Real World

Cancelled Halo project (2011)

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An early frigate model from a cancelled Halo project. As shown in the original filename, this shot was from four seconds into the trailer.
A matte paintover of a shot from the trailer, dated c.2011 (bottom-right). This shot was taken around four seconds into the trailer.[1]

This untitled Halo project was developed around the late-2000s and early 2010s, being cancelled some time in or after 2011. Little is known of the project's goals, with almost all information currently known provided by portfolio uploads by artist Sasha Beliaev posted in 2016.[2]


The project was in production around the late 2000s or early 2010s, and uses a number of assets and designs from that era of Halo media including the MJOLNIR Mark IV design featured in 2009's Halo Legends, and the MA37 assault rifle introduced in 2010's Halo: Reach. Beliaev's work on the project consisted of the creation of a small cinematic previsualisation environment for a trailer used to test internal development tools. Beliaev's guidelines on the project included;[3]

  • Multiple types of lighting and mixed lighting contexts such as interior and exterior.[3]
  • Environments containing animated and moving geometry.[3]
  • An aesthetic that would seamlessly integrate with an existing franchise, without infringing on existing copyrights.[3]
  • The ability to run in real-time as opposed to being pre-rendered.[4]


Altogether, the project was done over a course of roughly two months, with the environment taking around three weeks to construct and an accompanying spacecraft model taking another four weeks, including texturing.[5] The ship was described by Beliaev as a "frigate", and its overall design does bear a heavy resemblance to the frigates used by the UNSC Navy in Halo canon - albeit with a heavy artistic exaggeration. The frigate itself was built in an extremely low-poly fashion as to run in real-time and textured using one tileable texture, with a height map stored in the texture's alpha channel for the illusion of depth.[4] The frigate featured a retractable loading ramp and numerous ball turrets.[3][6]


The environment itself consisted of a large underground presumably-Forerunner structure rising out of the ground in a manner not-dissimilar to the Ark portal concepts developed for Halo Combat Evolved and visualised in Halo 3, or the Ark structure itself intended for the Earth Ark level cut from Halo 2. The terrain was done via simple geometry displacement, and featured a gas giant in the sky background.[8] A large wide-shot of the structure was present at around four seconds into the trailer (seen at the top of this article)[1], described by Beliaev as a "death ray generator" and intended to explode in a "most spectacular fashion". Further concept paintovers of the structure date one frame as taking place at frame 642[Note 1] and depicting a first-person view of the player holding an MA37 assault rifle, with another paintover showcasing an aerial view from the frigate and the death ray exploding. The death ray's appearance and function are notably similar to the idea of the Forerunner particle cannons featured in Halo 4.

The environment set fairly simple in design, featuring an exterior "helipad", a short hallway interior and a large dome in the centre where the "death ray" was located. Several lighting tests were done on the environment.


The project was in production by at least some time in 2011, by which time the wide-shot matte painting was produced. Some time after this, the project was cancelled for unknown reasons. Beliaev speculated that this may have been in part due to differences in workflow - Beliaev modelled and textured the frigate model with heavy emphasis on reused tileable textures. However, the model was later handed off to an unnammed studio that specialised in using Mari to texture, and were less familiar with the tileable workflow used by Beliaev. The issues caused by this error were purported to "screw up the schedule real bad" and interfere with the project - something Beliaev attributed to causing its cancellation.[5]

Some of the details about this project indicate it may have been a part of the development of Halo 4. For one, the process was done around the 2009-2011 era in which Halo 4 was undergoing production, and features certain elements familiar to Halo 4 such as the ideas of Master Chief and a frigate (IE the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn) trapped on or around a Forerunner environment. If so, this may have been a part of the earlier Halo 4 (and even some more general pre-Halo 4 ideas) direction pushed by then-creative director Ryan Payton during his tenure at 343 Industries. During this time, Payton championed many different ideas (most of which never made it into prototyping) which were later described by Frank O'Connor as being extremely different to the final Halo 4;[9]

None of the really revolutionary stuff that Ryan was talking about properly made it into the prototyping. It’s fair that if we had shipped the game Ryan had in mind it wouldn’t have been much like what we ended up with; but he never got to that state of prototyping or completion, so it’s kind of moot from a practical sense.[9]

Payton ultimately left the Halo 4 project in summer 2011 (the same year as this cancelled Halo project) as the game shifted away from his vision, though noted some of his ideas were later reused in Halo 5: Guardians, and that one large idea he proposed "definitely made people uncomfortable, which was a natural reaction, I think.".[9] This process, described by Marcus Lehto as a reboot in the game's development (though denied by O'Connor) may have additionally influenced the cancellation of this project[9] - though it is also entirely possible the two were unrelated, as studios typically have several projects in their development pipelines at a time. Around the same era projects like Haggar were also in development (and ultimately cancelled).


  1. ^ Assuming the trailer was rendered at 24fps, this would place the frame at around 18 seconds into the trailer.


  1. ^ a b ArtStation, RT tools demo assets: Original filename sasha-beliaev-shot-04s.jpg (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h ArtStation, RT tools demo assets. (Retrieved on Apr 5, 2022) [archive]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Facebook, Art of Sasha Beliaev: "A while ago a Company asked me to design a set for a dev tools demo trailer. The reqs were as follows:
    - multiple types of lighting, especially mixed cases (mixed indoors and outdoors one)
    - transformable (animated parts) environment
    - should seamlessly integrate into an unnamed Franchise without infringing on copyright. Easy as pie, don't you think? ))
    Below, an extensible spaceship loading ramp."
    (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]
  4. ^ a b Facebook, Art of Sasha Beliaev: "This is the frigate; the ramp is tucked into its belly. It all had to run RT, so the ship uses a single tileable texture with a hight map in the alpha channel. The half done model (front part unfinished) went to a 3d-party developer, the rest of the set, too. As it often happens, it all...didn't happen.)" (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]
  5. ^ a b Facebook, Art of Sasha Beliaev: "Well, not quite, if we're talking about just building it. The explosion/animatics/particle effects is a diffrerent matter, though. I think I've finished the set (white box) and partially unwrapped it in under 4 weeks, R&D included. Frigate took another three, texturing included. One of the snags, rather unexpectedly, came when it went to a VFX house where people hand paint everything in Mari and never heard of tileable textures.) That screwed up the schedule real bad and methinks was one of the reasons they pulled the plug on it." (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]
  6. ^ a b Facebook, Art of Sasha Beliaev: "Just to give you an idea of the scale...The gun turret shows the projected LOD of the model (it was as low poly as it ever gets). It laso had animated/transorable parts - so much easier to design form around a function, even a fake one.))" (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]
  7. ^ Facebook, Art of Sasha Beliaev: "An extended ramp..." (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]
  8. ^ Facebook, Art of Sasha Beliaev: "A little matte for the same trailer...(full CG, terrain is displaced geo). RIP my friend.)" (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]
  9. ^ a b c d VICE, The Complete, Untold History of Halo (Retrieved on Jun 5, 2022) [archive]