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The Callisto Protocol: How Rodeo FX Supercharged the Launch of a Brand New Gaming IP


LBB’s Adam Bennett speaks to staff from across the Montréal creative studio to learn how a breathtakingly ambitious 360 degree marketing campaign came to fruition

The Callisto Protocol: How Rodeo FX Supercharged the Launch of a Brand New Gaming IP

Shaken, Jacob Lee begins to recover his senses. Dubiously imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, it’s hard enough for the retired freight transporter to come to terms with how he arrived here, let alone this terrifying new reality. But the more stabilised he becomes, the more something seems off. There are no other inmates. A deafening silence is broken only by the faint sound of crashes in the distance. And now, the gate to his cell is sliding off its hinges. This isn’t right. The prison has been abandoned. 

What the hell happened here? And how can Jacob escape? 

So begins the opening segment of The Callisto Protocol, a gripping survival horror video game developed by Striking Distance Studios and directed by Glen Schofield, the creator of survival horror classic Dead Space. 

As an entirely new IP, bringing The Callisto Protocol to market was an exciting challenge. Whilst gaming has never been as popular as it is today, the sector has also never been more saturated - cutting through the noise and earning gamers’ attention is a feat many have tried and failed to achieve. But fortunately, the powerhouse creative studio Rodeo FX was on-hand to help The Callisto Protocol make its mark upon its launch last year. 

Working in tandem with Digital Kitchen to execute the marketing plan, the Rodeo team were integral across an amazingly broad spectrum of campaigns. On the one hand, a gorgeous and intensely cinematic live action trailer starring Josh Duhamel was brought to life thanks to the studio’s VFX expertise. In parallel to that, a unique experiential activation enthralled the audience at 2022’s Gamescom in Germany thanks to Rodeo’s technical abilities. And finally, head-turning 3D billboards in London and New York stopped passersby in their tracks with a shocking jumpscare which lives long in the memory - a project led by Digital Kitchen.

Perhaps the greatest testament to Rodeo’s success has been the feedback from fans. If the comments on the live action trailer’s YouTube page are anything to go by, the Montréal-based studio has whetted the appetites of fans for a full-feature series in the same style. To go behind the scenes of this extraordinarily varied and technical campaign, LBB’s Adam Bennett sat down with staff from across the Rodeo team. In the following interview, we’ll hear from head of experiential Nicolas Dubé Pauzé, VFX producer Emilie Debiasi, experiential producer Julia Nau, VFX supervisor Patrick Beauchamp, and executive producer Marie-Piere Poulin…  

Part One: The Live Action Trailer

Above: Josh Duhamel starred in a cinematic live-action trailer for The Callisto Protocol which scored a highly positive reaction from fans. 

LBB> Patrick, I’m getting a Ridley-Scott-Alien vibe when Josh Duhamel is walking around the broken wreckage in this trailer. Did you look to any other material for inspiration beyond the game itself, and if so how did that help you in bringing this trailer to life?

Patrick> Well, there was of course a creative process, led by Digital Kitchen, which had been completed before this project arrived with us and our job was to bring that vision to life. So after having spoken to the director - Vellas at Prettybird - and various people involved in the project, we had a pretty clear sense of the kind of places they wanted to go and the creative references they were looking towards. I’m glad that you can see influences like Alien in the finished trailer. 

But ultimately, it always came back to the source material - the game itself. Our trailer is there to sell the game, so it needed to match the creative direction of The Callisto Protocol quite closely. To accomplish this we knew we needed to make something which felt simultaneously realistic and high-end, emphasising the quality of the overall product. 

LBB> I hear what you’re saying about achieving a realistic look. But when it comes to a sci-fi horror video game, what does ‘realism’ mean exactly? What kind of things are you looking out for which you know will make it feel realistic? 

Patrick> On the most basic level, we wanted it to feel as though Josh Duhamel was really there (even though, for one of the shoots, he wasn’t physically on-set). That manifests itself through the type of materials which are being used, and the way things move. I’m thinking specifically of the snowstorm scene - we looked at a lot of real-world snowstorms to study how the snow moved in the air and the way it landed on the scenery. Looking back on the trailer now, I’m especially satisfied with those outside shots and how they turned out. 

It’s all about getting the details right. And, in order to ground the trailer within the universe of the game, we needed to make sure that there were enough visual connections. For example, it was important to make sure that Jupiter was visible - even if only through the haze of the snowstorm. All of those kinds of details add up to make a world that feels lived-in and, well, ‘real’. 

Above: A video provided by Rodeo FX breaking down the various elements of visual effects the team put together for the trailer. 

LBB> What was the biggest challenge you encountered whilst putting the trailer together, and how did you overcome it?

Patrick> One of the issues we faced was that the film was actually shot in two different locations. The first was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is where we see many of the prison shots and the character walking around. The problem was that Josh Duhamel wasn’t actually involved in this shoot, so we needed to do a lot of plate work and ensure the switches were seamless between that and a separate shoot in Los Angeles where he was present. 

But overall, this was simply a really CG-heavy spot. With the shot of Josh’s face in the suit, for example, the only thing that isn’t CG is his face. 

LBB> Finally, this is an incredibly cinematic trailer. But were there any differences between your approach to this project and how the Rodeo FX team might work on a sequence in a feature-length film? 

Patrick> It was very similar, yes. We needed to plan ahead to make sure there was no time wasted on iterations, for example. Working with the agency, Digital Kitchen, was incredibly helpful in that regard because they were very clear with what they wanted. That was extra-important given the tight nine-week timeline. 

I think on some larger-scale movies it takes a bit longer because there are simply more shots to be working on. This was a very efficient trailer to put together - perhaps thanks in part to our team’s experience in working on sci-fi environments for Halo, and creepy worlds in Stranger Things

Part Two: The Gamescom Immersive Experience

Above: Rodeo FX helped to chill and thrill attendees at 2022’s Gamescom in Germany with a blood-curdling immersive installation. 

LBB> Julia, this campaign delivers on the survival-horror premise of The Callisto Protocol. What was your initial vision for the project, and how close does the final activation align with that?

Julia> Liquid Arcade initially approached us because they loved another installation we did for the SAAQ (essentially the Quebec version of an American DMV), and asked if we could develop this type of CG scan activity at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany for the Callisto launch. 

Essentially, the attendees enter a kiosque for The Callisto Protocol and stand in front of a big screen which “scans” them, and when they’re least expecting it, a huge “monster” comes into the scene whose skeleton we also see. It was a lot of fun and it got big reactions. Two thousand participants lined up for hours to get their chance at their own scan, and leave with a souvenir video clip.

LBB> Nicolas, how did you ensure that the skeleton was following the participants movements? 

Nicolas> The key to what we have done here is find the right balance between reactivity and smoothness. The AI body tracking solution gives a good but noisy result, so we turned to inverse kinematics (physics simulation) to make sure that the skeleton didn’t go all demon-possessed on us with flipping limbs! The final ingredient was to interpolate between the ‘resting’ pose and ‘controlled’ pose to gracefully lose/recover when detection becomes unreliable. 

Part Three: 3D Billboards in London and New York 

Above: The Rodeo FX team made the most of some prime real estate in Piccadilly Circus and Times Square 

LBB> Emilie, the out of home campaign in London and New York looks like it provided plenty of entertainment for passers-by. How much did you enjoy seeing their reactions!?

Emilie> Haha, yeah it was a lot of fun. First of all, it’s just so incredibly cool seeing a project like this light up places such as Picadilly Circus in London and Times Square in New York. We’re still at a point where there’s a shock factor around 3D imagery in public places, which helped us in generating the reactions we saw. The agency, Digital Kitchen, was really onto something with this idea from the start. The billboards' impact was also emphasised by the sheer size of these screens - 44.22m x 17.4m in London, and an enormous 97.31m x 23.67m in New York City. 

LBB> And is there anything you’d do differently if you had your time again? 

Emilie> Well, maybe, because we had so many options from the source material when it came to generating that moment of surprise. We played with ideas like a big explosion, broken scenery, or people jumping out from the screen. But, these are all ideas which I hope we can dip back into for future projects… 

LBB> Marie-Piere, looking at these campaigns as a whole - across all the elements of your work promoting The Callisto Protocol, what do you think was Rodeo FX’s greatest strength? 

Marie-Piere> I’d say it was the 360 degree nature of our offering. So we of course helped put together this incredible live action trailer starring Josh Duhamel, which maybe we could describe as a ‘traditional’ element of a campaign. But we also went far beyond that - creating an immersive experience at Gamescom and then a stunning 3D billboard in London and New York as well. So instead of going to three different vendors - and running up the kind of bill that might entail - we’re doing all of these different things under one roof. We’ve become a high-end one stop shop. 

LBB> In addition to the financial advantages of working in that way, are there any creative benefits too? 

Marie-Piere> Definitely. It means you’re not dealing with silos, broken chains of communication, or different interpretations of a creative vision. That’s a great advantage - it also means we can lean on all the talents we have in-house here at Rodeo, the kind of people who put together feature film VFX as we did for Fantastic Beasts, Black Adam, and John Wick. 

LBB> Finally, to what extent do you think that a video game - and especially a game with horror elements - lends itself to this kind of experiential marketing that you guys worked on? 

Marie-Piere> A great extent! It’s a natural fit. Video games are playful and they provoke emotion - whether it be excitement, joy, or a bit of fear. Experiential projects work in much the same way, becoming a natural and seamless extension of a game’s identity. I’m proud of how neatly the experiences we designed feel like they fit into the world of the game.

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Genres: Visual VFX, Horror

Categories: Sports and Leisure, Gaming

Rodeo FX, Mon, 20 Feb 2023 08:21:00 GMT