Thursday, October 11, 2007


For the last several weeks Microsoft has inundated us with a marketing assault on behalf of the Xbox’s premier video game title, Bungie studio’s Halo 3. Thankfully, this campaign revolves around an original and well-executed concept.

Halo 3’s mix-media campaign, “Diorama,” features a fictional monument created in the year 2607 to pay tribute to Halo’s great hero, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117. The concept is drawn from the same sort of evocative documentaries that have been made about real wars. But the real footage of this fictitious monument is drawn from a model-maker’s dream – 12-foot-tall, 1200-square-foot diorama peopled with painstakingly handcrafted 8 to 19-inch hand-crafted figures, billows of smoke erupting from a cannon, aircraft, and tanks; luminous explosions, and intricate details ranging from the sweat dripping down a Marine’s brow to bodies in mid flight through the air.

On television, Halo 3’s diorama spots (see below) feature slow vignettes from the vast, violent model, set against a symphonic score. The result is a composition as refreshing as Microsoft’s earlier Gears of War “Mad World” television campaign (see below) – indeed, reminiscent of Akira Kurosawa’s beautifully scored battle in Ran (see below). But combined with Halo 3’s online marketing, the diorama enjoys a much more impressive scope both in terms of concept and execution.

Halo 3’s Believe website features a stunning interactive view of the John-117 Monument. The Believe website allows you to “fly through” the action, see all the models, take a look at the buildings and all the detail involved, enjoy 360 views, and explore the different characters and creatures memorialized. But perhaps the most inventive aspects of your journey though the monument are the fictitious “first person accounts” of the battle and well-produced videos of 27th century war veterans touring the fictional Museum of Humanity, providing oral histories of the Master Chief’s – and humanity’s – final battle against the Covenant. The result is an engaging fictional history well timed in its juxtaposition with Ken Burns’ The War.

The diorama has proven so popular, both online and on television, that it is currently being taken apart with plans to have it tour the country, stopping at Halo events and maybe even a few museums.

Building on the popularity of the diorama’s television and online media, Microsoft and Bungie also released a making of documentary that showcases the very real work, effort, and time that was put into making the diorama. But in keeping with the rest of the campaign, even this making of documentary assumes the narrative view, explaining that the John-117 Monument was created over the course of three years as a memorial to the New Mombasa battle and its hero Master Chief. It shows how the “historians” accurately sculpted each figure using UNSC face scanning records, how they modeled Covenant figures after bodies recovered from the battlefield, and how they sculpted the terrain using blue prints of the area.

About whether or not the diorama spoils the much anticipated conclusion to the Halo trilogy, Bungie’s Frank O’Connor said that the ads were created by a marketing team who had no idea how the game ends and that it is not meant to be part of the game’s canon. Instead the ads, specifically that 1200-square-foot diorama created for them, is meant to be a generic representation of a series of battles, perhaps a level in Halo 3.

The diorama’s Flash-based fly-through makes great use of both user interaction and positioned content within the model. When we first visited the site, we were instantly surprised by its similarity to Ikea’s Dream Kitchen microsites – one of the most heavily awarded interactive franchises.

The firm behind Ikea’s interactive dream kitchen, Forsman & Bodenfors, has garnered nearly every creative award available for two prior efforts for Ikea, “Dream Kitchens for Everyone” and “Come Into the Closet.” It’s latest incarnation of the Dream Kitchen franchise offers a first-person, self-paced view of Ikea furnishings and kaleidoscopic run-throughs of well-priced Ikea kitchenware.

According to Forsman & Bodenfors’ web director Mathias Appelblad, Ikea’s fly-thoughs “consists of ridiculously many sequences stitched together into a seamless journey. All exterior shots were filmed in South Africa … Interior sets were built in a studio and shot with a computer controlled motion control rig called a Milo. The Milo is the size of a small car and runs on rails, which gets a bit tricky when you need to have kitchens, dining areas and frozen people in a set with 360° views. So the sets had to be built lego style, with different parts being removable to make space for the Milo, and different parts of each set had to be filmed in unnumbered passes, to be assembled to one perfect shot in the end. And all that in two directions, with multiple turning points.”

Both the Halo 3 and Ikea Dream Kitchen online fly-throughs do superb jobs bringing the user into their respective environments. Certainly, one campaign has done its part to make this die-hard Apple user break down and want a Microsoft product (a paradox offset by Bungie’s history as a Mac game developer). The other has pointed out just how unglamorous my kitchen is (even when I close one eye and “fly-through” it on my way to the Cheerios).

Halo 3 Diorama Television Spot

Gears of War Mad World Television Spot

Akria Kurosawa's Ran, Clip

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