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Helping Bring Destiny to Life – An Interview with Activision’s Pam Piscitello

Activision’s Pam Piscitello talks about working with a team to create live-action trailers, Collector’s Editions, and kick ass Hunters

By Dennis Scimeca on August 1, 2018
Level 7

Pam Piscitello has stood in the presence of real-life Guardians, beheld their armor, touched their weapons, and helped tell the story of the fall of the Last City.

Piscitello is the Senior Manager of Consumer Marketing at Activision. In the past she has worked on games set in the world of The Walking Dead and the Marvel Comics universe, and for the last four years Piscitello has been a part of the Destiny team at Activision.

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By working on the live-action trailers for Destiny 1 and Destiny 2, managing photo shoots for Destiny 2 key art, and working with Bungie on the production of the Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition, Piscitello literally brings the world of Destiny 2 to life. “I touch anything that you would ever see public-facing,” Piscitello told me, “be it a trailer, packaging, screenshots, art, copy, our website, all of that, those are things that are essentially in my purview.”

In order to accomplish this goal, Piscitello and her team first need to really understand a game, what makes it special, and what the fans are going to get excited about. Piscitello works side-by-side with developers at Bungie for this insight when it comes to all things set in the Destiny universe.

“The majority of my projects focus on taking what Bungie has done in developing the game, the story, the narrative and the tone, and we distill that down into a sentence or two for consumers, and ultimately convey that message in a single image or a trailer,” Piscitello told me recently in a phone conversation from her office at Activision HQ in Santa Monica, CA.

Once Piscitello and the consumer marketing team have a full run-down of the game, the process of developing the visual design suite kicks off.

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The first step in this process is the development of key art, or the primary images that will form the basis for the art shown on the game box, and on store displays or other advertisements for the game. Work on this material has to start very early, well before the game in question gets released.

“Even before the direction of the art gets off the ground, we hone in on the overall positioning which comes from months of game briefs, research, and insight from our fan community,” Piscitello said.

“For Destiny 2, our team and Bungie began working on the art about 10 months prior to revealing in May 2017. Our biggest inspiration came from the idea that with the Tower falling and guardians losing their powers, it gave both current and new players to the franchise an opportunity to rise from the rubble and take back our home. Thus was born the tagline: New Legends Will Rise.”

The key art needs to convey this information clearly and in an exciting way for the fans. In order to achieve this for Destiny 2, Piscitello and the team took a big shift away from the original game in terms of how they approached the production of key art.

“Prior to Destiny 2 everything had been made using in-game art assets,” Piscitello said. “One of the limitations that we have with working with in-game models is that you can pose them a lot of ways, but nothing is as good as the human body. Getting to do a photo shoot and really showing what Guardians are like in action was pretty incredible to see.”

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The Guardian armor and weapons for the live shoot were designed by Legacy Effects, based in San Fernando, CA. Legacy has in the past worked on costumes for movies set in set in various superhero universes, which made them a perfect choice for developing Guardian gear for the live-action Destiny ads and artwork.

“It literally is like walking into a movie studio when you see them,” Piscitello said. “You go in there, and it’s like a museum. There is costume art hanging everywhere, along with fully-functioning clothing for all of these superhero films.”

Activision and Bungie wanted a large collection of different guns to use in the live-action shoot, and to utilize later for the live-action trailer. Destiny 2 fans will recognize weapons like the Sweet Business Gatling gun, Sunshot hand cannon, and Wardcliff Coil rocket launcher. “Getting to watch Bungie and Legacy create those weapons from scratch was very eye-opening. The level of detail and time both teams put into perfecting each weapon pays off the second you watch a fan’s eyes light up when they see or touch the real thing in person,” Piscitello said.

Creating the armor worn by the Guardians was just as important as getting the weapons right. “Bungie had a very specific vision for the gear you see each class wearing in the artwork. Each set is from the first moments of the game when the Tower falls.”

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“Another reason we went for live-action was to try to bring each Guardian classes to life a little more,” Piscitello said. “Getting to do a photo shoot with actors and really showing what Guardians are like in action was pretty incredible to see.”

One of the actors from the live shoot was so exciting to watch that she wound up affecting the casting for the live-action trailer, as well. “When we did the photoshoot and looked at various layouts for the key art, our Hunter rose to the top as an absolute badass. We were like ‘Man, we just want to put her everywhere.’”

Using the same actress portraying the Hunter in the photo shoot to also play the Hunter in the live-action trailer, which was shot in abandoned buildings in Detroit to help create the feeling of Guardians defending the destroyed Last City, created a unique challenge for the rest of the casting for the video.

“Our Hunter is about six feet tall,” Piscitello said. “And when we did the photo shoot, our Warlock and Titan were actually a little shorter than her. With the magic of computer graphics, we can make you any size we want, but with a television commercial we can’t. We ultimately needed to find men that were going to at least match her in height, especially the Titan. We thought ‘It’s a Titan, so he’s got to be a big tank of a person.’”

That a female actress would have such an overarching effect on the ad campaign for Destiny 2 represents both how Bungie operates as a development studio and Piscitello’s demands for how women are portrayed in key art and live-action trailers.

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“To be honest that's something that we have always prioritized,” Piscitello said. “We have a diverse range of people that play this game. We shouldn't be putting one type of person in front. We want it to be as diverse as possible because that is who plays our game. We're not just doing it because it’s trendy. That's who our players are."

“When I started working on this brand and working with Bungie, what I have always applauded them for is their representation of women in gaming,” Piscitello said. “You're not going to see a scantily-clad female warrior. She is just as covered and just as strong, if not stronger, than her male counterparts. That has been in Bungie's DNA for as long as I have been working with them and what I have seen in their previous games as well.”

It’s therefore imperative that the marketing materials Piscitello and her team produce remain solidly in line with Bungie and Activision’s shared mentality on diversity. “Sometimes things are pitched to you or put in front of you and it could be very easy to dismiss but you're like ‘Oh, she kind of looks like her hip is sticking out a little far. Let's just edit that so it's not as far, and it looks more like she's square with the camera.’ Paying attention to those small details that if you're not careful could completely undermine all of the hard work Bungie is doing to make really strong, female characters in the game."

Another way Piscitello helps make the Destiny universe come to life is by supervising the production of the physical items that are included with Collector’s Editions of the game. In the case of Destiny 2, the CE came with a replica of the backpack worn by Hawthorne, the woman who helps the Guardians to safety after they escape the Cabal attack on the Last City.

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“The bag this past year was great because Hawthorne was one of our new characters and the idea was that she was going to play a bigger role in guiding you as the player,” Piscitello said. “Bungie came up with the great idea of taking the bag she wears in the game and give people their own toolkit in real life.”

Once the decision is made as to what physical items to include in a Collector’s Edition, Piscitello takes charge of making sure those items are produced to the high standards of Activision and Bungie. She gets samples, sources fabrics, and takes time to make sure everything is perfect alongside the Bungie team. Piscitello and her team were already working on the Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition physical goods a year before Destiny 2 was released.

Piscitello made it clear that neither Activision nor Bungie believe items inside the Collector’s Edition should be used to really survive in the wild., However, one of those items did make a huge difference in the life of a Destiny fan.

“One of my favorite stories is about that Collector’s Edition. In September Hurricane Irma devastated Florida,” Piscitello said, “and there was someone who had posted a Twitter message basically saying that they had received their Collector’s Edition ahead of the storm and the solar charger that we had put in that bag was the only thing that allowed them to keep their cell phone charged to stay in touch with their family when they were stranded. That was such a moving thing to hear. Obviously, it was an unintended consequence, but Bungie makes sure that whatever we put in our collector’s edition are useful. They work.”

“What I really love is that Bungie puts so much thought into every piece that goes into a Collector’s Edition,” Piscitello said. “The Destiny 2 Collector’s Edition and Limited Edition included a lenticular that had different images of Emperor Calus from the Raid – it was sort of an Easter egg for the hardcore player.”.”

Working on awesome collectibles, helping create Guardian armor and weapons in the real world, and getting to bring the Guardians themselves to life are awesome parts of Piscitello’s job, but not her favorite ones.

“We get to work on and make a lot of really exciting products and marketing assets. But at the end of the day what I love the most is when we finally get to put the game out there for fans to experience through hands on at an event, a trailer, or talking one on one with a Bungie dev. Seeing how the fans react and seeing them get so excited. That’s probably the most fulfilling thing in the world,” Piscitello said.

Pam_Fun.jpgPiscitello along with team member Jake Whisler and Joe August “recreating” the key art from Destiny 2.

For more information about Destiny 2, be sure to check out DestinyTheGame.com and follow @DestinyTheGame and @Bungie on Twitter.

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