After delivering the epic Main Title sequence, Elastic’s keen understanding of the game’s hero character was evident, leading 215 to award Elastic the opportunity to work on the E3 Trailer and the game’s official Launch Trailer. This partnership culminated in three visually striking pieces of content to reveal Gears 5’s new female protagonist, Kait Diaz, a conflicted hero torn between her loyalty to her squad and a mysterious pull to her sworn enemy.
The three visually stunning trailers are: “Kait, Broken,” which launched June 9 (https://youtu.be/4IP_EPLfvSo); “The Chain,” which launched September 5 (https://youtu.be/h35_KOgslkM); and “Title Sequence,” which launched September 6 (https://vimeo.com/359897342).
To envision the 90-second “Main Title,” Elastic’s Noah Harrisstepped forward as Creative Director. Harris and the Elastic team worked hand-in-hand with The Coalition to create the sequence, which takes the player on a visceral CG odyssey through the interior of Kait’s body, where the lava-like bubbling of her blood cells and the arterial flood create a nightmarish landscape.
The piece that highlights the game’s renewed focus on character-led drama is the “Kait, Broken,” Trailer shown at E3. Working collaboratively with 215 McCann, Andy Hall’s ability of capturing believability in characters – was most called upon. Set to Billie Eilish's “Bury a Friend,” the film is a stark character study of the hero Kait, as various identities and painful memories try to tear through her emotional psyche.
Working with the actor from the game, Elastic’s footage from the motion capture shoot was then applied with a heavy dose of CG by a large team of animators.
The launch trailer, “The Chain,” follows Kait on an action-packed minute-long journey, as she battles obstacles both real and imagined. Set to a cover of the Fleetwood Mac classic sung by Amy Lee of Evanescence, “The Chain” required a combination of character work with large-scale FX to create the setting – a desert during a category 4 storm, where all hell is breaking loose.
Elastic utilized keyframe animation to capture all Kait’s movements and emotions that combined with extensive CG FX. Not only did they have to integrate the character within this red-sand world, but to add elements like fire tornados and obsidian formations that manifest from the chaotic desert landscape. This required extensive rendering, as most shots consisted of 60-70+ layers of CG, all running through Flame at 4K.
To complete the entire scope of this visual feast, Elastic used tools including Maya and Houdini for CG animation, Nuke for comp’ing, Z-Brush, Substance Painter, V-Ray, and Flame.
Here, CD Andy Hall and Andrew Romatz detail the work in “Kait Broken” and “The Chain,” while Andrew Romatz, CG lead, responds to questions about the creation of the “Main Title.”
Which assets were taken from the actual game, and which did you create from scratch?
We received Maya files for the game-level assets of all the characters. Additionally we were provided some higher-level cinematic assets from the developer. This included both model and rig files along with, where available, ZBrush sculpts and texture maps. This was a great start, but our goal was to push the level of detail and realism as much as possible within our timeline.
Using these assets as a base, our lead modeler, Jose Limón, focused on Kait, to selectively clean up and uprez portions of her armor, necklace, and facial structure. We also spent a fair bit of time developing a high-fidelity set of skin textures and shaders across all of the characters.
We employed the use of their provided ZBrush models but found the need to add more detail. Adding detail involved using the provided skin texture and blending them with very high resolution photographic skin textures, normal maps, and displacement maps from ZBrush. Bringing all of these parts together, we used V-Ray Next’s amazing skin shaders to pull this all together to achieve the look we desired.
One of the more time-consuming [tasks] was translating the game-level hair assets to real hair systems, while maintaining the same look. Obviously the most time was spent on Kait, but Reyna had her own challenges with her long hair and braid. To add to Kait’s realism in addition to rebuilding her hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes with Ornatrix for Maya. We added a very fine level of facial hair to her as well as all of the other characters to add to the realism.
One of the last custom pieces we built were physically accurate eyes. Knowing where the framing of the camera was going to be, it was very important to have a high level of detail and realism to the eyes.
What was the most challenging aspect of creating the video?
One of our biggest challenges was taking the motion and high-resolution facial capture data, which was broken down into raw moments of emotion, and blending them together to tell our story. We received multiple streams of data from both Rogue and DI4D. Our lead rigger, Josh Dyer, extensively built off of the provided rig so that we could layer multiple streams of facial and motion-capture data at the same time. He provided controls for the animators to access raw point cache facial scan data as well as the same data that was converted to keyframes applied to the facial rig. The animators had the ability to use all of this data selectively on different parts of face. This allowed us to bring out small facial details of the raw performance that was not built into the rig.
In “Kait Broken,” was the game actress scanned separately for the video?
We did use Laura Bailey, the very talented voice actor that provides the voice for Kait. We actually employed three different levels of performance capture. The first was a traditional optical full-body capture. The second was a stereo head-mounted facial capture system. And the third was a high-resolution facial performance, which utilized an array of nine high-resolution cameras.
Even though our story is focused on Kait’s face, we felt strongly that the actress’ full-body performance as well as her facial performance was needed to really feel like the two were connected. We received three streams of facial data from DI4d. There was the raw capture of the Laura’s performance. Then this was re-targeted to Kait’s facial mesh. Both of these streams of data consisted of a single mesh with animated point data. The last piece provided was that same retargeted performance solved down to the rig controls.
We rebuilt from scratch all of the hair on each character using Ornatrix for Maya. Ornatrix has a built-in simulation engine that we utilized for Kait’s hair simulation.
How were the assets created for this video?
We were fortunate enough to have the Kait asset from our work on another Gears 5 spot, “Kait Broken.” We started with this as our base for “The Chain” and added dynamic hair and cloth sims. We also used the provided Skiff asset as a great starting point, and added even more detail in the textures. We were also lucky enough to be able to block out shots with actual game assets for the surface building, The Matriarch, and the Juvees. For these assets, we brought everything into ZBrush to add more model detail, and spent time to repaint textures to fit our pre-rendered needs. Everything else in the spot was created in-house.
What challenged you the most on this video?
For “The Chain,” the most challenging aspect was finding the right visual balance for the storm. We went through many iterations, playing with the amount and type of storm elements. Some versions were just too dense, which impacted legibility. Others were too thin and distracting, which didn’t provide the scale or impact that we were looking for. We wanted to make the storm feel imposing and dangerous enough to give the story context, and have a progression to Kait’s journey through the spot.
Please provide some details about the animation and effects in the video.
All of the character animation for this spot was hand-keyed. We have a group of talented character animators who we were able to turn to in order to get the exact performance that we wanted. Our rigging team did an amazing job of providing facial and muscle control and adjusting to the needs of the animators as production progressed.
All the dynamic elements were created in Houdini. This included all the storm elements, the collision and Skiff breakup, and the tumble down the sand dune. We generated .vdb and alembic files from Houdini, and brought these into Maya to render with V-Ray. This part of the process was straightforward, and V-Ray rendered everything quickly and efficiently. The most challenging part of this was managing the sheer volume of effects and making sure that any updates to the simulations were properly propagated through. Needless to say, the disk size of the job was pretty large with all these simulations.
Please outline the process for generating the assets for “Main Title.”
In the sequence, we used game assets for Kait and The Matriarch. We did a lot of custom texturing and modeling for those assets, though, and all the shading, lighting, rigging and animation was created just for the “Main Title.” All the other environments and props were created from scratch using reference artwork from the game and a lot of seriously disturbing medical photography.
What presented you with the most difficulty?
For the “Main Title,” the most challenging scene was the chest cavity cavern with a churning ocean for a floor, a beating heart suspended from the ceiling, which was oozing molten lava and with tentacles snaking over the walls of the cavern and over the heart. Getting everything in and working was a big technical challenge, but in addition to that ,we were referencing an oil painting that was warping perspective on an ocean surface, getting that right was also really tricky.
This video is very intense. What was the source of inspiration?
We did look at a ton of reference for all of the animation and FX work in the “Main Title.” Lots of reference of crystals growing, lava flowing, beating living hearts, medical photography, meat. We were looking at reference every day trying to instill a sense of reality in the look and feel of all the elements.
We did a lot of particle simulation work in Houdini that drives the behavior of all the fluids for the water smoke and lava. We also used vellum for the tentacles motion, the undulating walls of the body cavities and the brain.
In the sequence where Kate is trapped inside the heart, the blood was created using Bifrost in Maya. We looked at real-world references to achieve the weight and viscosity of real blood, but also had to take into consideration the play with scale that is happening in that scene. There was a lot of back and forth between the FX team and the animation team to adjust Kait’s movements to produce nice-looking fluid motion of the blood.