Straight Outta Comp-ton

Sequence recently worked with 343 Industries to create Halo: The Fall of Reach, a 65-minute animation that tells the origin story of John 117 (aka Master Chief). We've worked with 343 before—Halo 2: Anniversary, Halo 4, Halo: CEA—but never on something this big. We needed to be quicker, more efficient—thus more creative.

In the early stages of development, the plan was to have artists paint in lighting unique to each shot to ensure a look that was both artistic and accurate. It quickly became apparent that this technique was too limiting and—more importantly—took too much time.

The comp team ended up doing the majority of the show's lighting utilizing normal passes—a technique we've used in previous Halo projects, but never to this extent.

After Effects Normality setup

After Effects final comp setup

Working with diffuse, ambient occlusion, depth and normal passes from Maya, compositors set the tone of each shot using light, shade and depth.

Beginning with a slap comp consisting of diffuse layers, compositors used the After Effects Normality plugin along with the normals pass to create a number of different lighting layers depending upon the shot. These passes were then layered on top of the diffuse pass, mimicking the lighting conditions of the background environment. Once lighting was established, the characters and background were colour corrected based upon the concept art to maintain consistency across multiple shots. Final touches such as depth of field, motion blur and any camera effects were then added before rendering and sending to the editor to cut into the show.

Diffuse pass

Normality lighting pass

Normals lighting

Colour correction

Final comp!