Red vs. Blue : The Interview
Thursday, July 3rd, 2003, 10:17 AM
Red and Blue. Two primary colors. If you asked someone on the street what that means to them, chances are they'd respond with something regarding our star spangled banner. Around these parts, it's a whole different story. To us Halo fans, Red and Blue represent the warring factions we control in Halo's multiplayer gametypes.
A few months ago a couple of guys known only as 'Rooster Teeth Productions' unleashed their creative juices upon the world and a phenonmenon was born. RvB: The Blood Gulch Chronicles took the Halo community by storm and hasn't looked back since. Now, 11 episodes later, the popularity is growing by the week and with talks of film festivals, television broadcasts and merchandise, it's clear that they've only just begun.
For those who aren't familiar with the RvB saga, here's the official line straight from their site:
In the time between the Covenant invasion of the outer planets (Halo) and the subsequent alien invasion of Earth (Halo 2), there was a brief period of civil war among the human marines. Places like Sidewinder, Derelict and Chiron TL34 were the sites of fierce battles where red and blue warriors fought for control of mankind's future. The Blood Gulch Chronicles tell the story of the men stationed in a desolate outpost as they fight for control of the universe's most strategic dry creek bed in the middle of a box canyon.
So how did the idea get started? How do they make these videos? Being the huge fan that I am, I had to get answers so who better to ask then the team themselves? I got in touch with Burnie and Gus, otherwise known as Church/Tex and Simmons , to get some insight into the world of Red vs. Blue.
How did the whole idea of Red vs. Blue come about?
Gus : A bottle of Jack Daniels and a now defunct website. RvB was supposed to be a side project we were working on for another website, but we canned it due to the fact we realized it would be too much of a time commitment. When we finally shut down our old site, we decided to refocus all of our energy into making RvB.
Burnie : On the old site, I had a weekly column that was gameplay videos. It quickly turned into a weekly Halo gameplay video. After we were linked by halo.bungie.org a few times, we started thinking of a way to take it farther. Red vs. Blue came out of that.
Can you tell us a little bit about the team? How'd you all come together? Do you have backgrounds in video production or something similar?
Gus : I'd like to answer this question by talking about myself. I am a super genius and managed to assemble the perfect ensemble for this project.
Burnie : The team is really two parts. Gus's ego and everyone else. Actually, one half the team is from the old website, drunkgamers.com and the other half (the LA crew) are from a wonderfully fantastic, highly unsuccessful film I made back in the late 90's. It's a nice mix of film guys and web guys. gfunk and gus have built several popular websites while Matt and Joel both work in the film industry. Matt is a Visual FX producer and Joel is a professional actor who actual earns a living acting.
How much time does the team typically invest into each episode?
Gus : Each episode easily takes a full week's worth of work...probably between 40-50 hours per episode. Sometimes you go a little crazy after trying for an hour to pull of a two second shot (like flipping the warthog onto the red base in episode 9).
Burnie : That about sums it up. Sleep, eat, work, RvB.
How do you guys go about creating some of the cinematic and camera shots that you use to make each episode? Are you using any special hardware or software?
Gus : Not really. We try and limit ourselves to only what the Halo engine will allow us to do. As a result, we do not use any modded Xboxes, however we sometimes do use some clever editing with Adobe Premiere to pull off tricky shots. Examples of that would be getting a yellow and maroon player into the same warthog, and simulating a "bombing run" by a Pelican. For the most part we try to avoid that though since we enjoy the challenge.
Burnie : Yeah, the fun is really milking as much as we can from the existing environment. We really do try to use everything in native format and limit the post production manipulation. And anything we do outside the game engine is pretty elementary editing tricks. For instance, the two different colors in the Warthog was achieved by shooting two distinct shots and doing a half "wipe" in Premiere. That's a basic transition that anyone could recreate in short order. I think the most complicated effect was the E3 video, but I know some people will be seeing that for the first time so I won't spoil it here. I actually hate talking about this kind of stuff because I feel it takes people out of the story. Too many tricks would leave people wondering "how did they do that" instead of just letting them laugh at the dumb jokes.
Did you pencil in the script for the entire series all upfront or is it a week-by-week process?
Gus : It's actually a combination of the two. The long term script exists as a roadmap and is written down, but it becomes more solid as it comes time to record that episode. The script itself is one really long document and individual episodes are just little pieces cut out of the larger script.
Burnie : Figuring out where to end each segment is a big challenge. Often, we have to move scenes around in the script just to have a clean episode. Sometimes we make big changes like in Episode 10, when we combined two episodes into one. Even after cutting a bunch of material, we still ended up with a six minute video. As far as dialogue scripting, no one is beholden to the lines in the script. Everyone has the freedom to ad lib as they see fit. We have lots of hard drive space, so all the actors can do as many takes as they want.
Of the current episodes, is there one show or moment that you're particularly fond of? What is it and why?
Gus : For me it's when the Warthog flies over the hill with the Tejano music blaring and Church and Tucker have to scramble for cover. No matter how many times I see that scene I still bust out laughing. I think it's great because...well, I don't know why. It just makes me laugh.
Burnie : I like the implied stuff that you never get to see. To me, one of the funniest things is imagining Tucker and Church throwing rocks through the teleporter to test it. You never see it, but you can get a clear picture of these guys doing just about anything to pass the time. The level of boredom it would take to do that is ridiculous. My favorite onscreen moment is Pvt Jimmy's tragic death on Sidewinder as Tex beats him to death with his own skull. It just doesn't seem physically possible to do that.
What would say has been the most irritating (or overall worst) stunt you've had to do, because it took too many "takes" or because of the overall skill required to pull off a stunt?
Burnie : Good question. I think the hardest shot was from Episode 6 when Church and Tucker are running away from the Warthog as it pulls up firing and Grif jumps out. Because Grif is orange, we had to have him drive one warthog, while Simmons fired from another strategically placed Warthog right behind it. We had to set it up so that it looks like the Warthog driven by Grif is the one firing when the game does not allow for two players in a vehicle in that type of game. It's a short shot, but was a huge pain.
Most of the hard shots are not what you would think. The tank flips and flying Warthogs are actually much easier than matching up eyelines and getting a running character to hit his mark. Even though it looks like the characters are looking straight ahead, they are actually looking straight at the ground in most shots.
Did you anticipate that Red vs. Blue would become so popular?
Gus : I think we all had different expectations of the series. Speaking for myself, it is now more popular than I thought it would be. That doesn't mean I'm content with its current popularity though. I think we have a lot more room for growth and hope we can continue to grow at the phenomenal rate we have grown so far.
Burnie : I think the speed has surprised me more than anything else. It went from 0 to 60 pretty quickly. If you look at the traffic rank charts on alexa.com, it's almost obscene how fast we have grown.
From the beginning it was said that RvB: Blood Gulch Chronicles would be a finite, 22 episode series. As we draw closer to that final show, we can't help but get misty eyed at the thought of no more new episodes to look forward to. Will this truly be the end or can we expect the guys to make a return in a new series? Can you give us any insights into your plans beyond the 22nd episode?
Burnie : First off, the "22 episodes" of BGC are quickly turning into the "18-20 episodes". When we first started, we could only manage 2-3 minutes of video a week. It quickly became 4-5 minutes per week. The story is now unrolling at a much quicker pace so we think we will be able to wrap it up sooner than expected. After that, all we can do is shrug. Putting out a new episode each week keeps us so busy, it's hard to plan what will happen after that. I haven't slept on Thursday night in seven weeks -- and that's not an exaggeration. So first order will be a nice long nap and then planning what's next. We will definitely do something; we're just not exactly sure what that something is. I love working on this and I would love to see it go on and on, but there are lots of factors at play.
What do you say to all those people out there who are now inspired to create their own version of RvB? Any advice for up and coming Machinima production crews?
Gus : Do the best job you can. Many people have emailed us saying that they are going to make their own version of RvB so the market is going to be flooded with movies very soon. To do a good job, make sure you use a "classic" game like "Space Invaders" and use a VHS camera to record all your movies...and don't distribute via the internet, do mail order...that will get you much further.
Burnie : Gus is right. Based on the e-mails we get, it's seems like it's going to be a very crowded scene soon. My advice would be to have a good idea where you want to go with your overall story and stay faithful to it. It's very easy to get side-tracked by easy jokes.
What is your favorite part about working on the RvB site?
Gus : I love hearing from the people who email us saying that we have inspired them to work on their own RvB spin-off. We get about two or three emails a day from people who say they are working on their own spin-offs, and I can't wait to see what kinds of ideas we may have helped start.
Burnie : I just like making the videos. The work itself is very rewarding to me. I watch each episode about twenty times and watch the full series at least two times a week. There's nothing better to me than having the audio track laid out and watching the video come together piece by piece. It's long hours, but we would not do it if we didn't love it.
Do you guys actually play much Halo?
Gus : Sadly, not anymore. We all used to play Halo at buzby's house using 4 Xboxes pretty regularly, but we can't seem to find time to really play any games anymore. I think that both buzby and I purchased Xboxes and four controllers on its launch date just to play Halo. We'd been following the development of it since it was first unveiled at MacWorld. Seriously, I'm not kissing ass or anything here. We also have been keeping very close tabs on Halo 2 as well. *cough* *cough*
Burnie : We sneak in games when we wrap a "shoot" up early, but not nearly as much as we would like too.
It was great having some of you join us for FanFest this year. How did you guys like it? Did you get to meet anyone in particular or does anything stand out as being particularly memorable?
Burnie : The whole thing was great. At one point you all showed a movie that was gameplay from a REALLY old build of Halo with running commentary from a handful of developers. There's nothing better than watching talent people enjoy doing what they do. It was a real treat. Meeting the voice of Cortana was cool too. When I see someone I only know previously from their voice work, my mind can't synch the image with the audio and it's a very odd experience.
Were you surprised to see your public service announcement win the Halo video contest? Was Geoff really drunk the entire time? Are you all obsessed with Mexican food?
Gus : I wasn't there, but I can say that yes Geoff was really drunk. Geoff is always drunk. I don't think Geoff has been sober since 1997.
Burnie : I don't know who this "Geoff" is, but he sounds like a very sad and lonely person.
Anything else you'd like to share with us?
Gus : Here's my shameless bit of ass kissing: I've loved Bungie ever since "Minotaur: Labyrinths of Crete" and it's really an honor to get to talk to you guys.
Burnie : He's not kidding. We all took a trip out to E3 in 2001 and Gus made us visit the Bungie booth. We got to play Halo multiplayer on Blood Gulch as part of a running demo you had. I was instantly hooked and bought an Xbox at launch as a result. You can actually see a picture of practically the whole RvB crew. It's a really weird coincidence, but we just happened to be the fans at the booth when Miguel Chavez was taking pictures. You would think we were stalkers.
RvB E3/FanFest Exclusive Video
As a special bonus for us, the RvB crew made an exclusive video that was aired at our FanFest back in May. This video has only been seen by FanFest attendees and some of their VIP sponsors. Until now. Today we're happy to announce that the RvB E3/FanFest video is now available for everyone's enjoyment!
Head over to redvsblue.com to check out this new video, all the current epsiodes and to share your thoughts in their forums. If you like what you see, help support their efforts and spread the word. I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more from RvB and I for one can't wait to see what they come up with next.
Next week we'll resume the tale of how the Halo 2 E3 demo was created.