With only four films Pico played a major role in the early Halo CE machinima history. Over five years after the release of his last movie Lethal Rage 4, he answered some questions for us
Okay, thanks for being so fast Benjamin!
You're welcome! I'm honored that you want to interview me!
And here are the questions but first, would you like to introduce yourself a bit?
Sure. My name is Ben. I'm 24 years old (may be 25 by the time this is posted, my birthday is Sep. 14th), and I live in San Francisco, CA. I recently graduated from SFSU with a degree in Cinema, and right now I'm just working here in SF as a model part time (I'm actually on my way to a photo shoot for Microsoft Office as I'm typing this; everyone upgrade and look for me haha). I grew up playing video games, the first game I owned was Sonic 2 for the Genesis (who was also my first video-game hero haha). My brothers and I played the shit out of the Sonic games and found a bunch of interesting bugs and stuff. I've been a fan of Halo since the day it game out, it was the game I wanted to get with the Xbox, and it was such an amazing game (and still is).
What had make you doing machinima and how did it happened?
Well, after Halo was out for one year I read in an issue of EGM about some tricks and bugs in the game (or something like that) and they said to go to halo.bungie.org to find even more stuff. That's when it happened. I saw they had little movies people made (mostly montages) and I was blown away. I had no idea you could record the game and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. So I thought up a movie idea and shot it at my friend's house because his dad had a capture card. A lot of people asked me if I was inspired by Red vs. Blue (my first movie came out shortly after RvB did), but I honestly can't say I really was. I was a fan of it, but the only thing I was inspired by was them cropping the top and bottom of the screen. I always liked to do original stuff that I thought up. Of course, everyone is influenced by some things, even on a subconscious scale.
Ok, actually I just remembered one thing I learned from RvB that I used quite a few times (especially in LR4) was using the "wipe" transition to put multiple characters on the screen at once (all the shots from Halo PC, (except for the ones at the very end battle) that didn't have the reticule, were all shot by myself with just me in the scene but I played different characters and used the wipe, and also the crop effect too a few times to put multiple characters on screen together). Here's a fun fact from the editor's cage: The shot in LR4 where there's a red Spartan running right at the camera in slow motion, and the other red spartans running by at normal speed (it fades in at 7:05) was shot twice. One night when I was editing the idea for that shot just came into my head so I recorded myself running right at the camera. Then again at an angle to the left, then a steeper angle to the left, and vice versa for the right side. As I composited all that footage together (mainly by cropping boxes around the Spartans on the sides, I noticed their shadows on the ground were being cut off, so I re-shot it with the shadows turned off. No one's ever complained to me that they didn't have any shadows :p
Ok, one more little interesting thing I feel like telling. The shot at the end of LR4 where the Master Chief does the warthog-jump thingy out of the turret, and he flies up and melee's the red guy in the back who's waiting for the flag (at 8:26): I had the MC ride a ghost off the tank and jump out at the right time in order to launch him in the air like that. The funny thing was the ghost was completely in the shot you see, just barely to the right of the MC. But I used the wipe effect to completely erase it from the shot. Some of the sparks that were made from it's wing scratching up against the bottom of the base are still there tho (Oh, snap, I just noticed you can see the edge of the wing, too. Oops!) :p
What made you quit?
Ok, I'm on my lunch break from the shoot so I can continue.
I only made movies when I got some sort of inspiration and I would think up the whole movie in a really short time (like an hour, if even that long for a 10 min. movie). After I made Lethal Rage 4 I had an idea while playing Halo 2 for a movie. It was completely inspired when playing on Foundation, I bounced a frag grenade under a red elite character, jumped in the air and slashed him with the sword just as the grenade blew up behind him and it looked so epic, I decided that was the exact shot I would use at the end of a movie. So in about a few hour I thought up the entire movie and story, and how it would be shot, etc. I knew it would be the greatest Halo movie ever. Unfortunately I had shot some scenes (and parts of scenes), but getting my friends to help and motivated to shoot it just wasn't happening. I also was moving to San Francisco for school so I was never able to finish it. I still have the footage on the Hard Drive of my old computer. I'd like to finish it one day. Just for nostalgia's sake ;)
What was the toughest thing to do?
Find good help haha. My brothers and friends helped me make all my movies (and voice acted them, which was the weakest link in my movies :p), but they hated doing it and would often mess around throwing grenades, assassinating each other that it just made the shoot take longer and be more frustrating than it needed to. You'd think the stunts would be the toughest part, but no. Once I actually had the help and they were motivated to get things done we'd repeat the stunts over and over and over again and it was actually kind of fun. You can see some of the weird results we got in the bloopers I put in at the end of the last two of them.
What phase of the creation process do you prefer (ie : pre prod, shooting, editing...) ?
I really like all the aspects of it. I love the pre-production process of thinking of the story, how to shoot it, what kind of shots to use, the music for each of the scenes. I really watch the whole movie in my head before I start shooting anything. It really gets me pumped up about it. The production part is the most frustrating part, but it's still a lot of fun when I get my friends and stuff actually helping and they actually want to help me make it good. We re-do shots quite a few times to get it right and it's an awesome feeling when we finally get it right. That gets me pumped up. I also love the editing because that's when it all comes together. It can be frustrating some times because I might be thinking "It's just not cool enough" but that makes me strive to find a way to make it better. And I love it when I'm editing the scenes with the music and sound effects and it comes pretty close to how I wanted and it just ends up giving me goose-bumps and this tingling feeling (they've had that effect on my friends also). That really gets me pumped up too, haha.
How long did you spend on creating an episode?
The first one took one after noon (and maybe a few days after to edit). The second one took about a week to shoot and a week to edit. The third one took um... (it's been so long I'm trying to remember) I think about a month or so. Some of the stunts took a long time to get. For some my brother and I would spend 2 and a half hours just doing it over and over again. The fourth one took at least a month and a half. Luckily a friend from the HBO forums who's a hacker gave me this program so that in Halo PC it would let you take the camera out while in multiplayer. So I was able to do a bunch of the shots by myself during the night and that really helped. But still, the stunts still took a really long time :p The next one is 4 years and counting lol. (I guess you could say it's on a 3-year hiatus).
You focused on the tricks a lot, was that intentional or were you just aiming at doing some badass action scenes?
Well I think they're just what happened when I started imagining the movie. I can't recall ever thinking "I'm going to make a movie with some bad-ass stunts and action sequences." I just come up with an idea and the action scenes just came to me as they did. I guess it's because I love it when movies do something you've never seen before (such as the first Matrix), and it's so cool that it blows your mind and you want to watch it again and again. Well, that's something I aspired to do with the Halo movies I made. I'd seen many of the other Halo movies out at the time and I wanted to do something no one had seen before; something that was really cool and would blow people's minds (at the end of the first Lethal Rage I said something about wanting to do something different in Halo Movies). I dunno if I actually achieved that goal or not, but at least I made a movie that I know I'd like to watch again and again. Sometimes I go back and watch them again, just for old-time's sake.
I kept trying to top myself. I'm quite ambitions when it comes to movies. Sometimes I aspire to do too much.
Recently on Xboxottawa.ca, the FTC team described machinima as a "dying fad" since quality has dramaticly decreased due to the huge number of people creating machinimas. Do you agree with that?
Yeah I do. I remember when Halo 2 came out there was a huge flood of crap and mediocre Halo movies coming out, I just stopped watching them. Some were OK. The Codex was pretty good. I never got into that series, but I saw some of the episodes and they were much better than a lot of the other stuff that came out. I don't know how many movies I saw that had an elite with a sword, and all the sword battles I saw was people sword-canceling each other over and over. *yawn.* Someone told me that they felt Halo 1 machinima "separated the men from the boys." I agree.
What do you think of Halo 3ís cinema mode : a great tool or the death of creativity?
Both. It's a awesome tool. There's so much potential with having a flying camera. I just wish SOOOOOO badly I had an idea for a movie and the means to capture it. You could make some really epic shots. At the same time the easier you make it to make a movie, it tends to kill creativity. In some of my film classes my teachers really limited us to the means we could use for making student films, because it promotes problem solving and creativity. When there's less resources available to you and the more difficult it is, you have to think outside of the box to tackle a certain problem.
What are your favorites machinimas?
I'm a big fan of the first season of Red vs. Blue. I felt like it just went downhill from there. Other than that (not to toot my own horn or anything) but honestly the movies I made are my other favorites. Maybe because they're my babies, maybe because I set out to make a movie that would impress me. Maybe I'm biased but I can't think of any other movies I've seen that impressed me too much or left a lasting impression. Oh wait, the "How to Talk Smack over Xbox Live" video made with Halo 2 is one of my favorites too. For the record, they're to machinimas per se, but I loved Dan Chosich's movies. He definitely has talent!
Iíve seen on your youtube channel that you were studying filmmaking, any chance we can see one of your movies in theatres one day?
Oh you bet. I want to make the Halo Movie one day (I know, I know, take a number...), that's the one movie I would rather do than anything else in the world. If not be the director, then at least help work on it somehow (maybe I'll get to play the Master Chief). I've always loved video games and movies so I'd like to be the person to give a good name to video game-movies. Uwe Boll put such a bad taste in everyone's mouth. I also really would like to make a Ninja Gaiden movie. After playing through the Xbox game I wanted to make a movie with Ryu Hayabusa being so bad-ass that he's just kicking the shit out of everybody (and make it believable that someone could actually just be that good). I've already thought of a story for the movie and stuff, although it has nothing to do really with the game (no fiends, fighting humans instead). Maybe it'll just be a different movie altogether, just inspired by Ninja Gaiden. Hopefully some day you'll see me on stage at the Academy Awards. Oh and I also want to make a good Dragonball Z movie. That show was so epic, I want to make a movie like it.
It may seem funny, but even though the Halo movies were the first movies I've ever made, they are my favorite even compared to some of the movies I made during film school. Out of all the movies I've made the Halo movies were the ones I was most passionate about. Guess they're like my first love.
Any piece of advice to newcomers?
Express yourself. Make a movie you want to see. Don't be afraid to be different. Some of the most ground-breaking movies ever were way different for the times and people shunned them. Be original. There's nothing wrong with paying homage to something you like (I was greatly inspired by the Lord of the Rings movies--big surprise I know), some of your best ideas will come from someone else, but put your own twist on it, make it yours. Have your own style. And most importantly, keep at it. Even if you make a god-awful, shitty movie, at least your doing something you love. Every great filmmaker made crappy movies at some point. The more you make movies, the more you fuel the passion, the better you will get. Some of the greatest artists ever were also some of the greatest failures, but they didn't give up. And remember: "You can't do something great without taking a great risk."
Thanks again for your time.
Your welcome! Thanks again for wanting to interview me. You know, even after 5 years since my last Halo Movie came out some people will randomly msg me on youTube or what-have-you saying that even though it's been so long, they wanted to tell me they loved my Halo movies. Stuff like that never gets old. Thanks to everyone who watched my movies and thanks for all your comments and support. I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I do! And thanks to Louis Wu at HBO and all my old friends from the forums there; you guys rock!
-PiCo is big in Tokyo tonight!
Finally, I let you with Benjamin's last Machinima, lethal rage 4 :