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The Making of 'The Lord of the Rings: Heroes of Middle-earth – The Mines of Moria Trailer'

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Setting the Scene

Conceptualizing Middle-earth: The essence of crafting a trailer for such an iconic world as Middle-earth resides in adhering to the profound richness of Tolkien's texts and our client's brand guidelines. Given that the MEE license aligns solely with the books, there was no scope to take inspiration from film or series adaptations. This directed our team's vision solely towards the book's detailed descriptions, ensuring an authentic portrayal of Moria.

The Balrog Teaser: The challenge was not just in capturing the Balrog but deciding how to allude to its presence without overshadowing the rest of the trailer. By emphasizing its silhouette, we could hint at the distinctiveness of our rendition without revealing too much.

Progression of the intro shot, highlighting the mysterious antagonist of the game.
A large amount of time went into the Palantir FX, tuning its look to fit the scene and mood.

Assets and Resources

Breathing Life into Assets: Leveraging the provided environments, models, and rigs was just the starting point. Our aim was to enhance the visual narrative through meticulous animation and lighting. Aligning with the game's tone was paramount, but so was amplifying the ambiance for each frame. This was particularly evident in character animations, where distinct traits, like Arwen's swift elegance, became focal points.

Progression of our 2nd Orc reveal.
The addition of FX in the final composite dramatically changes the look and focus of the shot.

Pre-existing Assets: While using client-provided assets can be advantageous, the true challenge is in the integration. Our team could quickly orient and commence thanks to the impeccable organization and quality of EA's assets. The endeavor was to combine all character assets cohesively references into singular working files.

Progression of the final shot, revealing the Balrog tease for the raid.
It was important to obscure the fine details of the character design, while keeping the silhouette strong and readable.

Creative Process

Narrative Flow: The pacing of the trailer was strategically planned. Post the initial Palantir and hero introductions, we increased the threat level in every successive frame. This crescendo of danger culminated with the Balrog reveal, encapsulating the essence of an impending boss battle.

Full breakdown of the Orc horde surrounding the hero party.

Full breakdown of Frodo’s battle with an Orc Firebreather. 

Storyboarding and Lore Adherence: We delineated various narrative focuses: the Palantir, character intros, combat sequences, and finally, the boss reveal. Extensive storyboarding helped refine each shot, ensuring it contributed to the larger narrative. Emphasizing in-game mechanics, especially during Orc introductions, fortified the game-to-trailer coherence.

Production Details

Animation Choices: Initially leaning towards a stylized approach, we soon realized the need for more grounded animations, emphasizing characters' realistic weight and movements. Despite this, maintaining manual animation over motion capture allowed us greater control over character actions.

Progression comparison for the larger battle between Legolas, Gimli, Arwen, Aragorn, and the Orc Horde. 

VFX Development: The Mines of Moria presented unique challenges for VFX, especially due to its magical undertones. We pursued a more restrained approach, ensuring visual effects emphasized on-screen action without becoming overpowering.

Collaboration and Feedback

Client Collaboration: Regular check-ins with the client ensured a consistent feedback loop, enabling us to refine every element. The project's preliminary phase was dedicated to optimizing the look of each character, ensuring their visual fidelity.

Feedback and Iterations: Feedback was instrumental in refining our work. From the client to internal reviews, each feedback cycle was an opportunity to enhance each frame, ensuring optimal visual storytelling.

Reflecting on Middle-Earth

Team's Connection to Tolkien: As professionals, personal biases should not drive creative choices. However, personal respect for the source material, such as Tolkien's writings and their impact, ensured a deeper level of commitment to authenticity.

Project Takeaways: The Mines of Moria project reaffirmed the necessity of meticulous planning at the onset. Detailed scripting, shot breakdowns, and a well-charted production timeline set the foundation for the project's success.

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Michael Sabetta
Michael Sabetta
Director of Marketing