Axis creates crazy freefall explosive madness for Halo 5: Guardians

Check out this great cinematic by Axis Animation, produced for Microsoft and 343 Industries, for the latest Halo game

Axis Animation has completed a full-on action-packed cinematic for Halo 5: Guardians.

We asked the team how they put it together for Microsoft and 343 Industries.

Michael Burns: How did you approach the project ?

Stu Aitken - Creative Director: We were invited to pitch last year and we had worked closely with 343 Industries before on Spartan Ops for Halo 4.

It was really clear from the pitch stage onward that for this specific sequence 343 Industries were really keen to keep the direction and animation in house so they could craft exactly what they wanted. Our job at Axis was to directly hook the work they were doing into our pipeline efficiently, leaving room for feedback and iteration, and to carry out all the lighting, rendering, FX, making it look stunning and blow people away.

Michael Burns: What was the biggest element/asset that you had to create for this project?

Sergio Caires - CG Supervisor: The terrain was particularly challenging due to the fact that we start out in freefall and fly for miles with no camera cuts - and that environment has to accommodate hundreds of characters, vehicles and ships engaging in a massive battle.

This level of complexity meant that we could not follow a traditional workflow. We relied on a completely procedurally generated environment in order to have coverage over the gigantic area.

We took delivery of a very low resolution ground geometry from 343 Industries, and I set about converting it into high resolution VDB volumes which were processed using custom procedural noises to add rocky details and overhangs.

Naturally VDB volumes could never be high resolution enough to do it all, so these procedural noises were also used to apply render time displacements. In the end, the terrain was 100% procedurally generated and textured other than masks to localize small changes. (SC)

MB: Did you create any special particle effects, shaders etc, for the snow?

SC: Obviously there are fluid simulations all over the place, and a ton of PBD particle work for snow interaction. We crammed in everything that we could in the timescale we had. This was definitely a case of more is best. I have to congratulate our FX guys for the monumental effort they put into.

MB: How did the explosions/battle elements develop?

SC: We started working early on doing R&D for various explosion types that we knew would be in the sequence. It was a no brainer that explosion mixed with snow was going to be a key element for the sequence. All of these FX, were lit by scattered light from the sun as it passes through the atmosphere. It was really important that this natural lighting approach gave some fantastic real world results.

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Michael Burns: There’s a lot going on! How do you keep the camera moves so fluid - and from going crazy?

Stu Aitken : These types of unbroken takes can make things very challenging indeed. You lose the easy structure that normal cuts and shots give you in terms of required frame ranges for all sorts of things, so you end up finding other methods of structurally dividing the work up. For example, a whip pan might take the camera off in a new direction, or we might go over a cliff edge or a vehicle wipes across the shot. These sorts of moments allow us to bookend various bits and pieces within the overall sequence and to split the work out to various people who can work on those in parallel.

You had to be able to fully grasp what was going on at every point, that was quite a tricky balance which was first addressed by the excellent choreography that the 343 Industries team had completed in previz, but then had to be matched by us ensuring that that clarity continued with how we used lighting and FX.

MB: Great character animation - any insights on how this was created?

Debbie Ross - Executive Producer: 343 Industries took care of all the previz and animation, their team deserve massive kudos for pulling together such complex choreography.

MB: What composed your main modelling/texturing and rendering pipeline? What about compositing?

Sergio Caires: At Axis we use pretty much any software for Modelling, however the mainstays are Modo, Maya and Zbrush. We also use Maya for Animation & Rigging and Houdini for Shading, Lighting, FX and rendering.  All of our compositing is handled in Fusion and on the Opening Cinematic we tried as much as possible to pull the scene together in camera.

MB: Was music composed specially for the sequence?

Debbie Ross: 343 Industries' amazing composers and sound designers did all of the audio for this piece - as always contributing massively to the overall impact and keeping it very much in the Halo universe.