Painting Practice: Pre-visualisation for Halo
With the exciting new release of the incredible Halo TV show on Paramount+, we spoke with Yassmine Najime, producer at Painting Practice, about the work the team have done on the show and about the importance of pre-visualisation in the film and TV industry. Painting Practice have been sharing exclusive pre-vis footage on their social media channels, so we jumped at the chance to speak with them about the amazing work they’ve done for the show.
For those who don’t know, can you explain what Pre-vis is and why it’s essential for shows such as Halo.
Pre-visualisation is the practice of visualising ahead of filming how scenes will look in the final cut. This can involve digitally creating the sets in 3D, putting the actors in 3D and animating them to match what they will be doing in the scene but it can also work with more traditional methods such as storyboarding, or a hybrid mix between 2D and 3D. From this, you can understand how the scene is supposed to happen, how you can film it, what’s the best way in engaging with the scene, which camera you can use and so on. It’s ultimately an enhanced story board. Traditionally this would have been done on some paper with little squares and you would draw the action in by hand, but now you can visualise it in 3D so that you have a much better understanding of the scene. Firstly, it’s always good to know what will be happening on set, and secondly, on VFX heavy shows its essential to understand how you are going to shoot VFX scenes as this will have a huge impact on the budget of the show. Say for instance you have a scene that has a dragon, it would cost too much money to create the entire VFX dragon so with pre-vis you can create some of the dragon to use for the scene to work out how the scene will be shot in a way which works within the VFX budget too, besides the cinematography. This is something that you can only do by pre-visualising scenes ahead of time and you can know how much the VFX will cost and also means you don’t have to come back and re-shoot it.
Is pre-visualisation used in other sorts of media? Perhaps shows that don’t use as much VFX?
The more traditional method of filmmaking regularly uses pre-vis, here acting as a kind of enhanced storyboard. This is an incredibly beneficial tool if you don’t have a certain location or might not have the entire set built, so by pre-visualising, you can plan all this ahead of time. It can also be helpful for the actors to look at a scene to ascertain where they will need to perform, as well as how the directors want them to be behaving in the scene, so there’s a multiplicity of uses for pre-visualisation. It ultimately helps with anything that needs to be planned ahead of time before shooting starts. It can benefit nearly every department in the build-up of a shoot. In might not be that well known, but it really is vital in creating TV shows and films. It bridges the gap between multiple departments; art department, VFX department, the on set crew as well as several others throughout pre-production. This exercise is about bringing these departments together for a common goal. It’s all about getting the results and bringing together the beautiful work of all the departments – showing the ‘film’ on the computer and making sure everyone is happy with it.
Other than pre-vis, were painting practice involved with anything else with the process creating Halo?
Yes, Painting Practice were also involved with creating some concept art – that’s often how this process starts. Unless a production has concept artists already on board, often, Painting Practice will create some concept art and help the production understand the visual development and looks of some of the difficult sets or scenes that productions struggle with. From these designs, we can then develop pre-visualisation that matches the script and all the visual moods and art that was agreed upon previously and continue from there supporting the director, art department and art director throughout pre-vis.
To what extent has working on Halo differed from other work Painting Practice has done?
It hasn’t really been that different from other productions as we have worked on sci-fi and fantasy programs before, one of the latest being `His Dark Materials’ that required an incredible amount of pre-visualisation and VFX work. Even before this, there were a lot of other productions where the team has worked on creating outer space environments and more VFX, so it’s part of the routine and not too dissimilar to work we’ve done before.
What is the pathway to creating pre-visualisation work? Does the team get sent a script or scene directions or concept art? How does the process start?
It is very different for every project. We personally prefer to have more direct involvement usually starting somewhere within pre-production so we can help to develop the visual looks of the series and from there, our artists can create concept art and help build the look of the world and environments. However, sometimes on other productions, everything is already put in place but there are a few scenes that are logistically difficult, so they contact us and say, “We are having problems with this, can you help us figure it out?” in which case, we will get a script as well as the existing material, and we will try to make sense of it all. If we are involved with conceptualising, we would then have a better understanding of everything because we would have already read the script and know what we’re trying to achieve, so moving into pre-vis is more of a natural progression into the visual development. If we are just given a 3D model, we would definitely get the script and look at what we are trying to achieve with this scene and what its role is within the movie or the series and then create a few drafts of pre-visualising the scene, working either by ourselves or with an art director or the director (most often) from the production. It’s very different on each project. At Painting Practice, we describe ourselves as ‘visual problem solvers’ - every production has different issues, so we’re there to say, “How can we help?”
With Halo being a pre-existing franchise has this helped when creating pre-vis work and art? Were you given artistic freedom, or did you have to stick rigidly to the Halo world?
One might think that because there is already a pre-existing world out there then it might be easier, but I personally don’t find that to be the case. The weight of tradition is never a light one to carry, whether it’s in life or art and it’s really difficult when you already have a fanbase with some expectations. This means that the creative process is not totally free at that point as you already have this framework set up for you whether you want it or not. At times it is more difficult because you already have rules that you have to abide by, and you can’t just creatively paint the spacecraft or costumes (for instance) how you see it more fit. We have to go through what codes are already in place and see how we can enhance it, sometimes even appropriating it more for the series because you want the series to be recognisable by itself and also to be something that is really unique.
Can we expect any more behind the scenes footage from Painting Practice?
Yes! More pre-vis will be released as well as some concept art. This can be tough, as not all concept art can go through to the finished production, as this is a very experimental part of the process. This is the same with pre-vis, sometimes whole scenes that have been pre-vised have to go from the finished production – but this is part of the production process. But there will definitely be more exclusive pre-vis footage to come!
Make sure to follow Painting Practice on social media to see more exclusive footage from Halo and other productions they are working on.
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