What was the brief from the client and how did you tackle this?
This was one of those briefs that was easy to get very excited about. I’m a big fan of the Battle Royale genre and knew the game extremely well. When in discussions, Krafton gave us some clear pillars that they wanted to hit, these included the land, loot and survival structure. But, they also gave me a lot of freedom in how we could approach the film, which is always great.
The first thing I did was jump straight into the game. I watched endless hours of streamers and “Highlights Compilations” to get inspiration and direct insight into the mindset of a PUBG player. Many of the shots are inspired by actual gameplay. For example, the scene where our hero lands and uses a frying pan to deflect bullets and knock out an enemy is a real thing in the game.
I was chuffed that Krafton liked the idea of taking a grittier approach to the visuals, the game can be lighthearted and fun to play but we wanted to capture the immersive feeling of going down the rabbit hole and using any means necessary to survive.
You got to play with plenty of practical effects here – what are the challenges and joys of this?
I think a lot of directors want to shoot as much through the camera as possible, because (for example) a real explosion will look more realistic and epic, the majority of the time. In this instance, it was necessary due to tight deadlines. We wanted to put the majority of our VFX time into world-building, instead of adding or making minor corrections in post-production. These epic shots are visible in the opening sequence, where the character plummets through a thundercloud before entering the game world. Or the end sequence, where we look into a PUBG valley that accurately mirrors a specific map in the game.
If it was possible to do it on set, we did it. The art department and SFX did an incredible job. Almost all the in-game elements, such as the Soviet-inspired flags and graffiti, were all created on set. The same goes for all the burning cars, fire, smoke and some of the muzzle flashes. The incredible explosion at the end was also 100% real and wasn’t enhanced in post.
You needed an agile team on this project – how did it all unfold and how did you work with your key players?
It’s a huge bonus that everything was done ‘in-house’ by The Mill and that all the key players were in Slovenia & Croatia during the pre-production and shoot, including the client. Somebody as experienced as Dan Williams – Mill ECD & VFX Supervisor, was crucial to have during the pre-production phase. We consistently had to alter how we approached certain shots to find the best creative solutions, that would work for post-production but also look incredible. On every important decision, we had to ensure the same creatives were involved to create consistency, which was great! A huge bravo to the service productions and VFX teams at The Mill, both did an incredible job.
What was your favourite part about creating this spot?
There were so many highlights, it’s hard to pick just one. Translating such a well-known game into a gritty live-action commercial was the most fulfilling aspect of this job. It’s well-established worldwide, it was an honour to bring a game that means so much to so many people into live-action.
Everyone enjoyed working on the project because so many people knew the game and were passionate about it. A lot of people on set had very detailed in-game knowledge about gameplay rules and capabilities, which was key in keeping true to the source.
And… It’s not often that you get to experience epic in-camera explosions, so that was for sure another big highlight.
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