Tanthious Trailer Post-Mortem

Hello! I thought I'd go into the process of editing the trailer for Tanthious's Kickstarter! It's a cool game, please go check it out. Thanks to the developer, Charlie, for taking a chance on me, and to my friend Sebastian who put me in contact with him. This was my first time editing a trailer for a video game, and I thought it'd be worth sharing a heavily condensed version of my experience! I did a lot of careful preparation to ensure I could handle the project, and that forethought paid off.

Getting the Gig

I researched the game ahead of time to make sure I understood it! I read all the info on their Steam page. I watched existing footage. And I made special note of whatever caught my eye; first impressions are important, especially for a project like this that is likely to be the first thing people see of the game. I formulated a basic idea of how I would structure the trailer. And when we held the interview, I pitched that idea. They liked it, and after a bit of deliberation and luck, I got the gig and got to work!


Lucky for me, the Dev had a lot of data about what aspects of the game had proven popular on social media. In fact, they had a spreadsheet of their most popular tweets! It really saved me a lot of guesswork. They also sent me the game's soundtrack: I picked an exciting boss theme, dissected it, and edited a truncated 60-second version of the song with just the parts I needed. Then I translated my basic pitch into a tentative shot list and I laid placeholder text on top of the music -- synced to the beat to give me an idea of the overall trailer's rhythm -- with each placeholder representing a shot.


I started recording shots one-by-one. It wasn't easy to get all the footage I was looking for, because the game is procedural (meaning elements are randomly shuffled each time you play); I had to be very patient. The most difficult shot to get was the first. The werewolf enemy's AI was unpredictable, and I had to manually drain my health before each take, to ensure I'd die in one or two hits. And because it was the first shot of the trailer, it had to look extra good to hook people. I probably recorded a few hundred takes.

Dev Feedback

After about a week, I had recorded a temp version of almost every shot in the trailer. There was still a long way to go, however. Over the next few weeks, the Dev started giving me feedback on each shot, and collaborating to complete the more complicated ones (he got the final werewolf shot in the end). We did a dozen or so rounds of revisions: I re-recorded weak shots, tightened up the pacing, and together we whittled down the problems. When I sensed we were nearing completion, I added a sheen of polish, including beefier sound design, fancy title cards, and some particle effects I made in After Effects. I sent over another version. This time, the Dev said, "I think we are, at most, one revision away from the final version."

Outside Feedback

I agreed with him! But I still felt like it would be prudent to get some feedback from others. So I posted the trailer for critique in Derek Lieu's "Video Game Trailer Academy" Discord server, and got some valuable feedback. Derek himself even wrote a newsletter about it, and reviewed it live on stream for me (https://www.twitch.tv/dereklieu)! To summarize what I learned: "You’re focused on the wrong features." Everyone seemed to agree that the most interesting hook of the game was its combat, which I had shown, but not given the spotlight it deserved.

It was incredibly valuable and encouraging advice, but it was also alarming. Some of the suggestions were pretty drastic. For instance: The title cards that had been part of the trailer since the original pitch? Derek said he thought they could go. That meant more than just light re-editing would be necessary, so I asked the Dev what he thought. At this point, the deadline was a few days away. He said he appreciated my attempts to get feedback, and liked the direction it was headed, so long as I was sure we could hit that deadline. I promised him it wouldn't be a problem, and then fixed almost every outstanding issue with the trailer that afternoon. He said "Awesome work, that all pulled together really fast."

The Lesson?

Plan, and plan well, but be flexible because plans can change. The thought of fundamentally restructuring the trailer in the feedback phase was scary in part because the project had been so carefully planned. But in truth I was only able to re-edit it so quickly because of what I’d done in the preparation and recording phases: I stayed organized. I labeled and categorized my footage, stuck to my shot list closely until the time came to abandon it, and delineated a new version of the project each time I made a major change. That meant that, when the time came to restructure the trailer, I had to scrap some work, but I didn’t have to go back to the drawing board. I could easily return to my documentation, repurpose unused footage, and even adjust the music that had been locked since before I started recording footage. The final trailer is stronger for it.

In the future, I'll probably seek outside feedback a little earlier though!

2 Nov 2022