Dante’s Inferno Trailer

[qt:http://motionograph.wpengine.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/dantes_inferno_h264.mov 786 589]

Storyboards and Development

Check out the storyboards and some making-of imagery behind this epic project.


The following is an interview with the creators behind Psyop’s “Dante’s Inferno” and myself, Lauren Indovina.

Lauren Indovina: I was really surprised this is a “Psyop game trailer”. When did Psyop start making melancholic game trailers about Hell? Care to fill in the blanks?

Psyop: We were approached by G-Net to pitch on this project in fall of last year and were immediately taken by the look they wanted to achieve. To do something with some gore and action was something we have been wanting to do for some time. Trouble is we aren’t known for doing animations on the darker side, in fact there was some question if we were even capable of this degree of violence when we first pitched on the job. We took this as a bit of a challenge and dug deep into our inner 13 year old boy to channel necessary violence and gore to create this spot. The experience of making this trailer was both exciting and challenging. Geeks being geeks we wanted to cram as much cool content into this trailer as possible, which led to this animation becoming one of Psyop’s most dense cg projects to date.

LI: I always wonder how people begin to make a game trailer. Was there an initial phase of look development where designers flushed out the style? Or, was it a more organic post process working closely with 3D artists to achieve a final scene?

Psyop: This project started out with a design phase to flush out our initials thoughts for the style of the piece. The designs helped us plan and manage our time as well as let us know what challenges we were going to face production wide in order to match the design.  As the project rolled on it became more of a collaborating between design and our 3d team. Some scenes required a lot of matte paintings, that would then be projected as textures onto 3d models. This meant that we needed to match camera angles and design according to the camera’s movement. It was a different process for us and it turned out to be a great learning opportunity.

LI: How true did you have to be to the style and look of the video game? What stylistically did Psyop bring to the table?

Psyop: We worked very closely with EA in order to match what they had created for game content. They sent us some models, environment designs and character designs, but in the end we could only use these as reference due to our animation needs, forcing us to recreate everything ourselves into high quality models and matte paintings. This was an enormous amount of work but gave us the opportunity to add our own touch to what we received from EA.

Stylistically we wanted to create a layer over top all of the action that would mesh everything together and give this animatic a bit of a Psyop twist so that it wasn’t your run of the mill epic 3d game trailer. We decided that adding a turbulent ink effect that felt like it was pulling the color off of everything in the scenes would heighten the sense of ferocity one would imagine in hell. To us, the ink became one of the main characters, we were always thinking about how it would act to enhance the action as well as the moods of the different environments.

One of our biggest references was the artwork of Wayne Barlowe which turned out to work very seamlessly with what EA had in mind since they brought him in to help with their character designs.

LI: “Divine Comedy”, written by Dante Alighieri in the 14th century, is an allegorical vision of the christian afterlife that depicts a journey through the three realms of the dead. This is a big story. How did your team break it down? Did EA have an idea of what sort of imagery they wanted to include? Or did you guys brainstorm to come up with various ways of depicting hell?

Psyop:  Gnet came to us with a skeleton of what they wanted story wise and it was up to us to fill it out. In the original script there was a small blurb talking about fast cuts of Dante fighting through hell, which was by far the smallest part of the script but in reality turned out to be the bulk of the spot. A lot of our ideas stemmed from what assets we had available to us since EA was still in the process of developing the game certain characters hadn’t been flushed out yet. So knowing what we had to work with we developed a story of Dante’s descent into hell and worked with a storyboard artist to block out the scenes the best we could.

LI: There are a lot of cinematic acrobatics involved in the cameras and editorial sequences, which seem to play a huge role in creating mood. What were some of the challenges making it feel seamless, but also a kinetic tour de force of Hell?

Psyop:  We wanted this to feel very cinematic with plenty of camera shake and some epic camera movement, but we also wanted to bring our own touch to it. We decided that the transitions would give us the opportunity to stretch the standard game trailer a bit and bring it closer to the graphic world we are used to dealing with. We didn’t want to force feed some graphic transitions so we decided early that all of our transitions should be the equivalent of a Michael Bay explosion or they wouldn’t be worth it.

LI: Things get very turbulent once we enter hell, and there is a lot of liquid sim, character animation, etc. How much of the production pipeline was dedicated to previs and planning? Once you had a locked camera and edit, how did your team then start to breakdown the shots so that everyone was working sysinctly?

We did a large amount of prevising in the first month in order to try and avoid as many surprised as we could later in production, but like any job we still faced a lot of hurdles once we got deep into production.  This was a very complicated project to create and because our team was on the smaller side most people had to take on many tasks during production. Due to this we had to keep a great amount of oversight in order to keep the job organized and to make sure that things were being done on time. Our producer on the job, Carol Collins, did a great job of this and astoundingly kept her sanity through the entire production.

LI: What was the timeframe from start to finish that you guys had to complete this project?

Psyop: From design phase to final delivery we had three months to create this animation. Our production schedule became very tight so we had to be smart with how we budgeted our time and resources.

The team spent incredibly long hours working on this in the few months that we had problem solving and trying to exceed our own expectations. In the end it was a bit of a slave labor of love, but with out a doubt worth it.

LI: Biggest challenges?

Psyop: Overall spot length is always one of the biggest challenges in the commercial animation. This project was the complete opposite of that. We had no time restriction from G-Net so for us it became a matter of limiting ourselves and not make this animation so long that we couldn’t complete it! What this difference in limits allowed was more of a focus on dramatic pacing, which is very difficult to achieve in a 30 second spot. In certain scenes we are able to linger a bit longer to give the scene the appropriate mood.

LI: Software?

For the bulk of our production we used Maya and for our particle sims we used 3ds Max and Houdini. All of our compositing was done in After Effects.

LI: Is the game genre and Hell going to be continuing themes in Psyop’s future?

Psyop: We hope so! We worked long and hard, almost becoming ghosts to our loved ones during this project because we found it to be such a great opportunity for us to break ground into something new. We are excited to see what this brings and we hope that this will bring more game trailers to our door step.


Project: Dante’s Inferno
Client Company: Electronic Arts
Agency: G-Net
Executive Producers: David Getson, David Moodie, John Rosenberg
Creative Director: David Moodie
Writer: David Moodie
Original Score: Garry Schyman
Sound Design: Paul Gorman, David Swenson
Additional Titles: Devan Simunovich
Production Supervisor: Shelby Hill
Media Editor: Alik Griffin

Production Company: Psyop
Director: Psyop
Psyop Creative Director: Eben Mears
Executive Producer: Lucia Grillo
Producer: Carol Collins
Design Director: Jon Saunders
Designer: Anh Vu
Storyboard Artist: Ben Chan
3D Look and Development: Marco Iozzi
Matte Painter: Pete Sickbert-Bennett
Technical Directors: Tony Barbieri, Damon Ciarelli, Miguel A. Salek (FX), Lee Wolland (Character & Rigging)
3D Team: Helen Choi, Tom Cushwa, Pete Devlin, Rei Ito, Kitty Lin, Consuelo Macri, Rich Magan, Pat Porter, Heiko Schneck, Miles Southan, Gooshun Wang, Russ Wooton
Compositing: Molly Schwartz, Jason Conradt, Fred Kim

About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.