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HALO REACH ‘DELIVER HOPE’

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It’s no doubt fair to say that Halo Reach: Deliver Hope, winner of the VES award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Live Action Commercial 2011, will go down in Method Studios history as one of the most epic commercial projects ever undertaken. Method’s talented team worked tirelessly to produce a beautifully crafted spot which contains visual effects, the likes of which, are typically reserved for Hollywood blockbusters.

Method's goal for the featurette was to create a world instantly recognizable to the game's legions of devoted fans and to produce a short film that was powerful and cinematic in its own right. Method Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Glass and his team worked closely with the creatives at AgencyTwoFifteen and director Noam Murro of Biscuit Filmworks to prepare an approach to this project just as they would for a feature film. Glass brought his extensive experience as a production VFX supervisor for features (including Speed Racer, Batman Returns and The Matrix sequels) to his methodology for the project.

GIVING SHAPE TO IDEAS


Glass started with detailed storyboards and developed a full pre-viz animatic in collaboration with Halon Entertainment. This was then used by Method artists to create mood reference paintings while DFX Supervisor Matt Dessero and CG Supervisor Dan Seddon broke the project down into a look-development phase. As early modeling work began at Method, Glass and Dessero worked closely with Murro on set, shooting live action elements.

By making use of Method's massive infrastructure of talent and technology various teams could take the live-action material, the 3D models and 20 paintings and work in parallel on different facets of the piece. In this way a team of 30 artists were able to deliver the full length featurette along with multiple cutdown versions with in the same time frame. Glass explains, "We treated the job the way I would do all features, by breaking it out into a series of VFX shots and continually updating and reviewing the edit, along with the clients, as a work in progress."

BRINGING THE HALO WORLD TO LIFE


Murro, GIass, Dessero, cinematographer Toby Irwin and the crew spent three days in Prague, shooting live-action portions of the battle scenes. With 3Smm film cameras trained on the main action, the live-action team shot actors wearing real costumes designed by Legacy Effects for featured human characters. Small HD camera bodies were also hidden away surreptitiously, in places such as actors' helmets, in order to capture as many perspectives as possible.

characters - live action and CG


The many characters of the Halo universe exist in 3D model form from the game's creator, Bungie Studios. Translating a game asset to a movie character required a significant amount of technical and creative input from Method.

In terms of combining CG and live action to help a mostly-CGI scene feel more alive and organic, Glass comments "It's often very beneficial to mix live action with CGI because you have something to work with that is automatically real-looking that you can match your animation to."

DIGITAL ENVIRONMENTS AND MATTE PAINTINGS


The environment of the massive battlefield was composed of a great many elements, including isolated portions of the live-action material, as well as digital matte paintings that significantly extended the scene in size and scope. There is also a considerable amount of smoke and clouds that really help underscore the realism of the location. When tasked with lighting, shading and rendering photorealistic elements (particularly the phenomena such as smoke and cloud formations) the Method team made extensive use of the virtual lighting pipeline they developed for 3D objects from previous feature film and commercial projects including the work the company did to create a massive storm sequence for Disney feature The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

CRUISER


Given that the team at Method had more options to make objects such as the giant Cruiser appear photorealistic, it was important for the audience to get closer to the ship and to see far more detail than is possible with the game. What began as the actual Cruiser model from Bungie Studios was massively expanded at Method, where additional layers of 3D animation were added, primarily using Side Effects Houdini, and some 2D (mostly Photoshop) matte paintings were also used to enhance tiny details of the ship’s exterior.

EXPLOSION


The all-computer-generated explosion of the ship presented the CGI team with a unique set of challenges related to scale. An explosion that could consume the enormous ship would realistically take nearly the entire duration of the short film to occur and its power would destroy everything in the vicinity.  The client added the idea that the ship’s own shields, seen in the shot in the form of a blue aura, would pop up and contain the explosion.  After simulating a fully contained explosion, the team suggested a hybrid where the initial explosion is held back but ultimately the shields themselves are taken out by the destruction and the force of the explosion escapes driving the camera upward. The final comp resulted in a spectacular shot, which included a great many 2D explosion elements that worked perfectly both for dramatic pacing and photorealism.

Putting it all together


The compositing tasks on “Deliver Hope” were easily as complex as those on many high-end, visual effects-intensive feature films.  Shots included well over 30 separate layers, including portions of live action, matte paintings, and 2D and 3D.  Autodesk Flame was the compositing tool of choice for more pure 2D work as well as for the final conform and its progressive updates.  But the Method team mainly ran the compositing through The Foundry’s Nuke package, which contains powerful 3D functionality.  Scene cameras and geometry were imported from the 3D team and used to place elements into the scene, project 2D textures and elements onto scene geometry and in some case full shots were designed and laid out in Nuke using 3D cameras.  The process helped spread the heavy workload much more evenly and efficiently between the 2D and 3D teams.

Thanks to the tireless dedication of Method's Halo VFX team, the commercial has picked up the following awards during 2011:

VES Award - Outstanding VFX in a Live Action Commercial
AICP Award - Visual Effects
London International Award - TV/Cinema/Online Film: Technique (Visual Effects)
SIGGRAPH Asia - Computer Animation Festival
3D World - Best Use of CG in Advertising


Keywords

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  • Characters
  • Environments
  • FX
  • Hard surface
  • Concept
  • Compositing
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