Ryan van Eerde
"A Night to Remember"- The Witcher 3 Cinematic Trailer Audio Breakdown
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
A lot of games these days use cinematic trailers to promote themselves, you'd be hard pressed to find a big well known game that doesn't use this form of advertising. I like them for the fact that they act as short films and provide some insight into what the game is going to be about in a more interesting way than just showcasing game play. The Witcher 3 trailer is a great example of telling a story within a short amount of time that perfectly describes what the game is going to be about whilst also conveying the complex emotions of a monster hunter going out and killing creatures for money. I'll be breaking down the audio elements within this trailer and analysing how the Music, SFX, and Foley assist the visual aspects in regards to story telling and developing the environment. See clip below.
Scene 1- 0:00 to 1:38
The trailer starts with a bunch of preamble consisting of an age disclaimer, reviews, and the production company logo all whilst being silent up until 0:10 where the sound of rustling trees can slowly begin to be heard and a soft female singing voice come in shortly after. The logo is still being shown at the point which produces a little bit of intrigue as to what will be shown next. The company logo then transitions to the proper beginning of the trailer around 0:20 as a peaceful night time scene appears and the female singer now comes into view. This human female character is just casually walking in the scene whilst seemingly singing to her self in a style that resembles a lullaby, the only other sounds that can be heard are the trees rustling in the wind and her footsteps and clothing movement. The audio here is used to put the audience in the scene with this character and helps to depict the environment she is in, her voice also has a very small amount of delay and reverb processing to further communicate the environment she is in and make it feel more realistic.
At 0:41 off screen a male voice can be heard addressing the female character and when he comes into view is instantly recognisable as The Witcher Geralt. The audio is still that of environment sounds with no music what so ever to help provide any understanding as to what the audience should be feeling with the conversation between these 2 characters. Geralt is also panned slightly to the left and is at a lower volume than the female character this with some high pass filtering helps to put him into the environment and provide a sense of space between the 2 characters. It would feel right if the volume and processing at this point for Geralt was the same as the female characters who voice is very present in the mix with minimal processing to make it appear that she is closer to the audience. This in turn makes her the focal point of the scene and draws attention to what happens next.
At 1:05 what sounds like low brass and string instruments slowly build up to produce a sinister feeling atmosphere, the instruments are played quite softly with little attack and slowly increase in volume as long drawn out notes are played. The main focus here is to begin building tension and because there was no music previously the introduction of this sinister music track is very impactful and signifies that something bad is potentially going to happen. As this music track is building the female characters voice begins to change and starts to sound less human and more like a monster. It sounds like a pitch shifted down duplicate of her voice that has been slightly distorted blended in with her normal voice line which evidently sounds unnatural. There is also a relatively quite reverb and delay that builds up towards the end of her sentence which adds a ghostly feel to her voice helping reinforce the pitch shifted vocal texture. The reverb and delay effect is purposely made to sound unnatural as well meaning that its not something you would expect to hear in this environment, its been done in a way to further distance the female character from being a human. The audio leading up to this point with only using environment and Foley sounds made it so that the audience wouldn't suspect that the female character would be anything other than human. This provides more of a shock factor when she is about to remove her clothes then turns into a streak of mist than flies past Geralt into a nearby barn, as he does this she lets out a very none human sound almost like a shriek that's been heavily processed with reverb and delay to further accentuate her none human nature. This reverb and delay effect is almost exactly the same as the one that was used on her voice previously just a lot more present in the mix and has a much longer reverb tail, it also gets panned to the right then the left providing a sense of movement.
At 1:24 as Geralt is approaching the barn he stops and drinks some from of liquid which appears to have some from of physical effect on him as his veins start to bulge around his neck and his eyes turn orange and take on a more animalistic shape to resemble the eyes of a wolf perhaps. The music in this section starts to build even more with the string being played extremely frantically and constantly increasing in pitch, this increases the all ready tense atmosphere and aids in describing that Geralt has gone through some kind of mutation. As this is happening we also hear a weird sound effect like the boiling of a viscous liquid mixed with crunchy crackling sound which is most probably used to describe a change happening inside of him that also directly affects his blood. This SFX is a little disturbing and is made further impactful by there being 2 independent sounds panned left and right, still the same effect just decorrelated from each other to produce a creepy stereo effect. I also think this has been done to represent what Geralt would be hearing inside of his head representing the internal change that has happened. After that a small drop of blood slowly falls from his nose which is accompanied by a squelchy SFX to help represent it falling through the air, a drop of blood wouldn't really make any sound as it falls but because this is the only thing on screen at the time it wouldn't feel right not having any sound for it. As the drop of blood hits the floor it begins to sizzle and boil and sounds like frying a bit of meat in a pan and is placed relatively high in the mix for how small the sound should actually be. This really helps to focus the audiences attention to the changes that have happened to Geralt and his blood specifically
The audio in the beginning of this section doesn't make it seem like these 2 characters are different to ordinary humans but as the scene progresses along with the visual elements the music and SFX helps to provide information about their none human characteristics. Now the audience is ready for a supernatural fight to occur.
Scene 2- 1:39 to 3:15
Now that Geralt is all charged up he walks into the barn, the music is relatively minimal with a single low sounding note that is slowly oscillating with a high pitch overtone coming in later as well. The music here is used in a way that it doesn't detract from the other sounds going on such as Geralts breathing and the gentle creaking of the wooden barn. Like what most of the music has done up to now this track is used to create tension and also produces a very ominous atmosphere which continues to build. The whole audio in this first section is purposely quite to add suspense when Geralt is looking for the female creature who is silently hiding. As he is going deeper into the barn the wolf head pendant around his neck begins to shake and rattle as to inform the audience that he is getting closer to the creature. The fact that the music is minimal and quite means that all of these small sounds are not lost and can be heard clearly but the music itself is just enough to describe the tense ominous atmosphere inside of the barn and leaves audience in a state of anticipation as to whats to come.
At 2:04 Geralt throws a small magical bomb, this breaks the tension that's been building as the ominous sounding music track disappears and is then replaced by a more folk sounding track which is headed by a Fiddle, with other folky sounding percussion and stringed accompaniment. This change in feel and instrumentation almost seem like it wouldn't fit with the fight scene that follows but is does, its not what you would initially assume to be fight music. The folk music track here fits in with the olde worlde environment aesthetics and is what you could imagine would be used for a theatre performance depicting a scene like this. The music also increases in volume as the fight continues and the percussion becomes more prominent and intense to help describe the different stages of the fight.
Throughout the fight sequence that follows with the female creature who is now invisible apart from being highlighted in a glowing magical dust from Geralts bomb makes multiple screech sounds which further broadens the dichotomy from what she is now to her supposed human from. The audio in this section accurately describes the fight sequence with sounds for every hit, block, and sword swing, everything can be heard over the music and nothing is ever too loud or quite. This balance between the music and fight sounds is done really well to not only convey the emotion of the scene but to bring life to the fight.
This all builds up to the point where Geralt is almost defeated by the creature, who we can now see is some wired form of Vampire, as she bites down onto his neck and sucks his blood. The folk music track quickly dissipates and a similar sounding low frequency atmosphere track like the beginning of this scene takes its place. This again builds to where you think the Vampire is about to finish him off but the same liquid boiling SFX that was heard when Geralt drank the potion comes, this tells the audience that what ever Geralt was being affected by is now affecting the Vampire but in a different and more severe way. The folk music comes back in again as Geralt now has the upper hand against the Vampire as the fight continues.
The changing of music throughout this scene helps to communicate the different stages of the fight whilst providing enough space for all of the Foley and Sound Design elements to be heard, it really helps that none of these audio aspects take away from each other they all come together to better describe the scene and what is happening within it.
Scene 3- 3:16 to End
Geralt has now triumphed over the Vampire and is shooting her in the back with a crossbow, but instead of hearing a monster shriek as she's hit we hear a more human gasp as she begins to transform back into her human state. The music in this section also goes back to that of the lullaby that she was singing at the very beginning but this time as a part of a whole song with instrumental accompaniment, this track has a sorrowful feel to it which makes you somewhat feel empathy for the Vampire. This is produced by having stringed instruments softly play long drawn out notes in a minor key which acts a a foundation for the minor vocal melody that is also sung relatively soft, the vocalist is able to convey a sense of sadness in the tone of her voice which really sells the sad empathetic mood.
As the scene transitions to a small section that has The Witcher 3 game logo the lyrics also mention The Witcher, this is a nice touch that helps to tie the song in with the game and the environment itself. Now that we know the song/lullaby is actually about Witchers we can also tie this back to the beginning of the trailer where the vampire in her human from was singing this lullaby presumably expecting Geralt to come and find her. This helps to round out and bring the story within the trailer full circle ending with how it begun whilst also providing the audience with more information about Witchers with the lyrical content. There is some basic Foley sounds as Geralt is waking up in the morning after passing out from his encounter as the music builds again to the release date for the game gets shown on screen.
There isn't a lot of stuff happening in this scene, the music is the main focus which is not only used to produce an emotional response from the audience about the Vampire it also provides more information about the Witchers and gives context to why she was singing in the beginning.
The audio in this trailer really helps to progress the story and provide more information about the certain magical and supernatural aspects that are in the game. The use of no musical content in the beginning to leave the audience somewhat in the dark about the context and relationship between Geralt and the mysterious female character, to the folk song used for the fight scene which could have been used to portray the more folklore elements of the game environment. The music never takes over the character and environment sounds as these aspects is what helps to immerse the audience into the specific scenes but whilst still providing the atmosphere and emotion when and where necessary. Having certain SFX like when Geralt drinks the potion that comes back when the Vampire bites him also helps to tie together the narrative and from a more cohesive story, Geralt didn't just drink something for no reason. Little sound design aspects and details that really sell the fact that this isn't a normal person doing normal jobs, this is a trained fighter who hunts monsters which can be more complicated than you would otherwise think.
All up I think this is a great trailer that has used audio well to connect the audience and perspective game buyers to the environment and world of The Witcher whilst also communicating that this isn't just some simple hack and slash game with no meaningful story elements. The fact that the game developers wanted to make the female character seem as human as possible in the beginning shows that potentially not all the decisions you will make in the game will be easy ones and that some actions have consequences.