Making TV: Disintegrating Into Civil War – METAphrenie
The History Channel’s trailer for its two-hour production of Gettysburg aims for a raw, visceral depiction of war.
By Michael Fickes
The show logo in METAphrenie’s Gettysburg TV trailer disintegrates into debris and blows away.
What’s it like to go to war? The History Channel’s two-hour movie, Gettysburg, tries to make you understand. Roundly panned by critics for inaccuracies, the production, executive-produced by Ridley Scott and Tony Scott and directed by Andrew Simon, nevertheless sought a contemporary retelling of the story, with the admirable goal of replacing the romanticism of war with a sense of what it was like to fear and fight for your life in a desperate three-day battle.
The :60 trailer for Gettysburg, created by Dubai-based METAphrenie (pronounced META-frenie; www.metaphrenie.com), also aimed to recreate the terrifying, visceral and intensely personal experience of war.
It begins with The History Channel logo against black. It disintegrates into earthen debris blown away by the wind. Shallow gasps follow, with a close-up showing a young soldier lying on furrowed ground, eyes wide open and vacant. His death rattle breaks the screen apart into more earthen debris, and, again, wind blows the debris away.
Scenes from the movie follow, knit together into attacks and counter attacks, explosions of dirt and soldiers fighting and dying.
Trailer as Mini Movie
METAphrenie’s assignment called for creating a logo for the movie title, :60 and :30 trailers and the opening credits.
“We started with the logo because Simon had just begun shooting and not much footage had come in,” says Andrea Dionisio, managing director and creative director of METAphrenie. “We took our inspiration from Slab Serif, a typeface used in the mid-1800s. It has chunky serifs. We got rid of the serifs and made it more contemporary to go with the concept of a contemporary retelling.”
With the updated Slab Serif Gettysburg logo in place, METAphrenie began to review the arriving footage.
Shot with RED Digital Cinema’s RED One camera at 4K resolution, the raw footage permitted METAphrenie artists to create effects through color grading with RED Cine, says Dionisio.
In several scenes, for instance, soldiers appear in black silhouette against a smoke-filled white background. “Those scenes were shot in full sunlight, and the characters weren’t silhouetted,” Dionisio says. “By pushing the contrast, gamma and color, we created the silhouette effect, which makes the footage very dramatic.”
The incoming clips featured “lots of explosions, with dirt flying up from the ground,” he says. “Dirt covered the soldiers, their faces and uniforms.”
The flying dirt and debris inspired the memorable effect of making the titles disintegrate into debris and blow away. It happens to each of the titles and once to the footage – in the sequence transitioning from the dying soldier to the battlefield. METAphrenie artists used Autodesk Maya to craft the effects.
When enough shots had come in, the team prioritized them and performed a preliminary color grading for consistency during transitions from scene to scene. They also did a lot of work on the backgrounds with Maya and Adobe After Effects, adding soldiers, painting out houses and adding trees.
Once the rough cut gained approval from The History Channel’s senior creative director Pablo Pulido, METAphrenie artists Amr Mohammed Abdelhamed, RayJohn Fernandez, Giuseppe Ambrosio and Michael Olea went to work on the final color grading with RED Cine and enhancing the trailer with a few additional effects.
“We wanted to show how hot it was,” Dionisio says. “The battle was in July, the height of summer. We created that shimmering effect you see hovering near the ground in the summer. We also added flying debris, sometimes burning debris and rock to some of the scenes.”
Finally, METAphrenie whittled the :60 trailer down to create an alternate :30 version and crafted the opening credits, which reprise the trailers’ powerful effects by rolling across the screen, disintegrating and blowing away.