Art Attack
Posted by Frankie at 1/19/2004 10:22 AM PST

Art Attack

By Frankie
Monday, January 19th, 2004, 6:22 PM

Lorraine McLees gives us the inside skinny on creating art for the Halo universe, as Sketch chats with Bungie's resident Artist about the process involved in creating the Halo 2 cover for The Official Xbox Magazine.

Sketch : Have you worked on any magazine covers in the past? If so, what were they?

Lorraine: The last thing I worked on that made it to magazine covers was Oni .I think the most notable one was an issue of Gamers Republic. There were a couple of others, in the US and the UK, but I can't remember them off the top of my head.

Sketch : How does creating a magazine cover differ from say, creating an ad or a box cover?

Lorraine: Not much different, really. It depends on whether or not I'm doing the entire box (front, back, flaps if any) or just the cover. In general, ads tend to be horizontal for a two-page spread but composed so it would be easy to crop for a single-page ad and still have room for logos, screenshots and text. Box covers are generally vertical. Of the three, box covers often have the most time allotted to them (unless I'm called on to fix one!)

I'm not sure how it works elsewhere, but in the case of the ad for Halo for the PC (which was later appropriated for the Mac version), the consensus was to show some giant epic battle on a recognizable map where the ring structure that is Halo would be visible. The going message was Halo invades the PC. The image in my head was pretty clear and after discussing with Andrew, the product manager for Halo for the PC and Pete, Bungies studio manager and former head of Xbox Marketing, the execution of this message was pretty much left up to me. Oh, and I was told I only had a few days, but they trusted Id be able to come up with something really cool. Sure. No sweat.

So I played the game, froze a scene, moved the camera, took a screenshot, rinsed, repeat. I did that until I got all the pieces to something close to what I wanted. Assembling the humongous file, I presented the visualization of my concept to Pete and Andrew, who said wow, so I said cool, then we all said variations of, wouldn't it be great if, then I started taking high-res screenshots armed with additional ideas and then assembled the layout I envisioned. The process took a whole darned week of late nights; coffee and making sure my son didn't roll off my desk until I was done. No problem.

The last box cover I was pretty much in charge of was Bungies Myth: The Total Codex . I created the cover art, the whole box, in fact. The CD imprints, the manual, the ads, shelf talkers, even the set-up/installation interface graphics. The cover needed to portray three heroes; And they just needed to look heroic and be recognizable Myth characters. Sometimes box covers are easy that way.

In the case of the June 2003 OXM cover we wanted it to show the Chief in his new armor, and he basically just needed to look bad-ass. There were other elements we wanted to show: other Marines (in this case the ODSTs), a new environment (New Mombassa) and the Chief being able to use two guns at the same time (dual SMGs). And I just had to get it looking cool at the end of five days. And there we go. :)

Man, I want to go get some sleep, thinking about all those.

Sketch : In your mind, what are the most critical aspects to creating a "successful" cover?

Lorraine: Clarity. I should know what I'm looking at immediately, my eyes should be drawn to the main point(s) of interest and the message should be clear and, if at all possible, scream at me.

Sketch : What were your goals for this cover? Was there anything in particular that provided inspiration or direction?

Lorraine: With the OXM cover, we wanted to sort of continue where we left off with the announce trailer. We wanted to hint at what audiences would expect to see of Halo 2 at E3 2003. The Chief in his new armor. Two weapons, one on each hand. Hes on Earth. And hes fighting with the rest of the human race to fend off the Covenant. The general idea behind the whole thing was to say Holy -blam!-! It's the Chief in his new armor! Halo 2 is coming! He-he!

The announce trailer was a wonderful source of inspiration. You really get a sense of this bad-ass hero, a faceless, selfless soldier literally throwing himself into deaths maw to save the human race. Powerful and capable. I could only hope that my illustration did him justice.

Sketch : Can you walk us through the creation of the OXM cover?

Lorraine: When I'm illustrating something like this, I start with a bunch of thumbnails, basically unloading everything I can think of as fast as I can on a sheet of paper. I was a little hard pressed to come up with something that I hadn't already drawn before (particularly something that Oni's Konoko hadn't done before!). I was doodling on graph paper during that first phone conference with Holden Hume, OXM's art director. While we were talking, a picture of the Chief standing on top of a building popped into my head. He had a foot up on the edge and he was looking at the horizon behind the viewer. This idea emerged as just a mass of lines that showed limb positions, angles of objects in the sky (clouds or perspective of buildings) and an arrow that showed the direction the Chief would be looking. In my head, he was holding the Battle Rifle. But then as the conversation progressed, we wanted to see the Chief with the two SMGs, so I started drawing stick figures with two guns. We had leaning as a new feature, so I drew the Chief with two guns kind of leaning forward with guns ready. I didn't like it. After a few minutes, we got some specs, a sense of direction and a set of ideas to go on. And I also found out that I only had five days. Oh crap! I went to the drawing board and started sketching immediately!

That first image turned out to be the one that held the most promise. All the other poses failed to give a sense of hero or didn't provide a dynamic-enough pose. One shot, though, looked neat, was too close to a recent OXM cover with Sam Fisher of Splinter Cell.

To help me come up with poses more quickly, I started playing with the action figures at my desk. When I got the file of the proposed cover text, I started taking pictures of my Stikfas figures and dropping them in. Getting an idea of what might work, I grabbed more pictures and put them all on one file and printed them out so I could solicit feedback from Marcus and other artists like Robt and Shi Kai. After picking a couple, I printed out the poses and used that as the skeleton for the Chief. After a 13-hour Day 1, I drew up a pose we all liked and fired it off in e-mail so Holden could take a look at it in the morning.

Day two, I came in and loaded up Earth City on my dev kit and started flying around and started taking reference shots for the background. There were no textures to speak of, just geometry and lighting. The sky wasn't even finished. But all I needed were silhouettes of buildings anyway, so it was all good. We got the rest of the feedback that morning. I was happy to hear positive feedback, but there were a couple of requests that I wouldn't be able to implement until I get to the final run, so I forged ahead. I started throwing shadows onto the pencil sketch and started placing buildings into the picture. I then blocked in the other Marines behind the Chief. At the close of yet another long day, I had Robt render out two SMGs for me in the angle they would be shown and slapped it onto the Chief. I planned on painting right on top of the render from 3D Studio Max.

Needing sleep, I did some rudimentary brush strokes on the guns and I sent the last black and white rough for people to look at. I guess the OXM crew were also busy trying to put the rest of the magazine together because, just as I was wrapping up to go home, I got an e-mail back from Holden, saying that everybody left for the evening, but he really liked what he saw and that I should go ahead and start applying color. I just had enough time to start blocking in color before the day caught up with me.

Tired and feeling the effects of motion sickness from taking so many screenshots, I wanted nothing more than to get my 5-month-old son off my desk and head home to bed. I did find out later that Holden and the rest of the guys were really happy with what they saw and, even though it was just black and white, said that they can go with that cover if they really, really had to; that's how much they liked it.

For the next three days I would concentrate on coloring the Chief and getting the rest of the image close to finished. The file started ballooning to1 GB before I started paring down my file and getting rid of unused layers. 4am at the end of day five, I combine layers and get ready to send it all off. My memory of events is kinda hazy at this point. I don't even remember how I got the huge file over to OXM. I think Brian took care of it, but I can't recall much of that last day. But I do remember this: after having recuperated over the weekend, I forgot to sign the illustration. So the whole thing got printed with no artist signature. I slapped myself on the head. I couldn't believe it!

Sketch : How many different iterations did you work on before deciding on this particular image? Is the final image the one that you originally wanted to use?

Lorraine: There were only five other ideas for poses. There were two that we liked. But there was just no time to do a second one, so this final image was the one I took to the finish. And even so, I think I could have used another day or two to add some polish to it. About nine months later, the opportunity presented itself when a Halo 2 poster request came through the pipeline asking for the OXM cover as the image.

Sketch : What were some of the major challenges you had to overcome while working on this project?

Lorraine: The background. I didn't have enough time to experiment with it.

Sketch :Approximately how much time would you estimate that it took to create the finished cover?

Lorraine: Probably about 80 hours from the time I got the project to when I saved it and called it done.

Sketch : How does it feel knowing that your Halo 2 cover has gone on to become the most popular and largest selling issue in the history of OXM?

Lorraine: I feel pretty lucky. I honestly think that if the drawing was of somebody else and not the hero of Halo 2, I don't think it would have done as well.

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