New commercials debuted this week for “Halo 5: Guardians” featuring devastation and destruction on a massive scale, scenes brought to life in part by extensive visual effects created by Method Studios in Los Angeles. “A Hero Falls” and “The Hunt Begins” are directed by Henry Hobson via agency twofifteenmccann.
“A Hero Falls” dials into the more emotional tones of the “Halo 5: Guardians” narrative with a news report falsely announcing that Master Chief is dead, and sharing the reactions of constituents learning that he’s been killed in the line of duty. These scenes are intercut with battle sequences and close out with a shot of seemingly dead Master Chief. In “The Hunt Begins,” Halo protagonist Master Chief appears in a battle scene where the world is crumbling around him and is alive, contrary to official media accounts. People run to take cover and chaos ensues as a voiceover informs, “The official story is that Master Chief is dead, you Spartan Locke are the unofficial story, your mission is go.”
Method senior creative director Benjamin Walsh worked closely with twofifteenmccann and Hobson to bring their script to life. Method artists developed detailed pre-visualization to flesh out the script and shape the world and shots needed to tell the deep story. This was refined into an animatic providing a template for both the live-action shoot and final CG elements.
“Having worked with the agency and client on previous Halo spots there was a familiarity and trust already in place,” said Walsh. “It was our first time working with Hobson, which was a pleasure. He has an in-depth understanding of VFX and was open to collaboration throughout the creative process.”
Both spots were shot over six days in Kiev, Ukraine and Reykjavik, Iceland. Once Method received the live-action plates, their team of artists had just six weeks to complete 51 complex visual effects shots for “The Hunt Begins” and 23 for “A Hero Falls.”
Working from assets provided by the game development team, Method built the character models for the campaign based on high-resolution meshes that were used for in-game production, which sped up the modeling process and enabled the delivery of an end result completely in sync with the game. All of the VFX assets were built, modeled and rigged in Maya. Texturing was done in MARI with some displacement detailing done in ZBrush for hero assets. Shots were animated in Maya as a first step, then published out of Maya using Alembic, which got read into NUKE and finally in Houdini. Look development, lighting and effects were done in Houdini and rendered in Mantra. All of the CG imagery was then composited with the additional 2D elements, matte paintings and the live-action plates in NUKE and Flame.
Much of the visual effects in both spots involve destruction of cities that starts with the Earth breaking apart and evolves into crumbling buildings and pyroclastic smoke clouds, requiring hundreds of thousands of CG particles. The Method VFX team, having recently completed extensive R&D to create similar types of effects for the earthquake destruction film San Andreas, was able to apply those processes and methodologies to this project as well.
“We had the advantage of a proven production process for this type of work,” Walsh said. “Completing this project in this timeframe would have been impossible especially if we didn’t have cross-pollinating artists and technology across our film and commercials.”
“A lot of the workflows were tied to the asset build process and how to best create CG models for destruction,” added Brian Burke, CG supervisor at Method. “Everything from the level of detail to model at, to the amount of interior structure to build, to the organization of building assets and the pipeline for look development of those complex assets had all been sorted out before we began working on these spots. Because of this the talented FX artists on this project were able to hit the ground running and produce complicated and cool simulations without a lot of initial back and forth.”
“A Hero Falls” debuted on Sunday Night Football on Sept. 27 and “The Hunt Begins” debuted on Oct. 4. “Halo 5: Guardians” is available on Oct. 27, 2015, exclusively on Xbox One.