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‘Red vs. Blue: Restoration’ Marks the End of the Rooster Teeth Era

Studio co-founder Matt Hullum talks about the seminal, groundbreaking machinima series, ‘Red vs. Blue,’ set in the world of ‘Halo,’ and the property’s first and only feature film, which he directed and releases today, a poignant farewell as the company closes its doors May 15.

21 years ago, before Twitch streaming and “viral videos” became common lingo, Burnie Burns, Matt Hullum, Geoff Ramsey, Jason Saldaña, Gus Sorola and Joel Heyman kicked off a new era of machinima storytelling with Red vs. Blue. Only a few episodes of the web series were initially planned, mostly just for laughs. 18 seasons later, it’s now one of the longest-running animated web series of all time and has played a major part of not only the creators’ lives, but the lives of their kids. 

Take a walk down memory lane...

“Our kids grew up with it and a lot of those kids are in college now,” says Hullum, co-founder with Burns, Ramsey, Saldaña, Sorola and Heyman of Rooster Teeth, the production company behind Red vs. Blue and a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Discovery Global Streaming & Interactive Entertainment. “You never know what's going to connect with people and I think it's always a surprise when anything finds such a huge audience and over such a long period of time. Some of the appeal just goes back to the basics, like having strong characters. But we’re also repeatedly asking the questions, ‘Why are we here? What is the purpose of all this?’ We were asking the same questions I think everybody asks themselves as a teenager or young adult.”

Red vs. Blue, a comedy web series set in the universe of the iconic Xbox video game franchise Halo, was the first official Rooster Teeth release. Two teams, Red and Blue, engage in perpetual conflict inside a desolate canyon. Led by the bumbling Sarge and the cynical Church, the soldiers navigate absurd situations and misunderstandings with a mix of humor and sci-fi elements. Rooster Teeth went on to produce shows like the anime-styled CG-animated web series RWBY, the 2D animation Camp Camp, the animated science fiction series gen:LOCK, and others. But Red vs. Blue has always been the company’s heart and soul, and after 364 episodes, the series has now produced its first and only film, Red vs. Blue: Restoration, releasing today, May 7 for purchase on Amazon Prime Video, AppleTV, Google Play and Vudu. It will be available to rent digitally on May 21.

The film’s bittersweet arrival marks not only the end of Red vs. Blue production, but also Rooster Teeth, which is closing its doors due to “fundamental shifts in consumer behavior and monetization across platforms, advertising, and patronage,” as stated by general manager Jordan Levin.

“It’s wild and improbable that we would have lasted one year, let alone 21 years,” notes Hullum, who directed Restoration. He also voiced Sarge, Doc, O'Malley, Wyoming, and The Meta in the Red vs. Blue series, on which he was director, writer, producer, and editor. “It's fitting, I guess. Rooster Teeth’s projects had a lot of juvenile jokes and behavior. I guess, once we get to age 21, it's time to stop. Our Peter Pan complex can only last so long. I'm just grateful for all the time that we had, all the fun stuff that we got to do and having met so many cool people around the world along the way. It’s been a blast. We wanted to make something that felt like it put a bow on the entire series and was a gift to longtime fans of the show. And, in that, we include ourselves.”

In the feature, when the universe’s greatest villain returns in a terrifying new form, old adversaries, the Reds and Blues of Blood Gulch, will have to set aside their differences to save the galaxy one last time.

Check out the trailer here:

Blood Gulch, one of the multi-player maps in Halo, takes place in a box canyon with a grassy landscape enclosed with rock walls on an artificial ring-shaped planet. The canyon's interior has scattered pieces of natural cover with a base on each end for the Red and Blue teams. The setting is iconic in both the Halo games as well as in the web series. And the feature comes with some Blood Gulch surprises, to say the least.

“The setting itself means so much to people, so we’re always doing things to twist people’s perceptions of that environment,” explains Hullum. “In Season 5, we established that there was this whole underground cavern system. It doesn't exist in the game, but in Restoration, we did some big things with the environment of Blood Gulch that we've never been able to do before.”

Most of the surprises in store for fans harken back to the work of Monty Oum, one of the first major animators at Rooster Teeth. Oum was also a co-creator of RWBY

“He was a very important person in our history, and he passed away in 2015,” shares Hullum. “So, I wanted to do stuff that was not just throwback jokes, though we have plenty of that and it's really fun, but also stuff that honors the history of Red vs. Blue and our team that’s made this series possible. Some of it is definitely wish fulfillment for those who aren’t with us anymore.”

The feature also dives into new areas of animation that the team hadn’t explored before; not even during the animation anthology of Season 14, which included Lego stop-motion. 

“In Restoration, we wanted it to feel like a throwback, so it's a bit of a hybrid style where we're using not only footage directly out of the game, but we're also animating in Unreal Engine, which is kind of funny because most people use Unreal to actually make a game,” notes Hullum. “We’ve also got 2D animation and all kinds of other things.”

In the more recent seasons of Red vs. Blue, the crew utilized custom 3D animation for characters in a traditional pipeline with Maya and After Effects, which would then be integrated into the game footage with motion-capture. They’ve even had some seasons that were 100 percent animated. 

But, back when Red vs. Blue first started, Hullum and the gang used slightly different methods to bring their stories to life. 

“We called it ‘digital puppeteering,’” shares Hullum. “The way we would do it originally was we’d set up a multiplayer game environment, then we’d get the characters in there and have one extra character who would be the ‘cameraman.’ He’d never appear on screen, but you’d be watching from his perspective. Over the years, as they changed the games, and as we got to do more custom animation and things like that, they added the ‘Theater’ mode in Halo 3. So, you could stage your little play with your digital puppets, record in-game, and then pick your camera afterward and rerecord it and change things to slow motion and stuff like that.”

Hullum says he and the other creatives had heard of the word “machinima,” referring to the art of creating animations using video game engines but had no idea what the term meant. Not until Paul Marino from the Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences called them six months in to inform them that they were on the cusp of something great in the world of machinima.

“It allowed you to feel like you were having that kind of in-game experience with other people that were joking about the same kinds of things you’d joke about, like calling a military vehicle a ‘warthog’ when it looks nothing like one,” says Hullum. “And at the same time, there was a fun narrative, and a fun set of characters who felt like they could have been your close friends. All these elements just came together. And some of them were just fortuitous. And some of them came straight out of Bernie's brain. You couldn’t ask for a better concoction. We also found such wonderful partners with Microsoft and Bungie, Inc. back at that time, who supported us and encouraged us to keep going and do more.”

Rooster Teeth was also encouraged by the fan stories they’d receive, particularly from those in the military who confirmed that Red vs. Blue was a do-or-die, stranded-on-an-island type of show. 

“We had the greatest story from a fan who was stationed in Afghanistan,” shares Hullum. “And this could just be legend at this point. But it was 2003 or 2004 and they said they were stationed in a cave out there and they had a satellite uplink for only a few hours a day. And, of course, everything downloads slowly, and they would get the satellite connection in order to get their mission instructions for the day. But after that, if there was still bandwidth and still time, they would download Red vs. Blue.”

Very few series last for 18 seasons over the course of 21 years. And while Hullum says the show has been a fun barrel of laughs and a joy to make, it didn’t come without challenges. In their case, Halo updates welcomed by fans were often unwelcome changes to the Red vs. Blue crew. 

“There would be a new Halo game that would come out every two to three years and, when we would switch to that game, we’d find that the bugs that were in the old version of the game, which we were exploiting to make our show, had been removed or changed,” explains Hullum. “We had to go on this bug hunt and find new bugs to exploit.”

He adds, “There were times when the Halo guys reached out to us and said, ‘Do you guys want to see anything in the next version of the game?’ And we'd say ‘Yes, we'd love to see…’ this, this, this and this. And they’d say, ‘Okay, great. We’ll see what we can do. Also, we’ll fix these bugs.’ And we're like, ‘No, no, no! Don't fix them. Those bugs are more important than the features we requested.’”

These are memories that will continue to live on with the disbanded Rooster Teeth team, and through the witty, out-of-pocket humor of which Red vs. Blue made excellent use and married well with philosophical questions about the greater purpose of multi-player shooting games. 

“Everybody has a great time playing multiplayer and shooting the crap out of each other,” says Hullum. “But then you stop for one second and it’s like, ‘Wait, why are we doing this? Why are we fighting?’ There was a surrealist bent to it all that resonated with people. It’s certainly a special show and we wanted to have something that felt like a good ending, that people could feel satisfied with and not feel like the series just drifted off. It’s complete, it’s conclusive, and we got these characters where we wanted them to go. And I hope that people who have been watching the show and been around for a long time feel the same way. Then again, I also feel like you could watch this movie and really not know anything about the series.”

Rooster Teeth’s website will be shut down on May 15 so now’s the time to go back and explore old episodes of Red vs. Blue, also available on Rooster Teeth Animation’s YouTube channel. Hullum says there are definite plans for how to access Red vs. Blue after the website is no longer online, but the official announcement of those plans has yet to be shared. 

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at