» Blog Archive Halo Guru Frank O’Connor Discusses Halo Legends -
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The Halo universe expands into anime this spring via Halo Legends, a
DVD anthology of episodic films based within the popular game’s
mythology produced by 343 Industries, a unit within Microsoft Game
Studios. One of the key orchestrators of Halo’s morphing from
interactive entertainment to on-screen magic is Frank O’Connor, the
Halo franchise development director.

Warner Home Video will distribute Halo Legends as a Special Edition
2-disc version on DVD and Blu-Ray™, as well as single disc DVD and
available On Demand and Digital Download. The new street date is
February 16, 2010.

Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, O’Connor is renowned
throughout the gaming industry for his insightful expertise and
innovative direction working with Halo. After a long career as a
journalist for several gaming publications, O’Connor has parlayed a
keen sense of the gaming industry – and a devout love for the games
therein – into a career as a creator of content and story lines for
the worldwide phenomenon that is Halo.

For Halo Legends, O’Connor worked directly with Japanese screenwriters
on each of the seven stories – spread over eight episodic installments
– that include all the elements familiar to Halo fans. Exploring the
origin and historical events of the Halo universe and its intriguing
characters. Halo Legends has been created in the same breakthrough
format as The Animatrix and Batman Gotham Knight with each individual
episode imagined by a cutting-edge, renowned Japanese anime

Most of the individual episodes fall within Halo’s 26th Century
mythology as the battle between humanity and aliens rages on in an
attempt to protect Earth and mankind’s ever-dwindling collection of
space colonies. The dramatic, action-packed stories feature characters
and locales familiar to Halo fans, and episodes range in length
between 10 and 17 minutes – resulting in nearly two hours of animated

O’Connor took a few moments from his busy schedule to discuss the
exciting production and offer a glimpse behind the scenes in the
creation of Halo Legends.

Halo Legends not only shifts from interactive game to animated film,
but also to a variety of anime styles. Was there any worry that going
anime would make the production unrecognizable as a Halo brand?

The Halo brand is strong enough to survive and even thrive through
interpretation. Halo iconography is recognizable in virtually any
form. When you look at a Warthog that’s drawn by a Japanese artist or
a Spartan that’s animated in a way you’ve never seen it before, it’s
still intrinsically Halo. The brand really lends itself to comics and
animation beautifully. It withstands all sorts of interpretation and
is still recognizable Halo, rather than just diluting and becoming
generic sci-fi.

The wonderful thing about a completely immersive world like Halo is
that it’s not just the visuals that are instantly recognizable. There
are so many elements involved in playing the game, including the
audio, the music, the sound effects – it’s all part of the experience.
When you’ve played these games for six or seven years, and you hear a
Warthog engine, you instantly recognize it. So in an episode as
distinctly different visually as “The Duel,” it may take a while
before you actually see that energy sword and it’s apparent that this
is Halo, but the sounds might bring you into this story much earlier
as being from the Halo universe.

This is a world that people come to know with great, detailed
intimacy. You might’ve watched Star Wars 20 times, but Halo fans have
played the game hundreds and hundreds of times. Most of our mid-level
players, say those at Level 33, have logged more than 2,000 games just
on Halo 3. If you’re a Level 50 player, that number goes up

How did you decide which stories to tell in Halo Legends?

There are really two driving forces behind our creative development.
First, there were things we were curious about. We wanted to
investigate what shaped the Elite civilization, their solidifying of
the Covenant, and their place in it. The second, but equal part of the
equation was that we wanted to provide backstory about what fans are
curious about. Our story for “The Package” fits that neatly – fans
want to see more about the Spartans, and they wanted to see them
fighting in a group. Normally you see one Spartan in battle – the
question came up, “What happens when you have that force multiplier?”

We came up with dozens of topics, but these were the hot button
stories. For “The Babysitter,” we were interested in the rivalry
between the ODSTs and the Spartans, so we wanted to put them together
and see what happened. “The Duel” gave us the chance to delve into the
pure civilization and the futile aspects of that society. We used “The
Package” to present a story that not only featured the Master Chief
but had multiple Spartans fighting together.

Can you give a quick breakdown of what fans can expect in the other
Halo Legends stories?

“Prototype” is very Japanese in style as we worked with Bones and
director Yasushi Muraki – both the studio and Muraki are huge in Japan
right now. He has created an anime sub-genre called Muraki Circus,
which features a lot of flying, mecha fighting, weapons, explosions,
dog-fighting – and that fit perfectly with the creation of a Halo
prototype weapon. Still, we really wanted to make it a human story, so
we worked with Muraki to blend those two ideas. Ultimately, it’s the
introduction of a prototype of Spartan equipment that’s never been
employed, and played out in the very pure anime style of Muraki

The Halo universe is big and expansive, and “Origins” gave us the
chance to take Halo newbies through that universe one step at a time.
At the same time, for Halo fans, we wanted to go really deep and show
them things they’ve imagined but never seen before. Part I of
“Origins” is the forerunner of civilization, and the advent of the
flood threat that led to the creation of the Halos. “Origins Part 2”
deals with the current Halo universe and everything from the
advancement of human space travel to contemporary Halo fiction.

“Odd One Out” is just flat out fun. We worked with Toei Animation to
create an episode that Halo fans and responsible parents could show
their kids. It’s all fun, lots of parody and no gunfire, along the way
poking fun at all the macho archetypes that inhabit the Halo universe.

You’re going to have to see “Homecoming” – it’s about Spartan origins,
and it’s just too spoiler-filled to describe it. I will say this,
though – it’s got the cutest poster of any of the stories, and that’s
ironic because it’s a really dark story.

How did you balance giving the Japanese artists balance specific
instructions vs. creative freedom?

We didn’t try to control their every pen stroke. There were some
things that needed to be maintained – a Warthog has to look like a
Warthog. But we gave them a lot of creative freedom. “Prototype” is an
excellent example in that the actual prototype is an entirely brand
new piece of Spartan equipment. I think the Japanese artists had a
good time trying to create new inventions, and for the most part we
embraced those creations. There were a few things we rejected or
simply worked with the artists until we had them just right. We gave
very loose descriptions, mostly emotional threads rather than pinpoint
direction. But in many cases, we simply said, “Here’s some goalposts,
but we want your interpretation.” In most cases, they exceeded our
wildest expectations.

Why go with anime over animation?

The funny thing is that the question these days is “What is anime?” It
has expanded in so many directions. But still, there’s a distinct way
anime deals with the narrative in animation, exploring ideas and
ambitious techniques that we don’t often do in western animation. That
was one of the things that drew us to anime.

The other difference is that there aren’t that many outfits (in the
U.S.) that can produce shorts or an anthology of shorts in the way we
saw this project playing out, and yet Japan has a very rich pool of
talent and studios that are perfectly suited to this type of
production. And we were anxious to work with those talented artists
and studios. We made a wish list of the studios and pretty much got
everyone we wanted.

Were there any artists that wanted to work no Halo Legends as badly as
you wanted to work with them?

Shinji Aramaki is sort of a central figure – he works well with
everyone. There’s no ego there – he’s a nice collaborative force. We
worked closely with Aramaki on “The Package,” and with Aramaki and
Bones on “Prototype.” The great part is that he’s a huge Halo fan – he
has completed the game on “Legendary” difficulty, which most people
haven’t done – let alone a legendary Japanese director. He’d always
wanted to work on a Halo project, so he was already well versed on the
fiction and was excited about the opportunity.

How much of a learning curve was there for the anime studios in
getting fully vested in the Halo universe?

Some of the studios had to learn Halo from scratch, so we educated
them in the universe and they took that and ran with it – and they
became genuine, passionate fans. I’ve spent a significant amount of
time in Japan, going over the game, the artwork, the concept art. A
lot of the artists were playing the game at the same time, so I played
with them. We felt it was important that they were very understanding
of the game. As we went along, every single overseas team had someone
on their staff that became their resident Halo nerd, their internal

Does Halo Legends have an overall theme that unites all seven stories?

These episodes don’t have a rigid super arc beyond the theme of
artistic interpretation. The individual pieces are made up of a lot of
very universal story themes. It’s the idea of a hero’s journey – every
single episode features a heroic archetype. There are the more
traditional Achilles and Ulysses types, the clever ones that succeed
through craft and guile and wit. Sacrifice and heroism are general
themes, but that’s germane to the game of Halo. There’s not much time
for romance when you’re shooting at everything. Ultimately, the
episodes are like the game in that you’re putting yourself in the
shoes of a hero and his or her journey.

Halo is a very interactive experience. Why will fans embrace the
opportunity to sit and watch rather than interact and play?

Halo Legends does the reverse. I think we have a lot of players that
probably don’t fully understand the narrative of the fiction. A lot of
people don’t stop and smell the roses while playing – mainly because
it’s easy to miss the narrative when you’re surrounded by explosions
and Banshees. This gives fans a chance to enjoy Halo in a completely
different experience – to sit down on a couch and take in the story
without worrying about being shot or how much health you have left.
For anyone interested in a preview I suggest they log into to Halo
Waypoint on Xbox LIVE to see preview episodes of Halo Legends running
through early next year every Saturday.

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