to build the score with.
As I built the track I used that to give me insight into how I could piece together the next set of cuts and transitions. I ended up with this complex set of tempo and time signature changes to mark my pacing so that the music always stayed in perfect sync with the video and vice versa.
I started getting a much clearer idea of the story progression by the time I had the cut synchronized with a rough score mockup all the way through the car chase sequence. By then I knew what I wanted to do and was able to utilize a lot of the Razihel track to my advantage.
I wanted to emulate the style that the Furious 7 trailer had going on with its use of modern music and hyped up sound design based music. Fast cutting and the story propels forward very fast, with a majority focus on action.
With the score completely roughed in I began refining the edits and reached “picture lock” so that I could start working on sound effects. In Premiere Pro, I went and grabbed a few unlinked audio clips from sequences of Rico skydiving where there was no background music and placed them on the main sequence timeline roughly where I wanted the sound effects of him to be. I had even put in several audio clips near the end for options in mixing within Sonar later. I exported an OMF from Premiere and imported the OMF in sonar, and set sonar’s snap settings to Frames so that I could jump in perfect sync with the video after I imported that as well.
One problem that I had to solve immediately was finding some help with replacing the voices by dubbing them with new ones because the original audio is heavily treated with music and sound already that I couldn’t simply hide. I managed to get a couple of friends to help, and even did some passes myself.
I spent 2 solid days with sound effects and sound design, layering and building all the material needed. Thankfully I already have quite a private library from other projects I’ve done to call upon so I didn’t have to go out and spend much time in the field recording sounds. Most notably, the Cutting Edge Campaign for Moda Italia featured a biker gang that I had already sourced audio for a Harley Chopper which I ended up mangling all sorts of ways for two places in the trailer where a motorcycle was featured.
With sound design roughed in I realized I was still missing two lines of dialog even after Celine and Troy had done their parts and the deadline was just on the horizon (seriously, just half a day away). Troy provided a good majority of the dubbing voice overs for Rico’s civilian friend, the white military man Rico is partners with, and even a line of Rico’s during the main rising action sequence just before the drop. I ended up recording my own passes at Rico’s voice and General Di Ravello’s lines and doing both Rico and the Military friend at the end before the final action riser sequence just before the title bumper comes in.
With that, it was finally time to mix the sound effects and voice, and marry the music together with everything. The submission was due within 8 hours so I worked through the night on no sleep and tired ears. I don’t recommend tackling a mixing and mastering session on tired ears, it’s normally best to come to these stages with a fresh mind and fresh ears but the deadline being so close I still had to go through and do a final look at the video edit, quick grade, and render out the final video file.
I made a duplicate of the sequence in Premiere pro and imported the final mastered audio. Then, I selected all the video clips on the timeline and replaced with a new after effects composition. In After Effects I pre-composed all the clips in the timeline so I could easily apply effects over them.
Thanks to the Dojo Toolkit script by VinhSon Nguyen over at Creative Dojo, I very quickly added a letterboxing layer with some automation so the end credits can be seen at full aspect ratio, and a subtle film grain layer to help hide some of the upscaling I had to do on the source videos that were 720p.
This man makes some very handy After Effects scripts, I suggest browsing his store and grabbing them (and donating too, they’re worth it).
THE FINAL PRODUCT
The very last thing left to do was use the Media Encoder tool to render the video file, upload it on youtube, and submit it to the contest. By the time I had completed the submission it was 7:30 AM and the deadline was roughly 4 PM for my local time. I wish I could say I slept well but the excitement left me anxious. I’m not sure when the contest winners will be announced. I could not find anything on their contest site or the rules pages.
Well there you have it. A complete two-minute trailer built from beginning to end. For more information, check out the project page here. View the contest entry here.
I would love to know what your thoughts are on this project, and/or my process. Do you have any experiences, workflows, or methodology you’d like to share? If so, feel free to add to the article and start a discussion below!