Late last week, on December 1st, 2010, Alec Holowka, Marlon Wiebe and I got together at the luxurious Infinite Ammo office to put some final touches on the Winnitron 1000 for it’s first public appearance at Data Dance, Winnipeg’s first Chip Tune dance party. We were all pretty pumped about it, since it’s the first time the Winnitron will have been out in public and we had a pretty awesome exclusive: A Two player version of Adam Saltsman’s game Canabalt. Adam coded this game specifically for the Winnitron, and for the moment, its the only place where you can play this version of the game.
Canabalt is a pretty awesome game, and did extremely well on the App store and received quite a bit of press about a year ago, so to have an exclusive version of this caliber of game is a pretty huge deal. We thought there had to be a way to tell people about this in an exciting way, promote the Winnitron 1000, and let people know that you can play it in 3 days on Saturday Dec the 4th at Data Dance.
I think Alec was the one who said, “Hey, we should make a trailer for the game”. I was 100% on board, but we didn’t really have a concept at all. The idea kind of just hung in the air for a few hours, until Marlon and I were walking to my car, and he said, “You know, it would be cool if we had the Canabalt sprites running across the rooftops of downtown Winnipeg…” Uh, yeah, that would be cool. My brain started churning, and trying to figure out the logistics of this on the way home…
I got home, jumped on Skype. The first barrier to entry: I needed to get the in-game sprites from Adam, or find an easy way to rip them from the game. Noel Berry saw Adam was online, and I think it took all of 10 minutes for Adam to send me what I needed. The generosity and openness of the Indie games community is just so damn awesome.
Step 2: Do a quick test. I had some footage laying around from another project, and had to figure out a quick way to take Adam’s sprite sheets and animate them in After Effects. Here’s a still of what the test looked like:
It didn’t take long to figure out a decent workflow and to come up with a simple colour treatment. I sent it off to the skype chat, and everyone seemed to get pretty excited about it After a little chatter back and forth, the plan was to start shooting at 10am on Thursday, shoot for 2 hours or so, get as much footage as we can, and talk out a rough storyboard of the trailer while we were shooting the footage. I would have a little bit of time Thursday evening to work on it, but I would spend all day Friday into Sat morning working on the trailer so we could release it early Saturday morning to generate some buzz for the Winnitron and Data Dance which was happening that night! A bit of a crazy schedule, but nothing I’m not used to after 7 years of insane OT at Frantic Films hehe.
With Canabalt being about running on roof tops, the first problem became how do we get shots on the tops of roofs? We would have to shoot from a pretty high vantage point, and I didn’t want to shoot from the insides of any buildings. So, the plan was to go and shoot from the top of 2 or three parking garages in the city (like the TD Building Parkade, and the Kraut King parkade, and get as many shots there that we could, and shoot some stuff from ground level as we walked from location to location.
Alec Holowka was nice enough to brave the -17.5 °C weather with me, and carry the heavy camera slider, while I took the rest of the gear in my backpack. It’s always nice shooting with someone else, because generally when I’m the guy shooting, I get into my “tech mode”, thinking about the more technical aspects about what’s going on. I’m more concerned about making sure the camera is set and working properly, and we’re getting the shots we need and not really taking in the larger picture, and maybe missing some cool shots that I’m not seeing because I’m so focused on other more technical details…
All the footage was shot with my hacked Panasonic GF1 and two lenses: the 1.7 20mm pancake lens, and my 1.8 50mm Canon FD lens. I just love the flares that come off of the 50mm (check out 0:29 and 0:50 in the trailer). Such a sexy look, hehe.
At one point in the middle of shooting, I was changing my lens, and a snowflake got RIGHT ON THE SENSOR! I freaked out a little bit, but we went inside, and I carefully soaked up the snowflake with a piece of tissue from my lens cleaner set. I did a few quick test shots, and it looked ok! I thought we would be totally pooched after that, but it wasn’t an issue at all.
Anyways, we wrapped the shooting in the early afternoon, I went home, started transferring the footage, and got as much done as I could before my wife Sarah got home from work… The next morning, I woke up around 8am, and started hacking away. A few hours in, I was getting pretty frustrated with the trailer, since it wasn’t coming together as easily as I was hoping it would. We had about 30 minutes of footage to sift through, and it took quite a while to find the best shots.
But sparing all the boring details, after a few hours, things started to come together. I captured some footage of the game using Screen Flow, and Alec was sending me video captures of the Winnitron UI. After getting those elements in the trailer, it started to feel a lot more solid. I sent out a work in progress version to everyone in the mid afternoon. We changed a few things like taking out all the references to Data Dance, since that would date the trailer, and the final shot where we pull out of the Winnitron Logo, but overall, it was in good shape, and we were on schedule to deliver it late Friday night.
Most people that I spoke to thought that the composting step was what took me the longest, but that was actually the easiest part of the whole project. The hardest part by far was selecting the right footage, and making sure the entire trailer flowed properly and had some sort of cohesive structure. The animations and final effects for most of the shots started getting added around 5-6pm on Friday.
Since we weren’t dealing with any 3D objects, I was able to integrate the characters using simple 2D tracks, rather than doing a full 3D track of the shot. Yes, doing a 3D track would have been the better and more accurate way to do it, but we had a really tight schedule, and if I could hack it in 2.5D, I was going to do it. Every shot was essentially done the same way. I did a simple 1-2 point track in AE, and pinned the character to that track. The character was then animated by hand moving along a path, and I tried to keep his feet planted as he ran. It’s not perfect in every shot, and if you really look at it carefully you’ll see lots of slipping. But considering how quick the shots go by and the fact that no-one has pointed it out to me, I think it went by relatively un-noticed.
I did want to add a few more effects in there, like having little snow particles fly out when the characters hit the snow, but we just ran out of time… I might update it in the future when we modify the trailer as an attract mode screen for the Winnitron 1000…
Anyways, everything wrapped up around 2am on Satuday morning. It was pretty much 16 hours of solid work to get it done. I uploaded it to Vimeo, and sent the link to Alec, so he could start promoting it early Saturday as I slept in…
Alec sent out an email to Kotaku early in the morning, and about 20 minutes later, the post on Kotaku was live. It seemed to spread like crazy from there, ending up on The Daily What, Destructoid, the Indie Games Blog, and a bunch of other sites… It was pretty cool to see all the views and comments roll in, since I don’t think I’ve made another video that’s had this kind of exposure before.
Anyways, that’s the story. It was a super fun project to work on with a great group of guys, and I think considering it was shot/edited and had a lot of VFX added in about 21 hours, I think it turned out pretty great.
One last thing! If you want to play Canabalt: 2 Player on the Winnitron 1000, it’s currently living at LoPub on 330 Kennedy Street. If you’re in the area, go on and check it out.
If you have any comments or questions, please let me know!