Detroit, it turns out, is the perfect stand-in for Destiny’s fictional last city on Earth as it hovers on the brink of extinction.
It was to Detroit that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts traveled, after meeting with the creators of the upcoming space, shooter video game in Seattle, to shoot a commercial for the game.
"For me, this particular world is fun," Vogt-Roberts tells Glixel. "Being able to play in the world of video games, to take these beautiful suits made by Legacy [the same company responsible for the Iron Man suits worn by Robert Downey, Jr. in the movies] and then put them in my hometown, in dilapidated churches and buildings, shoot it and then augment that with CG.”
The result of all of that work is about two minutes of pure video game, faithfully extracted from Destiny and recreated in the real world, with real actors, all to help sell more copies of Destiny 2.
Commercial work for most directors, Vogt-Roberts says, is usually "money work." The sort of thing a director between jobs might do to pull in a bit of extra cash without having to commit too much.
But Vogt-Roberts says this job was more about a chance to create in a world in which he also loves to play. A die-hard gamer, the director saw this opportunity as a perfect fit for his time between Kong: Skull Island and his eventual work turning the three-decade Metal Gear video game series into a movie with producer Ari Arad.
"I was coming off of Kong and I wasn't looking to take on giant projects in terms of time commitment," he says of his decision to take on the commercial. "It became this perfect storm."
So he pitched the idea of setting up shop in Detroit and shooting the commercial using real actors in abandoned warehouses. The goal, he says, was to both appeal to hardcore fans of the original Destiny game and to find and attract new players for the title, due out September 6th.
"As a gamer, I'm so sensitive to having this thing we love and then someone trying to market it to everyone," he says. "It's a tricky task."
To try and thread that needle, Vogt-Roberts went to Seattle and spent the day at the Bungie studio, talking to the people who made the game.
"I was finding out what is truly important to them, so I could represent what their game is," he says.
And he wasn't just after the broad strokes of the story and its setting, but rather the intricacies of the game's mechanics and how the team at Bungie managed to impart such evocative moments through a button push.
"I wanted to know how the melee really works," Vogt-Roberts says. "When you're shooting and you get close enough to an enemy and you hit them with the rifle; it's such a satisfying feeling. When you’re running away from these war beasts and you turn around and they're inches away, snapping at your face – ka-ka-ka-ka – how do you translate that on screen? How do we best bring this world to life?"
After spending the day going back and forth with the team, Vogt-Roberts knew he wanted to bring The Last City from the game into the real world for the spot.
"I wanted to create the sense of being in The Last City," he says. "It's Bohemian, romanticized, ad-hoc Moroccan styles mixed with 15 percent Blade Runner; a neo-future feel. It's such a great combination of things. How do we bring that to life? How do we have these elements feel tactile and real, not just something on a green screen? It would be so easy to mute the colors and not lean into it."
Vogt-Roberts was in the midst of adding the finishing, computer-generated touches, to his real world film when we chatted. He says where Kong: Skull Island had 600 to 1,000 visual effect shots added to the film over the course of a year in post-production, the commercial was getting about 100 in just three weeks. With this commercial wrapped, Vogt-Roberts says there's a lot he wants to do, from big movies to more commercial work.
"I want to continue doing more commercials, they're fun to play around with," he says.
And all of it will seemingly have some tie to video games, be it over as with his work on the Destiny 2 commercial, or subtle nods, like the easy-to-miss homage to the game Journey in King Kong.
"I have this weird thing in me," he says. "Games are such a huge part of my influences and upbringing. I'm deeply interested in the relationship between film and video games. How we portray that stuff. How we commit to what makes games great."
Asked if talk of his working on a Destiny movie ever came up during his discussions with Bungie, Vogt-Roberts says, "No."
"I know that they have toyed around with a Destiny movie at some point. But I was so focused on the – making it as great as it can be and telling this two minute story; bringing in the color palette and aesthetic and the action Bungie created – to think about the larger world of the movie. But I've thought about it."