Behind the Scenes: Crafting a Compelling Teaser for The Walking Dead: The Final Season

posted by Ryan D. Chan June 6th 2018

“Hey Ryan, I wanted to talk to you about an amazing opportunity.”

This is how my Executive Producer approached me to work on the teaser for The Walking Dead: The Final Season. Telltale fans have an incredible connection with this series’ characters, so being offered the chance to work on content that gives those fans their first look at the journey they’re about to finish… well, it really is nothing short of an amazing opportunity.

But I didn’t do it all alone. I was handed a strong foundation to build from. Our Lead Writer, Season Director, Cinematic Lead, Art and Creative Directors, and Editorial and Marketing teams all had input in building the scene for the trailer before I got in it. As a Cinematic Artist, we’re responsible for a lot of the visual experience of our games: blocking and staging of characters, camera placement, animating camera movement, lens choices, editing shots into sequences, and authoring/animating the performance of the characters, just to name a few. However my task on the teaser trailer was to breathe life into our hero characters by providing acting polish through our cinematic animation techniques.

When approaching a scene like this, it’s important to match the physical performance of the characters with the voice performance. When you pair great voice direction with great voice actors (shout out to Melissa Hutchison and Taylor Parks), it challenges us to bring our work up to that level in the characters’ movement and acting. When we succeed, you get characters that really feel alive and result in emotional investment. It’s also crucial for me to understand what we’re trying to show or tell our audience about the world of the franchise, the characters and their relationship to each other and the type of experience they might find while playing this game. This percolates through everything you see and hear in the trailer. And those considerations were ever-present as I authored the acting.

The trailer starts off with Clementine and AJ singing a common nursery rhyme that evokes child-like innocence. However, it’s within the context of a zombie apocalypse. This hints at one of the major themes of our game. Even overarching ideas can influence a character’s performance, so I wanted to make sure this theme was reflected in their emotions. As Clem tries to convince AJ that he likes the song, I really wanted to brighten Clem’s face by giving her a bit of a brow raise and smirkish smile, making her feel more casual. AJ, though, has a different reaction to the song, remarking, “I don’t remember a time without monsters.”

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This is where Clementine’s empathy for AJ kicks in, and in the shot where Clem verbally expresses that empathy, it was important to see an emotional shift. Her open and stretched brows now scrunch into concern, worry, and sadness. Clem meets AJ on his level -- not just emotionally, but also physically as she sits down next to him. Maintaining her maternal attitude, she shifts tactics and tests AJ on their established rules for survival. This was an important moment for me to decide when they turn to look at each other and when they’re gazing off in thought, finding that natural balance of using their eyelines to punctuate the importance of their words and mood.

Which brings us to the line that has the most weight in the whole trailer: “Now, what do you do if I get bit?” It’s a line that gives you chills, and I really tasked myself to have the visuals and performance match it. After all, it’s the last shot of the trailer and I wanted to leave a lasting impression. It was important to have Clem turn to make eye contact with AJ, really driving that line home with her eyes. It was also imperative to shoot an over-the-shoulder where you can really read and connect with the emotion on Clem’s face. And boy did I obsess over it.

I wanted her facial expression to come off as serious and intense, so I pushed her brows down and together to get a bit of a stern furrow. I simultaneously opened up her eyelids to add depth to her stare. But I also wanted a hint of sadness behind it all, as this question comes from an experience where she was put in a similar situation and was not emotionally prepared for it (R.I.P. Lee). I probably spent more time sculpting the expression around her eyes than I spent on any other part of the trailer individually, revisiting and tweaking at a micro level trying to find that balance. Eventually, I landed on something that I’m proud of.

I can break down this trailer in so many other ways… but I suppose I’ll leave that up to you to dissect and theorize and cast judgements of your own. At the very least, I hope you enjoyed watching the trailer as much as I enjoyed working on it. It’s an honor to work on something that means so much to our fans, and I will continue to put the same care and thought into every single episode.

Editor's Note: Get all the latest on The Walking Dead: The Final Season in our press release, including pre-order info!