By Peter "Mordia" Marks
January 22, 2002
Marcus Lehto, Halo's artistic lead, was recently kind enough to talk about what it was he did for Halo. "My job was to play the role of both art director and production artist," he began. As such, his duties, both managerial and creative, were multifaceted.
On the managerial side, he was responsible for scheduling work for the other artists on the team, and for devising and maintaining a consistent artistic style. On the creative side, Marcus designed, modeled and textured the human vehicles, the cyborg (in addition to doing some of his animations), all of the skies and many of the level exteriors. Once the art was done, Marcus created and imported tags so Halo's engine could deal properly with all the art.
Each piece of art required a number of different tools. All the models in the game, from the complex levels to the trees, vehicles and characters, were created with 3D Studio Max and exported to a custom format. Animations for the various characters were done in Character Studio with a custom-tailored biped plug-in.
Textures were all created in Adobe Photoshop with a very specific set of guidelines. Efforts were made to keep the textures at 512 x 512, or some reasonable multiple of 256, to make the most of the relatively limited texture cache memory. Each object in the game has a number of maps in addition to a basic color map. Detail maps show things like corrosion, scratches, scrapes and dirt. A reflection map can be added to an object or part of an object to make that surface reflect the scene around it. A complete texture consists of the basic color map, called a "base map," detail maps, reflection maps and a number of other layered bitmaps in which the RGB channels tell the engine certain things about how to treat the surface. For instance, the red channel gives the engine information about a surface's specularity.
For each completed texture, shaders must be created for the engine to translate the information in the various "maps" into on-screen eye candy. This is done in Halo's tag editor, "Guerrilla." After this is done, a piece of art is ready to be viewed in the game.
Of course, none of this is possible without cool ideas. Marcus explained that the artistic emphasis was decidedly on "cool." The human vehicles, for instance, were all physically based to some degree on animals. Real-world experience also played a part, however. Marcus remembered his misspent youth, when he and his friends would go off-roading in a 4 x 4 truck. When he was working on a "feel" for the warthog, he tried to recapture the coolness of off-roading and expand on it in every direction.
Concerning human technology in general, the artists examined current technology design trends and tried to extrapolate those ideas into a future where mankind was at war with a race bent on their destruction.
While the amount of work necessary for each piece of art that went into Halo was sometimes, in Mr. Lehto's characteristically understated opinion, "a pain in the ass," the consensus is that the results were well worth the effort and that in any future projects which use similar technology, the process will only be streamlined.
Marcus worked with Eric Arroyo (a 3D artist here at Bungie) to create the vehicles on the right. Click on an image to see a 360º spinning view of each object. Requires QuickTime to play.
Each NPC character model had several
different modular texture maps.