After working on Kong: Skull Island, his first big blockbuster film, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was ready to tackle something a little bit smaller. “Kong was two and a half years of my life,” he says. “That’s a quarter of a decade. It’s such an enormous time commitment to working on giant monkeys. I’m so proud of the collaboration that that movie was, but you definitely go down a rabbit hole really quick.”
So when the opportunity arose to direct a live-action trailer for Destiny 2, Bungie’s much-anticipated shooter that launches next week, it was a perfect fit. Not only was Vogt-Roberts in the right frame of mind for a smaller project, he’s also a big video game fan with a particular love for Bungie’s sci-fi universe. “It was a cross-section of a lot of the things that I’m most interested in,” he says.
The new commercial opens with Cayde-6, voiced by Nathan Fillion, introducing a trio of new guardians to the world of Destiny. He explains the precarious place humans hold in this universe, and all of the familiar pieces of Earth that no longer exist. “Do it for the Tower and the ramen shops,” Cayde-6 intones. “Do it for the loot they’ve taken from us.” Things then shift to action, with the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” blasting as the Guardians fight snapping monsters and aliens built like armored rhinos, all while wielding massive, laser-spewing guns.
Live-action trailers aren’t uncommon for games. Bethesda has used them to promote titles like Fallout and Dishonored, while Oblivion director Joseph Kosinski helmed a trio of live-action spots for the first Destiny. (He was also behind the iconic “Mad World” trailer for Gears of War.) For Vogt-Roberts, his goal was to take things a step further and make the commercial feel even more like the game. A lot of that came down to color; the new trailer is brighter and more vibrant than its predecessors. “Most Hollywood films have a very muted palette,” he says. “In Destiny they’re throwing around greens and blues and reds and these very theatrical colors. It’s bold. We said: ‘Let’s commit to this. Let’s not be afraid of this.’”
The challenge, though, was taking action that was originally designed for a virtual space, and capturing it on film. “You’d be surprised by how few things [from the game] perfectly translate into the real world,” Vogt-Roberts says. To get a better sense of how the game worked, the director visited Bungie’s Bellevue studio and grilled the developers about the nitty-gritty of the game’s mechanics; how the melee attacks work, and why the aiming feels just right compared to other shooters. “For me, the more I know about stuff like that, the more it helps me try and recreate those feelings in a cinematic space,” he says. “Being able to understand how they do it — even though it doesn’t directly translate to how I would do it — still helps.”
Filming for the commercial took place in a series of abandoned buildings in Vogt-Roberts’ hometown of Detroit, and the director says that “We shot practically as much as possible.” He also had some inside help at Bungie. As it turns out, Joseph Cross, a lead concept artist at Bungie, also worked on Kong: Skull Island. This created what Vogt-Roberts describes as an “unorthodox” situation where he was able to regularly solicit feedback on the commercial.
“As we were designing our set, I was able to liaison specifically with him and make sure that we were getting the overall Bungie blessing,” he explains. “It truly is important to me to translate that stuff correctly, because that’s what made this franchise, that’s what made people fall in love with it.” The weapons and armor in the game were all created by Legacy Effects, the same team behind Iron Man’s suit from the Marvel films.
The result is a playful live-action short that balances comedy and action, and manages to remain faithful to the game despite not including a second of in-game footage. And for Vogt-Roberts it was a chance to tackle something smaller, but with the same level of passion and care as he would a blockbuster movie. “A great commercial is one of the best things on the planet,” he says.