Upper Deck caught up with concept artist Isaac Hannaford, who did the artwork for its upcoming Halo Limited Edition Gallery Prints, titled “Reclaimer” for the regular edition and “Hey Chief” for the variant.
Asked how he was introduced to the franchise Hannaford said, “That was back [in] 2001 on the release of Halo: Combat Evolved. I was going to college and visiting a friend and he had this new game he wanted to show me. We played through it, beginning to end right there. We were both studying with the goal of entering the film industry and playing that game kind of opened my eyes to the possibility that maybe doing that work for games was going to be a thing—it was shortly after that I started to apply for jobs in that field. “
Hannaford recalls being instantly hooked on the gameplay.
“I think it was just that that kinetic movement, it felt like you were in a dogfight with your foes. I like the speed and I liked the sense of power that you had. The graphics were great, I liked the story and just being in that world…I am a sci-fi fan so that whole universe was something I was excited to explore and to look at.”
To get the right look for the prints, Hannaford used a unique method.
“I approach most of my images like I haven’t painted before and I try different things; it’s evolved pretty significantly over the years. For this latest one, I built that model in Blender and posed it and rigged it and lit it and then went in and started painting into it. Usually, I start straight in Photoshop and I start drawing and sketching things out. But I have been having so much fun with Blender, I used it as an excuse to practice and so my approach was different this time and I had a lot of fun doing it.”
Hannaford is known by Halo fans for his world building. He really wanted the mythology of Master Chief to leap off the print.
“I kind of treated it like it was a studio image where I could put a big lights and big shadow casters in there and just find the right situation. There’s a Forerunner object in that foreground that is casting a shadow on the on the chief, so he is getting backlit which brings him really forward and makes him a powerful graphic image in that shot. And then he is getting rim lit from all the warm yellows and then a little sky bounce of blue on top of him. It’s kind of telling the story of entering into a dark space, making that transition from the outside to the inside. He is exploring, and entering a space where he has to be watching his back and so he’s got his weapon always ready. That is kind of the visual story that I was trying to tell there.”
With the variant print, Hannaford says he wanted to convey the trust between Master Chief and Cortana.
“Even within the Halo universe, there’s not a lot of humans that have that kind of like deep bond and friendship with an A.I. So, it’s really unique to their relationship. I wanted them to feel like they are alone and like they’re the only two in that space and they’re facing down this this threat and exploring this locale. He is cradling her in his hand and following what she is talking about by looking and seeing what she is referring to. So, I wanted to try and convey that and the scale of the Forerunner architecture, and that is where you get a lot of that dust and atmospheric perspective. There’s little dust motes in the camera and you just feel like you are in this ancient empty tomb.”
With a move into the gaming industry early in his career, the Halo franchise remains a focal point for the artist.
“That was the game that got me thinking I could do this kind of work in the game industry, so it was right there at the very beginning of my career. It guided a lot of my learning and thinking about game design during my first few jobs, and I played Halo 2 and Halo: Combat Evolved multiplayer for a few years, working for another studio. Me and my coworkers there learned a lot from that and many of us moved to Seattle to work on that game. So, I started on Halo 3 and worked on Halo 3 and Halo: Reach and it was my first published illustration, my first big swing at a Triple A title. It really boosted the audience’s awareness of who I was, and so I am super grateful for that. I really got to kind of stretch my arms and flex my muscles on that, and that was one of my favorite products to work on and then since then I have been contributing often on covers and it is always a pleasure to come back and you know, give back to that franchise that meant so much to me and had such a huge impact on my career.”
For him the best experiences are the ones shared with fans who admire his contributions to the game.
“Every year there are dozens of people dressed in Spartan suits and ODST’s that I designed, and I get swarmed every year by a really devoted fan base and it is always super impressive to see the creations that they make and to be able to share stories there. That’s one of the best things that is come out of this experience is just being able to interact with those folks. And to have contributed to something that means so much to them as well.”
Since its launch in 2001, the game has been adapted into novels, television and now gallery art. While still involved in many aspects of the franchise, Hannaford believes the sky is the limit to the property’s longevity.
“The motivations for the player and for Master Chief are super simple and they are just all pure heroism. The character Master Chief is mythologized in the universe before you even like, stepped into play him in Halo: Combat Evolved. The way the marines refer to you and defer to you. They are impressed or in awe of your presence. The bad guys respond to you, the grunts are scared, they call you the demon like you are known. That’s such a powerful feeling that Halo really gave the player. That they mean something in this world. That their deeds and their actions are making a difference. That people know who they are. It is a pretty powerful feeling. So, I think that is really one of the really enduring things about the franchise that is how they’ve let it really run as long as it has, and I think it is why it has the promise to continue for maybe decades to come. My involvement more recently has been mostly in the covers and book covers and comic book covers, getting opportunities like this to do prints for Upper Deck. And I did recently get to do some work for Halo Infinite, contributing to the new multiplayer armor design and some iterations on that. So that was super exciting to be able to see that…to get to contribute to something that went in the game and to see that and the advertising was really awesome and so feeling blessed and excited about the future of the franchise.”
The Halo Limited Edition Gallery Print has a regular edition run of 250 and variant edition run of 100. It will be available on the Upper Deck store online October 20.