SPACE INVADERS, the much loved arcade classic, celebrated its 45th birthday in 2023. Aside from probably making a few people feel ancient, it also led to a team up between TAITO, Google and UNIT9 to bring the retro classic to a hypermodern audience. Using Google’s brand new Geospatial API and cutting edge AR tech they were able to bring the Invaders into the real world, letting players work together to repel the invasion. All they needed now was a trailer to do the game justice…
Enter Grizzle, brought in to assist the annoyingly talented Ant Rubenstein, who alongside directing the piece also did a solid chunk of the VFX. The first step was the shoot, so we spent a few days down in London VFX supervising. Its often useful for one of us to be on set for VFX heavy shoots just to spot any issues ahead of time, and hopefully to avoid too much ‘we’ll just fix it in post’ (although that is still often the outcome…). In this case, Ant was such a pro that there wasn’t a whole we could add apart from making sure we got the occasional plate or lighting reference. We did end up as a few tragic cameos in the HDRIs however:
Finally it was time to really get stuck in with the VFX. From the huge Invaders above the city, to the message popups on the phones, we had our work cut out for us in terms of tracking and compositing. Luckily we’d had a bit of a practice run a few weeks before on a teaser for the announcement, which you can find here. That had allowed us to get a good idea for how the invaders would move, how they’d look, and the best methods for comping them in.
The method we settled on was a simple After Effects camera track that would then be exported into Cinema4D. There, we’d take a few Invader models from the selection supplied to us by the UNIT9 team (that we had retextured to work with the Octane plugin for C4D) and get them flying around. We’d project the footage into the background just to get the positioning right, but the actual lighting would be driven by the aforementioned HDRIs. Finally, we rendered an image sequence of our 3D invaders and took them back into After Effects for compositing.
There was one final shot to tackle. A drone-style flythrough of London, beset by Invaders, with huge scoreboards popping up above the skyline to show players all across the city competing for the top spot on the leaderboard. It culminates with the camera shooting up the gherkin before pulling out all the way to space. For obvious reasons, this would be tricky to do with an actual drone.
Luckily, we had access to some bleeding edge tech: in the preceding weeks, Google had launched their Photorealistic 3D Tiles plugin for Unreal via Cesium. Quite fitting that the trailer would utilise a lot of the same tech as the game itself! Normally there would be quite stringent restrictions about the amount of API calls one could make while working with the Geospatial data which essentially cuts the user off midway through working on a sequence, but with Google being one of the clients on the job we were able to get those restrictions temporarily lifted so we could really nail the shot. Our artist Asta really dove into learning this new pipeline, which led to the impressive final sequence.
One massive benefit of working in Unreal was cutting out the tracking and compositing steps entirely. We could bring all the models straight in and position them physically in space exactly where we wanted them. Its definitely something we want to dig more into in future.
For the space pullout, we used Google Earth Studio. This handy tool lets you zoom around the planet wherever you like and then export high res video along with After Effects tracking information. Then it was just a case of compositing in some clouds to mask the transition from Unreal to Earth Studio.
Produced by: @unit9films @Unit9ltd
1st AD: @andrewmpotter
Production designer: @theo.boswell
Colour: @thomasmangham @blackkitestudios
Cast: @emmahemingford Jordan Akande
Lead VFX & VFX Supervisor: Freddie Littlewood
VFX Supervisor & Compositing: George Stocking
VFX & Technical Art: Asta Fawn
2D Design & Motion Graphics: Hannah Faye Johnson
VFX: Tom Paddon
VFX: Iain Greenfield