CGI artists and storytellers, Axis, in collaboration with 343 Industries, proudly announces its participation in the brand-new, story-driven experience of “Halo 4” - Spartan Ops: Season One. A first-of-its-kind, exciting new addition to the “Halo” franchise, Spartan Ops is an episodic adventure that blends immersive storytelling, high-quality cinematics and action-packed gameplay to deliver an unprecedented serialized experience. In substance and scope, this first season of episodic content is taking Axis to new levels of involvement in the storytelling process, technical demands and in the development of believable, engaging characters.
Through a weekly series of cinematic episodes, Spartan Ops tells the continuing story of the UNSC Infinity, following the events of “Halo 4.” Ten animated episodes, featuring over 1200 CGI animated shots, are being released throughout the series, which began on Nov 6th with the launch of “Halo 4”. These cinematic episodes provide the backdrop for the weekly Spartan Ops gameplay missions, where players can take part in five new missions each week that explore the corners of Requiem and help uncover the secrets of the mysterious Forerunner world.
The series is being directed by Axis co-founder Stuart Aitken, on the heels of other recent high-profile game-related projects, including the much-acclaimed and award-winning Dead Island announcement trailer.
Aitken and Axis Producer Debbie Ross worked hand-in-hand with Halo 4 developers 343 Industries to creatively develop the content, including casting, script development, art direction, sound design, with the clear goal that each Spartan Ops episode should be as engaging as the best feature film or television drama.
View a making of video below:
“Spartan Ops was an absolutely unique project, with a unique schedule and unique challenges,” said Frank O’Connor, Franchise Development Director at 343 Industries. “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.”
“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,” said Stuart Aitken. “We’ve collaborated at every level with 343 Industries throughout the process to create a truly immersive cinematic experience.”
The team at Axis was clear that they wanted each Spartan Ops episode to be as engaging as the best feature film or television drama. To achieve this Axis built a layout and editorial team that shot and edited episodes in a way more akin to live action than typical CGI. After the motion capture was complete, Axis would create a performance edit from the reference cameras at the shoot. The layout team then shot the CG cameras providing coverage for all scenes, allowing editorial to have as much flexibility in shot selection as possible.
Director Aitken immersed himself in the “Halo” canon, taking in everything that could provide insight into previous story elements, given that Axis would be creating never-before-seen moments in the “Halo” universe.
During the project, a range of production challenges were met, including Axis’ animation department having to work with motion capture across a range of character scales from 5.5ft to 14ft. However, the most demanding task was to create convincing facial animation. In order to maintain every nuance of the actors performances when applied to the CG characters, Axis in-house rigging and animation team developed a special facial motion capture solution in conjunction with Giant studios and Cubic Motion, a world leader in solving this difficult problem. The result is some of the most realistic and expressive CGI facial animation to date.
Axis also had to deal with the daunting level of environmental detail that is evident in the “Halo” world. The studio’s shading team developed a series of procedural approaches in Side FX Houdini, which enabled them make the world feel alive and “lived in.” Additionally, the lighting team was tasked with creating lighting set ups that matched the look of “Halo 4” but also developed a tone and approach that gave a signature look to the Spartan Ops episodes. The lighting had to be quick to iterate across multiple shots and artists, whilst maintaining the highest quality being demanded by Aitken and the team at 343 Industries.
As with any cinematic project, sound is an integral part of creating a believable world. Axis turned to Savalas, a previous partner for Dead Island, for all of Spartan Ops’ sound design as well as the final mix.
Spartan Ops was on a scale unseen on any prior project for Axis. The 10 episodes will contain 45 minutes of content, more than 30 characters, 23 sets and 1200-plus shots.