Case Study: How we worked with Bluehole to create the launch trailer for PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS.

The undoubted breakout hit of the year has been the phenomenon that is PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS. The TrailerFarm were chosen to work with the team to create the launch trailer for the FREAKING AMAZING battle royale shooter which has garnered millions of adoring fans around the world.

The results on this creative speak for themselves. In this case study, we want to show some of the actual working processes that go into creating a launch trailer. And who better to talk to than two of our very own – Tony and Jack – who were just part of the crew involved in delivering the trailer that’s done the business for South Korean publisher Bluehole.

What were the first thoughts in the studio around the video?

Tony: Our early creative thoughts revolved around a narrative which highlighted five main players and followed their journey towards the centre of the map. We pitched a few different creative options, but the big thing was to nail those epic moments, capture the tension and diversity in the gameplay and environments, and a couple of dark humour moments. The creative evolved as we went along in conjunction with the developers and publishers, as it always does, but the core principles didn’t change. The vision was realised. It’s cool that for so many players who are interested in the game, our trailer on Steam is the first time they’ll see gameplay before they hit the ‘add to cart’ button.

How did you work with the game engine?

Tony: In the early creative, we had around five key ‘hero shots’ which needed to be created outside of the main game, in Sequencer. These shots would then be edited into the main trailer alongside more standard game capture sequences. In this way, we are able to achieve highly cinematic shots, which have an epic CG feel them, while at the same time staying true to the real look and feel of the game which is important for gamers.

Jack: We used Sequencer in the Unreal 4 editor to animate cameras and trigger in-game animations on the timeline. This gave us the freedom to place characters, objects and particle effects wherever we wanted, and blend different animations together, allowing for complete control of the shots. The in-engine cameras also gave us total control over the field of view, focal length, aperture and focus distance. With the characters, we also had access to the “Mutable” plug-in, which allowed us to easily customise and dress the characters how we wanted, including skin colour, hair style and colour, clothing and accessories, and export them as separate character meshes.

Did Bluehole have to supply anything specific in terms of assets to get things moving?

Tony: We usually ask for key artwork, the main fonts and logos for the studio and game, all in-game sfx. Outside of these core assets, we were pretty much weapons-free to generate creative which we felt would serve the trailer and the game as a whole.

Were there any specific shots you loved? How did you go about capturing them?

Tony: We experimented with many different ways to shoot the game.  Camera style, and cinematography were instrumental in gaining a sense of abandonment and isolation.  We looked at lots of reference, from classics like David Fincher’s Seven to more modern films like The Maze Runner and Hunger Games as we developed our creative concept. In terms of specific sequences, there is one shot toward the end of the trailer where a hooded character is scanning the map with a sniper rifle as his prey is also taking aim on him. It was lots of fun to capture, as the narrative of this shot just worked so well straight off the bat. It’s cool, it’s relatable, and it embodies a specific part of the gameplay. That was really important for this treatment.

Jack: A lot of the Sequencer shots turned out great – for instance, slow pans over weapons sitting in pools of light, and a particular shot of a character running towards the camera and being thrown forward by a large explosion in the background. Some of the in-game capture shots also turned out really well. To capture the game, we set up networked sessions so we could have multiple people playing on a local server.

We had access to a number of useful tools, implemented by the developers, such as freecam and the ability to remove the HUD/GUI. All of this meant we could have characters fighting in different environments, while driving a camera through the action. We used NVIDIA Shadowplay to capture the screen. This way we could record gameplay from both the typical player-camera perspectives, and cinematic freecam perspectives. The freecam also allowed us to capture environmental and beauty shots; these worked great due to the game’s high graphical fidelity.

What tech was involved in getting the right shots? 

Tony:  A combination of Sequencer and game capture from the main build were our principle tools for this video. In other trailers, we sometimes completely redesign things in-editor to serve our purposes for the shots and narrative we have in mind. In this case, we pretty much had everything to hand for the idea we wanted to execute.

How did you get the pacing of the video down?

Tony: We go through plenty of pre-production when creating any trailer here at The Trailerfarm. That process includes initial creative development, storyboarding, animatics, block edits and vertical slices (we call these ‘homeslices’) where we essentially create a final-feeling 5-10 second sequence which answers pretty much every creative question in one go. We find these super handy when selling an idea to a client and to get buy-in from stakeholders.

Were there any specific challenges?

Tony: Obviously, when a game is in the last stages of development, things get broken with the build… a lot. It’s just the way development works. The core team here are from the world of AAA console development and we’ve broken a few builds ourselves over the years, so we just roll with the punches as things come on and offline. That would be the main challenge when working directly with a live development build. We always find a way to work around issues though.

Over the years we’ve really expanded our client list to serve a global market. Working in a different time-zone presented challenges in the past, but we’ve put in processes to smooth production. Bluehole are in South Korea, and our client list stretches from China to Australia, Canada to, well, all over Europe. It’s fair to say that it has been a learning process for us, but today we’re well versed in making sure that geographical or time zone limitations do not hinder the creative process. The spread of new and returning clients from all over the world is testament to that.

Jack: As the game was still in development, we were regularly sent new builds – both standalone clients and editor builds. Inevitably, we would regularly have to combat build issues and find work arounds. The team here is very experienced – both working with developers to create trailers and many of the team having created games themselves. We also had a great working relationship with the client, so we could come together to anticipate and overcome any issues and keep the project on track. I think it’s a thing that sets us apart – we pride ourselves on coming up with cool creative and executing on great looking video. But we also understand how development works. That means we’re pretty unflappable when working with live developments, and we’re able to find solutions ourselves, or work with the client to solve issues, so we’re not held back creatively by the reality of game production.

Want to find out how we can help on your next project? Let’s talk.