Earlier this year a trailer for the video game BATTLEFIELD 1 hit the internet and became the most liked trailer in the history of YouTube within three days. Set in World War I, the latest installment of the Battlefield franchise is an epic first-person shooter game — and it’s all under the cinematic direction of filmmakers Fredrik Akerstrom and Marcus Kryler. The directing duo, who helmed the award-winning sci-fi short Reset, spoke with us from Sweden about the merging of cinema and video games and the different challenges they faced working in the new medium.
How did you get involved with directing Battlefield 1?
Akerstrom: We have been editors for 20 years and there’s a point in your job when you just stop and go into autopilot. We always wanted to do work in movies in some way and thought that we should make our own short, Reset. It did extremely well — especially in the U.S. Our VFX for the movie started to work with DICE and EA. They were looking for cinematic directors and he felt that we should come in for an “audition” for how we would approach WWI in a first person shooter game, cinematic-wise. We wanted the players to be emotionally involved in the characters — that was our angle into it. We wrote a storyboard and explained how we would shoot it and what was important for us. After that trial, they thought it was totally new. In a first-person shooter game, you rarely get emotionally involved with the characters. They liked our angle and said, “We want you on board!”
Were both of you big gamers before signing on?
Akerstrom: Both me and Marcus played games since we were kids and heavily into games like World of Warcraft for a long time. So we have a knowledge base in games.
Kryler: Since we loved games we always thought that it would be cool to work on a game. We were so focused on directing movies so we were really surprised that we got asked to do this game. We just started working with Jon Kanak, Magnet Management, and UTA — so we were very focused on getting our movie career going. At the same time, we just felt that we needed to do this.
Akerstrom: I mean, it’s a $150 million franchise. To have the opportunity to show our vision was really interesting to us and compelled us.
What is the process of filming a video game vs. a live-action movie?
Akerstrom: The biggest thing between cinematics and games is that you need to create everything from the start. It’s basically like a Pixar movie. You need to create everything you see. It can be a really tiresome process. Also, the pre-visualization of the scene is key — we have a huge benefit of being editors so we can actually do a pre-viz of everything and get a sense of the scene. Then we basically shoot the mo-cap and everything without cameras. You register all the dots in the 3D universe — it’s almost like a play. Then we shot the film from that footage. We actually shot most of the scenes, so [we]are DOPs on this as well. The freedom here is endless. You can shoot from every angle. The only thing stopping you is your imagination. Therefore it’s important to have a vision for what you are doing. It’s a big universe.
Kryler: During this journey, we learned so much. It was a crash course into the gaming industry. It’s the same process in Avatar. We didn’t shoot the gameplay, only the cinematics — the movie-based scenes in the game. It’s around 60 minutes of movie. There’s so many people working on a game trying to get the vision of the game done — and it all comes from the vision of the cinematics.
Is seeing the game come together at the end a different satisfaction than finishing a movie?
Kryler: Absolutely. When you wrap a movie, you think, “We really went on this fantastic journey,” and then you take what you have and go into editing. Here, when you use mo-cap and facial cameras, it takes a few weeks for the data to come to you. You don’t know exactly what you are getting — you get strange, deformed figures. It’s very difficult to get an answer as to what you really have. You have to trust your instinct, memory and hope that the translated data from the shoot gives you what you want. Let’s say if you have an actor who is very subtle in the face and you have another that is very expressive. The subtle acting doesn’t translate digitally so we had to tweak those faces. We needed to make them “act” animation-wise after the shoot.
Akerstrom: It’s kind of frustrating from the film side. When we request a fortress or a zeppelin to explode they said it’s not a problem. But when we ask for a tear from the eye, they say, “that’s going to take a month.” You can basically blow things up, but human emotion — that’s the tricky part.
The world of gaming seems like untapped territory for filmmakers. Would you encourage directors to explore gaming?
Akerstrom: Yeah, definitely. Film and video games are slowly coming together. Games are getting up to speed with the technical side of movies. It’s absolutely stunning. You want to tell a story — whether it is a video game or a movie. I think the history of games have had a hard time crossing that border to where you feel for the characters. When we crossed that border, it’s not big of a difference between the two, but you need to focus on gameplay. Because that’s what people are there for.
Kryler: The gaming world is screaming for filmmakers to come into their world to make kick-ass cinematics. Before there were only animators without any film training who did the cinematics. They just copied other movies. They didn’t have any vision. I think the gaming world would benefit from aspiring filmmakers.
Battlefield 1 will be released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows on October 21.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer