Elder Scrolls Online Interview: Where'd That Sexy Cinematic Trailer Come From?

Whether or not you plan to play Elder Scrolls Online, you probably enjoyed the hell out of the trailer. The sleek CGI trailer for the MMORPG depicted three armies clashing in a spectacular battle. Gaming Blend had a chance to speak with advertising agency AKQA and production company Blur Studio, the two companies responsible for translating the MMO into a cinematic that would grab gamers' attention.

For the Elder Scrolls Online trailer, what was Bethesda/ZeniMax's contribution to the project? How much direction do they give you?

Ed Davis, Account Director at AKQA: The teams at Bethesda Softworks and ZeniMax Online Studios play an important role in the development of a cinematic like this. In the early stages we work closely with them to make sure the cinematic story is in sync with both the marketing messages and the game themes, and the developers provide a lot of material as inspiration. As we get into production, the development team provides references and ensures accuracy for things like weapons, armor, and environments. And of course they review passes of the trailer as it moves through each step of the process to provide feedback.

What did you use for inspiration when you were creating this trailer? Did you watch gameplay footage of Elders Scrolls Online?

Davis: When we first started working with Bethesda Softworks on the brand and marketing for The Elder Scrolls Online, the leads from the development team at ZeniMax Online Studios spent a lot of time walking us through the game in great detail. We latched onto the idea of these three alliances locked in a massive war to control Tamriel, and it quickly became the center of our efforts. From there, we knew it was important to tell that story and introduce the alliances in a cinematic manner and get fans excited about the upcoming closed beta.

How long did the trailer take to create? How many people did it require?

Dave Wilson, Director, Blur Studio: From conceptualization to delivery, our timeline was roughly 6 months, but the heavy lifting occurred in the just 90 days. The pace was impressively fast. With teams of 10-12 artists in each department, the animation was produced in 3-4 weeks, and all the lighting and compositing in four. The total crew, if you include everyone from motion capture to IT was probably 120 people.

In the trailer, we see three factions battling for control of a citadel. Did you envision this as being a specific location in the game world? Along those same lines: are the three lead characters in the trailer supposed to be specific personalities from the game?

Davis: We can't go into specifics about the citadel, but the setting was definitely a topic of much discussion. As far as the three lead characters in the trailer, they were designed for us throughout the marketing campaign as examples of potential player characters rather than specific personalities from inside the game. You'll be seeing a lot of them across The Elder Scrolls Online advertising.

If I remember correctly, Blur made three separate trailers for Star Wars: The Old Republic. Will we see another ESO trailer from you? Are you making any cut scenes for the game itself?

Wilson: We'll see. Blur would jump at the opportunity to collaborate with AKQA again. And besides, the vast world of The Elder Scrolls is just too epic to be contained... so we're hoping.

Beyond ESO, what else are you folks working on this year? Should we expect trailers for other games from you in 2013?

Wilson: Unfortunately Blur is not at liberty to discuss other titles, however, we do have a number of exciting projects in production that will be revealed later this year.

Davis: From the AKQA side, we can't talk about specifics, but with The Elder Scrolls Online launching this year, there will be lots more from the campaign in the coming months.

A big thank you to AKQA and Blur for speaking with us. Elder Scrolls Online, an MMORPG set in the same world as Skyrim and Morrowind, began accepting beta applications last month. Look for the game to hit PC and Mac in 2013.

Pete Haas

Staff Writer at CinemaBlend.