You just can’t keep a good Spartan down – especially if you have to design and render one. Axis, a renowned CGI studio that also worked on the famous Dead Island announcement trailer, has recently announced it’s contribution to 343 Industries’ Halo 4, the blockbuster first person shooter game available for Xbox 360. Axis co-founder Stuart Aitken talks about the challenges and tasks facing his team as they went about designing the CGI cut-scenes for season 1 of Halo 4’s Spartan Ops mode.
“What makes this such an incredible opportunity is that this is full CGI movie-style storytelling and character development within the rich and exciting world of Halo. We’ve collaborated at every level with 343 Industries throughout the process to create a truly immersive cinematic experience,” states Aitkin. For the 10 episodes in season 1, Axis contributed over 1200 CGI animated shots. And it was no small task.
The first challenge was to make the cut-scenes as compelling as anything commercial. Axis set about shooting and editing episodes akin more to live action than CGI, employing motion capture at each stage (with character scales that would range from 5.5 feet to 14 feet). Once this was complete, a performance edit was created from the reference cameras at the shoot. This allowed the edit team to have more flexibility in shot selection when the layout team went about shooting the CG for the scenes.
But it didn’t stop there. It takes more than just technical chops to work within the Halo-verse, and Aitken made sure to immerse himself as much as possible in the Halo canon, familiarizing himself with key elements so that Axis could go about creating new material.
Facial animation was perhaps the biggest challenge facing the studio, and this lead to Axis developing it’s own special facial motion capture solution in conjunction with Giant studios and Cubic Motion. So the next time you wonder why those faces look and emote so well, remember that many sleepless nights and collaborative efforts went into making it possible.
Franchise Development Director at 343 Industries Frank O’Connor is pleased with the results though. “Spartan Ops was an absolutely unique project, with a unique schedule and unique challenges. Axis stepped up to those challenges with imagination and energy, and more importantly, a wonderfully collaborative vision of the story we wanted to tell. Working with our writers, our cinematics team, and a dizzying plethora of tools and assets, they became a seamless extension of our narrative group – and we look forward to continuing our relationship and creative partnership in the future.”
The final shot tally breaks down like this: 45 minutes of content, more than 30 characters, 23 sets and +1200 shots. Now bow down, for you are not worthy.