The art of creating cinematic CG trailers

A still from a trailer that RealtimeUK created for Sega’s upcoming release Total War: Shogun 2

Since this year's E3, there has been a "huge resurgence in interest in high-end CG trailers," says RealtimeUK's CG director Ian Jones. "As a result, we're being approached by more and more developers and publishers enquiring about future projects."

That sounds like pretty promising news for RealtimeUK, a northern company that specialises in quality CG animation, and works with games companies around the world.

It has recently contributed to Stormbirds for THQ, Split Second by Disney Interactive Studios and Sega's Total War: Shogun 2.

Working on the upcoming Transformers online game by Jagex enabled Ian to unlock his own childhood imagination. "I had all the toys," he enthuses, "and I grew up watching Transformers, so it was a privilege to be able to work on one of my favourites."

Ian works alongside creative director Chris Fenna. Whereas Ian focuses on the technical side of CG animation and rendering, and uses his cinematic flare, Chris oversees concept work, pre-production and animation direction.

In addition to commissioning RealtimeUK to create cut scene animations, games companies also employ the studio to work on concept art for projects.

RealtimeUK recently created promotional stills for Disney Interactive's racing game Split Second

"We do lots of concept art as promotional imagery, without being involved in the actual game," points out Chris. Operation Flashpoint: Red River is an example of our recent imagery work. We produced 16 press images without getting involved in the marketing trailer."

By working at several different stages in the production of computer games, the studio has broadened its collective skills and understanding of the industry.

Codemasters required 16 stunning artworks to promote Operation Flashpoint: Red River, and called on RealtimeUK

In some cases, RealtimeUK will develop storyboards and animatics that game programmers can refer to when designing the gameplay. This happened when Chris worked on the 007 title Blood Stone for Bizarre Creations.

RealtimeUK was founded in 1996 and today is based in a purpose-built studio on a farm in the Lancashire countryside near Preston. The stone building, with hardwood floors and exposed rafters, seems like an ideal setting for the 23-strong art team, which currently includes 13 freelance animators who are contributing to an ongoing project. Chris is in charge of hiring new artists.

RealtimeUK produced rendered cut scenes for Kinectimals, Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox game that was all about keeping virtual pets – including a Bengal tiger

"I think for a portfolio to really stand out to me, I'd like to see evidence of individual creativity," he explains. "For concept artists, strong drawing, painting and design skills are obviously essential. For animators, a strong character-driven reel without too much mo-cap is favourable."

Many commercial CG houses avoid being typecast for working in a particular style. However, RealtimeUK can't help but acknowledge that the sci-fi and fantasy content it's often called on to create has contributed to the concept art look and feel you can detect in its work. Because its existing content helps previsualise so many projects, this is no bad thing, according to Ian.

RealtimeUK not only creates cut scenes, it also helps game developers visualise their ideas using concept art, such as this mech – the Agrobot

"A lot of our pre-vis is centred around fantastic concept art. Where possible, we try to inject as much of this style into our final movies using dramatic 2D matte paintings and stylised texture art," he says. And this spills over into the production side as well.

He continues: "We also use concept art to drive the visual style of our lighting and rendering. Stylised artwork is far more acceptable to the eye, rather than extreme photo-realistic imagery."

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 73.

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