Making the Halo 2 Trailer, Part 1
By Joseph Staten
September 4, 2002
How do you follow up a game like Halo? The rave reviews and Game of the Year awards become daunting after a while. "How do we top this?" one thinks. Well, you can announce a sequel in a press release filled with descriptions that sound like hyperbole on their own. We did that. But we made a companion piece too - a new cinematic using the all-new Halo 2 engine to give people a taste of what the game will be like. Now that the Halo 2 trailer has been unleashed upon an unsuspecting planet, we thought the more dedicated fans would like to hear a little more about how it was put together. To that end, we sat down with the Bungie Cinematics team to talk about how the trailer was constructed. What follows is a discussion with Joseph Staten, the man who took an early build of Halo 2 on a development kit and created a gorgeous teaser for the final game.
Apart from officially announcing the product, what were your goals for the Halo 2 trailer?
We had three primary goals: (1) re-introduce the Master-Chief (in his snazzy new suit); (2) demonstrate the power of our new technology; and (3) get people excited about plunging back into the Halo world. How important each of these goals was relative to one another depends on who you talk to. Personally, my goal was to show the Chief doing dynamic, interesting things in the context of a tantalizing Halo 2 story-fragment. Butcher, Bernie and Adrian would probably say "it's all about the bump-maps and light-blooms, cinema boy!" and who's to say they aren't right.
Describe, in as much or as little detail as you like, the process of creation from the moment you said "Let's make a trailer" to having a finished product.
For once, we had enough time to do all the things we wanted to do. We were able to pre-produce the art assets (i.e. concept and storyboard the whole shebang), revise the script until it was nice and tight, and then hand off the final footage to Marty and Jay with plenty of time to add music and foley. From start to finish, the trailer took about six weeks to make (rough draft of the script to final compression of the movie), and pretty much everyone on the Halo 2 team spent time working on it. Except Jason and Chucky. They pretty much just stood around asking "Are you sure there's nothing we can do?"
How many drafts of the script did you do before you settled on a final vision for the trailer? Was the original idea drastically different from the one we now see?
Originally, we thought the trailer would be no more than 30 seconds to 1 minute in length. And we envisioned a pretty simple plot, primarily because we weren't sure we could get all the art assets done in time for something more spectacular. I had a conversation early on with Jones about "a crazy idea" for the ending, but was shot down due to time concerns. So the original draft of the script I wrote was fairly simple: Chief walks down hallway, gets gun, walks to window, sees earth, smashes his fist on the glass, says something pithy, fade to black.
As the art came online more quickly than expected, we realized we could make the movie longer and more engaging. But I was still eager to keep things short and sweet for Marty and Jay. Then Hamilton, who is usually a big sour-puss, stick in the mud, conservative ninny, cornered me in the hall and insisted that we reconsider the original crazy idea of the Chief boarding a Covenant ship. It was funny to have the roles reversed: Hamilton, the schedule-conscious Producer, encouraging me, the maverick cinematic Director to "sack up, and stop being such a coward".
All told, I think the script went through 5 drafts. And most of these were done to reflect dialog changes.
Did you use storyboards at all, or was that a luxury you didn't have time for?
Storyboards are critical to the way I work, and this time I drew them myself (which, frankly, is why we'll never release them on the web). I actually had enough time to make an animatic with placeholder dialog which was extremely helpful to lots of folks. I might be persuaded to let this out if enough people are interested.
The process of creating the previous Halo trailers was hectic and time-consuming; were things any better this time around?
Usually, the people who get screwed in the trailer-making process are Marty and Jay. We work so hard on the visuals, right up to the last minute, that the sound guys have very little time to get their jobs done. This time we decided to learn from our mistakes, and gave Marty and Jay ample time to polish the dialog, music and foley. I think the results speak for themselves.
Is there anything significant about the trailer that you think people might miss? Any details that might shed light on the game, or just amuse the viewer?
Lots of technical details, certainly. But I hope folks pay close attention to the dialog: therein are plenty of juicy story tidbits to debate on the forums. Also, you might notice that one of the Covenant's nukes hits a very definite location in the state of Washington.
How will cinematics in Halo 2 differ from those in the original Halo? Is there anything the new engine can do that will unlock previously closed vistas of creativity for you? Were there any constraints on this trailer that won't be present for the cutscenes in the final game?
The most significant differences for the non-interactive cinematics will be technical. On the most fundamental level, art assets in Halo 2 will look a lot better than they did in Halo: characters will be more lifelike, environments will be lit more dynamically, etc. The engineers are also stuffing my little-bag-of-tricks with things like depth-of-field as well as writing more robust editing tools, so I'll have a great deal more flexibility with regard to shot composition and pacing.
I don't want to give away too many details too soon, but suffice it to say that our story ideas for Halo 2 are much more ambitious than those we had for Halo, and I'm confident the new engine will enable me to take these ideas from the script to the screen without cutting very many corners.
Now you have some idea of how we wrenched all that stunning imagery out of an Xbox. But all true Halo fans know that the visuals only tell half the story. Check back soon for our next Making The Halo 2 Trailer installment, when we'll talk to Marty O'Donnell and Jay Weinland to find out more about the music and sound in the trailer.