‘Birth of a Spartan’, an Xbox 360 Halo: Reach trailer directed by Noam Murro for agencytwofifteen, features visual effects by Animal Logic. The trailer follows Carter-259, the future leader of Noble Team, as he undergoes the medical augmentation procedures to become a Spartan III super soldier. Ian Failes takes a look at the work with vfx sup. Nicholas Ponzoni.

Carter takes a trip into space to a medical facility and then has various liquids injected him before being transformed. The world being created was purposely left unpolished, with muted colours and a low-key lighting design. “It’s not often you get a two-and-a-half minute sci-fi spot to work on,” noted Ponzoni, whose team completed mostly subtle effects shots. “It is sci-fi, but they wanted things to look realistic. They didn’t want to go too far over the top.”

The main effects for Animal Logic, then, involved augmenting locations to create the real world feel. “We put that base in before he takes off,” said Ponzoni, “using the architecture from Prague as reference. It was that Eastern Bloc military that Noel wanted introduced into the designs.”

Also in the exterior shot of the base is the truck driving by carrying Carter and other team members. “Those scenes were shot at a coal mine, but we couldn’t get the truck down there so we had to shoot on the backlot with similar angles, the same lens and some dirt dressed in,” said Ponzoni. “We were lucky with the lighting because it was overcast the entire time. In the end it was a straight rotoscope and compositing job.” Using Photoshop, artists matte painted in a cliff behind the mine and the tower from studio designs.

For the Pelican dropship, Animal Logic received a digital asset from game makers Bungie, with further modeling and animation done in Maya. “We had to fix up the asset a little bit because it was only at game-res,” said Ponzoni. “We also had to be careful to maintain the colour and the way it was animated, by checking with them what it did in the game.” The space station is also a game asset, lit in 3D but then re-textured by matte painters. Views of the planet outside the window were realised as a matte painting projected onto a sphere in Flame and rotated to give it some extra life.

The operating theatre was shot on set, but featured practical Mitsubishi robot arms. “They were quite scary because those drills are actually moving,” said Ponzoni. “I was looking at the guy lying on the bed just thinking, ‘God, you’re brave!’, especially when that needle was near his arm. It was a retractable needle but if anything went wrong – well – they spent a while rehearsing those arms.” Animal Logic modeled and animated a CG camera that follows Carter, matching the look of the practical arms. Video screens in the operating theatre were digital inserts.

Shots of liquid going through tubes in Carter’s skin and the resulting vein effect were achieved in Flame. “We shot some cloud tank footage for the inside of the vein,” recalled Ponzoni, “and then matte painted the interior of an arm, referencing any kind of BBC ‘inside the womb’ footage we could find. We ran some particles through there to give it a liquidy plasma feel. Then it was a simple 2D composite. The needle was a live action element that we punctured through some fleshy material.”

A final overhead shot of Carter waking up involved some further matte painting of the environment beyond the bed, the last of five weeks’ worth of work for Animal and typical of the realistic nature of the effects. “That was the good thing on this spot,” concluded Ponzoni, “everyone was on the same page – the agency, the director. When you’re creating a futuristic world, if you make it too unbelievable you can lose the story a little bit.”

[quicktime width=”640″ height=”360″]/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/halo_s.mov[/quicktime] Clip from Animal Logic

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