Less is more in Alessandro Pacciani’s new trailer for the smash-hit video game Playerunknown’s Battleground a.k.a. PUBG. We explore the behind-the-scenes of the on-location shoot and the VFX work delivered by Platige Image.
The new PUBG trailer is unique for at least two reasons: the fact that it’s not a full CG cinematic, which is your go-to format for a game advertisement, and that it was directed by Pacciani –associated primarily with short films for top car manufacturers.
Actually, there are many more surprises awaiting careful viewers
The ad is incredibly effective in conveying the sense of participating in a chaotic battle, yet relatively self-restrained production- and staging-wise: it always stays incredibly close to the action and does nothing that would result in breaking the immersion. There’s no music whatsoever, but it’d be hard to find anyone who’s managed to notice it during their first viewing.
Also, the video is extremely faithful to the game; a feature which manifests itself in the tiniest of details, most of which you probably won’t even notice.
But what’s PUBG?
Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds is a phenomenally successful competitive online shooting game, where up to 100 players meet on a constantly shrinking battlefield and hunt each other until there’s only one left standing.
Contrary to its competitors and epigone, PUBG aims at a realistic visual style and gameplay. This makes it an ideal material for a live action short – a style that’s been requested by the PUBG Corporation, the studio behind the game.
Knowing all of that, Pacciani suddenly becomes a less surprising choice for the director’s chair
He’s an award-winning artist with a gritty and impactful style; one who knows how to make the viewer feel like they’re in the middle of action. (In this case it certainly doesn’t hurt he’s a gamer, too.) Pacciani’s recent videos for Jaguar and Abarth feature bombastic action – hectic chases, dangerous stunts and, of course, explosions – yet they never feel overdone or artificial, even when they’re set in a post-apocalyptic world.
That’s, by the way, another quality Pacciani brings to his projects: the seamless merging of what’s real and what’s not. With his background in visual effects, and after years of collaborating with the VFX house Platige Image, he can easily sell a digital illusion without the viewer even realizing the incredible amount of elements that weren’t actually on the set.
Here, however, the VFX work wasn’t as extensive. It didn’t have to be
PUBG Corp. wanted to make the ad gritty and real, so the best choice was to adapt the style associated with war journalism and Spelbergian war dramas, such as Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers.
Here, the limitations set by the producers and Pacciani himself had a deeper purpose. The camera never breaks the boots-on-the-ground perspective and stays close to the actors’ back, because that’s exactly how the player sees the playing field in the game. The director intentionally avoided cutting to close-ups or aerial shots to not break the sense of immersion.
The sense of realism is certainly there, but the no. 1 objective was to stay faithful to the game
This goal has guided everything: from the choice of location and casting, to set design, VFX and sound. Actors were chosen to reflect the game’s characters in terms of ethnicity and age. Most of the cast has never held a gun before, so everyone had to take an intense 2-day gun handling course.
The lack of actual weapon experience wasn’t a big issue, since there were restrictions as to what the actors should be able to do – and they couldn’t do anything that the player wasn’t allowed to do in the game. Their tactical outfits, gear, and even their interactions had to be truthful to PUBG’s mechanics, which is why the fighters in the video don’t always act like soldiers.
Still, the sense of realism and danger is palpable – and it wasn’t exactly staged
The film crew actually went to Beirut and shot just 2 km away from the Syrian border to ensure the feel of a real battlefield.
As Pacciani recalls, at some point on the first day of the shoot a real Russian plane was shot down near Damascus. The filmmakers had American jet fighters flying over their heads, followed by the sound of real bombings in distance, while they were firing blanks (with real guns) and staging explosions. The shoot had a military protection provided by the Lebanese army.
Post-production was made by the Platige Image studio, Pacciani’s long-time collaborator
The team was tasked with enhancing reality instead of replacing it. Explosions were added in post and some of them were were mostly enlarged and spruced up. Certain elements present on the set have been subjected to the process of photogrammetry, which allows for enriching 3D models with photorealistic amounts of texture detail. However, the fast-cut, handheld style of the video didn’t make it easier for the team to combine digital images with real-life footage.
Since it would’ve been all too easy to lose track of where exactly the characters and key objects are in relation to each other, Platige had to document every move of the camera and take a massive amount of set photos.
Enhancing gunfire or explosions with CGI proved both easier and harder for the VFX team. Special effects realized in-camera have certainly saved the time that would be needed to work out the pacing of the action of the color palette. However, patience and precision were needed to perfect the shots with high level of interaction between the actors and 3D objects.
“The goal wasn’t to make a series of effects for every single one-second-long shot, but to make a one longer effect and show it in parts, from various angles, across the shots. This let us make the entire thing look consistent throughout,” explains Bartek Kmita, CG Supervisor at Platige Image.
Still, some elements of the short had to be created entirely in 3D – such as the AC-130 airplane or the parachuted care package. Even though some of them are visible for a fraction of a second, they had to be photorealistic, and also 100% faithful to their video game counterparts.
One of the bolder directorial choices was the lack of music
And again – less has proven to be more. Pacciani wanted to start up straight into the action, with no musical build-up: just showing a C-130 crash-landing and then unfolding the battlefield. Gunfire and explosions would determine the beat moments and, as we get closer towards the climactic moment, the sound of bullets becomes rhythmic. The director felt that music would be a distraction, standing in the way of grittiness he was looking to achieve.
In the end, despite PUBG being nothing like luxury car commercials he had directed before, Alessandro Pacciani felt at home on the set of the war short. The fact that he’s comfortable with the genre becomes obvious just few seconds into the video, when the pace is set, action takes over and suddenly we’re not in Kansas anymore.