The new Gears of War 3 spot Dust to Dust features a now-obligatory-for-a-FPS-game trailer that mixes hardcore violence with a wistful soundtrack -- in this case Mazzy Star's downtempo classic Into Dust -- to imbue the piece with gravitas and a sense of the epic. This is a form the GoW series pioneerd with Joseph Kosinski's Mad World.

Watch Dust to Dust here.

For Dust to Dust Director Adam Berg and digital production studio Digital Domain created an all-CG spot using an innovative virtual production technique that gave Berg complete camera control to shoot the spot like live action and deliver a cinematic showpiece for the trilogy’s final chapter -- a single time-lapsed take that traverses all three Gears of War worlds.

Digital Domain has digitally producted all five commercials for the GOW franchise, plus some for the competing Halo franchise. Digital Domain VFX supervisor Vernon Wilbert (who directed the GoW3 trailer Ashes to Ashes) devised a production process for wrapping the storylines of all four previous trailers into a single time-lapse story and realizing Berg’s vision of a single-take feel from a handheld camera.

The result is a seamless first person experience of being alongside protagonist Marcus Fenix in GoW1 as the Locusts emerge, battling the Horde in GoW2’s Jacinto City when the flood surges in, and facing up to a horrifying new enemy in the opening of GoW3.

To begin the production process, Digital Domain first tapped Epic Games’ library for 3D assets from all three games, then re-rendered them to create preliminary pre-vis. Then, working in Digital Domain’s new virtual production studio in Marina del Rey, Wilbert and his team provided Berg with the pre-vis and a virtual camera so he was able to go onto the stage and direct the movement of CG sets and motion-capture actors in real-time.

As Berg moved his camera around, a pre-vis artist repositioned set pieces and built the set in real time, according to what Berg wanted to shoot.

Wilbert explained, "Adam was trying to get an angle shooting down the escalators, for example, and we were able to rotate them until he was comfortable where it should be. When Fenix jumped down the escalator into the Badlands, Adam was able to tell us where he wanted the helicopter placed -- 10 feet away? 30? And we’d put it there - all in a matter of seconds.”

Unlike live action, the flexible virtual production process enabled Berg to shoot from any perspective he could imagine, without the need for cranes, jibs or dollys, instantly. And unlike traditional pre-vis where only one or two set changes can be accommodated in the typical 2-week period, Digital Domain was able to make 12 changes to the set and more in the camera in just one day of on-set virtual production with Berg driving.

On the creative front, Vernon and his team also applied their artistry to the complex challenges of time-lapse. “Typically when you use time-lapse the camera is still or fluid. What we’ve done is a hybrid – you see the staccato nature of the action, and we added trees and buildings that disappear over time, and had things shrink, decay and darken,” said Wilbert. Digital Domain also created the sophisticated fluid effects in the Jacinto City flood segment.