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How GUT Used Real War Photographers to Take Photos Inside the New Call of Duty



Miami-based agency GUT tells LBB’s Ben Conway how they used genuine war photographers inside the Call of Duty: Vanguard to take promotional photos and raise money for charity

How GUT Used Real War Photographers to Take Photos Inside the New Call of Duty

The release of a new Call of Duty is an exciting time for millions of gamers around the world that enjoy the videogame behemoth’s annual releases. This year is no different - with the release of Call of Duty: Vanguard, COD fans are being plunged back into the global conflict of World War Two. After Activision showed them a snippet of what the fans had in store, GUT Miami created a concept that would immerse the audience in the intense and graphically improved environment which Vanguard’s campaign mode has to offer.

To prove to the avid fan base that this Call of Duty instalment is better than the last and will bring a level of authenticity never seen before, GUT decided to put actual conflict photojournalists into the ‘warzone’ to capture the game’s immersion and realism. These photos were then sold at auction, with all the proceeds being put towards the Call of Duty Endowment Fund - a charity that helps military veterans in the US and UK gain find career paths.

Discussing this photographic campaign with LBB, GUT explains how the concept and collaboration came about, covering the Second World War with the ‘highest respect’ and the technological challenge of putting photographers inside of a videogame. 

LBB> Where did the initial creative spark for this project come from? Did Activision come to you with a brief, or did you approach them?

GUT> Activision came to us with a brief to promote their new game from the blockbuster Call of Duty franchise, Call of Duty: Vanguard. They wanted to explore an idea that not only the game community would talk about, but one that those outside of it would as well.

The start of the idea came from a meeting with the client when they presented us the first ten minutes of a mission in the game’s campaign (story mode). It looked so real, intense, and visually stunning at the same time. Every time we paused the game, it was like hitting pause on a movie. The visuals looked like a picture that we’d frame on a wall.

LBB> What do you think this concept does particularly well for the product and client? Why did you choose this creative approach?

GUT> Instead of geeking out on the technology and how it makes the game look so realistic, we wanted to reach a broader audience. A gamer already knows how immersive games like Call of Duty: Vanguard can be. So, by having highly experienced photojournalists take us through the World War II gaming experience in their own POV, we can explain to people who have never picked up a videogame before just how realistic and intense Vanguard is.

The approach of putting real war photographers inside Vanguard - and having them cover the battles that happen within the game as they normally would in a conflict zone in real-life - tests the game’s realism and ‘immersiveness’. It gives the game’s portrayal of WWII even more authenticity.

LBB> When working with one of the biggest video game franchises in the world - what difficulties and opportunities does this pose?

GUT> One of the difficulties that we faced was that the Call of Duty fanbase can be extremely passionate. We had to live up to the hype. So, when promoting Vanguard, we needed to show them (and prove to them) that this is truly a World War II game experience like they’ve never seen before. 

Fortunately, Vanguard doesn’t follow the typical WWII hero that we have seen in WWII movies of our time: the American soldier saving the world on D-Day. Instead, the game follows the story of diverse heroes who fought in diverse fronts—the Pacific, Northern Africa, the Eastern front, and Berlin – fronts that are rarely covered by the entertainment media today.

Having an engaged and passionate fanbase can be an opportunity as well. For the millions of gamers who play Call of Duty each month, every time the brand releases something, their voices amplify that something. And that something has a chance of becoming a moment in culture.

LBB> Did you have much input with casting the photographers? If so, what was that process like?

GUT> Yes, it was a long journey. We interviewed dozens of conflict photojournalists until we met Alex Potter and Sebastiano Piccolomini. 

The first thing we looked for was photographers who have had extensive experience in conflict zones around the world and that their work has been published in reputable news outlets. From there, we looked into photographers who had different styles and different ways of portraying conflict, because a game that aims to portray World War II as diverse as possible deserves to be told through POVs that are just as diverse too. 

LBB> There’s a fine line between showcasing the game and what some would perceive as ‘glorifying war’ - was this a concern in your conscience for this campaign? What did you have to consider when dealing with this topic? 

GUT> Absolutely, it was something that went into consideration every step of the way - from the conception of the idea to the casting of the photographers to the editing of the film. 

Call of Duty: Vanguard at its heart was inspired by the stories of ordinary soldiers who rose up in extraordinary ways in World War II that are rarely covered in the entertainment industry today. This was an opportunity to shine a light on history that we’ve never seen before, and by having renowned war photographers who have covered subjects like this, our aim was to portray this with the highest respect.

But we didn’t just stop there. We’ve made sure that we continued handling this topic with care even after the launch of the film as well. We sold the photographs taken by these journalists on  Bleecker Street, with all the proceeds going to the Call of Duty Endowment Fund. The Endowment is a cause that Call of Duty has been committed to for years. It has directly helped place over 90,000 unemployed veterans in high-quality jobs.

LBB> Were you on-set for the shoot of the film? If so, how was the shoot and is there anything memorable that happened?

GUT> Being coasts apart, the shoot physically brought together both the GUT and Activision teams for the first time. It was an amazing experience that allowed us to collaborate, and it was also amazing to see how the idea and the tech all came together so smoothly.

LBB> How do you think the photos turned out? Do you have a favourite?

GUT> Everyone at GUT has a different favourite one, so it depends on who you ask! It was incredibly hard to settle on the best one, so we picked four in total - one for each one of the fronts that were photographed in the game. 

LBB> Is this concept something you would be interested in doing again? Many videogames have a photo mode nowadays and as graphics improve, do you think beautiful photography from within game engines can be a good advertising tool?

GUT> We’ll defer there. But, I would echo that video games like Call of Duty are incredibly stunning in their realism and attention to detail. It’s an art form in and of itself, and we’d love to return to this awe-inspiring subject matter.

LBB> What was your biggest challenge on this project? And how did you overcome it?

GUT> The biggest challenge on this project was the technological aspect of putting photographers inside the game. We had to make sure the experience of photographing Call of Duty: Vanguard felt as natural and authentic as possible to Alex and Sebas, our war photographers. 

Before going into the shoot, we had to figure out a setup that gave the photographers all the freedom that they would have in a real conflict zone. If they wanted to walk towards a building inside Vanguard and take a photograph from there, we had to find a way to translate their movements in the capture studio for the game. If they wanted to capture a closeup of a soldier’s boot or the landscape shot of the battlefield, we wanted to give them the opportunity to change the lens as they would with a real camera. We worked very closely with Activision’s technical team, who are the best in class, to make sure the audio and the lighting wouldn’t break the photographers’ immersion into the game as well.

By ensuring that the photographers had an organic experience at the studio, we knew that the people watching our film would feel that too. 

LBB> What’s in store for the future of this project? Will the photos be used in upcoming marketing for example?

GUT> It’s too early to say. It started with a film, and from there, stunning photographs came out of it. We used those photographs as out-of-home billboards. We then put them up for sale on Bleecker Street with all the proceeds going to the Call of Duty Endowment Program. The reaction to the photos has been great, and we certainly enjoyed every second in helping to bring these to life.

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GUT, Tue, 16 Nov 2021 17:01:00 GMT