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Halo 4 ‘The Commissioning’

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Method Studios was thrilled to be given the opportunity to work on this jaw-dropping commercial for Halo 4 having received much acclaim for the previous Halo spot, ‘Deliver Hope’ – the ad honored with the coveted VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects in 2011.

‘The Commissioning’, from agency TwoFifteen and production company MJZ, introduces the storyline behind the new X-Box game set for release fall, 2012. The entire spot is packed with visual effects the likes of which are typically seen in sci-fi feature films as opposed to television adverts. Award-winning director, Nicolai Fuglsig, was keen to get across the immersive gaming experience and produce visuals in-keeping with the Halo game but which feel as exciting as the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

One of the key challenges for the Method team was the turnaround schedule for such a VFX heavy ad. Once shooting was completed on location in Bucharest, there was just four weeks of post production time before the delivery date. As Method Producer, Bethan Thomas, was aware of this tight deadline, she ensured that the 3D and matte painting teams were busy preparing digital elements and sequences while VFX Supervisor, Benjamin Walsh was on set. Careful planning, along with Method’s international infrastructure (which allowed artists in both LA and Sydney to pool resources), helped guarantee that both a 95 second and 60 second spot were delivered on time.

The creative brief


The story unfolds in a futuristic city, lit by dramatic evening light and swarming with spacecrafts of varying scales. The narrator announces the inauguration of the peace-keeping vessel ‘Infinity’ but the war free atmosphere is short-lived as we witness the civilian ship being captured by an immense hostile force – the planet ‘Requiem’.

As was the case with the previous Halo project, Method's goal for the commercial was to create a world instantly recognizable to the game's loyal fan base and to produce a featurette that was captivating and cinematic in its own right.

Working closely with the agency and 343 (the games creators), the Method team produced animatics, and referenced initial concept art to flesh out ideas and help ensure that everyone was on the same page stylistically. Walsh comments “Because the game itself was still in final development, we were allowed a certain amount of creative freedom to develop the environments and models in partnership with 343. It was fantastic to collaborate with the game’s producers to nail down the fine detail needed for the ad and ultimately play a part in how the finished game will look”.

Assets


343 provided Method with several 3D models of the game characters and spacecrafts. Key examples of these have starring roles within the commercial such as Master Chief (the games’ playable character) and the Infinity (the civilian ship snared by the alien vessel). Other assets included three types of smaller spaceships and the huge ‘Mammoth’ vehicle and smaller ‘Warthog’ trucks which are pictured colliding within the stricken ship’s hold.

Translating all of these raw game assets to photo realistic CGI, able to stand convincingly alongside live action footage, required a significant amount of technical and creative input from Method. The models passed on by 343 were refined according to how close they would appear to camera. Some needed a fine attention to detail and others, which moved slowly, further away from the foreground, were less labor intensive and often enhanced with matte paintings.

Environments


The two day shoot involved filming the live action characters both against green screen and within sets built-out to look like the space craft interiors. Walsh and Tracking Supervisor, Fabio Zapata were on hand to ensure that this raw material could easily be added to the CG scenes in post.

The environments found within the spot are composed of a great many elements, including the live-action footage, as well as digital matte paintings that significantly extended the sets. Working in parallel with the 3D and compositing teams, the matte painters were responsible for creating the futuristic cityscapes, galactic skies and adding detail to the vast spaceships. Virtually every scene was then enhanced with CG and 2D elements such as explosions, smoke, debris, clouds and lens flares.

In terms of the ship interiors, some scenes feature live action material filmed on set whereas other shots are entirely CG. Basic set geometry was provided to the Method crew by 343 which was then refined according to concept art and the ongoing creative discussions.

Animated effects


Method Design were brought on board to help generate a number of graphical animations for the spot – the most notable being the control room’s holographic schematic of the Infinity. Once again, as this item features within the game itself, the designers had reference material to work with, and in this instance were able to augment the colors and add in attention-grabbing animation to indicate the ship’s distress warnings.

Another effect requiring artistic input was the ‘scan’. As the Infinity is rendered powerless a band of orange electric light passes through the ship and disables all online systems. Method created multiple layers of the electric effect which were then combined in 3D.

Delivering the message


The E3 Expo is the world's premier trade show for computer and video games and the 2012 LA convention, starting June 4th, was utilized as the launch pad for the Halo 4 promotional campaign. The 95 second featurette was streamed live at the conference and on Spike TV to a worldwide audience eager to learn about the upcoming game release.

The 95 second ad contains not only extended scenes from the 60 second TV version, but also features actual game footage unlike the shorter spot. The final scene in which Master Chief witnesses the seizure of Infinity presents gamers with a taste of the X-Box graphics they can look forward to.

THE RESULT


The VFX processes involved in the creation of ‘The Commissioning’ were easily as complex as those on many high-end, visual effects-intensive feature films. Flame was the compositing tool of choice for pure 2D work as well as for the final conform. The majority of Method’s compositing however was run through Nuke, due to its powerful 3D functionality which worked in partnership with the elements created in Maya.

Gabby Gourrier, Method's VP of Production and Senior EP, concludes, “Method’s talented team has once again worked tirelessly to produce a beautifully crafted commercial. The tight deadline called for careful planning and our dedication and skills refined during our previous Halo project have really paid off”.


Keywords

  • Award Winner
  • Motion Graphics
  • Environments
  • FX
  • Hard surface
  • Compositing
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