STRAFE® COMMERCIAL BEHIND THE SCENES
We had an amazing time making our STRAFE® commercial. And now we have a behind-the-scenes look at how we made it!
This is more about the creation process than the ideas that went into our marketing. We’ll break down our marketing thoughts in a later article for game developers.
I’m based in LA, a mecca for commercial shoots.
So, naturally, we shot this in Pittsburgh.
Not only is PIttsburgh my hometown, but Stephen lives there, I have a lot of friends there and I was already scheduled to be in town for a separate gig. Plus, Stephen said we could shoot in his house. And nothing beats free when working with just $1500 from my paycheck. It was a tough choice to throw down that dough, but we saw how much value we could get out of it by working with friends in Pittsburgh. It was enough money to make our 1996-fueled spot, but not enough to fund any sort of meaningful game development, so we rolled with it.
Back to Stephen’s house. That’s actually his dining room in the commercial. Perfect for dining on death. We emptied it out and brought in a truckload of toys and props from his childhood—seriously, his mom throws nothing away. Try rewatching the spot and looking around. It’s absurd, and amazing. We were also lucky to find the very specific style of desk I wanted on Craigslist. Sadly, not everything was 1996, but it was good enough considering our time and limited budget.
I knew we had to do all the effects practically to make this truly feel like a real commercial from 1996. So they took a lot of prep. First, our beloved face melt: it started with a fake skull and eyeballs from Amazon, some play-doh, crayons (for color) and a bunch of wax. The first layer was play-doh “muscle” that wouldn’t melt after it hardened. Then we melted down the wax and crayons, mixed them together, and painted fake-Trevor’s face layer by layer with muscle, fat, veins and skin. Add a couple heat guns and a time lapse and we had Raiders-style gloriousness.
Doing a practical “head explosion” was a bit more... difficult. But we wanted it to look bad. One, that’s 1996. Two, we’re brutally killing a child here, it needed to look so stupid and ridiculous such that the set wouldn’t feel like a real murder scene and the kid’s parents wouldn’t throw up and/or storm off. So, we hollowed out a styrofoam head (used to display wigs), painted it, cut it up like a jigsaw puzzle and then put it all back together. Lastly, we drilled a hole in the neck, slid in a piece of PVC filled with blood and sponge and ran an air compressor to it. One blast of air and BOOM, a big beautiful mess and really great, bad gag. We loved it.
Here's our early test to see if our idea would work and how it would look.
Since we were shooting in Stephen’s house, I researched a blood recipe that wouldn’t stain. Our winner was mostly soap mixed with tempera paint, peanut butter and chocolate sauce. We had covered the whole room in plastic and luckily nothing got ruined.
The day before the shoot, Stephen and I were busy helping our friend Brad Fombell (you’ll see his nipples pictured below) dress the set. We made a stairwell look like a closet and removed a door from upstairs and installed it in between the kitchen and dining room. The door the mom fights with actually leads straight into the kitchen.
Of course, we wouldn’t have been ready without our amazing actors, found by a local talent agency. Yes, we were incredibly clear upfront with them about what we shooting. Because obviously you run a risk every time a child shows up on set with his parents and you spring “ok let’s set up for his head explosion” on them. Everyone was on board and wonderful.
We also shot a print ad while we were there. Here’s a pic from part of that shoot. You’ll get to share the print ad soon!
The video wouldn’t have happened without Greg Neiser and Pat Francart. Greg had sent me a message awhile ago saying he liked my work and wanted to work together if I was ever in Pittsburgh. We took him up on his offer, and he came out with a crew and equipment. We added some of my other trusted friends to mix and were all set.
We were prepping shots by 5 am. It was one long, crazy, 14 hour day. Usually eight people hovered around the camera at any given moment flickering lights, dropping leaves and debris in a fan and throwing blood. Most shots were filmed twice, once with effects and then a clean version with crisp audio (and no loud fans/keyboard smashing).
Most was shot sequentially since everyone starts clean and ends super messy. Our actor Joel (“IT’S SO TIGHT”) was covered with blood early on and then sat in a different room the rest of the day while we filmed all of Simon’s (Trevor) and Danielle’s (mom) shots. Again, the actors were great. Hire them for things! They don’t mind getting their hands bloody. Or the rest of their body.
We finished exhausted and slightly terrified that didn’t get what we needed (a common fear).
My fear was alleviated when I returned to LA—the footage was straight up magic. Just like the commercials I remembered from my childhood.
Bryan, our STRAFE® sound designer, then worked his own magic on the sound. Our composer ToyTree added the music, based off one of his in-game tracks.
Footage of STRAFE® gameplay wasn’t added for three months after, mostly because we wanted to use the latest build of the game prior to launching. So over Christmas break Stephen and I shot the latest gameplay and shipped it off for post production to our friends Jon and Vitaly at Coat of Arms. They put the gameplay on screen and finished our effects like the Glutton punch (through the screen), face melt and head explosion. With a good version locked, my friend Dillon colored the video.
We were in a great place, but not done. Time for some final 90s magic. We took that beautiful 2k footage and printed it to an actual VHS tape. We squeezed the 16:9 footage onto a full 4:3 frame so we could get the maximum resolution out of the tape, then captured it back on the computer and stretched it back to 16:9. But we didn’t use the VHS audio, because we’re not complete monsters.
The spot got more love than we could have ever asked for. Hopefully you enjoyed it. I’m guessing you did if you’re still reading. Feel free to hit me up with any questions you have!
Unless that question is “can I see that gameplay in the video in high res?”
How about something better: we’ll have a new gameplay video to share soon! And we won’t be running it through a VHS tape this time. Probably. Damn it’s fun.
Also, don’t forget to keep sharing the campaign with friends and peer pressuring them into backing. I mean, do you really want to be friends with someone who doesn’t want STRAFE®? Didn’t think so.
Thanks for reading!