Cinematography in Video Game Trailers

Cinematography in Video Game Trailers

The gaming industry offers its users plenty of opportunities for a more immersive gaming experience. One of the challenges in developing truly complex, large-scale games is creating a realistic universe. The gameplay should not look primitive and disjointed, so it is developed based on scripts, video layouts, and other methods that come from cinematography in video games. All these visual aspects play a huge role in attracting the target audience, so it is particularly well disclosed in the trailers of video games.

Video Games Trailer Introduction

The first video game trailer in history appeared in 1982. It was a Zaxxon television commercial for Sega. In the 1990s, releasing a trailer became a usual step in a marketing campaign to increase the popularity of a video game. 

There are many features that could be included in game cinematic trailers, amongst them:

  • gameplay, 
  • CGI animation, 
  • live-action. 

Depending on the goals, the trailer might include the release date and platform. Nowadays, almost each video game have series of trailers, each of which reveals different game features.

The influence of cinematography

One of the reasons why the games are following the cinematography is the similarity of filmmaking. In both cases, we are dealing with video content on the screen. Cinema was and remains the popular entertainment among young people, the core target audience of video games. And besides, a quality picture captivates much faster and stronger than the verbal description of the game rules. As the saying goes, it’s better to see once than hear a hundred times.

Using cinematic experience

Generally speaking, no one is surprised by the interaction between the game and movie industries these days. These two entertainment spheres exchange with each other not only with high technology but also with their specialists. Some film directors, such as George A. Romero and Michael Bay, were invited to create cinematic video game trailers. Both movie and game trailers must interest a watcher or gamer by showing their best sides. They are, in fact, the same commercial clips as on TV, but they are not filmed in the studio with real actors but created on the computer from scratch. 

Narrative Storytelling

Everything is based on a logical and captivating story, both in cinematography and games development. The plot should consist of the exposition, the Fabula (the so-called peripeteia or ups and downs of the protagonist), the climax, and other necessary scenes. These dramaturgical rules help keep players’ attention and keep them engaged. 

The trailer also tells the story, but more briefly. It should answer questions like what, where, and when are happening on the screen. After watching the trailer, the players must understand if the game meets their interests.


Cutscenes are not a whim but a necessity for modern video games. First appearing in the original Pacman back in the 1980s, cutscenes were officially recognized in Maniac Mansion, released in 1987. Today it is impossible to imagine the game’s universe without an opening cutscene. Later, these episodes move the story forward and provide insight into the overall narrative and motivation of the characters.

Camera Techniques

Although video game developers don’t have video cameras, they create footage that looks like it came out of a movie theater screen. This result is achieved by using camerawork techniques such as 

  • lens glare and lens curvature, 
  • chromatic aberration for smooth color mixing
  • bokeh (a sharp object against a blurry background) or deep focus
  • shaky camera effect.

These tricks are created artificially with high-level technology to achieve realistic results. You can see similar technology in the trailers of the Uncharted franchise. 

Why cinematic video game trailers got a lot of negative reviews?

Some gaming experts find making a cinematic game trailer mainly consists of non-game scene choosing. It doesn’t allow gamers to evaluate the gameplay. Additional scenes can be created only for the commercials, and later they literally disappear from the game. Besides, trailers appear long before the game release and (it’s the opinion of many players) take a significant amount of time away. As a result, it looks like just a marketing ploy of companies, a kind of “Who among us is cooler” and creates another reason for another news and blah-blah discussions in the gaming environment. 

Reverse Process: How the cinematic nature of video game trailers has affected cinematography itself?

The answer to the high demand for realistic gameplay was the creation of game cinematic studios, dedicated exclusively to feature-length films at the intersection of VFX and 3D animation.

Many filmmakers wanted to bring the capabilities of video games to film. For example, James Cameron’s Avatar was a turning point with the CGI technologies and the beginning of video game cinematography. The same technologies were used in Life of Pi and were awarded the Academy Award in 2012.

Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 4 (UE4), which is used in Fortnite, was used in the Star Wars series “The Mandalorian” to create more realistic backgrounds. Actors no longer had to deal with a green screen.

Perspectives and Conclusion

Realism is the direction where both video games and game cinematography are moving. Their paths often overlap, bringing more visual possibilities to the entertainment industry and a better understanding of where it will lead in the future. For example, visual reality technology is gaining momentum via special tools: a helmet, goggles, and gloves. We can only wait for them to become more available and enjoy the amazing gameplay of your favorite game.

Please visit our website: