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Author Topic: What I've learned (the hard way) when making a trailer - tips & tricks  (Read 1224 times)
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« on: November 01, 2016, 12:39:53 AM »

I have just released a teaser trailer for my upcoming horror game DARQ. It's been an intense month of work. Some things went right, others went wrong. I thought I'd share with you a little bit about my process & lessons learnt, maybe you'll find it helpful.

Here is the trailer itself. Below I will describe how it came together:


Final Cut Pro X (editing)
After Effects (logo animation)
OBS (screen capture)
Logic X (sound design & composition)
Pro Tools (final mix)


Before capturing game footage I carefully planned the shape of the trailer. DARQ is a horror game, so my goal was to create a truly scary teaser, especially that I was to release it on Halloween. I decided to showcase two jump scares. I wanted to avoid cliché's, so I did my best to place them in the moments that are the least obvious. Conversely, I purposefully created a long & suspenseful scene (vent shaft scene) with no music in it, which has a jump scare written all over it, but no jump scare occurs. Coming up with the general shape helped a lot when choosing game scenes to capture.


This was quite problematic, because I work on MAC, and capturing a high FPS footage in lossless quality on my machine turned out to be quite challenging. I used a free piece of software called OBS (works both on PC & MAC), which seems to be a popular choice among youtubers and streamers. I can't give much advice on this, because picture quality of my video is far from perfect, but to make it work I had to lower bitrate which produced not-so-perfect picture quality. Next time, I'll do it on a PC with a powerful processor.


Here is a few editing concepts I've used:

  • Since my goal was to create an edgy & exciting video, I decided not to use smooth fade transitions between scenes. All transitions are hard cuts. Clips often abruptly end cutting to black, which creates suspense: not being able to see what happens next creates tension and anticipation.
  • I built the trailer in a way that creates a lot of contrast between scenes. All fast-paced scenes with a lot of cuts are preceded by long shots. Right before the last climactic section of the trailer there is a ridiculously long scene in which literally nothing happens (crawling in the ventilation shaft for 18 seconds!). Anything would feel exciting after that.

  • To create even more excitement in the last section I removed big chunks of frames here and there (cutting to black). This 'blinking' effect is often used in film trailers
  • For added adrenaline, some clips are sped up by 1.3x, or even 2x (the girl sequence). This seems to be especially effective when preceded by slower, less exciting shots.


I take this part super-seriously, because my day-job is being a film composer. I believe that sound is at least 50% of the whole experience, even if we don't realize it. I did not use in-game sound when doing screen-capture, because it's mostly unfinished. I wanted to have the flexibility to create quite detailed sound design from the scratch and simply try things out and experiment. I had planned the use of sound design and music ahead of time, so that those 2 layers don't fight with each other. For example, I cut music out in the vent shaft scene, so that sound design can take cover. Similarly, in the last section of the trailer there is almost no sound design, because the music needs the sonic space to do what it's supposed to do.

As with editing, I applied the idea of creating a contrast in music as well. The trailer starts with music and sound design staying in very low frequencies. As the trailer goes on, the sound design and music raise, as does the energy. The trailer ends with a logo animation, which is accompanied with very high sounds, with no base. This shape from low to high sonically creates a sense of journey and purpose.


Although I'm a trained musician, I chose not to do the final mix myself. Instead, I hired a professional mixing engineer (experienced in mixing trailers) to help create a cinematic mix. Achieving loudness in trailers is both important and challenging - over the years, I've learnt to leave it to professionals.


  • I think it took me about 20 upload attempts before I was more-or-less satisfied with how the video looks on youtube. The problem is that YouTube applies hard compression to your video in order to reduce file size. This can result in a very noticeable loss in quality especially if your footage is as dark as mine. For best results, it is recommended to upload videos in mp4 container, compressed with H.264 (your editing software will have this codec for sure). It is also recommended to use AAC-LC for audio compression.
  • Having done all that, I still wasn't satisfied with compression. After a ton of research, I found out about a trick: turns out, if you upload a video in 4K, YouTube will apply much more forgiving compression algorithms and your bitrate wouldn't drop as much. A lot of youtubers export their 2K videos in so-called faux-4K, meaning, they stretch their 1080p videos to 3840p. As crazy as it sounds, it worked for me.

I wish I knew all this when starting to work on this trailer. I hope you find it helpful!
« Last Edit: November 01, 2016, 12:51:07 AM by UnfoldGames » Logged

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