Method Studios recently joined the marketing blitzkrieg surrounding the release of Microsoft Halo 3, collaborating on a remarkable new set of spots that bring a whole new ?‚àö√ë‚àö‚â§look’s to one of the world most popular combat games via T.A.G/Mc Cann Worldgroup. Directed by MJZ Rupert Sanders, Method collaborated very closely with the production company on a massive diorama, populated by more than 1000 figures sculpted by master modeler Stan Winston. The spot aired September 16, 2007.
The flagship spot, ‘Believe,’ is a surprisingly graceful, almost dream-like ground-level tour of a battlefield frozen in a moment of a time ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® a ‘memory museum’ diorama depicting a brutal battle.
These are not CGI animations or screen shots of the game; this is a real, hand-sculpted diorama, but as the camera moves through the suspended carnage, we see an eerie level of detail: explosions caught in mid-detonation, weapons firing into flailing bodies, faces frozen in expressions of fear, determination, and agony. The effect is emotional and almost hypnotic, successfully depicting the truly immersive world that is Halo trademark experience.
‘Microsoft and T.A.G/McCann Worldgroup came to us with the concept of the diorama,’ said CG Creative Director Laurent Ledru, ‘and Rupert moved the idea along. He wanted to do something very moody, to try and get emotion out of these figures, where typically you wouldn’st feel too much emotion at all. The thought was to do something epic, very cinematic, and the fact that nothing moves, except at the very end, makes it even more powerful. It really not what you expect from this kind of advertising.’
How They Did It
Rupert and VFX Supervisor Cedric Nicholas knew that the key to making this project work would be in the planning and previsualization of the complete shoot, from the design of the diorama through the final shot sequence. ‘Technically,’ Cedric said, ‘it was pretty straightforward, but we had to think about everything in advance of the shoot.’ So the Method team worked with Halon to previsualize the entire spot in CG.
‘We built a complete CG environment in 3D before the real thing was started,’ Laurent said. ‘We decided where to put the streets, how many buildings and figurines and tanks and explosions to have. By the time we locked it down, we knew how many figurines we needed, what kind of poses ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® everything that would be needed to go into the fabrication phase.’
The size of the diorama itself became a major issue. Normally, constructs like this are the size of a large tabletop or sandtable, and the figures are no more than an inch tall. But that small scale would have limited the amount of detail that could be achieved. ‘It couldn’st be done with one-inch figures,’ Cedric Nicholas said. ‘Instead an oversized diorama was created, 30 feet long and 40 feet wide, and the figures were eight inches tall.’ New Deal took on the task of building the set and it was there the diorama was shot in a room that was 75 feet long and 60 feet wide. Ultimately the set and motion control rigs completely filled the space, with barely enough room left for the crew.
‘From the beginning, the intention was to have the viewer think this was an ?‚àö√ë‚àö‚â§old-fashioned’s diorama, only to be surprised by the level of detail and emotion in each figure,’ said Laurent. ‘It was about scaling. Rupert wanted to have the feeling the figures were one inch tall but overly precise, so the diorama was shot with a maximum depth of field, so you have the feeling that the figures are much smaller than they really are. Instead of thinking you’sre looking at a 40 foot diorama, you’sre looking at a 10-foot one.’
The figures themselves needed equally close attention so master modeler and puppeteer Stan Winston and his artists hand-built each of the diorama 700 to 1,000 figures. To add an even greater level of realism, Winston team used scans of individual human features for each face. ‘All the marines’s faces are scanned from real people,’ Laurent said. ‘You’sre going to see Rupert Sanders’s face many times in the spot, as well as Agency Creative Director Scott Duchon, MJZ Producer Laurie Bocaccio, and production supervisor Alan Scott. To add even greater on-set flexibility, Winston team fully or partially articulated many of the foreground and midground figures.
The final, carefully planned shoot involved massive bluescreens that went all the way to the ceiling, the huge diorama itself, and two separate motion-control rigs ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® an eighteen-fot rig on one side, and a 12-foot rig on the other. The shoot itself was done extremely slowly ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® 1 fps — and with painstaking attention to detail. Some of the long zoom/dolly shots that appear in the spot actually took more than 30 minutes each to complete.
Ultimately, the crew laid off 48 different shots in a shoot that lasted three days; the entire project was completed in less than three weeks. ‘The only way to make this work is to be 90% ready when you actually shoot it,’ Laurent said. ‘If you do less on the prep and more on the post, that when you tank.’
In the final analysis, there is a small amount of CG in the final spot. ‘We have a couple of the Marines with real eyes, to give them a little bit more depth,’ Laurent said. A few reflective light effects on helmets and visors and a CG grenade were added in post as well, and the soldier head that appears at the very end of the spot was animated, to give it a more realistic movement. But the dreamy impact of the spot overall is achieved through the hyper-realistic look of the miniatures and the diorama itself.
As far as the Method team was concerned, the real triumph of ‘Believe’ was not the use of any new technology, but the flawless combination of many techniques and talents. ‘What unique in this project is what has been used to make it happen. All are techniques that are known and have been used on many projects, but we drew all those things together. Apparently that has never been done before,’ Laurent said.
Microsoft was very pleased with the final re-imagining of the Halo world ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® so much so that they packed up the diorama and took it home. ‘It been cut into parts and transported,’ Laurent Ledru said. ‘I believe they plan to display it ?‚àö√ë‚àö¬® maybe not entirely, but in bits and pieces.’
To view the spot please visit: www.methodstudios.com
Based in Santa Monica, California, Method is a visual effects artists’ studio specialized in the production of digital imagery for commercials, feature films and music videos.
More information may be found at www.methodstudios.com.
XBox Halo “Believe”
Airdate: September 16, 2007
VFX Supervisor: Cedric Nicholas
Lead 2D Artist: Cedric Nicholas
CG Creative Director: Laurent Ledru
2D Artist: Jake Montgomery, Sarah Eim, Kyle Obley
3D Arist: Sean Durnan, Matt Wheeler, Chi Wei Hsu, Chris Smallfield
Jr. 2D Artist: Ryan Raith, Zach Lo
Jr. 3D Artist Matt Longwell
Shoot Supervision: Cedric Nicholas
Producers: Luisa Murray, Lisa Houck
AGENCY: T.A.G/McCann Worldgroup, San Francisco
Executive Creative Director: Rob Bagot, John McNeil
Creative Directors: Scott Duchon, Geoff Edwards, John Patroulis
Art Director: Nate Able, Tim Stier
Agency Producer: Hannah Murray
Copywriter: Matt Bunnell
PRODUCTION CO.: MJZ
Director: Rupert Sanders
Executive Producer: Lisa Rich, David Zander, Marcia Deliberto
DOP: Chris Soos
Producer: Laurie Bocaccio
Miniature Landscape: New Deal Studios
Miniature Figurines: Stan Winston
Production Designer: James Chinlund
Editorial: Rock Paper Scissors
Editor: Andrea McArthur (Peep Show, London)
Assistant Editor: Paul Plew
Executive Producer: Cristina DeSimone, Liv Lawton
Producer: Tricia Sanzaro
Telecine Co: C03 Colorist: Sean Coleman
Music Company: Stimmung
Performer: Mike Lang
Composer: Frederic Chopin
Composition: Prelude in D flat Major, Op. 28, No.15
Audio Post: Lime Studios
Audio Mixer: Loren Silber
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