Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn
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This article is about the web series. For the UNSC ship, see UNSC Forward Unto Dawn.
Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn is a live-action film and miniseries set in the Halo universe. Although shot as a feature-length film, Forward Unto Dawn was originally released as a webseries consisting of five roughly 15-minute episodes, the first of which was released on October 5, 2012, with the rest following on a weekly basis. The series' plot is set 31 years before Halo 4, occurring in the early days of the Human-Covenant War circa 2526, and revolves around Thomas Lasky, a young cadet at Corbulo Academy of Military Science, and how John-117 inspired him to eventually become a leader. Lasky is also a prominent character in Halo 4 as a commander on the UNSC Infinity. The name of the series, aside from being a reference to the UNSC frigate Forward Unto Dawn, is given new significance in the series as part a running motif based around a poem. The series was known as Sleeper during pre-production.
Forward Unto Dawn is hosted on Halo Waypoint and Machinima.com. The Forward Unto Dawn Special Edition, which contains the complete, film-length cut of Forward Unto Dawn as well as additional material, is included with the Halo 4 Limited Edition and is available via Halo Waypoint. The Special Edition was also released for download on Xbox LIVE on November 5, 2012 for 2,800 Microsoft points. The film cut was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on December 4, 2012. Originally released on the MachinimaPrime YouTube channel, episodes 3-5 of the series were taken offline on YouTube some time following the release of the Special Edition, but are back online in certain regions as of September 2013.
The series also incorporates interactive features with the Halo Channel application for Xbox One. Viewers can complete challenges related to the series to unlock features that can be used in Halo games. Each episode has several challenges and "Second Story" videos that expand on events that were not shown in the series. Additionally, viewers can access the Halo Channel's new "Halo Encyclopedia" to gain information on characters, locations, weapons, and vehicles that are featured in Forward Unto Dawn.
The series begins with Thomas Lasky, executive officer of the UNSC Infinity, picking up Cortana's distress signal from the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn, which has been adrift in space for four years. Learning that SPARTAN-117 is aboard the ship, Lasky has a flashback to the events that led to him meeting the Spartan for the first time and how he inspired him to become a leader. The "present-day" segments, which feature clips of Cortana's inner monologues during her solitude aboard the Dawn, serve as a framing device for the main narrative, which focuses on Thomas Lasky as a young freshman cadet in Corbulo Academy of Military Science on Circinius IV amidst the Insurrection circa 2526. Organized into Hastati Squad, a freshman unit in the class of 2529, Lasky expresses sympathy for the Insurrectionists and shows a constant disregard for the orders of his superiors, resulting in Hastati receiving low combat scores and Lasky himself being shunned by the rest of the squad. Worse, his health declines rapidly during the school's mandatory acclimation to cryosleep, suffering blisters and a persistent cough.
In his spare time, Lasky replays video messages by his now-deceased brother Cadmon, with whom he used to have regular video correspondence. Most of Lasky's classmates, particularly Walter Vickers, are unrelenting in their provocation of Thomas, affirming their distaste for the freshman who fails to live up to the example set by his brother and his mother, a UNSCDF colonel and former superior of CAMS professor, Colonel Mehaffey. One of the few cadets sympathetic to him is Chyler Silva, who attempts to encourage Thomas to be a better leader, and Michael Sullivan, who cares little about his performance and focuses on hacking classified UNSC mission recordings, eventually uncovering footage recorded by a Spartan's helmet camera. Another Hastati Squad member, Junjie Chen, struggles to live up to the expectations of his father and is concerned about Lasky's poor performance decreasing his combat scores. Frustrated by the verbal and minor physical harassment he receives from Vickers, Lasky eventually assaults his squadmate in the school's mess hall. Lasky mildly injures Vickers and only stops when Colonel Mehaffey intervenes. Despite Lasky's consistent misbehavior, the Colonel makes an effort to have him embrace the warrior culture of the UNSC and inspire him to become a better leader.
Mehaffey's efforts dawn on Lasky and he volunteers to lead Hastati moments prior to the start of their final combat exercise, a contest of Capture the Flag. While waiting for Zuma Squad to approach their flag's location, Lasky organizes Hastati into cover in a tight formation adjacent their flag, a seemingly ill-tactical maneuver. Lasky orders his men to remove their helmets as they contain IFF transponders detectable by the enemy's motion sensors. With Zuma converging on Hastati's flag, Lasky positions his squad in a formation reminiscent of the pincer movement, a tactic utilized to great effect by Hannibal at Cannae in 216 BCE, taught to the freshman cadets only a day before the exercise by Col. Mehaffey. Funneled into a trap, the enemy cadets are eliminated or captured by two sections of Hastati cadets, with Hastati suffering no casualties of their own in the process. An emboldened Lasky, charging towards Zuma's flag, finally succumbs to his ailing health and collapses meters away from completing the objective.
Lasky wakes up and is informed by Dr. Hughes that his condition is an allergic reaction to the cryo drug cytoprethaline, which is vital for cryo-sleep to prevent damage to cells. Resting in his room, Lasky wakes up to see Chyler sitting beside him and watching his recordings. She urges him to stop wallowing in his brother's death and expresses concern for his condition; she also reveals that Hastati Squad was victorious in the capture the flag exercise, congratulating Lasky for his tactical maneuver. Lasky and Silva then join the rest of Hastati Squad to watch the classified recordings Sullivan has pieced together. To the great bemusement of the cadets, the footage shows large soldiers in unfamiliar armor, fighting unknown hostiles alongside Insurrectionists. The cadets are shocked by the soldiers appearance, although Silva is more surprised that the UNSC would be fighting alongside the Insurrectionists. Shortly afterward, Lasky learns that because of the severity of his cytoprethaline allergy, he is offered the choice for a medical discharge. The following night, Lasky reveals this to Silva, who professes that she will miss him if he leaves. The two kiss but are interrupted as an evacuation alarm goes off.
Lasky and Silva join the rest of Hastati Squad in a queue for the academy's space elevator, while Orbital Drop Shock Troopers drop in to the academy grounds. The stress of waiting proves too much for Dimah Tchakova, who against the orders of their squad leader April Orenski rushes in front of the queue and invokes her mother's position to allow a Marine to let her in the next elevator car. As the car ascends, the rest of the cadets watch in horror as three alien ships appear in the clouds and one of them opens fire on the space tether. The tether's lower structure collapses on the building and the members of Hastati Squad barely escape the destruction.
The cadets make their way through the embattled academy campus and Lasky witnesses Col. Mehaffey being killed by Needler fire. Hastati Squad regroups in Lasky's dorm room, but they are forced to move out as a Sangheili Zealot approaches, methodically slaughtering other cadets in their rooms. As the Elite enters another room, the cadets make a break for it with Chen taking point; however, Chen is killed by a camouflaged Zealot. The other cadets manage to escape to the armory and seal the door, with Lasky raising a distress beacon. The Elite eventually breaks through the armory's door and the cadets hide, Vickers being separated from the others. As the Elite closes in on the cadets' hiding spot, Vickers attempts to distract it to allow the others to escape but is promptly killed. The other cadets are only saved by the timely arrival of John-117, who kills the Zealot by stabbing it in the back.
The Spartan reveals that Lasky, Silva, Orenski and Sullivan are the only survivors on the entire planet and that they are to be evacuated; they will join with the rest of the Spartan team at the rendezvous point. Making their way outside, they are caught in a firefight with Jackal snipers and Sullivan is wounded. After the Spartan neutralizes the Covenant sharpshooters, the group use the now-deceased General Black's Warthog to drive out of the academy toward the evac point.
The Warthog is ambushed by Jackals on the journey and becomes irreparably damaged, and the squad is forced proceed on foot. Silva realizes that she has taken a needler round to the stomach; the squad flees into the jungle as the Chief engages and kills a single Hunter. With all biofoam having been used to treat Sullivan's leg, however, Silva dies shortly afterwards. Having ran out of ammunition during the previous fight, the Spartan plans to distract the second Hunter while the cadets run to safety. Distraught at Silva's death, Lasky volunteers to take the Chief's place. As the Hunter is focusing on Lasky, the Chief successfully uses a grenade to neutralize the walking tank. The battered team makes it to the rendezvous point at dawn, where they are picked up by a Pelican carrying Kelly-087 and Frederic-104. The Chief commends Lasky for valor under fire, and gives him an armor fragment from the Hunter as a memento.
Back in the present, Commander Lasky prepares to enter cryo while holding his dog tags; Silva's dog tags and the Hunter armor fragment are attached to the tags' chain, Lasky having kept them for over three decades. The Infinity and its escorts jump into slipspace, with Requiem as their destination. As the Dawn's wreckage is inexorably pulled toward the mysterious shield world, Cortana prepares to reawaken the Master Chief at last.
According to director Stewart Hendler, time was considered the primary challenge when embarking on a production of this scale on a relatively short notice. Primarily written by screenwriters Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing, work on the script is noted to have began around December 2011. Production officially stated in late April 2012.
Filming and effects
Filming, which lasted for a total of five weeks, started in April 28, 2012 at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a popular filming location for many notable science fiction series like Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica. Since much of the series is set at Corbulo Academy, an actual, existing location was used to give the school a concrete identity. Although many other locations around the world were initially considered to represent the academy, the SFU was chosen because of its rugged, decidedly futuristic architecture. For the filming, the campus was decorated with additional embellishments, including various UNSC propaganda murals and a statue of the academy's namesake, the Roman general Gnaeus Domitius Corbulo. Most outdoors scenes within the academy, as well as the establishing shots of the campus and select indoor scenes like the mess hall, were filmed on-location at SFU.
After the first week of filming at the SFU campus, the second week was spent shooting the forest scenes, namely the cadets' training exercises and the final battle sequence, including the Warthog chase. The forest location was a woodland in a drainage basin north of Vancouver. Despite some logistical problems, the site attracted the attention of the crew because of its unique, almost otherworldly atmosphere. Most of the interior scenes at the academy were filmed on set during the last three weeks of filming. While the SFU campus is recognizable as a real-world location, the sets were designed with an emphasis on giving the series a unique signature aesthetic. The largest of the three major sets was a single 25-meter long hallway, which was used to represent many different hallways in the series, primarily the main corridor at the Corbulo Academy dorms. As part of the hallway set, a single dorm room was also created and was similarly used to depict several different rooms. The third major set was the cadets' locker room and cryo training facility.
In post-production, computer-generated imagery was added to depict the Covenant aliens and enhance some of the environments. Many of the 3D and art assets came directly from 343 Industries, with most of the Covenant species designs being based on those in Halo 4. A number of visual effects were added to the SFU campus in post-production, most prominently the space elevator towering over the buildings. For the scene of the space tether being destroyed, the effects team made some research into the physics of how such a structure would collapse and created a computer-aided dynamic system to model the effect.
Cast and characters
While the role of the main protagonist is filled by Thomas Lasky, who is also a major character in Halo 4, Master Chief John-117 also plays a pivotal role in the series. Lasky is played by Australian actor Tom Green. The Master Chief is portrayed by Canadian actor Daniel Cudmore, best known for his role as the mutant Colossus in the X-Men film series. Cudmore also performed the Master Chief's stunts, as he doubles as a stunt performer. He considered the role a challenge; as the cumbersome suit would significantly mute natural movement, Cudmore found that his physical acting came across more clearly by exaggerating his movements. As Forward Unto Dawn is set thirty-one years before Halo 4, the production team originally experimented with de-aging Steve Downes' voice so he could voice the fifteen-year-old John-117; Cudmore would act only as the Spartan's physical embodiment. However, the team realized that Downes' altered voice sounded too high-pitched. Thus, a separate actor, , was given the role of voicing John, whose voice would evolve over three decades to possess the gruffer quality of Downes' performance.
When the main roles were being cast, it was considered important that the cadets would appear believable as young and inexperienced teenagers forced into a life-and-death situation. At the time of casting, there was a fair amount of secrecy surrounding the production, then known only as "Sleeper", and the actors were not initially informed that the series would be set in the Halo universe. In preparation for their roles, the actors for the main characters were given a collection material to study, including the existing Halo novels. Although basic background profiles had been created for the characters in advance, the actors were given a degree of freedom to build on the cadets' backstories themselves. Over the course of the week before the filming began, the actors for the cadets of Hastati Squad underwent an intense basic training regimen, fashioned after military training, under the supervision of the series' stunt coordinator James Bamford as well as an additional military consultant. Taking place in a warehouse in Vancouver, the program consisted of basic physical exercises, various military drills, and even live-fire weapons training with assault rifles so the actors would be able to perform their parts in a more convincing manner and be acclimatized to moving as a unit. Stewart Hendler wanted Bamford to go as far as possible with the training, to the point of the actors vomiting and "calling their agents", although all of them endured through the process.
The following is a list of cast members in Forward Unto Dawn:
Costumes and props
The uniforms worn by the cadets at Corbulo Academy were largely based on existing UNSC uniform designs while taking subtle design cues from real-world military academy uniforms, particularly the minimalistic and slim silhouette of those used at US Military Academy West Point. Although other colors such as blue were initially considered, white was chosen as the primary color to convey an impression of formality and a "clean slate", corresponding with the series being a prequel centering around young cadets. In reference to a recognizable military motif, a subtle chevron pattern was incorporated to the front piece of the uniforms. The darker colored sections in the uniform's trousers are based on a similar dual coloration theme in the UNSC Marine BDUs in Halo 4; the battledress worn by the Marines in Forward Unto Dawn closely resembles the designs in Halo 4.
UNSC officer uniforms seen in the series are largely derived from the designs seen in Halo 3 and Halo: Reach, but are given an olive drab coloration as opposed to the blue-gray or white typical of UNSC Navy uniforms. Although it has been previously established that unaugmented humans must enter cryo-sleep fully naked, this was circumvented by giving the cadets dedicated "cryo-suits" to wear in scenes involving cryo-stasis. The suits were created by a Vancouver wet suit company and were designed to be skintight with the requirement they could be removed on camera for the scene with Lasky removing his suit in the shower to reveal his blisters. However, not all of the cadets wore the rubber suits in the cryo scenes, and would instead use a similarly colored bodysuits made of fabric.
Most props, including the Master Chief's Mark IV MJOLNIR armor and the body armor sets and weapons used by the cadets and Marines, were created by Los Angeles company Legacy Effects, which has previously worked on major film productions such as Iron Man, G.I. Joe and Pacific Rim. The MJOLNIR armor is visually based on the design from the Halo Legends short The Package. Realizing the suit physically proved to be a challenge, as the original model was not designed to be worn by an actual person. Built specifically using Cudmore's body as a template, most of the armor components are actually made of a flexible material to allow more unrestricted movement. Due to sweat building up in the heavy and fully enclosed rubber suit, the suit was cleaned with vodka after each filming session. The visor was separately processed by eyewear manufacturer Oakley, Inc. to give it its iconic, golden reflective coating.
Although Halo-themed weapons and other items existed as leftovers from prior live action projects, Legacy built most of the weapons from scratch with additional attention to detail such as LED lights and a tactical flashlight in the MA5 assault rifles. In addition to these new props, Forward Unto Dawn also reuses a number of props and costumes from previous live-action media. The ODST armor from The Life is seen in several episodes. Additional ODST and Marine Armor was possibly borrowed from Halo: Landfall. The MJOLNIR armor worn by Kelly-087 and Frederic-104 originally appeared in Deliver Hope, in which the suits were worn by Kat-B320 and Thom-293, respectively. The suits and helmets were repainted and physically altered to distinguish them from the Mark V armor they originally portrayed; for example, the jowl and forehead armor guard on Kelly's helmet are taken from one of the suit's FJ/PARA knee guards.
The Warthog featured in Forward Unto Dawn was originally created by WETA Workshop for the Halo: Landfall live action shorts used to promote Halo 3. With superficial renovations, the vehicle is reused as General Black's personal transport and later as the centerpiece of the climactic Warthog ride sequence. Action shots of the Warthog driving across the forest road were performed with stunt doubles, while close-ups of the actors in the car were shot by towing the vehicle by a rig in the back of a slower-moving truck with camera equipment. When attached to the trailer, the Warthog's own front wheels had to be removed and replaced by smaller ones. This and many other maintenance operations on the Warthog were performed by WETA technician Peter Osbourne, who was largely responsible for engineering the vehicle in the first place and has been said to be the only person in the world truly capable of operating it.
Promotion and trailers
A teaser trailer for the series was released on Halo Waypoint and on YouTube by Machinima on July 2, 2012. A series of short featurettes were also filmed back to back with the series to flesh out the setting and to provide an insight into everyday life at Corbulo. These featurettes were directed by Jamieson Fry, who was picked partly because of his prior knowledge of the Halo universe. The following trailers were released prior to the release date of the webseries:
Prior to and during the initial online release of Forward Unto Dawn, Machinima released a 13-part series, Halo After Dawn. Hosted by Mr. Sark and Adam Kovic, After Dawn featured interviews with the Forward Unto Dawn cast and crew, with the episodes discussing various aspects of the series, including behind-the-scenes insight.
The musical score for Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn was composed by Nathan Lanier and officially released on July 10, 2013. A 26-track isolated score is also included as a bonus feature in the Blu-ray/DVD edition of the film.
The extended edition, available on Halo Waypoint to owners of the Halo 4 Limited Edition, contains an alternate cut of the series itself as a single continuous film, totaling 90 minutes in length; this includes a "Prelude" segment featured at the beginning of the film and a blooper reel at the end. The film remains largely identical to the webseries, aside from moving the "present-day" portions chronicling Cortana's descent into rampancy aboard the UNSC Forward Unto Dawn to a single sequence in the beginning of the film, whereas in the webseries they were splintered into individual scenes featured in the opening of each episode. The online extended edition also contains various pieces of bonus material, including interviews with the main characters, additional videos and behind-the-scenes footage, including Awakening a Sleeper, a 20-minute "making of" documentary of the series.