Halo 2 looks gorgeous, thanks to its visual upgrade in Halo: The Master Chief Collection. There’s no better example of the difference 10 years can make than the cinematic interludes that appear between actual moments of gameplay. Remastered by the talented team at Blur Studio, the Halo 2 cutscenes should leave fans pining for an actual animated Halo film.
Blur co-owner/creative director Tim Miller and Dan Ayoub, the studio head of external development at 343 Industries, spoke to EW about making the interludes.
EW: So why did 343 Industries decide to bring an outside hire like Blur into the project?
Dan Ayoub: It was honestly a pretty easy [decision]. We’ve had a relationship with Blur in the past. So when we started looking at re-doing it, it was probably a five-second conversation. We were like, “Well, duh. We want to work with these guys again.” Fortunately, they got as excited about it as we were. Blur has a lot of passion for the franchise, and they had a lot of passion as well for what it is we were trying to do—the emotional goals, the creative goals for the product. The work is mindblowing. I still remember the first image that I got sent over from Blur. I accused them of sending me a picture of some dude; I was like, “This looks too good. This can’t actually be what it’s going to look like.”
Blur often works on creating original cutscenes. What was it like to have to adhere to an established story instead?
Tim Miller: We frequently write the whole thing and handle all of [a given project]. So in this case, not only do you have this hugely well-established brand, but you also have a story that you’re literally replicating. I was actually very excited about this. That presented a great opportunity for us to focus on visual fidelity instead of worrying about, “Are we going to be able to fit this in the budget? Are we going to have to go through all kinds of clearances and getting sh– done through all the stakeholders because it’s new or different or it hasn’t been done before?” All of that stuff was swept aside, and it really allowed us to focus on the visuals.
How did Blur’s advancements with the cutscenes affect the work being done by 343 Industries?
Miller: One of the first things that happened was we kind of assumed, since Halo‘s been around for so long, [that] there was this copious amount of glorious concept art for every single thing. We actually found out we had to do a lot of concept art ourselves because Microsoft didn’t have a reason to do it early on to the degree that we needed it. I think all the design was there for almost everything already. We didn’t invent—it was more of an enhancement. Oddly enough, a lot of the samples that we got…they were our models from Halo Wars, which we had done [in] 2007. So that was still the gold standard for a lot of these characters.
Ayoub: We just kept going back to Halo Wars and [saying], like, “Yeah, that looks great. Why don’t we just work from there?” So it turned into a great back-and-forth process, and obviously we have a franchise team here that works with us that’s making sure stuff is still in canon.
Blur also worked on some cinematics that hint at Halo 5. What was behind the decision to include those?
Ayoub: A lot of the thought around the title was, “Let’s turn this into a great way for fans to get caught up in the story up until now, leading up to 5.” I often refer to this game as Netflix, where before the new season of your favorite show comes up, you quickly binge and get caught up. But what we wanted to do was lead into that storyline with some of the new characters and things like that.
Miller: It was nice to be able to do something new, but it was really just building on what had gone before. We are all looking forward to the next Halo game too. We were happy to be partners in setting that up a little bit.
Ayoub: Whatever we do, we want to make sure it’s connected. We don’t want to fracture the universe to the point that things don’t make sense. These scenes are a big part of that. You’ll see how the things that have happened in Halo 1 through 4 have driven the events that are about to take place in Halo 5.
Did Blur have to adhere to the original cutscenes, or did you take creative liberties with aspects of each scene?
Miller: Really we were given complete freedom, with the exception of story, running length—which had to be more or less the same—and the character voices. All of our stuff was motion captured, with the exception of some of the creature stuff, which was key framed. So everything else—the choices in camera work, the specific shot timing and adjustments and all of that—Microsoft really gave us a lot of freedom to just make it great. Some of the voice performances, I wish we could have gone back and adjusted but then the fans would have found out where we were and hung us.
Ayoub: Pretty much.
Miller: You know, I personally didn’t feel like we had to stick with anything or any particular shot. I would look at our animatic version of a shot, and then I would always play the original. There were probably 10 or 15 times where I said, “You know what, I think the original shot was a little cooler.”
Is there any scene or character you’re particularly proud of?
Miller: You know, this is going to sound like a cop out: All of it. It all looks so f—ing good. I cried when I saw the full trailer. We had short schedule. It was about six months, and we had some guys really sweat blood to get it done. And I was just proud that the company could come together and get all of it out there and done and beautiful. And Microsoft really, it’s great when you send stuff over to your clients…they just go, “Man this just looks so amazing and we’re just excited to see it.” And you get no notes, just whatever the email equivalent of applause is.
Ayoub: We were so happy with the stuff that was coming in. In many cases, we used some of the models that they had done for the cinematics, either as inspiration or we took them and modified them for use in the game. I think it speaks to how great the process was and how great the partnership was between the two companies that it turned into this very smooth pipeline.
What was the most rewarding part of the project?
Ayoub: When you’re in the gameplay, you can hit a button to switch back, and you can do that in the cinematics as well. That’s really a magical point for me; I joke it’s like seeing 10 years of technological evolution at the touch of a button. It speaks not only to the evolution of the industry but also to the fantastic work that Blur’s been able to do here.
Miller: You forget about how hard everybody works to make this sh– look great, and we had a big party when we finished this. We brought everybody’s families in; I had to get up and apologize to all the children and wives and husbands because they loss their significant other while they were working on this project. But then you show them what it is, and everybody’s proud. And it’s truly great to be part of that whole evolution. When we went to [San Diego] Comic Con and participated in the panel, I mean, holy sh–. It was thousands of people and they were so excited. There was a girl that came up and she had talked about Halo changed her life, and she was transgender and changed her name to Cortana. It’s pretty incredible when you see the effect that the game has had on people’s live in a really positive way.