Speaking with Lydia Antonini and Josh Feldman, it's clear they have a passion for digital media. The two are executive producers for Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn, a series that delves into the deep back-story of the Halo universe, while also setting up some of the events and relationships seen in Halo 4.
Both are veterans of digital content and distribution. Antonini was once the director of digital content for Warner Premiere, and helped shepherd the Mortal Kombat live-action series into existence. Feldman most recently worked for Playtone, Tom Hank's production company, and co-wrote Electric City, the animated series that aired this year on Yahoo.
When Microsoft and 343 Studios approached Antonini and Feldman about a Halo web series, the two jumped at the chance to bring the biggest sci-fi franchise in gaming to life. Though neither say they are particularly good at the Halo video games, both said they enjoy the expanded Halo universe created by books, comics, movies, and other media.
"I'm pretty much dead in 5 minutes every time," said Antonini.
"I could never drive the warthog in the game," said Feldman. He felt vindicated when the real-life warthog used in Forward Unto Dawn was similarly difficult to drive.
In deciding to make the series live-action, rather than animated, 343 was looking to build upon the popular live-action Halo commercials seen in the past. "Nothing can replace the emotional value of watching a real person," said Antonini.
When scouting locations for Forward Unto Dawn, Antonini said the team looked at locations in Budapest, Ireland, Bulgaria, Iceland, and Chile. Eventually the decision was made to shoot the series in Vancouver, at Simon Frasier University.
"We found this amazing university, SFU, in Vancouver that looked like it was just made to be an academy," said Antonini. "We made a very conscious decision to pick a look and place that [evoked] Halo."
The characters in Forward Unto Dawn are recruits at a UNSC military academy. The series focuses on Thomas Lasky, who questions the war against the insurrectionists and struggles to live up to the high expectations placed on him because of his family's history in the UNSC.
Feldman stated that a lot of emphasis was put on casting for the series. He pointed out that the recruits in the series, as well as the actors, are poly-ethnic and global. Members of the cast are from places such as Australia, Israel, and the U.K.
The quality of the series is evident, and though neither Feldman or Antonini would discuss the cost of Forward Unto Dawn, Feldman gives credit to 343 and Microsoft for wanting to create a high-quality series. He stated that the show's creators reached out to "players who work in the space of premium television." To Feldman, 343 isn't just a video game studio. "They're a repository for great entertainment," he said. "They're an entertainment studio."
"I think we're very close to television-quality right now," said Antonini of the series, and of digital media in general. She believes Forward Unto Dawn could have lived on a premium cable channel. For her, digital content is the most interesting place to be right now.
For Feldman, digital content means the possibility of diverse distribution. "Increasing the number of ways people can get to these types of content - that's a wonderful thing."
The third episode of Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn airs tomorrow on Halo Waypoint and Machinima. Episodes will air every Friday leading up to the November 6 release date of Halo 4.
Also, make sure to check out the short previews for the series, which are short vignettes that give a bit of background for the show. Antonini revealed that those previews were shot by a second unit, and are not directly tied to the story of the series. Instead, they represent more personal character pieces for the recruits.