Let's start here: I've played maybe 30 minutes of Borderlands 2 (BL2) - not because I didn't like it but probably due to lack of time while working on my graduate degree. Oh, and the lack of console (sure, there's Steam... but that's for Dark Souls!).
About 3 years ago I was given the opportunity to work on The Borderlands Cooperative, a project with 2K Games, Gearbox Software, and my college's Animation/Visual Effects department. I was too busy to commit full-time and enroll in the conceived classes for the game collaboration, but I did what I often do and contacted directors and peers who were on-board with the project.
Initially, I hoped to snag a few shots to animate on the side, but then something compelled me to pursue my core interest of visual storytelling. I wanted to thumb through the game's fiction and design a side-story which could very well take place in BL2.
I approached Shaun Featherstone (director for the BL2 Co-op story artists) and let him know that I was interested in helping out with story development. Shaun invited me to come aboard as the Writing Consultant for the class, as everyone was creating their own BL2 story pitch based on the game characters and setting (3 winners' ideas would be selected and produced into 3D short films by the department). So while I met with the class to give feedback and brainstorm about their pitches, I worked through the off-hours to develop my own.
I don't remember how I came up with this concept, but initially I consulted the current lore of BL2 universe (as I was more familiar with the characters from the first game). I scoured internet links and reviews for interesting leads. Unfortunately for you crazy fans, I was never trying to focus a story around Claptrap (sorry, bud!). Several others from the class wanted to use him as we had access to his voice actor for the project, but I didn't feel like writing that style of humor, and therefore his role is minimal in my film...
From the BL2 game lore I decided to peer more into these Player characters. Just who were they? Where did they come from? Surely there was more to the BL universe than the bright, cel-painted graphics, edgy quips, and ink-streaked creases of psychos. These Player characters were archetypes from the four corners of the gameplay universe, gun-toting puppets of the Player's greed for loot and glory! But who were they? Maybe I could look at life inside of the Crimson Raiders HQ for these displaced gunslingers. Better yet, maybe I could look into their minds.
I started with Maya: as a Siren class from BL lore, she has a direct connection with any sense of the word "magic," and therefore I would be able to bend her ability to my creative advantage. Most obvious in my story, I tapped into her use of the mystical orb as a light source as she stumbles through the dark of the base at night and catches a glimpse into the dark of her allies.
We'll come back to Maya, as my perspective character, but let's examine the other characters of BL2:
Salvador's part was the easiest to write. Early on this image came to me and stuck like tar: Salvador puking up gazillions of guns. He, as a Tank class, is all about dealing and soaking damage, guns galore. He is Borderlands' middle trigger-finger, personified. I felt it was appropriate to have him purge his daily addiction, violently spewing up every single gun and clip ever emptied into other unfortunate beings of Pandora. No one in Pandora is really a good guy, after all. That's no secret, and Gearbox wasn't afraid to show this.
Zer0 is a mysterious character in the game, and that void allowed me to freely expand on his role as the assassin. Zer0's night terror shows him at the mercy of several other sword-wielding shadows, each with an inverted number projected over their face-helmet. Zer0 has killed many in his life as a hitman. He lives for the thrill of battle, and the kill is just the moment where he collects pay. I truly believe that he is a battle-mongrel, driven by challenge and obsessed with the skill and valor of combat. After all, who brings a sword to a gunfight?
In his subconscious state, Zer0 is losing an endless battle against many twisted versions of himself. Each clone probably embodies the moment when Zer0 himself claimed a life in the real world.
Axton is a Commando class mash-up of a high school jock and the 5-o'clock-shadow guy, and his backstory suggests some pride issues. I decided to make Axton's subconscious reality more humorous and jarring, as it seems like he doesn't really take things too seriously, or with too much thought (it is another universe, but he took 10 years to become a Sergeant). His commitment is to his survivability and his faux hawk - and therefore Axton has gotten his head stuck up the ass of his beloved turret from the game.
Maya's Siren abilities allowed me to peer into the nightmares of her comrades, people who are strangers amongst themselves. Each of her teammates was assigned a color/gradient background in their dream states, and Maya's is no different.
Throughout the film, a dark, cool green tone overlays everything in the real world. This is Maya's gradient of her own nightmare. Yes, she is walking through the base - this is not just a dream where she wakes up at the end (SPOILER! oh wait, wrong story). Because of her connection to powers that the others cannot comprehend, I decided that her nightmare is much more real to her than the other characters' dreams.
Handsome Jack, the antagonist presence in BL2, is unhealthily intrigued by the Sirens' abilities and covets them as a resource. Throughout Maya's dark-night-of-the-Siren, she is haunted by a shadow presence who always seems to be just out of her reach, yet close enough to get under her skin. The shadow takes on the form of Handsome Jack and is much more creepily omnipresent than his harassment during the game.
Hopefully I haven't said too much about my side-story adaptation from Borderlands 2, but I'll close with a plot summary:
In "Froidean Dream Pigs," Maya seeks to confront a presence that disturbs her nighttime meditation, hoping that she can banish it - at least for the time being.