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Sony Santa Monica on the Cinematic Challenges of ‘God of War’

Sony Santa Monica’s new “God of War” employs an interesting visual cinematic style. There are no cuts. The entire game is shot with a single camera that follows protagonist Kratos and his son, Atreus, on their journey. Now, the game’s director of photography, Dori Arazi, breaks down three scenes and the challenges of creating them over on the PlayStation Blog.

(Note: While we try to keep story details vague, there are obviously some spoilers.)

“With ‘God of War’ shipped and in the hands of our fans, I find myself contemplating the moments that helped define the new visual cinematic style we utilized for ‘God of War,'” Arazi said. “Each of these moments was a mental turning point, starting with ‘Can this be done with the tools we have?’, which moved onto ‘Can we pull this off without breaking our visual language?’ and, mostly, ended with ‘I can’t believe we pulled this off.’

The first scene Arazi breaks down is the last before Kratos and Atreus head to Jotunheim. Establishing core empathy fundamentals and key tension points was critical, he said.

“I decided to use the blue, cold, harsh tones of the ‘outside’ to represent Kratos, Kratos as a father (at least at that point in the story) and the dangerous journey they have ahead of them,” he said. “We used this light in sharp, high contrast for punctuation. We then chose the soft warmth of the indoors to define the rare safety the mother provided, using that to portray the softer emotions.

“The challenge was staging the acting and camera to play against these two moods and to help define the core relationships and personalities, all without cutting the camera.”

The second scene takes place much further into the game, after Atreus learns a painful secret from Kratos’ past. Arazi said the challenge here was portraying the brutality of the vision, and the characters’ reactions to it, in a way that evokes a sense of delirium. The scene sometimes employs a first-person perspective, which is rare in the typically third-person action-RPG, all without cutting away from that single camera.

Finally, Arazi talks about the challenges of introducing “God of War’s” ogre enemy and creating an action scene with characters of different scale.

“The previous two challenges were more about defining our emotional, cinematic language and how to execute it without cuts in a real-time engine,” he said. “This challenge was more technical and helped define our approach to action. It helped us define which tools we’d need on set, and how far we could push real-time performance capture for characters with vastly different scales.”

“All action was in sync, actors physically responding to each other, even though they had no real-world contact. A well-oiled execution, the pre-planning, and rehearsals paid off in spades. Ability to shoot multi-scale, single shot action scenes in real time … check!”

“God of War” released on Apr. 20 on PlayStation 4. It quickly became Sony’s fastest-selling PS4 exclusive with more than 3.1 million copies sold in its first three days. But, it was later toppled by “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” which sold 3.3 million in its first three days.

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