HALO - Case Study
Our relationship with 343 Industries began in 2011, when the team first approached us to create animated backstories for the release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Since this first collaboration, we've established a trusting and collaborative relationship across nearly twenty individual projects in the epic
The content has ranged from DVD box art, to in-game cinematics, to a feature-length film, and more. The scope of work we've been entrusted with over the years has provided us a unique opportunity to find our stylistic place within this storied universe. This case study will explore the evolution of our Halo work to date, highlighting some of the accomplishments we're most proud of, and the challenges and successes along the way.
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was released on the ten-year anniversary of the original title, and came with an array of special features and enhancements. We were brought on to animate backstory snippets, unlocked by accessing Terminals within the game, that had previously been text-only.
Creating these backstories proved to be a challenging artistic endeavour - we had to develop a visual style that felt like it belonged within this established universe, without competing with gameplay visuals or being photo-real. We ended up with animations that felt like concept art brought to life, which resonated with gamers and felt contextually appropriate to this kind of storytelling.
To date, we have created Terminal backstory animations for Halo: CEA, Halo 4, and the re-master of Halo 2 (released as part of The Master Chief Collection), and the audience reception has been overwhelmingly positive: fans have independently compiled and shared the content online to the tune of over 5 million views on YouTube alone.
Like the Terminal animations, much of our storytelling within the Halo universe has involved conceptualizing or reimagining fantastical ancient worlds that haven’t been seen before. Notably, our 65-minute feature, Halo: The Fall of Reach, which tells the origin story of John-117 (aka Master Chief), required a great deal of this kind of thoughtful interpretation.
With a timeline of six months from start to finish, our team was tasked with adapting the original Fall of Reach novel (a prequel to Halo: Combat Evolved) including script writing, character design, 3D environment builds, sound design, and everything in between. The film was originally intended to be a free giveaway, but became a standalone piece of content, streaming on Netflix and sold on Blu-Ray.
For this project in particular, we had to be just as innovative with our workflow as our creative. For instance, in our early stages of development, we planned to paint unique lighting into each shot - but due to our compressed timeline, we came up with another idea to ensure we could still achieve our desired look and feel: the comp team did the majority of the show’s lighting using normal passes. Working with diffuse, ambient occlusion, depth and normal passes from Maya, compositors set the tone of each shot using light, shade
Beginning with a slap comp consisting of diffuse layers, compositors used Stefan Minning’s Normality plugin (for After Effects) along with the normals pass to create a number of different lighting layers, depending on 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 on 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.
We feel an immense sense of accountability to do justice to the storied Halo universe with each piece of content we create, which has involved a great deal of careful research and thoughtful design on our part. Halo fans are, to say the least, very knowledgeable, having developed an exhaustive online encyclopedia (Halopedia) and countless fan sites that delve into every aspect of the universe. Given this level of hardcore fandom, and the fact that we ourselves are Halo fans, we have worked diligently with 343 over all our projects to ensure we are telling enriching stories that don’t interfere or conflict with existing content.
Ultimately, our work is about helping people tell their stories in a more in-depth way, across many different mediums. From in-game cinematics to original artwork to a feature film, the team has been steadfast in our commitment to protecting the integrity of the Halo property.
This would not have been possible if we had not been working alongside such a talented and capable team at 343. We have an established, long-standing partnership with these awesome people, who work tirelessly to make Halo more than just a game, but a mythology that its players can actively engage with even when away from their games console.