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Thursday, 23 July 2009

Halo goes Animatrix

Microsoft's new project, which it's announcing Thursday at Comic-Con for the first time, is a series of seven shorts set in the Halo universe and done in Japanese anime style.

Involved are the animation studios Bones, Casio Entertainment, Production I.G., Studio4[Degrees]C, and Toei Animation as well as the creative director helping to oversee production for Microsoft: Shinji Aramaki, director of "Appleseed" and "Appleseed Ex Machina."

Microsoft is financing and overseeing production through 343 Industries, its new internal division that's in charge of everything Halo. It's planning to preview them on the online gaming service Xbox Live this fall and has then enlisted Warner Bros. -- the game companies still need a little help from Hollywood -- to release them on DVD, Blu-ray and other digital platforms in early 2010.

Aramaki is directing his own short that tells the history of the Spartans, a warrior class in the game's fictional universe that main character Master Chief is part of. Though Halo isn't particularly popular in Japan -- most of its 27 million units sold have been in North America and Europe -- Aramaki said he's a player and was immediately interested in the possibility.

"I liked that this would be an anthology of human stories told from different characters' perspectives,"
he explained.

Frank O'Connor, creative director of 343, gave a peek at some of the other Halo Legend shorts. Studio4 C's project, tentatively called "Origins," is a two-parter that's about 30 minutes long in total and tells the entire 100,000 year history of the Halo universe. Another, from Toei, is the only one outside of the official canon and pokes fun at some of the game's characters.

Within the general anime style, the visual look of the projects differs widely.

"It's a wildly varied genre, but anime creators do things with weapons and vehicles and technology nobody else does, and that marries very well with Halo," he explained. "It's amazing to see some of the new stuff they're introducing and how neatly it maps to the visual aesthetics in the Halo universe."

Microsoft gave the production companies largely free reign in how the shorts looked, but O'Connor and others were heavily involved in developing the stories and making sure all the details were right.

HaloLegends2 "Depending on the studio, we did everything from writing the stories to feeding them with characters and scenarios they could explore," he said.

At first, he was a bit wary about revealing any details, but O'Connor quickly granted that when Microsoft releases a trailer for Halo Legends at its Comic-Con panel, fans are sure to pick apart every frame.

"I think the core 'Halo' fans will recognize key moments from the universe never shown in the game," he said. "They're moments where people wanted more depth. That's where this fits."
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