How Assassin's Creed 4's cinematic trailer was made

One of the world's most successful video game franchises, the fourth game in the Assassin's Creed series, Black Flag, is due for an October release, and makers Ubisoft have pulled out all the stops to promote it.

This dark and moody trailer, which is being currently shown in cinemas and on television throughout the world, sees ships burn and men brutally slain in a cinematic promo that blends epic live action with complex VFX techniques. Here's how it was put together...

Epic set builds

The large-scale set included a full-sized gunboat

The large-scale set included a full-sized gunboat

Stink London director Adam Berg, VFX experts MPC and creative agency Sid Lee Paris pulled no punches in this ambitious project, which involved the creation of some epic set builds, including a full-size Spanish gunboat and a 3,000 cubic metre water tank, as well as a cast of around 100 stunt professionals.

MPC’s team, led by VFX wizard Franck Lambertz, collaborated on planning for the three day shoot and then completed the subsequent VFX over a four week schedule. Led by Berg, the aim was to capture as much of the action in camera and then integrate bespoke VFX.

Gritty feel

“Adam chose us to help him create a gritty, yet realistic spot that keeps the authenticity of the game intact," Lambertz explains.

Integrating live action and CGI was a huge challenge

Integrating live action and CGI was a huge challenge

"The interaction of the live action footage between the CG and 2D environments is paramount in this film - and we have a high level of detail taking place in both the foreground, mid-ground and in the distance as we pan-up through the ship.

"The gamers really know their stuff, and they’ll have their eyes peeled for any mistakes or incorrect details.”

Eerie environment

During pre-production MPC created a full 3D pre-vis of the ship and the concurrent camera move. This then allowed Berg more freedom to direct the cast on set.

The opening scene takes place underwater

The opening scene takes place underwater

The opening scene of an eerie underwater environment was filmed in a tank, purpose built on set.

The floating men were captured on five different plates, which were then composited together before the scene was enhanced with light effects, debris and bubbles.

The hull of the boat was created in CG and can be seen as the camera transitions upwards.

Clever integration

The remaining high-action scenes above water were achieved with a clever mix of in-camera action, along with integrated shot and 2D elements. The intensity of the action required separate plates, utilising green screen and the set, which were then composited together.

The use of fog and smoke adds to the eerie atmosphere

The use of fog and smoke adds to the eerie atmosphere

Matte painting was used throughout for set extensions and boat environments, while the addition of CG fog and smoke elements give the impression that the camera is in the thick of the action.

Software and music

MPC’s 3D team, led by Fabian Frank, utilised Houdini to create the realistic particle and water effects from scratch.

The final, wide shot was created by MPC’s in-house concept artists who used matte painting to create the stunning scene; complete with burning ships, palm trees and a cloud filled sky.

For the music Stink approached Paris-based agency Creaminal, which represents Adele, The XX and The Arctic Monkeys. Creaminal brought forward New York based musician Son Lux, who had scored music for the 2012 film Looper, to soundtrack the Black Flag trailer.

Check out the making-of video here:

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