Behind The Scenes - Dawn Of War III Trailer
"You’ve went and made this piece alien and weird and shapeshifting - f*cking awesome" - Abed Abonamous (Director)
Getting the chance to work on a magnificent trailer is one thing, doing it in collaboration with Axis Animation is another. Add into that mix the fact that this trailer happens to be announcing the long awaited and much anticipated next instalment in the Warhammer 40,000 Dawn of War series and you can see why our geeky little hearts were close to exploding like a Space Marine's Krak Grenade!
The detail and colour grades are mesmerising, making death, combat, carnage and chaos utterly beautiful. We are, quite simply, a little bit in love with it.
On sharing his vision for this film, the director eloquently described the overall feeling we wanted to create - chaos. His unique form of descriptive feedback throughout the process (sprinkled with fantastically detailed analogies) was like nothing we have ever experienced, but made this particular creative collaboration not only hugely satisfying, but highly entertaining too. We are, needless to say, a little bit in love with him as well.
Creating chaos was something our composer Paul relished getting his teeth into. "I wanted to make the music as different as I possibly could from all the usual stuff out there. It’s very rare this kind of opportunity comes up when you’re actually encouraged to be as weird as possible!". A lot of time was spent experimenting. "I recorded a load of percussion - just hitting anything in the studio - and detuning them, to give the sound and feel of stomping feet. These come in and out through the whole trailer, an incessant pounding rhythm of foot stomps. I was taken by the idea of the constant marching of the warriors. There are no victors in this war. They just go from one battle to another like lemmings, until they’re killed off and the next group carry on. The futility of war. They may win a battle, but there is never an end."
Delivering the unexpected was the aim, so a mixture of distorted orchestral sounds merged with raw percussion and electronic elements was created. We consciously went against the conventional creating a beautiful, otherworldly, melody set against a background of uncomfortable, unnerving tones. The strange juxtaposition between beauty and ugliness, majesty and menace - this is the universe of Dawn Of War.
"A completely foreign sound for a foreign world. It’s edgy and menacing, so I wanted to reflect that in the music. Starting off with the footsteps and weird analog synths, I gradually created a wall of sound which is like nothing I’ve heard before. Again, that word “unique" keeps coming back. But as weird as the music was becoming it’s still got to have a melody of some sort. Unless there is some sort of arc and structure to it, the track’s just going to sound like a horrendous cacophony. I introduced a bending, slowly-modulating, distorted orchestral sample playing a main melody as the camera follows the Space Marine's journey. Then in the second section, where all the Eldars appear, I had this fantastic instrument called a Hapi drum lying around the studio. I’d just been using it on a soundtrack, and I’d played it to Abed (Abonamous - the director) on Skype, who loved the sound of it. It’s a cross between a Gamelan and a Hang Drum. It’s got such a beautiful resonating sound which can be pretty rhythmical. This became the sound for this second section as the Eldars come down and the Orks start tearing the flesh off all the dead. I also used a Tibetan singing bowl to add to the otherworldly sounds.
This takes us into the final section - the introduction of the WraithKnights. This is our big moment, featuring 8 french horns which were subsequently distorted to blend into our strange universe. They play an anthemic, yet menacing, tune as the epic drums and percussion announce their arrival. This 3rd section (as electronic elements come back in after the space of the 2nd section) is actually the result of a mistake. As Paul describes: "I’d accidentally left the melody running while I played the rest of the stuff in. Having the beauty of the tune return against this violent, aggressive electronica created a weird juxtaposition between the beauty and the ugliness of the world we’re in. The destruction with metallic saws in the SFX joining in the rising dubstep samples, crescendoing until… We pull back as the Space Marine looks up and accepts his impending demise. There’s never quite that payoff which you would get in a traditional track. In this war there are no winners. Instead, we go back to the incessant pounding of the feet as they march onwards towards the next battle and the thousands of bodies fall through the sky."
Our San-Fran based sound genius (also called Paul oddly enough) brought not only his talent to this project, but also his personal affection for all things Games Workshop , which came in handy.
"The effects for the rocks and debris hitting the space marine’s armour took several iterations to feel right. In earlier drafts, the effect was either too thin sounding, or too metallic. The solution was to do a deeper dive on what their armor is actually made of. From years ago playing Warhammer, I had a faint memory that the Space Marine’s armour was somewhat exotic. As it turned out, a little bit of research confirmed the armour is a shock-resistant ceramic material, which was an “aha!” moment. The source for the sound ended up being glass and ceramic baking dishes heavily deadened with rubber and cloth. I pelted the dishes with rocks and bolts, and that did the trick."
Paul's dedication to creating just the right sounds for the Dawn of War universe did not end there though. "The sound for the Wraithknight’s sword slice was, believe it or not, a severely distorted drum machine cymbal hit. At the beginning of the project, I spent some time abstractly processing sounds through some highly useful outboard gear: an Elysia Karacter and an Elysia Nvelope. I didn’t really know what these sounds were going to be used for exactly, but the severe nature of the distortion seemed like a good fit for the vibe of the trailer and for the musical soundtrack. There’s something vintage about the effect – it’s very 1960’s Japan, like it’s from Ultraman or a Bruce Lee film – that I love about this sound."
As you can no doubt tell we were very passionate about this project and are immensely proud of it. The response from the Warhammer community and Dawn Of War Forum contributors blew us away.
"Only in death does duty end" - Imperium thought for the day.