October 17, 2018

Red Dead Redemption 2 and the Power of Cinematic Storytelling

Red Dead Redemption 2 cinematic storytelling
The highly anticipated video game reminds us how to enthrall an audience. 

Red Dead Redemption 2 already has gamers chomping at the bit, and one major reason why is the series' devotion to cinematic storytelling. The power of sweeping landscapes, gorgeous western vistas, dimly lit train heists, and heart-thumping shoot-outs cannot be overstated. 

The game's vast and sophisticated open world environment makes it as close to a real-life Westworld as we're likely to get any time soon. But the commitment to the classic tools of cinematic storytelling is a large part what makes Red Dead Redemption 2 call to gamers everywhere, just like it's 2010 predecessor. 

Creating a piece of content as massive and popular as Red Dead Redemption isn't an easy task. But by looking at the inspiration behind some of the stunning visual motifs, content creators everywhere can sharpen their cinematic storytelling tools, and bring that dynamic skill set to their own work. 

Let's jump in.

Cinematic Storytelling and The Western

The roots of Red Dead Redemption's popularity are in the tried and true American mythology of the old west. Our culture's fascination with this period of frontier lawlessness rose to new heights in television and film in the 1950's. 

The seeds of it's popularity in visual mediums were planted much earlier. Maybe in 1903, with Edwin S. Porter's silent The Great Train Robbery. The film pioneered... no pun intended... the use of location shooting, editing, camera movement, and other soon to be standards of visual storytelling. 

Flash forward 115 years later and we're still returning en masse to the classic setting. Albeit in immersive video game form.

The cinematic storytelling of the Western certainly evolved from there. John Ford's stunning landscapes had a lot to do with that. 

Red Dead Redemption 2 cinematic storytelling Searchers
John Ford defined the Western and many of the most cinematic storytelling tools

Before he captured the vastness of monument valley in color, Ford made groundbreaking black and white western Stagecoach, which brought the genre back from the brink. Orson Welles famously said while prepping Citizen Kane his inspiration was "John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford."

No matter what the era, it seems the well lit natural landscapes capture our eye and our imagination. The developers at Rockstar Studios while famous for their open world games such as the Grand Theft Auto series, struck on a new chord when they decided to go west, and go back in time. 

With Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar is presenting their biggest project to date. Rumored to have been working 100 hour weeks to bring the massive world to live. 

Learning about Cinematic Storytelling from Red Dead Redemption 2

Ok, you may not be able to craft the visuals from Red Dead Redemption 2 just because you studied some of its inspiration. 

But what you can do is take note of how the simple angles, framing, and compositions draw the viewer into the action. If you have an iPhone handy, you can frame up a shot. 

Lighting techniques are the next step in creating a cinematic look. The simple basics can help you take whatever you're shooting to the next level. 

While we know that the open world craziness of Red Dead Redemption 2 is a big part of the appeal (as is the incredible and bizarre attention to detail) if it lacked the lasered in focus on cinematic storytelling, would it be nearly as anticipated? Or nearly as effective? 

Employing the Right Cinematic Storytelling in Your Work

Whatever you're looking to put on video should employ basic cinematic storytelling tools, and pay close attention to genre conventions. Red Dead Redemption's attention to detail is in part due to its understanding of the visual grammar of Westerns.

Audiences don't crave visuals that look like the west, per se, they crave visuals that look like old westerns.

So maybe you're prepping a pitch presentation for a heist movie. Or maybe you're just shooting a slapstick Instagram skit. In either case, knowing the style, the conventions, and the cinematic storytelling tools of your chosen genre or sub-genre, will do you a world of good.      

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