How indie filmmaker Caleb Chamberlain combined Unreal Engine, Red Giant tools, Blender and more to create an exceptional fan-film trailer.
Caleb Chamberlain is a filmmaker living in San Antonio, Texas. At his day job, he creates videos for the immensely popular YouTube channel and coffee brand Black Rifle Coffee Company. Off the clock, he spends his time learning the latest filmmaking tools and VFX plugins.
It was Chamberlain’s love of the video game series “Titanfall” that led him on a journey to learn 3D filmmaking in Unreal Engine working with real-time CG environments. The result of his experimental endeavor is “Titanfall New Frontiers,” a two-minute fan-film trailer.
We wanted to learn more about Chamberlain and his work, so he joined us for a chat to talk about all things gaming and filmmaking.
How long have you been making videos?
Chamberlain: I’ve been making videos my whole life. I got into After Effects when I was 12 and that turned into a career. I’ve been working at Black Rifle Coffee Company making videos for their YouTube channel for two years. I’ve also been learning Unreal Engine as a side project and decided to try and make something tangible versus experiments or single frames.
Tell us about why you decided to focus on “Titanfall?”
Chamberlain: I’ve always enjoyed first-person shooter games and “Titanfall” is one of my favorites. I really appreciate the work and love that goes into video games. I didn’t even know how deep “Titanfall” lore was until I started working on this trailer.
There is a whole fan base who loves the game, even though it really hasn’t been touched since 2016. My brother-in-law told me about the fan base on Reddit, so I created an account and started to share progress pictures as I was working.
That generated a whole lot of buzz, and when it came time to post the trailer, I realized how important it was to those fans. I even used Reddit polls for them to vote on thumbnails. Everyone was just so excited, and even to this day, more than half of the views still come from Reddit, which is pretty cool.
Did you storyboard the trailer or write a script first?
Chamberlain: I did a little bit of both those things. My brother-in-law and I chatted about the game and came up with ideas about what encounters with the game’s robots would look like. Originally, we thought it would be fun to make one scene, but things grew from there and we built a montage that felt like a trailer.
We dreamed up shots we wanted to get and just kept adding more on. After I rendered out a few shots, we threw it into a timeline and realized we had the bones of a trailer. Things just organically from there.
Tell us about your process for using Unreal, Red Giant tools and other software.
Chamberlain: I'm a classic case of a kid who wanted to learn visual effects, so I started in After Effects. Then I realized you also need a non-linear editor to actually put stuff together. I’m still in the beginning stages of learning Unreal, which I mostly use for posing and some animations with different characters.
For “Titanfall New Frontiers,” I also used a Rokoko Smartsuit for motion capture. That allowed me to work through scenes quickly without having to animate the characters, which would have taken many, many hours. It also allowed me to animate the pilots and Titans and bring them directly into Unreal to see how they moved around.
Blender is my preferred avenue to retarget the motion capture and clean up the non-linear animation, so I just need to refine it in Unreal. I also used Blender for a couple of last-minute shots and to create the thumbnails.
Red Giant Supercomp helped make the Titanfall composites super clean. I think I used Supercomp on almost every shot in the video. It’s the greatest tool I use in my compositing workflow.
Red Giant’s VFX suite was helpful for adding all sorts of subtle things, like glows and chromatic aberration and the new Bang plugin was great for creating all the different muzzle flashes that you see throughout the trailer. Setting that up was so easy, and it really worked for any shot I threw at it.
What were the big takeaways from making this trailer?
Chamberlain: I spent a good amount of time learning where to drop a camera. You can do whatever you want because it’s 3D, but I really wanted it to feel more like something that was practically shot so I thought about how I would shoot a scene with a 30-foot robot standing in front of me. In that case, I would definitely need to be further away with a zoom lens. And it would probably be hard to hold still while tracking the action.
I also thought about how the camera would feel and how you would get around, so I hid behind walls and tried to find cover, like I would have in real life. During compositing, it was all about the optics and using Red Giant tools to add flares and reflections. All those little details helped ground and elevate the look.
What’s next for you?
Chamberlain: “New Frontiers” has exploded over the last few months. A script for a full six-episode series has been written, and numerous users from Reddit have come aboard to offer their talents for this passion project. The series has been fully cast and actors from all over the country have come together virtually for the production, which is creating an entirely new way for indie filmmakers to produce films.
Faceware Studio and Descript's AI audio enhancements were vital to this project, and we were able to produce a 10-minute fully animated piece as a production test for “New Fronteirs” in 30 days. The lessons we learned and can now be applied to our recording sessions, which will greatly improve the overall quality of the project. (Watch the production test here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzBwd8YK-f4).
It's an incredible story with a dedicated writing team and many other talented people behind it. We hope it will help forge a path for creating great video game adaptations and increase strong female leads in science fiction. I'm honored to be working with such an amazing cast and crew, and we’re currently aiming for a spring 2024 release.
Michael Maher is a writer and filmmaker in Dallas, TX.