The next time you head out exploring, watch out. There are reports - backed up by found footage - that dangerous Pokémon currently await the most intrepid explorers. And all is not as it seems - as per said footage, the sneaky Zorua can transform into any other Pokémon seemingly at will. Our best advice is to ensure you’re stocked up on berries and Poké Balls before any excursion.
For players of the smash mobile hit Pokémon Go, none of the above should offer cause for concern. In fact, those reports should instead be a source of excitement - the chance to catch rare Pokémon including the aforementioned Zorua alongside Noibat provides ample reason to venture into the great outdoors.
In order to promote that message, however, developer Niantic - alongside Madwell - reached out to the VFX maestros at Bonfire in order to produce three videos. Since their launch, those short clips have racked up millions of views as fans eagerly dived in to get a glimpse of the previously elusive critters heading to their smart devices.
To find out more about how this innovative found-footage-inspired campaign came together, LBB spoke to Bonfire and Sombra's founding partner Brendan O’Neil…
Above: The highly sought-after Pokémon Zorua is teased with a silhouette in this clip from Brendan and the Bonfire team.
LBB> Brendan, what was the initial brief for these videos, and how did you first approach them?
Brendan> When Niantic and Madwell approached the Bonfire and Sombra teams they had a clear set of creative ideas they wanted to execute, with great boards and script layout. The true challenges didn't lie in knowing what the creative concepts needed to be but more in how to achieve those looks physically and then in post.
Aspects such as pacing of the camera when running and amount of shake were heavily considered and then finished in post production via Flame. Our time was also limited, which played a role in our need to execute fast. On top of that, the need to ensure the shoots took place at magic hour, or in a cornfield far from power, were all things that added to the complexity and the adventure of this amazing project.
Madwell and our teams worked closely to make sure we all felt we were capturing the right content for Pokémon and Niantic, and also for us to integrate later on.
LBB> We see a spooky silhouette of a Pokémon in one of the videos. Could you give us any details about that, and what role can fans expect it to play in-game?
Brendan> The special Pokémon is Zorua, who is an illusion-based pokemon perfect for Halloween! On March 25th during the Pokemon Go spotlight hour, you could catch Zorua in the wild for a limited time. Now Zorua is available in-game - but if you look closely in the viral videos there are little hints to the timing and release of our furry friend during the spotlight hours.
Above: The cute-but-dangerous Dragon type Noibat is the star of the show in this short clip.
LBB> Can you describe what specific services you provided for the campaign?
Brendan> Myself and partner / CD Aron Baxter - worked closely with production company, Starfish on the live action shoot. We VFX supervised and co-directed the three spots. The challenges here were non-traditional for a supervisor, as we had a guerilla run and gun shoot methodology for timing as well as the sun's position in the sky.
We also were actively moving and recreating a 1st person perspective as a gamer, without creating dissociation or chaos within the frame. Beyond that we also had to bear social framing and finishing in mind so we could shoot without massive rebuilds.
After shooting our CG team, led by CD, Gene Nazarov, modelled, textured, and lit our Pokémon and meticulously tracked the handheld scenes. Our flame compositing team then took over to integrate all Pokémon and surrounding scenes as well as create the variety of effects you see throughout the videos.
Above: Longtime fan favourite Magikarp can be found demonstrating its trademark splashing technique in this spooky short.
LBB> For anyone who hasn’t played the game, the visuals style of these spots perfectly emulates the game itself. How did you emulate that so well? Did you work with any existing assets to do so?
Brendan> We were provided reference but in the end we created our own. This was a very tricky request as our nature is to refine our CGI to photoreal perfection, or a highly refined stylised finish.
When working in AR and VR, there are still technical limitations to resolution and data transmission which affect the appearance of CGI models in games such as Pokémon Go. As time goes on and the surrounding tech improves globally this will change, but we were tasked with maintaining the in-game quality of our CGI whilst also ensuring it felt integrated and built within the videos themselves. We had many iterations of pulling back the level of detail on our models and CG, in order to hit the mark on the brand visuals for the AR aspects of the game.
LBB> Did you take any inspiration from ‘found footage’ films? The Magikarp spot definitely has a Blair Witch feel to it…
Brendan> Cloverfield for sure was an inspiration for us. Blair Witch we also considered, but we wanted a much less chaotic vibe. We needed people to clearly see what was going on.
LBB> What was the biggest challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it?
Brendan> Shooting on-location and then matching the exact appearance of the Pokémon in the game were the biggest challenges by far. We had other small ones, but those were a large part of the creative process.
Overall, the job was very smooth and any challenges we did have were minimal.
LBB> Finally, do you have any other parting thoughts?
Brendan> This was another great team effort for the Bonfire and Sombra teams. We were able to draw on the experience that Sombra has with AR | VR and Bonfire’s expertise in VFX and animation to provide a seamless production and post experience. Oh and after you’ve checked out the three awesome spots, be sure to follow Bonfire and Sombra on Twitter!