Process of a painted cinematic

Final result:

I made this video as a cutscene for a personal game project I’m planning, but also to get a portfolio sample that shows my process with full transparency. All my videos consisting entirely of paintings so far have been hobby-based and I haven’t worried too much about the hours, but for this one I kept book of them and tried to work as efficiently as possible.

Below is a breakdown of how long each phase in the project took:

Script and thumbnails2 days
First video mockup and finding stock music2 d
Scene 15 d
Scene 23 d
Scene 32 d
Scene 42 d
Scene 5, 131 d

Scene 61 d
Scene 7, 10
(uses elements from scene 1)
1 d
Scene 8, 122 d
Scene 91 d
Scene 112 d
Scene 143 d
Last tweaks1 d
All in all28 days
(8 hours per day on average)
Started in 19.11.2019Finished on 30.12.2019

Script and Thumbnails

In this cutscene, I wanted to show the player’s ship crew attacking an enemy ship at night, given the element of surprise by a thick fog. To add an extra twist, I wanted the crew to attack dramatically from above, something like the ”Pole Cats” in Mad Max: Fury Road

In the ship design that I had drawn earlier, there’s a derrick crane (something that has been used in smaller size in steam ships, fishing boats and sail ships to load cargo in the hull) modified to also serve as a sort of siege ladder.

Based on this rough idea of what should happen in the cinematic, I thought about the clearest way to tell the story interestingly enough with as few scenes as possible without resorting to narration. The result was this first draft of the script, shown below. After writing it, I started visualizing the scenes with the thumbnails.

Scene numberDuration (s)Short description Long description
18Deck-levelClose-up of gauges and pipes, glistening in moonlight. Particles of foam or frost are floating about. Strong depth of field effect. There’s some blurry movement on the background
28WinchCamera focuses on the background. A man operating crank attached to the mast. Cogs of the mechanism are turning on the background.
38Mast turningCamera is now on the other side of the mast, still about waist-high. The mast is turning so that the crane will face on the right (two men are climbed on the mast). Camera moves backwards and reveals a group of men looking grimly to the right, with makeshift weapons in hand.
44Man on the mastFade to the men climbed atop the crane. Camera zooms into the face grille of the other one’s oven helmet. Maybe drops of sweat seeping through the holes
52Cap hand signalA quick, blurry camera move to captain giving a hand signal
62Winch release leverA man kicks a lever in the winch.
72Beam fallingCamera is between the hulls of the two ships (the enemy ship shown now for the first time). The beam of the crane is dropping in free fall.
82Beam downCamera is behind the men on the crane, as the beam slams into the railing of the other ship and locks in place.
98Battle about to startThe guy with face grille standing on the deck of the enemy ship. Camera starts with a close up on him, and zooms out evenly. Another guy is jumping on deck, and a few others are running across the bridge now formed by the beam. As the camera gets further, it reveals the legs of some barbarians (tattoos, fur leggings, cuts, bruises, etc)

First mockup video and finding stock music

When I had some kind of thumbnails on what should be happening on the scenes visually, I started working in After Effects, importing the thumbnails and animating the rough camera movement, just to get an idea of how the length of the shots and general flow between the shots will work when I add them together.

I also started to focus on finding suitable music. When using stock music, you never get exactly what you’re looking for both in terms of style and structure, so I had to make a final decision on the track I’m going to use as early as possible so that I could plan the structure and pacing on the video based on that.

What I had in mind initially was something more classical, but after numerous hours of searching I ended up using this metal track because it has a strong mood of anticipation what’s going to happen next, and clear points of ”change” (namely the drop in 25-27s), where you can place something interesting happening in the video.

”Metal Cinematic Trailer” by OttoMusic

After making the decision, I cut the mockup video to fit the structure of the music (also adding a few short scenes to make the pacing reflect the build-up). Here’s what I had at the end of day 4. Although I did end up changing the viewing angles of a couple of shots afterwards, this pretty much served as the skeleton of the video until the finish line.

Scene 3

When I had the structure of the video in place, I started working on one of the scenes. I wanted to start with something that wasn’t too easy or too laborous, so that it would give me some kind of an idea about how much time the rest of the scenes would take on average. Since scene 1 would be a whole lot of work because of the longer length (requiring more things happening) and 3d elements I’d have to add, I started with scene 3.

Here’s the progress of the painting from sketch to what I had at the end of day 7. I did some rough color experiments as well, but ended up thinking it’s best to go with black and white, for both efficiency and because of the night time there wouldn’t be much color anyway. Later I ended up doing some changes on the armor design and lighting.

Scene 4

For the captain’s face, I looked for a suitable reference for a lighting setup in night-time with waterdrops, but so that there’s a good range of values to keep the image instantly readable. I ended up taking a lot of inspiration from the ”tears in rain” scene in Blade Runner:

The lighting was very suitable since it was set on early dawn wich fits my setting, and is something that I could get pretty close to with just color adjustments on a black and white painting.

Below are progress shots of the painting side, as well as animated scene 4 at the point where I had it at the end of day 9. It acted as a model for color adjustments to use on the rest of the scenes as well.

Scene 1

Now that I had a clear idea about the painting and coloring style I was going to use, I moved on to the laborous scene 1.

In an attempt to make the viewer curious, I made a strong depth of field effect, revealing the background little by little. The turning mechanism of the mast isn’t realistic, but I wanted to have something showing gears in movement as technology from the turn of the 20th century is an important part of the game setting.

To get the gears to turn in 3d space, I had to make them as 3d models. I used Blender to model them and Element 3d plugin for After Effects to place them as convincingly as I could in relation to the painted 2d layers. There’s a bit of a 90s CG feel on the textured 3d objects, which I could’ve avoided by spending time in painting actual mapped textures on them, but I tried to cut my losses in terms of time spent on a very little thing. Later in polish phase, I fixed some mistakes and painted some more interesting texture on the floor.

Scene 11

Most of the rest of the scenes had nothing really special about their process but in scene 11 I did a new thing I haven’t tried before. Instead of using 3d models of the figures and mast with camera rotating around them, I figured it would be much less time-consuming and look more interesting if I painted the frames. I think the low frame rate fits stylistically and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out.

Last finishes

Alongside doing the scenes, I wrote down a list about some smaller changes I need to do at the end to fix consistency between scenes (f. ex. placement of figures, their outfits and weapons), and to add detail in places that looked too empty.