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Frankie Powers The Master Chief’s Inaugural Adventure in ‘Halo: The Fall of Reach’

The Sequence Group taps Cospective’s cloud-based review and approval toolset to create a 3D-animated cinematic for AAA game franchise.

LONDON -- In the world of fan-favorite AAA game franchises, building on blockbuster experiences of the past comes with big expectations, and a lot of vigilant scrutiny from overprotective fans. So, when tasked with telling the origin story of gaming’s number one FPS protagonist in the medium of fully-animated 3D, The Sequence Group knew it had something of a significant task on its hands.

When it comes to Halo and its legion of ardent, lore-obsessed devotees, nothing less than epic will do for any new entry into the Halo canon. So, when starting work on Halo: The Fall of Reach, the episodic origin story of Halo’s iconic and celebrated Master Chief, The Sequence Group knew a careful, considered, and delicate approach was required. With Frankie’s cloud-based review and approval toolset on its side, Sequence was more than up to the task, crafting 65 minutes of content across a challenging six-month timeframe.

Crafting mythology

Intense freeform gameplay and an engaging online multiplayer mode might have fueled Halo’s meteoric rise to popularity, but there’s far more substance bubbling beneath the surface of headshots and kill-to-death ratios.

Halo has become synonymous with cinematic sci-fi storytelling, recounting a sprawling story that spans not just planets and galaxies, but also video games, comics and novels. The Sequence Group has some past experience with the Halo mythology, having previously been responsible for multiple types of video content across the ongoing video game series’ various entries. It’s a lineage that Sequence is more than proud to continue playing a part in.

“To have an opportunity like The Fall of Reach, and to expand the narrative of such an established and expansive transmedia universe, is absolutely an honor,” commented Dan Sioui, executive producer at Sequence. “Just the ability to concept and model assets, and to help build and relay the Halo lore to such a dedicated audience, it’s truly been an amazing experience for us.”

Developer 343 Industries, the vanguard of all things Halo, originally proposed The Fall of Reach as a short 2D motion comic to coincide with the release of the latest video game instalment Halo 5: Guardians. The project soon took on a more ambitious scale when Sequence pitched a fully animated 3D approach instead, feeling that it would better engage with the Halo series’ fervent following.

“To be tasked with telling the origin story of Halo’s Master Chief is not something to be taken lightly, especially when working in the medium of 3D,” admits Sioui, considering the challenges of the project. “We wanted to produce something that would really grab fans of the series, and we knew that we had to tackle the job head on to deliver great results.”

Nevertheless, with a team of less than 50 and tight six-month schedule to produce over an hour of ultra-polished 3D content, the team knew it was going to have to pull out every trick in the bag.

A new dimension

Not only had Sequence opted to go 3D on the Fall of Reach project, but the team was also driving production from start to end entirely in-house. Working with the script adaptation based on Eric Nylund’s novel source material, the nimble, compact Sequence team was responsible for art concepts, modeling, rigging, animation, facial, and comp work, handling pre-production all the way to final broadcast delivery.

“Given the short schedule, it was incredibly ambitious for Sequence to propose a 3D pipeline,” says Sioui of the project. “Producing so much content in such a short time period and with a relatively small team wasn’t easy, across the 800 shots there was a huge amount of 2D and 3D assets, backgrounds, animation and composting to accomplish, with production phases often happening in tandem. Close communication and asset coordination was absolutely essential to ensure minimal delay or hold-ups.”

That’s where Frankie came in. Using the web-based review and approval solution, Sequence was able to accelerate communication, boost the decision making process, and ensure that the core creative process on Fall of Reach amounted to something Halo fans could be proud of.

Halo at the speed of light

For Sequence, Frankie has long been a staple, with 90 percent of its clients being outside its Vancouver hometown. “It’s imperative we have a way to review content in sync, especially on projects like Fall of Reach,” explains Sioui. “Before Frankie, communication with clients would be done by telephone or email, and that just means longer, more elaborate conversations, and occasionally resulted in miscommunication. With Frankie, it’s completely different. You can share multiple versions of shots, assets or audio reviews with the client, and they can instantly review and compare revisions made before directly commenting with notes on how these changes work for the group. In addition, having a PDF export of the review session linked to specific images and notes that we can share with clients provides a perfect summary document that completely streamlines revision expectations.”

It’s not rocket science

On The Fall of Reach accuracy was key, and Frankie played an integral part in ensuring expectations were met. One particular example involved a 3D ship model, upon which the Sequence team needed to place missile ports, while establishing the weapon’s anticipated trajectory.

“With such a detailed 3D model provided by the client it was challenging to determine specifically where on the complex geometry the missiles would fire from,” recalled Sioui. “Thankfully, with Frankie you can discuss specific shots in real-time, zoom in, use the pen tool to clarify specific issues. We could zoom in on high-resolution images of the ship model and visibly mark on the screen with the pen tool the exact location of the weapon and the subsequent trajectory. This eliminated any guesswork and saved considerable modeling and animation labor for the team. That kind of thing is hugely important when working on a project of this scale on this timeframe.”

Life after Frankie

For Sequence, a company working on one of the world’s largest entertainment franchises in absolutely minute detail, a toolset that connects not just companies but also thought processes is absolutely vital. Frankie stands as that turnkey solution.

“Ultimately, we wanted to tell a compelling and engaging story, and I think we accomplished that,” says Sioui, reflecting back on the Fall of Reach experience. “Producing 65 minutes of high-quality content in six months with a small team is something we wouldn’t necessarily recommend, but the reviews have been positive, and Frankie certainly played a part in that.”

“The ability to review assets and videos in sync, streamline revision requests with additional clarity, and avoid extraneous internal labor has been a major benefit to the way we conduct business with our offsite partners,” Sioui concludes. “The Sequence team would definitely recommend Frankie to other studios, if they’re looking something that offers ease of use combined with improved client communication. It makes projects like Fall of Reach possible.”

Source: Cospective

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.