Middle-Earth: Shadow of War’s new live-action trailer looks almost as good as the movies

Tuesday, 19 September 2017, 03:53:06 PM. Talking to director Neil Huxley about filling Peter Jackson’s shoes

Middle-Earth: Shadow of War is (at least in theory) set in the same world as the rest of the Lord of the Rings saga. And with the new live action commercial, the game is getting a cinematic adaptation to match Peter Jackson’s iconic films of J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels.

The short film sees Talion — the main protagonist in the Middle-earth games — fighting his way at the head of an army of orcs, storming a fortress while fending off attacks from enemy warriors, drakes, and huge hulking trolls. Warner Bros., in line with the overall themes of the Nemesis system in the game, where players choices have distinct ramifications, has also created an interactive version of the trailer with different endings based on users’ choices.

Live action trailers are increasingly becoming popular in the gaming industry, too — just last month we saw a big Destiny 2 trailer, and Bethesda has also released cinematic trailers for Dishonored 2, Fallout 4, and Skyrim. And while none of these commercials show actual gameplay footage by virtue of the fact that they are live action, the idea of showing what it feels like to be in the game seems to be becoming almost as important as the game itself.

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The new commercial was directed by Neil Huxley, who previously worked on films like Charlotte’s Web, Where The Wild Things Are, and Avatar as an effects artist before transitioning to directing his own work. The shoot was a fairly large responsibility — Huxley is the first director to handle a live action Tolkien adaptation since Peter Jackson took the director’s chair for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. As Huxley tells it, a constant mantra of his on set was to make sure that the final result looked as good, if not better, than the existing live-action Lord of the Rings work.

But while Huxley’s background may be in digital effects, his goal with this project was to make as much of the commercial in practical effects as possible. “All of what you're seeing is in camera, apart from dragons and giant trolls and the larger creatures that we obviously can't pull off practically,” according to Huxley. This includes the fortress itself, which was shot on location at a ruin in Odessa that was expanded digitally in post-production.

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“It was never really a question” to Huxley to use CGI for the orcs in the commercial, either. Instead, the orcs are actors in prosthetics and makeup, outfitted with real-world props — a marked improvement from the digital creatures in Jackson’s own later Hobbit films.

The end result is an impressive commercial that feels in a lot of ways like a snippet from a larger Lord of the Rings prequel. And with Tolkien’s larger universe of books and movies already serving as fodder for a video game, who knows? Maybe one day the circle will come back around with Shadow of War serving as a source for a new Lord of the Rings film.

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