The lights are on
How much freedom were you allowed within the Halo universe? Were there very rigid guidelines for production?
It cuts in two directions, because on one hand, the Halo universe is very established and specific. Our task and oath was to uphold all of that, so we wanted to make sure that every detail that already existed in the Halo world was realized as accurately as possible. The Microsoft guys and girls were really cool because they spent a lot of time figuring out who they want to work with and who they want to bring on the team, but once you’re on the team, they put a ton of trust on you. That seems to go down the line through the entire studio on the game side and at that point it belongs on our side. So basically, their edict to us was, “Look, as long as you don’t contradict anything that exists in the universe, you can have a lot of freedom, you can do whatever you want to expand the world outward.” Granted, we were super reverential in making sure that they were happy with everything, but I was frankly shocked. By comparison to working with a studio, here you go in and pitch them an idea or send them a photo saying “Here’s why I love this!” and they say “Yeah! Do it!” It was awesome; it was a really fun experience. On the flip side, we had an entire staff position whose only job was to make sure that everything was authentic. Literally, 12 hours a day for three months, they were just checking and approving that the armor, guns, lore, and dates were all dead-on.
You guys had to deal with plasma blasts and crazy alien vehicles. Were there any production challenges in replicating the visual style of a science fiction video game?
The cool thing about the Halo world is it’s epic, it’s huge, it’s grand, it’s everything you’d ever want. The thing that we went into this knowing is that we needed to focus on what live action can do that the game has a harder time doing. The 343 folks and us agreed that live action has the power to connect you to real human faces and to tell stories about characters. So everybody wanted to make sure that that was up front. We definitely delivered on all of the action and pyrotechnics that are required in the Halo world, but we never lost sight of the fact that if we didn’t use this other way to tell a great story and connect people to the characters, then we weren’t doing our job right. So we came in with that vibe, which is really cool. Right off the bat, I pitched them the idea that we try to tell as realistic and authentic a Halo world as possible to counter the fantastic sci-fi of it all. They were awesome about it not having any need for it to look like the game. They didn’t want us to replicate the game experience. They wanted this to be its own thing and to make people feel like they were standing in the room with these characters.
So from an aesthetics standpoint, that’s what we went in with, that kind of District 9 pseudo-documentary vibe in some ways. But we pretty quickly identified the places where we really needed to focus our resources and absolutely do up to the level of a 100-million-dollar-budget movie. That was definitely the visual effects, the Chief’s suit and the gear of it all. By comparison to our overall budget, we spent a much higher percentage of those elements that we would have otherwise. But in other areas we really tried to be guerilla. The Chief’s suit was done by Legacy down in L.A., which is the top of the top. These guys are the ones who did all of the Avengers suits and Terminator 2. Every cool creature or suit you’ve seen in a movie, those are the guys. This was Master Chief. We wanted to get the best possible thing. For the visual effects, we’re going to top out at just under 500 effect shots. These include fully-realized CG Covenant. Five hundred is a number that’s highly unusual for a web series. A gigantic blockbuster movie would be between 1,500 and 2,000. We’re not there, but we’re creeping up towards a really big show, and we felt like that was important. We actually literally got the last 17 shots in today. It’s definitely been a big part of where our priorities were - to make that stuff look awesome. The live-action stuff shot before this was pretty amazing, so we came in knowing the bar was already set, and that we could at least match it. Hopefully, we sort of took the next step and show people something else.
Did you make sure to demand an early copy of Halo 4 for research?
I’ve gotten to play it a couple of times. I’m kind of torn on it, because I love the anticipation of waiting and not knowing what I’m going to get when it comes in the mail. I’ve read the script, and I know exactly what happens in it, and we’ve tied our characters into it. On the one hand, I’m like, “this is the coolest job in the world!” and then in the background I’m a little bit sad that I don’t get the surprise of playing the game for the first time. But it’s okay. I do think they’re going to give me a copy though.
Which Halo is your favorite of the ones that have released?
I like the first one and I like ODST. They’re different, but I just like the look and vibe of ODST, the certain noir vibe of it all. I don’t know; the first one will always kind of have my heart.
This doesn’t have anything to do with Halo, but in the field of film, how do you feel about 3D? Do you like it?
That’s an interesting question. I’m not a huge advocate of 3D. I think it’s interesting. There are very few movies I’ve gone to in 3D that I feel are better for it. I guess I get frustrated because I see a lot of decisions being made from a financial standpoint within the industry based on 3D, and not necessarily based on what’s better for the material at hand. I think I have a pre-loaded knee jerk against it in some ways. When it’s used beautifully like in Avatar or Prometheus, I think it’s cool. But it has to be in the right filmmaker’s hands and it has to suit the material.
Be sure to keep an eye out as Forward Unto Dawn’s new episodes release week to week for interviews with Daniel Cudmore, the actor playing Master Chief, and Frank O’Connor, the curator of Halo’s universe at 343 Industries.
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