Most card games don’t get theatrical trailers to signal the release of new expansion packs, but Magic: The Gathering is not most card games. It’s been around for more than 25 years, and boasts 20 million active players, making it a genuine cultural force. The 82nd expansion for the game was released earlier this year, and to mark that momentous occasion, they approached none other than Axis Studios – whose previous clients include major film, television and video game companies – to create a unique trailer to both showcase and generate buzz around the Throne of Eldraine expansion pack.
The trailer – which features a gingerbread couple battling for their lives inside a medieval castle – was an instant sensation, peaking at third place on YouTube’s global trending charts within 24 hours of its release and tallying more than nine million views to date. We spoke with some of the creative minds at Axis Studios responsible for the trailer, and they shared their insights into the process and what made their work so successful.
The Axis team was given 14 weeks and a bunch of concept art to put together a trailer, but they described the entire process as intensely collaborative. “We’re heavily involved with the client,” they told us. “I’d say that we’re involved with the client every step of the way, and it’s very collaborative.” That’s a necessity when working with a game as old and well-established as Magic, since fans have come to expect a certain look and feel to the game.
“There is a very established canon, which we have to follow in the context of the characters, and we have to make sure we’re hitting all these things carefully. And there’s a lot of interested parties and people who developed these characters for a number of years. You have to remain faithful to that.”
The genesis of the trailer was the gingerbread man concept, which led Axis to the simple idea of a 90-second character exposition, but “the scope kept changing,” until what began as a simple introduction ballooned into a two-minute-20-second battle royale, in which a gingerbread couple fight for their lives against spilled milk, scalding hot soup, and a hungry knight.
Arnold to the Rescue
Axis had previously been working in Houdini and rendering in Mantra, but decided to test out Arnold for this project. “We had a very specific look we wanted to match with the environment and lighting, which wasn’t necessarily dependent on the renderer, but relied on a lot of bounce light and soft lighting and rocky metal surfaces, which is traditionally very expensive and time-consuming to render, so that was a big reason we thought Arnold would be good for this; it would allow us to hit the creative look we were going for and speed up the render times.”
They described the transition as relatively painless, thanks in part to Arnold’s ubiquity. “It’s so widely used, so everyone’s sort of familiar with it and has faith in it; I think that made it easy to convince people to do it. Also, technically speaking, it’s very straightforward and very clear. It makes sense to a lot of people.”
Axis also credits the incredible tutorials and guides available for helping make the transition easier. “There’s so much out there that you can just look up using people’s work; the resources available are much more in-depth than what we’re used to.There’s a lot of stuff you can search for, or people to reach out to and ask for advice.”
The Throne of Eldraine trailer was Axis Studios’ first major projected finished with Arnold, but they’re sold on its utility. “We have now, in fact, from this project on, committed to using Arnold on every single project that we can use it for.”