I Talk The Mandalorian, Borderlands 3, God Of War And More With Kenny DiGiordano And Chris Ferriter Of Halon Entertainment

As part of our SDCC 2020 coverage I got the chance to speak with key people at Halon Entertainment. They are behind the FX for several top movies, shows , and games and they were kind enough to speak to us about what they have in the works.

Updated(Season 2 Trailer)

I spoke with Halon Entertainment CEO, Chris Ferriter; and visualization supervisor, Kenny DiGiordano.

What are some of the things audiences can see from you in Season 1 of The Mandalorian?


(KD) We had the privilege of working alongside the production designer, Andrew Jones, and his art department to create places that we haven’t really seen in the Star Wars universe before. We worked closely with the VFX dept. of ILM to get assets that they might have already and even location scouting scans that they have done for the locations planned to use. From there we were able to figure out what would fit on the set and how many different setups were needed to complete the shoots. We worked closely with set decoration to make sure that assets used in the virtual backgrounds matched what was on the physical sets in all of the locations. We needed to figure out what the ground was going to be on the physical sets so we could match them. In some cases, they matched the look of what we created digitally. It was a fun process to be involved with so many different departments.


How has your work changed having to work virtually in terms of challenges and deadlines?


(KD) I’m not sure the deadlines will be affected by a working from home scenario. A schedule is still a schedule. If we find that there are some new processes that are slowing us down then we need to make sure we are ready to counter that and become more efficient. Whether it’s a staffing issue or a new tool to become more efficient, you would need to make sure your teams are successful and able to hit those deadlines.


Can you tell us how the process of getting footage, decided on the visuals, creating, submitting, and approval goes?


(KD) Being on location with the production provides the most efficient feedback in my opinion. While that’s the most ideal situation that doesn’t mean that we always had that option so there was still a good portion that we reviewed virtually. In the age of COVID, this hasn’t changed much except we can’t be on location so it’s all virtual now. We work with coordinators to get things sent out and reviewed in a timely manner. We are more often than not provided the script or storyboards that help us to create our visuals. Once we have that as a guide we start by creating the assets and animation in maya and then continuing to create the assets and visuals inside of Unreal Engine 4. Using UE4 really allows us to show the creatives something closer to what they might get as a final result. The lighting and more realistic materials really help drive the visuals and what they expect to see on screen. We will continuously send screenshots or references we are using for approval. Sometimes this sparks new ideas and allows us to take things in a new, more interesting direction. The use of all the different chat programs can be used to ask questions and we usually get instant feedback. We make sure our meetings are scheduled to get approvals and hit milestones to avoid heading in the wrong direction. In terms of the footage, we are creating all the footage for our previs and video game cinematics. We also do our postvis inside Unreal Engine and we get the plates to work with from the client just as we would send them any footage for review. So again, unless we’re on location, there is still a lot of virtual interaction anyway.


As someone who loves games; what can you tell me about working on Borderlands 3 and God of War and what you contributed to the game?


CF – Our scope of work was very different on those two projects, specifically because our contributions to God of War were for in-game content vs. Borderlands 3, which was trailers, commercials, and other PR assets.


For God of War, we executed previs on several technically complicated sequences following Kratos and Atreus on their journey. Due to the challenge of choreographing camera movement within a cinematic language that does not utilize any camera cuts, we worked closely with Cinematic Director Dori Arazi to create a natural camera flow in complex multi-character scenes. The results are immersive short films within the game that seamlessly blend the story from gameplay to cinematics, and back again.


For Borderlands 3, we were originally tasked by 2K Games with creating the “We are Mayhem” trailer, which would debut at E3 2019. That work quickly expanded into a launch trailer, a bunch of social media animation assets, and a massive advertising campaign where we worked with Chromista to create live-action/animation hybrid commercials that were parodies of common advertising tropes. All this work was done in Gearbox’s customized version of Unreal so it matched the look and feel of the game precisely. In the end, the scope of work was pretty massive, with the team responsible for developing and refining creative, storyboarding, motion capture production, animation, virtual camera, lighting, effects, motion graphics, and final rendering in Unreal Engine (realtime).


What were the challenges of each?


CF: With God of War, It was very complicated camera choreography requiring a lot of previs animation and virtual camera blocking. The concept of telling a story without camera cuts seems deceptively simple, but once you get into it you realize it’s incredibly hard to stage simple scenes, such as a conversation between multiple actors, without resorting to dramatic whip-pans which take the player out of the experience. Creating camera animation that doesn’t draw attention to itself relied on very carefully staged sets and animation. Ultimately it was a bit like a dance, with everything falling into place at exactly the right moment to motivate the camera move. The result was a very immersive experience for the player where the lines between your in-game pov and the cinematic camera were blurred beyond recognition.


For Borderlands 3, the challenges were very different. There was the challenge of scope and schedule, but there is also this very irreverent style of the universe that we had to express. It took a while for us to find the story, and I can remember being very doubtful about the direction we were going when I first looked over the storyboards. The first shot after the Lilith introductions scene is a massive corkscrew shot that twists you into this world like you’re on a roller coaster. I was talking with our director Daniel Gregoire, and I expressed my skepticism and feeling that the scale of this shot was too big and would take too much time/effort to pull off, but he firmly believed this was the best way to launch the viewer into this universe. Ultimately he was right and that worked out to be my favorite shot.



Was Borderlands 3 being available on multiple platforms harder than working on a game with only a single platform?


CF: No, that didn’t cause us any problems that I can remember. We worked directly out of Gearbox’s live build of the game though, and since it was still in development while we were working it was a constant challenge to keep up with the changes the development team was making on a daily basis. Gearbox was a fantastic partner though and was very supportive of our needs.



How many projects do you currently have in the works and can you tell us what some of them are?


(KD) We are involved early on in most projects and sometimes it doesn’t even get a trailer for 2 years after we’ve had our hands on it. One of the recent projects I had worked on that I can briefly mention is, “Bill and Ted: Face the Music”. I was such a big fan of the first two movies and to be a part of this legacy is a childhood dream come true.


How has a lack of conventions affected your work and what do you look forward to when they are able to resume?


(KD) I think one of the things that affects us most by not being around in-person is a breakdown in communication. Sometimes you’re just given a task and you do that task without question, while if you were there in-person you could discuss the task and give instant feedback. I’ve found it’s nice to get everyone on one call and just talk through ideas. I also feel some people are more hesitant to reach out and ask questions over chat but when you’re in the same room it’s really easy to just lean over to your neighbor and ask. I guess you can say that I’m really looking forward to getting back to a routine and people interaction the most.