Project: Killzone 2 Intro Cinematic
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and Guerrilla Games called on Axis yet again to deliver a breathtaking sequence for the next installment of the epic Killzone game franchise. Killzone 2 is set two years after the Helghast assault on Vekta and the ISA are now taking the fight to the enemy’s home world of Helghan.
Directed at Axis by Stuart Aitken this cinematic intro saw Aitken and the Axis team execute one of their most ambitious projects to date. Sony’s Creative Services Group, who had been developing the creative idea and script alongside the team at Guerrilla, initially approached Axis with their ideas. It was then that Aitken became involved with further development being done between the three companies.
The sequence starts with the familiar tones of Brian Cox reprising his role as the Helghan leader Scolar Visari. Echoing the cinematic intro to the first Killzone game, also created by the Axis team, Visari's impassioned speech to the Helghan people provides an emotional backdrop to the entire sequence.
The opening camera pullback soon reveals that Visari is in fact being televised via an ISA news report within ISA command, watched intently by Killzone 2's principle character, Sev. From this initial shot the camera continues in one three minute long unbroken cut, taking the viewer on an epic journey as we follow the ISA invasion fleet departing from their base on Vekta, out into interplanetary space and down into the hostile atmosphere of the planet Helghan.
‘When we were offered the opportunity to work with Sony and Guerrilla again on Killzone we jumped at the chance’ says Axis Executive Producer Richard Scott. ‘We spent a lot of time during the pitch phase exploring different styles and look development for the intro and it was clear to Sony that we were passionate about the project’.
Following the pitch phase and with the decisions made as to the look of the intro, Aitken and his team launched into the pre-production stages working on storyboards and 2d animatics. This process allowed them to plan how the single camera move would work.
‘The storyboarding and development of the 2d animatic was just the start of a long road to getting the camera move to work’ says Aitken. ‘After we had the 2d animatic working in terms of overall framing and timing we moved over to 3d layout where we had to work very hard to get the camera motion to work across the vast distances and changes of scale involved. In one shot we go from a scale where one persons eye fills the entire frame to sweeping past planets alongside tumbling mile long spaceships and back again – this was definitely the most challenging camera move we had ever attempted!’ he continued.
There were other major challenges to be faced by the Axis team. The sequence features some of the studios best character work, especially visible on the Scolar Visari character that bookends the intro at the start and in a final reprise at the end. The fact that he is seen in extreme close up with all the focus on his performance that this entails, meant that the team had to pay a lot of attention, to wrinkles, blemishes, skin shaders and facial deformation to ensure a suitably impressive result.
In addition the sequence features a huge range of complex visual effects including dramatic ship explosions, dense planetary atmospheres filled with storm clouds, battlefield smoke, slow motion ground explosions and gruesome blood splatters. ‘Working in the Killzone world is always a challenge and a pleasure.’ says Axis Producer Debbie Ross. ‘It is so rich in terms of back story and detail. Guerilla always work very hard to establish a distinct look and style that it is important for us to follow – its always clear which direction the look should take.’
The Axis team was supplied with some game assets to work from, which were converted for use within the studios pipeline, including converting the game engine normal maps into true detailed displacements to increase the levels of detail. Axis also had to pay a lot of attention to recreating the visual look of the game, as the player would experience it on the PlayStation 3 platform. However not all the assets required for the intro existed at the time of production so it was down to the Axis modeling team to create models for various characters, locations and vehicles including Visari, the ISA Command base and various the spacecraft.
‘Killzone 2 was being described as one of the best games visually on a console and it was important that we delivered all of that quality and more’ Ross continued.
Axis worked with their motion capture partners Audiomotion to deliver all the character animation and then created additional keyframe animation where required.
This additional animation was accomplished via Axis' in-house rigging setup that allows additive manual edits to be seamlessly layered on top of the underlying motion captured data. All of the facial animation, including that of Scolar Visari, was keyframed and needed complex muscle setup to get a full range of facial movement. The Axis pipeline, which had to deliver to the highest level on all fronts for this project, combines several off the shelf 3d tools with proprietary plug-in additions and scripted stages to transfer data from one package to another.
Assets were processed and created in Modo, Z-brush and Maya, exported to Maya, where they were rigged and animated, then exported to Houdini which was used as the primary 3d application for all the final stages in the project including shading, lighting, rendering and visual effects. All layers where rendered using Mantra, Houdini's own renderer before being composited in Digital Fusion.
Grading and finishing was done on Flame at Scramble in London and the very talented team in-house at Guerrilla Games completed all sound design and music.
‘We have been blown away by the amazing reaction from both the client and the game buying public to this piece of work,’ says Richard Scott. ‘We always look forward to a huge challenge and this project definitely threw a lot of those our way!’
Please note these images are available at high resolution
About Axis Animation
Axis is an award winning animation studio, based in Glasgow, Scotland, dedicated to creating the best in animation and visual effects for commercials, broadcast, film and interactive entertainment. Recent credits include BAFTA winning Colin and Cumberland for the BBC, D&AD nominated Codehunters short film for MTV Asia and video game trailers for Colin McRae DiRT, Heavenly Sword, Crysis, Motorstorm Pacific Rift and Killzone.
Contact: Richard Scott +44 (0) 141 572 2802
More information on Axis can be found at www.axisanimation.com