So, yeah. I got to create a couple videos for PAX 2007. Definitely the highlight of the show for me, but also the cause of great stress.
It all started with a phone call. I’d been on familiar terms with Travis for more than a year, but it was the first time I’d ever talked to him without a game interface between us. He wanted to talk about creating specific Halo 3 visuals for the Omegathon, but the secrecy was so tight on the final round, he couldn’t risk accidentally mistyping anything over World of Warcraft. It may seem trivial – knowing the final game of the Omegathon – but it’s a secret some people would pay money to have.
The idea, passed around the Penny Arcade office, was to have the Minibosses play a rocking cover of the Halo Mjolnir theme. Everyone was expecting a decades-old, retro video game, so they wanted to create a huge spectacle when they revealed one of the most anticipated video game titles of the year. What would complement the Minibosses? Someone suggested extracting the Cortana images from the Halo 3 2006 E3 trailer.
Calls were made to Bungie, to see if they wanted to whip something specific together, but they were busy putting the finishing touches on Halo 3 for the looming September release date. In the meantime, could I do something with the E3 trailer as a plan B? Hell, I didn’t know, but I sure wanted to try!
The next day I downloaded the highest quality version of the trailer I could find, a nice fat 1280×544 HD Quicktime video. My first impressions didn’t give me great hope. The isolated segments of Cortana were very short. When I went frame-by-frame, I discovered that most of the blue static that gave it such style was actually composited over the top of the too-recognizable Halo elements. I wasted some time in Photoshop, seeing if I could isolate just the blue and white, but I always ended up with highlights from the background, too. All I could really get were tiny, one-or-two second pieces of Cortana. Not nearly enough to fill out the presentation.
Not only that, but there was audio underneath Cortana’s monologue. I eliminated some of it with Audition, but to reduce it any farther began to alter her voice.
I spent much of that afternoon slicing up Bungie’s intellectual property (and feeling bad about it), looping and rotating and reversing and duplicating elements of their static, just to get maybe 20 seconds worth of video. I wasn’t sure it would be enough.
I compressed the rough edit down to something reasonable for e-mail and fired off a copy to Travis. I wanted to be clear that it was a rough edit, that I didn’t consider it finished by a long shot, but I needed to know if I was heading in the right direction. Here’s my e-mail, with a link to the video file I attached:
Okay, so a progress check.
I know that Bungie might come through with something that’ll make this project obsolete, but that’s fine. Great, in fact. I feel a little weird mangling their IP.
First and foremost, this is a rough draft (in iPhone format!) just to see if I’m going in the right direction. Watch it first, maybe, then check the notes below.
Things I’ve noticed:
Placing the bits of monologue right next to each other emphasizes their differences. The bits of notes and chords that are still there, the differences in the voice because some audio editing was done. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to completely repair the audio, but it could be good enough.
Especially if, you know, loud music is playing over top of the whole thing.
(Knowing the exact length of this mini-event would be great. Probably won’t happen. How are we going to sync this with the live music?)
Much of the blue flashy light effects are duplicated from other areas in the video. When you watch the original trailer, you’ll realize a lot of that static goes on over top of the recognizable Halo figure and background. I had to trim all that off. To fill in black areas, we can alter (reverse, play backwards, flip, etc.) any section we’re already using.
The sections of a recognizable talking head are so short that I don’t think we’ll be able to keep the head on screen the whole time. Too repetitive.
The ending, I think, could be awesome. Especially if we can somehow sync to the music like the original trailer did. I left the end-music in this rough draft to get a feel for how it could be done.
I think the “3” logo should definitely stay. I think the Bungie logo can go, but that means cloning in more blue static. I replaced “Finish the Fight 2007″ with “Omegathon 2007,” though “finish the fight” is rather appropriate for the final round.
Comments? Be brutal with your criticism.
I expected to get a lot of feedback, some good directions for the next step. I didn’t expect Travis to forward it to the Penny Arcade guys, nor the responses I’d get from them.