While AAA focus mainly on specializations, the indie game industry is known for having multi-skilled people wearing different hats. The lead programmer is also making the art? Nothing strange eh.
With the huge recognization for the importance of music and sound, the video is getting more and more popular, speaking of cinematic, trailer or any marketing content. Anyone who has taken his shot to make a trailer by himself can tell you it is way harder than expected.
There is always misconceptions about what others people’s job is. You might have an idea, but you rarely get the entire picture right. Hopefully, this post will give you some insights about the work of a Trailer Editor.
It is the most underrated value a trailer editor brings in with him on a project. A lot of studios don’t realize how crucial it is to bring a professional fresh and outside view, probably by fear of having the internal vision being corrupted by foreign thoughts. Being involved in the whole project, from idea to final product, makes you hardly sensible to novelty.
One of the reasons directors/filmmakers rarely do the edit of their movies by themselves is not technical skill, cutting a shot is an easy process by itself. The editor brings in a new way to look at things and propose different perspectives. His role is to find the most compelling approach to synthesize your project in a minute, he knows there is more than one way to do it and a surprise is always at the corner. He is the Indiana Jones who has the quests to dig into all the possibilities, find the precious gem and sculpt it.
Any expert in any field has value. The time spent to consume information and practice your craft can’t be cheated. You can be sure objectivity can’t be cheated either.
An editor needs to understand what filmmaking is about. Trailer editors act like directors trying to make the best out of the work of the scriptwriter, but with a game. Efficient storytelling requires an understanding of filmmaking technique and language (pacing, camera, color, light, composition, editing, acting, writing…). Is your game about solitude? Your editor knows exactly how to show that, bringing you at the precise moment you thought: “Wow… I’m feeling sad for this character”. And this is not an easy process to shrink the buildup of that emotion into one minute.
Shortening your content into a compelling story is a long succession of iterations to find a perfect balance. The editor often act like a problem solver: “Hey, our game is about this amazing mechanic, how can we show it like it has never been done before?” (Dimension Drives trailer from M. Joshua Cauller).
Every shot has to mean something depending of what is before and after it (Kuleshov Effect). It has to make sense of the whole. You can put all your money shots but it doesn’t mean you’ll tell something that is engaging to the viewer. I do believe every decision has to be made consciously, to the tiny bits. What do I have to show to explain “X”? If I put this shot, what does it means? Should I put a dark red sky or a bright blue one?
In his book Aesthetic of Editing, Vincent Amiel summarize briefly the editing : “…To associate images in a certain order, to arrange them according to a certain rhythm, to create breaks or continuities, such is the art of editing”. You have to understand that you are being manipulated, and you consciously embrace it. When you watch a trailer/movie, someone(or more) made it and he has precise intentions. This intention is brought by different filmmaking techniques but it’s especially brought to life during the editing. It is call montage after all.
There is a lot to watch out for. You might have never noticed that but, the editor is always monitoring where the viewer is watching (What are you acknowledging right now? a text? ? a character shooting zombies or a zombie getting shot?). When watching quality content, you always have something to watch and your eyes never get lost in a sea of information. Are you looking left ? The next shot probably have something happening at the same location, killing the time required by your eyes to adjust. (Chris from Film Editing Pro calls it Focal Point Location, Derek Lieu calls it Eye Tracing, both work adorably).
Animation / Design
Creating title cards for a weird game with a clown, a fun 1v1 sports game or a futuristic chat-based game requires a bit of design skill, add over that animation and you’ve got a serious job to make. They have to blend well in the trailer, feels like it flows and not appears like disconnected pieces. It is our priority to stay as close as possible to the art of the game and never break the identity created.
Sometimes an editor just has images and a little demo, he is sitting there, sorely lacking material to work with. Thanks to animation techniques he can bring anything to life!
It happens that the trailer takes a direction out of the ordinary. For example, old 90’s adverts style with old screen effects, TV News reported looks or a massive use of motion design (Hundreds by Kert Gartner).
I recently worked on a trailer that contains gameplay-looking-footage but everything was made in post-production, where I could completely animate every asset how I wanted to. It gives you an infinite control over what is happening on screen without showing a different experience of the actual game. Add to that some cool texts and animations and you have a full Animated trailer that looks like a normal one (Mindnight Trailer).
Capturing great gameplay is a key point of a good trailer. It has to be done in harmony with : camera movements, acting (player movements & actions), timing and framing. All of that with the precise intention to fit your trailer atmosphere.
Doom trailer? Get it brutal, harsh and rough. Life is Strange trailer? Smooth, subtle and handheld.
A trailer is a short story, a story has highs and lows before reaching a climax; you can emphasize that by different techniques. While the story goes on, the tilt of your camera can become more chaotic because the protagonist’s life is in danger (The Last Night trailer by Tim Soret). Maybe the colours might become darker because you are revealing some bad stuff? The focal lenght of your lens can increase over time to emphasize the confinement (12 Angry Men from Sydney Lumet). It is not because you didn’t notice it that it has not an impact!
While editors principally act behind a computer, their knowledge in video production allows them to use a camera. Eh, being at the end of the chain got its perks! Two lights, a reflector, and you are good to go ; since it is not their main expertise, don’t expect insane skill from each one. Get your expectations at the right level.
The sound goes hand in hand with the editing. You generally do both at the same time and polish everything at the end. While the editor doesn’t make the music himself (ehm, I’m sure someone does that!), he still has to make sure to use the right track(s) and appropriate sounds.
Looking at those 2 waveforms, you can notice visible differences in all aspects. The green layer is a boring constant flow while the blue one is a majestic mix of emotions. The bests speeches you’ve heard are made of subtle silences, different levels of intonation and a great variety of words. It is the job of an editor to create this sequence of sounds that slip on your tongue and build an emotional response.
“Hearing is believing” says Jesse Schell, writer of The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. The first minute of this TED Talk is a great example of how your mind can create entire worlds just by using appropriate sounds. Compound that to a good story with striking images and an editor will lead you in his cave.
Videos consumption data are still growing and the train is already transforming itself into a rocket. You can compare the viewcount of any blockbuster trailer to see a very distinctive sign of that. For example, the 2011 Avengers has 27M views, comparing to the 2017 Avengers 2 (Infinity Wars) with 100M views. The Avenger 2 trailer has been out for 13 days only at the time I write this article.
When trying new things and watching other people’s work carefully you can observe what works and what doesn’t. At 8 years old, when I saw my best friend fall from his bunk bed and faceplant into the ground, you can be sure I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. It is our job to know if what we are doing is going to pay, and we are paid to make sure it will. A trailer is not only for the players, but also for the press. You want interviews, retweets, blog posts and articles all around the web. Sending the perfect email linked to a bad trailer doesn’t add value to grasp the attention of game reviewers/influencers.Everyone knows (or try to find out) what is going on in his own industry and what is coming next. You a hiring someone that has studied and done his researchs about how an audience reacts to specific styles and content. Out of your 10 favourites trailers, probably 9 were made by an editor or an agency. This is no coincidence, chefs cook good cuisine, trailer editors edit good trailers.
Hopefully, you now have a few more insights about what a trailer editor do and what his work involves. Like every field, each artist has their own strengths and style, some people specialize themselves in motion design while others can develop a huge interest in action editing. The bakery next to my house make not-so-good baguettes but craft awesome chocolate eclairs!
All images and videos are credited. Let me know if I’ve forgotten someone or misinform anything!