Portal: No Escape

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Portal: No Escape
Director

Dan Trachtenberg

Producer

Ashley Adams
Cathleen Alexander
Stephen Hens

Story / Screenplay

Brad Arnold[1]
Dan Trachtenberg[2]

Based on

Portal

Music

Mike Zarin

Cinematography

Keith Dunkerley

Editing

Maxx Burman
Jon Chesson
Marco de Goeij
Marijn Eken
Mike Gaines
Joshua Galbincea
Wesley Griffith
Paul Griswold
Stephen Hens
Graham Herbster
Kevin Jones
Kevin Michael Jones
Cesar Kuriyama
Eddie Porter
Scott Rosekrans
Jonathan Skabla
Eva Snyder
Glen Southern
Michael Theurer
David Trachtenberg
Dacklin Young
Jamie Yu

Studio

Independent

Released

August 23, 2011

Runtime

00:06:57

Country

USA

Language

English

Portal: No Escape is a short fan film by Dan Trachtenberg, based on the Portal series. It was released on YouTube on August 23, 2011, after being shown on San Diego Comic-Con earlier that summer.

Contents

[edit] Plot

A woman, played by Danielle Rayne, and named Alex, as seen in the storyboard, wakes up in a room with no memory of who she is or how she got there. She notices something on the back of her neck. Using a piece of a mirror she has just broke, the woman discovers that it is a bar code. Seemingly concerned, she also spots mysterious tally marks drawn on a wall. Alex spends the following hours, or even days, decoding the graph in her mind, exercising, and eating food provided by the guards, while being observed by a security camera. Soon, she discovers the meaning of the scribblings, and finds a Portal Gun hidden behind a wall panel. Alex learns how to use the device, and when an officer comes to intervene, she drops her bed on him, and escapes. She manages to run away from the chasers, finding herself on a roof of a building, in an industrial area, and uses the flinging technique to jump to another building. While walking away from the officers, the woman realizes that she is in fact surrounded by giant screens that give an illusion of an open world.

[edit] Production

At the beginning of his career, Dan Trachtenberg used to direct commercials for various companies, such as Lexus, Nike, or Coca Cola.

"I did some for Lexus that were like little documentaries and I recently did a PSA for the Ohio Food Bank. It was a lot of reality-oriented stuff, nothing big and cinematic. I realized none of this work was setting me up for movies. I needed to start making some films. So I shot “Portal.”"
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

When asked by Ben Fritz of Hero Complex about the reason why Dan Trachtenberg decided to tie his film to Portal, the director replied:

"Well, obviously, I love Portal and one of the reasons is that it’s a unique way to experience a story because it’s a puzzle game. A lot of video games are inherently cinematic, like Halo and Killzone, but Portal is not. So there was something that was very challenging about that to me. There are also things you never get to see in the game, like when [the movie’s protagonist] sticks her hand in a portal and it comes out the other side, because in the game you’re always in the first person. I love mind twisty stuff, like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, and I knew that’s what this would be. I also wanted to use a lot of visual effects but I liked the idea of not doing something with robots and aliens in it. It’s rare that a special effect can be intellectual and visceral and Portal has that."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

Portal: No Escape was shot at the weekend of March 27, 2010, using anamorphic lenses, recommended by Keith Dunkerley - an old friend of Dan.[2] The director admitted that one of the biggest struggles was finding locations. He had never driven around downtown Los Angeles as much before, since he didn't have money for a location scout. The team ended up on a rooftop next to the American Apparel building, and they used compositing, plates and matte paintings for everything the viewer sees on it.[3] Since the team had access only to one rooftop, "it took some clever shooting and compositing to make one roof look like two."[2]

"It was the same thing in the cell, it was actually only two-thirds there. So there’s a lot more effects than just the portals in the movie. The stairwell was from the old Sears building downtown that they never let anyone shoot in. If I was in New York, getting a staircase like that would be no problem. In L.A.? Every staircase has no gap in the center, or if there is, it’s really expensive … so that was just so difficult."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

The first person Dan Trachtenberg got was a stunt coordinator; the director needed his help to find an actress, because the role was very physical.[3]

"We got to talking about how we wanted it to be like that opening scene in “Terminator 2” with Sarah Connor and it turns out Danielle Rayne actually plays Sarah Connor in the live action “T2” experience at Universal Studios."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

Initially, the director had seen the character as a young, hip Asian girl. The team had the actors they auditioned do action-like sequences first, but one day they made them play an emotional scene. Dan decided to go with Danielle Rayne.[3]

" I met Danielle and she was just awesome, and not typical. [...] Danielle was really small and that was important because there’s no dialogue in this. I didn't want anyone who gestured to inform what was going on inside. Danielle was just having an experience and we were picking it up."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

The masked guards were played by Alex Albrecht, Brad Arnold, and James Logan. For the jump scene, the team made a virtual model of the main character.[1]

Dan Trachtenberg said that the reason why the main character never speaks, just like in the Portal series, was that he wanted to tell the story of a person breaking out of solitary confinement, "so there was never a moment where you need speaking". He also liked the idea of seeing a person going through an experience, and the viewers being on the same page as her, even though there’s no dialogue.[3]

It took one and a half year to assemble a visual-effects team and complete post-production.[4]

"It took a lot of time to find the right people. And people would keep getting busy so the process would get clogged up. We’d have a particle guy at one point and then he got busy so we had to find a new guy. It was just frustrating because every time I’d go out, somebody would ask me how it was going, and I hated that I became the guy who made something that wasn’t going to come out. I know so many people who have those projects that just never end and I was like, “Oh, my God, am I that guy now?”

I had a company lined up before I shot but they got busy with other work. From then on, it was this year-and-a-half struggle of “How do I get an awesome effects team to do amazing work and how do I get them to do it for free?” And that’s where Twitter was amazing. I tweeted out what I needed incrementally and that’s how I found this compositor, Jon Chesson, who became the visual effects supervisor."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

Using Twitter, Dan also found 3-D match movers from Netherlands (Marco de Goeij and Marijn Eken)[2], and a particle animator (Paul Griswold) in New York and a CG modeler in London; the director managed to find a Make-up Artist - Dana Lee Smith - just a day before shooting the movie.[3] The director needed matchmovers to solve almost every fx shot since he couldn’t afford any motion control cameras. Paul Griswold helped getting the portals to have a look more based in reality than the game - Dan really wanted them to look almost like acid eating away at the walls, rather than just holes growing in size; the team spent almost a month just developing that "look".[2]

"So it was a completely international team."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

When asked about the significance of the movie's soundtrack and sound effect, the director said:

"I’m a film score nerd, music has always been very inspirational to me. After I saw the the first teaser for Inception I tracked down its composer, Mike Zarin, to work on the film. Thankfully he loved our rough cut and agreed to do the project. We were very in synch about doing something very simple, yet epic-ambient and emotional, and with a theme, subtle as it is. And I couldn’t be more thankful for the work that Beacon Street did on the Sound Design and Dante Fazio did with the sound mix. Because we had locked picture and score almost a year before the fx were complete, we had a lot of music editing to do after seeing the fx – and Dante was a wizard in the mixing room. One of my favorite moments was earned solely by Dante: That finale with the girl flying across the rooftops, the moment she takes her leap the sound drops off – Dante created that final breath and really made that moment sing."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

At first, the team wanted to have it ready for E3 of 2010. The premiere didn't happen, though, and they kept setting new goals. Finally, what motivated the team to finish the final stretch in 2011 was that “Totally Rad Show” does a panel every year at Comic-Con and somebody told Dan "how awesome it would be to premiere it there".[3]

When asked about hidden meaning of the short, Dan replied:

"Well there’s a quote I fell in love with that Joss Whedon said, that is, “You take people, you put them in peril, you find out what they’re made of.” That’s my mantra now. There’s two things I love about this short. One is the hash marks in the cell, which is the most damning thing, that someone else has been here for a very long time. It’s her biggest threat, the thing haunting her, and then it becomes her means to escape because they are her clue to finding the gun.

The other thing I love is the idea that just when you think you’ve escaped something, you discover you’re still inside. And I’m not a nihilistic person, I’m fairly optimistic, but there’s just no better way to end an escape movie than to say: When you think you’re outside, you’re really inside. There’s something very thematically Portal about that without being on the nose with the cake and GLaDOS."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

The director decided not to have direct references to Portal in the movie.

"I didn’t just want it to be a fan service, just a bunch of shout-outs. It’s how I feel about video game adaptations in general. The fans are going to see it anyway so as long as you’re not stepping on it or making fun of it or getting it wrong, it doesn’t need to be filled with allusions to the game. If at the end of the movie I had a cake sitting in that cell, anyone who hasn’t played the game would say “What the [hell] is that?” The fans of the game would tell them, “It’s awesome, go play the game” Well that doesn’t do anyone any good.

I wanted it to be gritty and real, and I didn’t feel that the story of that woman in solitary needed to have the humor that the game has. Maybe that would be more in tone with the game, but I can’t write that and I especially can’t write GLaDOS. Portal is one of the best written and performed video games of all time. I’m not touching GLaDOS."
—Dan Trachtenberg[src]

Apart from the game, Dan drew inspiration from other movies and directors. The austere, symmetrical shooting style in the first half of the film was influenced by Kubrick – The Shining, 2001. Dan's dream was to have a Bourne-style action sequence with the Portal gun, "which we only had a glimmer of in the flick – but I look forward to having the time and money to do that fully one day".[2]

Dan Trachtenberg admitted that he would definitely want to make more movies set in the Portal universe.[3] He also said that he has a much more traditional science fiction movie take on what could be a Portal movie – "but a feature length film without dialogue certainly is an interesting idea!"

[edit] Reception

As of January 2016, the movie has reached almost 17,000,000 views and over 340,000 thumbs ups. Rock, paper, shotgun called Portal: No Escape "a pretty fantastic short film".[5] Laughing Squid said that "Portal: No Escape is a beautiful live-action short film".[6] IFC remarked that "Portal: No Escape [...] sets a high bar for anyone looking to capture the energy of Valve’s hit games". However, the network stated that "the only thing that mars No Escape is the absence of Ellen McLain’s voicework as GlaDOS (sic)", nevertheless saying "the film still succeeds despite that".[7]

Entertainment Weekly called the movie "all kinds of awesome" and "one slickly produced piece of nerd nirvana".[4] Peter Sciretta of SlashFilm labeled it a “must see for everyone”.[8] Kotaku compared Portal: No Escape to the work of Christopher Nolan.[9]

1.4 said: "We, along with over seven million other viewers, think Great Guns director Danny Trachtenberg short film Portal is genius on every level – the cinematography, vfx, editing, casting, the score, the absolute everything that went into making this film hits the high note."[2]

William Gibson called the movie "brilliant".[10] Greg Coomer stated that it's "hard to call something so polished a 'fan' film."[11]

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[edit] External links

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