A new look at iconic characters: the stunning concept art of Halo 4
Paul Davies is a huge Halo fan, so writing Awakening: The Art of Halo 4 was something close to a dream job. “343 Industries were very trusting with the art. They said, basically, here is everything, take a look through, give us some feedback on how you think the pacing of the book should go, and that’s basically where it started. Very free.” Davies began to pick through the images before he had played the game, which made the project a little more awkward than it might have been otherwise. In many cases they didn’t even know what they were looking at when organizing the concept art.
Organizing the images, deciding how to lay out the book, all these things were described as a discussion with 343 as they discussed how things should look in the finished collection. This was important, because the information about the game’s story and plot came through very late. “Even though I had read pretty much everything, a lot of the visual information we had was unrecognizable. It was brand new. So it was interesting, because we were kind of politely, as a book publisher, asking for guidance,” Davies explained. 343 helped Titan piece the book together, but it was months before they were able to play the game and understand what was going on with the characters and settings in the images.
Titan had published another book of art from the Halo series called Halo: The Art of Building Worlds, and that book was filled with original notes and sketches of Master Chief and the early version of the characters. You were able to see where the ideas and characters came from, but much of the art was very rough. With Halo 4 almost all of the art was up to a much higher standard, even during the early stages of productions.
Davies described the art of Halo 4 as being images you would feel comfortable hanging on your wall. “Where the initial stuff Bungie was showing was not quite… the artists weren’t as professionally trained or whatever,” he said. “I gotta be careful what I say because I don’t want to upset anyone. This whole team at 343 had been brought together, I think at the beginning of the book Kenneth Scott (the Senior Art Directof of Halo 4) called them the monsters of art, like the monsters of rock, these really are headline acts.” While much of the early work from Bungie was playing with ideas, Halo 4’s concept art came out swinging. You can see many of the strong designs in the artwork Titan has let us publish in this story.
Of course, the original Halo title started life as a Mac game before moving to the original Xbox, and Halo 4 is the latest entry of a huge franchise on a current-generation system. “I guess you need a higher level of detail and atmosphere, and understanding of what goes into what will make this a game from the concept art now than perhaps people understood or really valued back in 2001,” Davies said. The notes and images he looked through while creating the book were fun and often playful, but when the art was created it was of stunning quality. He compared it to world class athletes goofing off before a game before doing amazing things on the field.
He’s since played the game on Heroic, and is halfway through Legendary. “There is a section of the book that’s marked out as concept work that didn’t make it into the game,” Davies said, and pointed out that much of the work there reminded him of the work of Chris Foss. “You just look at it and you don’t really know what’s going on, and it doesn’t even really look too much like Halo.” He described the image of a fantastic landscape rendered in high contrast, brightly lit, and featuring large bulbous stalagmite structures that dwarf a Warthog. It’s very different than the rest of the game, and Davies said he would have liked to have seen that scene in the final game.
What’s interesting is that Davies had read about some items seen in the art, but he had merely imagined them differently. “We would be looking at it and go, what the hell is that? Trying to piece together the various elements that belong to like, say the [redacted] or the [spoiler] and that goes with that,” he explained. Now that the game is out, and many of you have played it, it’s much easier to enjoy the art work that helped to define the game’s visuals.