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Your Shot: Assassin’s Creed ‘Defy’

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Sid Lee Paris, Stink & MPC’s epic film for launch of ‘Black Flag’

Your Shot: Assassin’s Creed ‘Defy’

Ships burn and men are slain in the new and quite brutal film for the launch of Assassin’s Creed IV ‘Black Flag’. Directed by Stink’s Adam Berg, the film blends live action and VFX brilliantly, and appears as though it’s been captured in one shot, panning seamlessly from surface-to-surface of the to-scale ship on which it was filmed. Everything seen in the spot, including the costumes of the 100 stunt men and the 3,000 cubic metre ‘ocean’, was purpose-made from complete scratch. Addison Capper speaks to Stink Paris Executive Producer, Sylvaine Mella, MPC 3D Supervisor, Fabian Frank, and Sid Lee Art Director, Martin Westberg, about this properly epic spot. 


Stink's Sylvaine Mella

LBB> What kind of brief were you presented with and what were your immediate thoughts when you saw it?

SM> The brief from the head of creation was simple: we want  ‘epic’. The money is not good but we want pure ‘epic’. Adam was an obvious call.

LBB> How long was pre-production for a spot of this magnitude and what did it involve?

SM> I got the script mid-February and we shot mid-May. Finding the right studios and talent was one big challenge, but everybody loved the script and responded with real enthusiasm.

LBB> How much and what kind of research was needed to make sure everything fitted the correct time era? 

SM> The art director, David Lee, did a lot of really extensive research to fit the correct era; as a matter of fact, each game of this series is always very carefully designed to be true to the time and place in which it is set. Our clients drew our attention to this aspect from the very beginning and we worked closely with the Ubisoft teams, who provided a lot of information as well. It was quite a challenge to find the right materials, the right fabrics, the right techniques. All was made from scratch by talented technicians under the careful supervision of David Lee.

LBB> How much was shot in camera and how much was done in post?

SM> Adam wanted to shoot as much as possible in camera, so we did. But of course some of the explosions, fire and other special effects couldn’t be done with the cast on set due to security reasons, so we did a lot of passes. The bottom of the ocean also had to be created in post because we shot in a tank. Other boats, islands and the sky had to be created in post as well. It’s hard to say, though, at this point, which says a lot about the quality of both live and post blending together.

LBB> I absolutely love the way the camera pans from floor-to-floor of the ship - why was it chosen to tell the story that way?

SM> That was both the idea of the creative team and Adam. After discussing it with the agency, he enhanced the movements of the camera to dramatise the story and linger more on the different people and actions, rather than just be one simple vertical move. 

LBB> What did the team at MPC bring to the final spot and what was it like working with them?  

SM> MPC’s involvement started at the very early stages. The special effects supervisor attended rehearsals and the entire shoot, and worked very closely with Adam and his DOP, Mattias Montero. Adam and MPC did a very precise pre-viz that really helped everyone understand exactly what was going to be shot in order to achieve the crazy, seamless move up through the whole boat.

LBB> What was the shoot like as a whole? What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome?

SM> Such an epic shoot doesn’t happen every day in the world of commercials. It was just fantastic. In fact we sort of had every possible challenge: shooting under water, carefully choreographed stunts, every existing camera in special effects, all blended with very precisely choreographed motion control moves and almost no cuts! And all of that in just three shooting days. You can’t ask for more. Domino, the production service company, did a great job of making it all happen and Adam is just an amazing director. From the beginning he had a very precise vision of the film and we just had to follow it.  


MPC's Fabian Frank

LBB> What kind of brief were you initially presented with and what were your immediate thoughts when you saw it?

FF> The brief was to create a live action game trailer for Assassin’s Creed, Black Flag. The whole commercial appears as if it were one shot, starting with an underwater scene, through a galleon to the top of the mast, following high action scenes from one section to another. The trailer is a seamless blend of live action and CG, and there is an immense amount of activity taking place in the foreground, midground and background, going right back through the layers. 

I immediately thought it would be challenging, but at the same time one of the most exciting projects I have worked on. The guys all jumped at a chance to work on it. Explosions, burning ships, blood effects – what more could you want in a project?

LBB> How much and what kind of research did you have to undertake for this project?

FF> We conducted a lot of research of oceans and the interaction of ships in open water. In addition, Ubisoft supplied lots of concept art from the game, which we then used for building and texturing the ships. Everything you see in the film is taken directly from the game and re-built for this trailer. 

LBB> How early on were you involved in the production? Were you involved much in the pre-production?

FF> MPC were involved right from the beginning of pre-production, starting with a full 3D pre-vis. The pre-vis was a really important part of the process, as it helped Adam work out the camera moves and the placement of the cast and other objects through the different sections of the ship. 

LBB> And how much involvement did Adam Berg and the team at Stink have in the VFX process?

FF> We worked very closely with Adam and Stink during all stages of the process. Adam is an incredibly talented director, and his VFX knowledge is second to none. We also had regular feedback from Sid Lee Paris, who had a strong creative vision for the project. 

On very complex projects such as this, it is essential to get feedback and share progress as soon as possible. With this in mind, we had regular screening meetings, where everyone involved in the film watched the work in progress and were involved in the review. 

LBB> What was the time scale for post on the project?

FF> It took roughly 6 months, from starting the pre-viz through shooting, post-production and VFX to final delivery.

LBB> What were the biggest challenges you faced for this and how did you overcome them?

FF> The biggest challenge was the seamless integration of live action, CG elements and matte paintings, as there is so much going on in every scene. This involved the full range of different artistic and technical disciplines, from pre-viz to 3D build, 3D rendering, compositing, 2D elements and matte painting. 




LBB> What was the initial brief like and what were your immediate thoughts when you saw it?

MW> The initial brief was to respect and reinforce Ubisofts dedication to make Assassin's Creed 4 Black Flag a true, vivid representation of the golden age of piracy. Further, we were to underline the new, less heroic, darker main character Edward Kenway, and the much bigger more open and free world that players are presented with in AC4BF, compared to previous games in the series.  We knew couldn't rely on romanticised ideals, however we can tell a story of real struggle, much stronger than many pirate tales told before. We saw what the pirates did as a powerful example of anarchy, of direct democracy, but also an inspiring strive for ultimate freedom in recent human history. But for us, the fact that you can not break the system without creating suffering lingered, a truth we wanted to keep with us.

LBB> Why was Adam Berg the right director for this project?

MW> As the outlines of the film became clear, it was clear that we needed a director with the drive and ability to tell many stories in one picture. With experience in directing with unusual camera restrictions and an unparalleled attention to detail, not only in scenography but individual movements, expressions and sources of light, Adam Berg would be able to make a film where hundreds of elements needed to work together and at the same time deliver several narratives, come true.

LBB> What were the key insights that drove this campaign and how long did it take from idea to conception?

MW> The key insight manifested itself in a number of short lines, one of which was "The most dangerous thing a man can have is his freedom". The line Defy is first and foremost a call to stand up to power hungry rule, be it a unjust captain or a colonial empire. But it's also a call to the self, because as the fight to break free ends, the fight to stay free begins. A fight that is both harder, longer and more dangerous. One must defy ones own fears every day, or go under the surface and drown.

LBB> What was the research and design process like for this campaign?

MW> Ubisoft has because of their dedication to authenticity an extremely well researched basis for each Assassin's Creed game. We merged their knowledge with in depth research done by Paul (Lastname) and his team to bring the Spanish Galleon to life. The ships parts are built to real world specifications in the studio itself under a three week period. The main goal was to match Ubisofts ambition levels in their game world for our film. The level of detail goes down to almost unnoticeable things like carved and painted names of imagined Spanish carpenters who could have built the ship. Almost all parts of the ship is built by hand, with authentic tar in the hull and ropes twined on location. Hours were spent dusting ash and slowly carving the floor of the cannon deck under the cannons wheels, making it look like cannon had been fired for years on that very spot.

LBB> Strategically, what do you think this spot can achieve for Ubisoft, as a brand?

MW> Our main challenge for this game was to refuel the brand on these dimensions with a gripping emotional masterpiece. That is the purpose of this live action trailer : become a true anthem embodying all the values of piracy that will lead the heroe's adventures. Also, we had to capture a whole new lifestyle with the golden age of piracy which is quite different from the previous games.  When we first saw the concept and art of the game we were pretty mind blown. It was a different take on piracy, much more brutal and realistic, than what had earlier been envisioned. Also, we had the feeling that freedom was at the core of the game : lots of new possibilities, features inland, on the sea… but also from an emotional standpoint, piracy is all about freedom.
Also, we conceived this piece as the main emotional hook for the rest of assassin's creed black flag activations : for example, the battleship of the TVC is the starting point of a digital experience where gamers can co-create a massive painting for real that will be showcased in a museum.

LBB> What were the most challenging aspects of this project and how did you overcome them?

MW> For the film, it is almost impossible to point to one single challenge. Had not everyone of the many people involved in the project had a strong belief in it, it would have been hard to realise. The set was a gargantuan, authentic build, that needed to be submerged, put on fire, blown up, all while filled with up to more than 10 stuntmen at once. All this needed to be captured with pinpoint precision and all elements needed to click. Finally, the production challenges and the sense of real tension on set gave the project the final push it needed to go forth and become the centrepiece of our campaign.



Agency: Sid Lee Paris 
Executive Creative Director: Sylvain Thirache
Art Director: Daniel Abensour & Martin Westberg
Copywriter: Johan Jeansson
Production director: Thomas Laget
Managing director: Johan Delpuech
Account director: Bruno Lee
Project manager: Yaël Guetta

Production Company: Stink 
Director: Adam Berg
Producer UK: Ben Crocker
Producer FR: Sylvaine Mella
Production Coordinator: Clémentine Tatin
Director of Photography: Mattias Montero
Production Designer: David Mark Lee 

Editor: Paul Hardcastle @ Trim

VFX Producer: Chris Allen
Line Producer: Stephanie Karim
VFX Supervisors: Franck Lambertz and Fabian Frank
Grade: Mark Gethin

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Mill London, Wed, 21 Aug 2013 19:51:08 GMT