By now you’ve probably all seen Method’s amazing job on the latest Halo 3 spot. It’s getting pretty heavy airplay, and Method’s work stands up to repeat scrutiny very well (as usual).
Just to clear up any misconceptions: the spot is not 100% CG. Method worked with MJZâ€™s Rupert Sanders and figurine modeler Stan Winston to create a scene populated by over a 1000 characters. For more info on the technique involved, jump down to the Making Of section below.
What I find interesting about the diorama approach has less to do with execution and more to do with Microsoft and agency T.A.G./ McCann Worldgroup’s thinking behind the project. As the level of realism in games reaches ever higher, game advertising is starting to get interesting.
It seems that there are two basic routes available to game marketers. The first is to produce a spot composed almost entirely of in-game graphics (or graphics inspired by the gaming engine), as in the Joseph Kosinski-directed Gears of War spot or EyeballNYC’s trailer for Bioshock. Blur, too, are masters of this approach, which is essentially about repackaging the game in a more cinematic box.
The second alternative is the one favored by this Halo 3 spot. I guess we’ll call it “high concept.” It eschews game graphics altogether and instead leverages the power of metaphor to get the job done. A battlefield of toy soldiers, in this case, is used to represent not the experience you’ll have playing Halo 3, but rather the way you’ll want to re-create the experience of playing Halo 3, the way you’ll want to remember and immortalize the experience. The game is so exciting and epic, in other words, that it will be treated with the meticulous reverence of a historic diorama chronicling one of man’s greatest struggles.
While the first approach attempts to either match or exceed the fidelity of graphics in the game, the second approach sidesteps the issue altogether, sometimes even presenting imagery that is lower fidelity than in-game graphics.
As new gaming systems evolve with more sophisticated graphics and simulation capabilities, I think this high concept approach might start catching on. Interestingly, the approach was pretty popular in the early days of personal gaming systems, but for opposite reasons: the graphics sucked. I remember seeing ads like this classic Pole Position spot that downplayed game graphics as much as possible:
In the case of Halo 3, the high-concept approach probably wouldn’t work on its own. The diorama campaign succeeds in part because there’s already so much media saturation around the game’s graphics and storyline.
There’s some interesting making of information in the press release for the Halo 3 spot:
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,â€? Cedric said, “it was pretty straightforward, but we had to think about everything in advance of the shoot.â€? 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,â€? 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 â€“ everything that would be needed to go into the fabrication phase.â€?
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 couldnâ€™t be done with one-inch figures,â€? Cedric Nicholas said. “Instead an oversized diorama was created, 30 feet long and 40 feet wide, and the figures were eight inches tall.â€? 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 â€˜old-fashionedâ€™ diorama, only to be surprised by the level of detail and emotion in each figure,â€? 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 youâ€™re looking at a 40 foot diorama, youâ€™re looking at a 10-foot one.â€?
The figures themselves needed equally close attention so master modeler and puppeteer Stan Winston and his artists hand-built each of the dioramaâ€™s 700 to 1,000 figures. To add an even greater level of realism, Winstonâ€™s team used scans of individual human features for each face. “All the marinesâ€™ faces are scanned from real people,â€? Laurent said. “Youâ€™re going to see Rupert Sandersâ€™ 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, Winstonâ€™s 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 â€“ an eighteen-fot rig on one side, and a 12-foot rig on the other. The shoot itself was done extremely slowly â€“ 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,â€? Laurent said. “If you do less on the prep and more on the post, thatâ€™s when you tank.â€?
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,â€? Laurent said. A few reflective light effects on helmets and visors and a CG grenade were added in post as well, and the soldierâ€™s 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.