'Red vs. Blue' Season 16: How Rooster Teeth Put a Cyclops in 'Halo'
Ever since Red Vs. Blue debuted in 2003, Rooster Teeth has pushed the limits of what’s possible in a potty-mouthed sci-fi comedy set inside the first-person-shooter video game Halo, from choreographed fight scenes to a giant space heist. But in its most recent season, the show’s creators managed to pull off a new technical undertaking: a live-action monster.
In “It Just Winked at Me,” the seventh episode of Red Vs. Blue Season 16, a giant Greek cyclops appears to fee-fi-fo-fum the hell out of Tucker and Sister, two clumsy space marines caught up in some time travel shenanigans.
Unlike the vast majority of the show’s characters, who are “played” by various multiplayer avatars from Halo 5, the Cyclops was performed in live-action by Rooster Teeth co-founder Gus Sorola, who also voices Simmons in Red vs. Blue.
"It’s basically like being entombed in a sarcophagus, unable to do anything other than breathe.
Sorola tells Inverse that it took 13 hours to achieve the effect. While Rooster Teeth has done live-action for Red Vs. Blue before, the Cyclops was the first time ever that Rooster Teeth composited a live-action character into its digital “set.”
Article continues after this exclusive blooper reel from ‘Red vs. Blue’ Season 16.
The idea of Sorola playing a cyclops came randomly one day during dialogue recording for the season.
“We wrapped up a session and [series writer] Joe [Nicolosi] said, ‘Hey, would you mind being a cyclops?’” Sorola recalls. “I said sure, that sounds fun.’ He said, ‘Great, I’m glad you agreed without asking what that’s going to entail.’”
From there, one of biggest hurdles wasn’t technological at all. It was financial.
“We had a whole budget discussion over the cyclops, because it wasn’t planned for,” says producer and “Sarge” voice actor Matt Hullum. “We were all negotiated on how much we can spend on the cyclops. I’m sure Gus was just waiting in the wings, like, ‘I don’t know what I agreed to.’”
Here’s exactly what Sorola agreed to: An entire 13-hour day of molding, make-up, and shooting as the cyclops.
“They had to make a mold of my head, which took an hour,” he explains. “It’s basically like being entombed in a sarcophagus, unable to do anything other than breathe.”
Then, “it took three hours to apply the makeup,” followed by eight whole hours of shooting. Removal of the entire getup took another solid hour.
“Just for what was probably less than two minutes of time on screen,” Sorola says, “but the approach the crew took was really disciplined. They killed it. I didn’t think we’d be able to shoot everything in that eight hour span but they came in with the shot list and they banged it out. They had a clear vision for how they wanted it to work. They did not make me regret that decision.”
The scene was partially inspired by legendary SFX creator Ray Harryhausen, whose work includes the stop-motion creatures of 1963’s Jason and the Argonauts and 1981’s Clash of the Titans. Harryhausen played a psychological influenced on Sorola, who mimicked the movement of Haryhausen’s claymation monsters in his performance.
“I was thinking at the time of Jason and the Argonauts, having these big claymation and rudimentary special effects interacting with live actors,” Sorola says. “ I was trying to think of the movement as being an animation walk cycle. That’s what I kept thinking of.”
But was it uncomfortable? Being a cyclops had some drawbacks. “Breathing wasn’t bad. Eating was a challenge,” Sorola says, though his desperation to eat led to an improvised gag.
“That scene, the way it was scripted, I was supposed to pull the head off and pour the grenades out,” he says. “I was on set trying to fit the head around my mouth around the prosthetic teeth. Joe was on set that day. I said, ‘Joe, I think I can bite the head off.’ He said, ‘Yes, do it, I wanted you to do it from the start but I didn’t want you to do anything you weren’t comfortable with.’ We were able to do it and it turned out well.”
For a show all about goofball soldiers blowing themselves up in space, Rooster Teeth’s cornerstone comedy franchise has continually pushed the technical limits of what the underdog studio is capable of.
“Red Vs. Blue has kind of always been the testing ground for innovation that has led to other shows being developed and successful,” Hullum says. “We started playing around doing machinima, and then we started doing fully blown CG animation where we were using game textures and applying them with all new characters and sets. We took those philosophies as we moved forward doing shows like RWBY.”
The series was also an early proving ground for the studio’s competence at motion capture, which they discovered a startling skill for.
“The motion capture stuff, we really cut our teeth in Red Vs. Blue and applied that to RWBY and gen:LOCK,” Hullum says. “All around Red Vs. Blue is the gift that keeps on giving. We always find new things to experiment with.”
“Hopefully we keep making people laugh,” Sorola says. “Even after all these years, reading the scripts is hilarious to me.”
Red Vs. Blue: The Shisno Paradox is streaming now on Rooster Teeth. The series will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 1, 2019.