Changing Cortana’s Look In Halo Season 2 Was No Easy Task
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Changing Cortana’s Look In Halo Season 2 Was No Easy Task



When Halo Season 2 first premiered, there were a number of changes–especially in relation to the blue-tinted artificial intelligence Cortana, who accompanied Master Chief (Pablo Schreiber) on his Season 1 adventures. Cortana had taken full control of Master Chief as the first season ended, with the enhanced soldier giving up control of himself to the AI. When Season 2 rolled around, not only had a time jump meant that Cortana was no longer anywhere near Master Chief, but she wasn’t even played by the same actress.

In Season 2, Jen Taylor–who has played Cortana in the Halo games for over two decades–is no longer doing motion capture for the role. Instead, producers recast her with an entirely new actress, Season 2 addition Christina Bennington. Of course, that doesn’t mean Taylor is out of the equation. To find out exactly how this works and why the change was made, GameSpot sat down with Halo executive producer Kiki Wolfkill and Season 2 showrunner David Wiener.

According to Wolfkill, as planning for Season 2 began, Halo’s creative team wanted to be able to focus on the “facial fidelity of Cortana” moving forward.

“The original Season 1 Cortana was a fully CG character. It was not based on an actor. We pulled in some of [Dr. Halsey actress] Natasha [McElhone]’s attributes, but really, it was a wholly created character,” she explained. “It was very much about how do we make sure we’re getting the full range of emotion and facial nuance? And maybe that can only come from a real person.”

Wiener agreed, noting that the little details and nuances of the character are far more apparent when using an actor on-set, as opposed to a motion-captured rendering.

“I think that the solution we came up with had a lot of creative benefits and most of them have to do with just trying to ground the show as much as possible and keeping it feeling human and photo-real,” he explained. “And while you can achieve some things with a CG asset, we know that there’s really something ineffable about human beings and particularly with actors, you know, you can get these nuances and subtleties that I think connect us to what’s going on inside on a subtextual level.”

Gallery

Season 1 Cortana vs. Season 2 Cortana

And while Bennington is the face you’ll see for Cortana in Season 2, Taylor’s influence hasn’t gone anywhere. In addition to still voicing the character, Wolfkill told GameSpot that she was on-set with Bennington during production “directing movement style and performance.” Of course, it also helped to make sure their lip-syncing was on-point.

The process, as it turns out, is more intense than you might expect. However, according to Taylor, it went a long way in resting a genuine connection between the two sides of Cortana’s portrayal.

“We would talk through and rehearse possibilities for each scene the day before we were on set,” Taylor told GameSpot. “I’d send Christina a few different takes of each of Cortana’s lines as reference for cadence and tone. Then on the day, we would work through the scenes with the director and our fellow actors and, once we began filming, I’d be on hand to help guide the performance.”

Not surprisingly, Bennington had some serious reservations about joining in such an iconic role. However, the work with Taylor helped her feel at home.

“The pressure can be huge when joining a show with such a legacy, but to be honest I just really relished the opportunity,” she explained. “Jen told me to trust myself, because she said she thought I was very like Cortana in real life.”

As for what this means for Cortana’s story in Season 2, the answer is mostly nothing. While Cortana’s character design has changed in the games, it’s rarely changed the core of the character. According to Wiener and Wolfkill, that’s the Halo way. So don’t expect an explanation of why she suddenly looks different.

“We’ve always just gone in the games with ‘Cortana is Cortana is Cortana’ until we get to [Halo Infinite’s] The Weapon, but that’s a different character,” Wolfkill explained. “Unless David has plans I’m not aware of, we don’t plan to explain the difference in appearance.”

With just four episodes left in Season 2, it remains to see if Halo will be renewed for a third season or if we would get another Cortana in Season 3. Hopefully, though, we’ll at least get a follow-up to the Season 1 cliffhanger we’ve been waiting for.

New episodes of Halo stream Thursdays on Paramount+.



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