What’s In What’s In The Box?

By John Walker on March 18th, 2009 at 1:35 pm.

Flipping crikey.

So what’s this, then? RPS readers: ASSEMBLE! We must solve and reveal. A video, below, featuring some remarkably impressive special effects, seeming to be part of the Half-Life universe. Not only does it feature some really neatly woven background mattes on regular film, but there’s a sense of scale that seems like it should be beyond a couple of guys mucking around on their weekends. Who has the capacity to take over a street, leaving cars strewn all over? And buses. Make sure to watch it in HQ.

As excellent tipper Chris Deter points out, there’s Half-life 2 sound effects, and a news ticker along the bottom that at one point reads, “Millions feared dead … no news from disaster area … Largest single collapse in history since Black Mesa”.

Also supremely impressive are the displays on the “Computer Brain Interface”. As the character holds up cellphones, data about them pops up and scrolls, in a way that makes me want a Computer Brain Interface right away. Oh, and that it’s one continuous shot Oops, wrong about that. But still.

However, this isn’t Valve’s style at all. Live-action isn’t something they’ve used, and it seems to have been shot in the Netherlands. I might be wrong about that – smart readers, can you identify the road signs/license plates? But the level of detail is astonishing. Note the circling birds at the end, who fly away at the sound of the explosion. Or the video screens inside the bus, glimpsed for about half a second. Creator Timacious shows prowess for special effects in the other videos he has on his YouTube channel. Whatever this video is – and my guess would be simply a remarkable fan project – it’s incredible, and deserves attention.

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149 Comments »

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  1. Wookie_Wookstar (Big D) says:

    Thought I heard some music from LOST! :)

  2. JJ says:

    Yep, that’s in Holland. A sign in the bus says “Bij nood deur openen”.
    Very cool movie btw

  3. Warduke says:

    Yah, really well done. You definitely want to know what happens next..

  4. Chris Deter says:

    Wow, thanks for taking the tip guys! I’m honored, really.
    I thought the birds at the end were man-hacks that dropped right before the big kaboom at the end. I’d take another look, but alas, Youtube is blocked at work. I’m interested to see what the rest of RPS thinks of this. Thanks again!

  5. dhex says:

    the music is the only weak spot; otherwise amazing.

  6. futage says:

    It’s technically impressive in some ways (the fact that they managed to use a whole street etc. and the sfx are passable). But in terms of narrative or concept there seems to be nothing there, it’s evocative of the Half-Life universe and … that’s it, as if that’s an end in itself.

  7. Catastrophe says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  8. SirKicksalot says:

    Oh man, that music is horrible…
    Otherwise it’s very good. But it’s not one continuous shot, right?

  9. PaulMorel says:

    If it’s a fan project, then how did they get a bus?

    Perhaps it’s Valve’s first viral marketing for episode 3?

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    MacBeth says:

    Very good, got the mood down nicely. Fairly convinced it’s unofficial fan work, but good nonetheless.

    It’s not one continuous shot though – can see where the cuts have been sneaked in (e.g. when the lights go out, and various points where he (?) falls to the ground too I suspect)

  11. Cooper says:

    Looks like some immensely impressive fan work around the ‘three minute war’…

  12. Cooper says:

    Sorry, seven hour war – wrong war…

  13. Chris Evans says:

    Very impressive whatever it is.

  14. cyrenic says:

    We’re getting spoiled with all these awesome fan made Half Life videos.

    That one definitely needed to work on the music a bit, but otherwise, yeah, great. Maybe they work (or know someone who works) in the film industry and were able to get access to a set so they could do the street scenes.

  15. Ian says:

    I don’t really have much to add to the what-is-it-really? line of conversation, I just think it’s pretty good.

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    Stense says:

    Yep, thats impressively done. Very stylish.

  17. Bobsy says:

    Either it’s a fan project, film students like the guys doing Escape From City 17, or it’s another developer’s “concept” for a first-person game very much like HL2. If it is just in concept stage, using live-action stuff to give an idea of how they want the game to look, references to Black Mesa are just a loving tribute.

  18. Larington says:

    Theres a less sci-fi-tech equivalent to the Computer Brain Interface demonstrated here:
    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/pattie_maes_demos_the_sixth_sense.html
    Its only 8 minutes but shows fantastic potential.

  19. Paul_M says:

    The birds don’t fly away at the end, they just drop dead out of the sky and onto the roof of the house – which is even more brilliant and creepy.

  20. gryffinp says:

    There’s also the mystifying video description. “This is a early temp version. Will be deleted soon.”

    I HOPE this is viral marketing for Valve. I want Episode 3.

  21. Larington says:

    Ih whant mah ehpisohd thareee.

  22. x25killa says:

    I bet it’s some sort of portal.

  23. Ronnie76er says:

    Did anyone else see him throw away the CBI…it had a BSOD.

  24. Flappybat says:

    Well the swirly part makes me think of the portal storm and seven day war but having the human combine soldiers doesn’t make sense as they only came sometime after the surrender.

    Also it’s quite easy to film empty streets, you just have to do it at a time when the sun rises really early. It’s how they did the London shots in 28 days later.

  25. gryffinp says:

    Thought: This guy is also the guy who made the phone book thing for Mythbusters, and it looks like the other stuff on his channel is well-made too. I wouldn’t put it past Valve to have gone “Hey, we saw your stuff. We think it’s pretty neat. We have these giant hordes of money, you wanna make an awesome video for our new project?”

  26. Pags says:

    Also it’s quite easy to film empty streets, you just have to do it at a time when the sun rises really early. It’s how they did the London shots in 28 days later.

    They also shot it around Christmas day if I remember correctly, just to make doubly sure I guess.

    Anyway, I’m also of the opinion that this is just a very impressive film project that took inspiration from Half-Life. Most impressive parts in particular were the video screens in the bus, the traffic light being obliterated and the front door and garden shed being blown to smithereens.

  27. JWV says:

    The whole movie takes place in nijmegen, the Netherlands. The first part of the movie (in the lab) is situated in the nano-lab of the radboud-university. I’ve been there and I’m 100% sure it is. The moment he opens the door to go outside the place switches. I do not know the parking lot with the bus, but the moment he leaves the bus he runs through an alley past a supermarket (with this logo: http://www.retailwiki.nl/wiki02/images/Rem_2007_lo_01_JorgDannenberg.jpg , which you can see for a milli-second on a board hanging from the building, small fault in editing i think). The streets he ends in (where’s he’s being shot from the copter) is called Daalseweg and it is in fact quite a busy street, so it’s really weird that there’s no one there. The house etc. in the end is just a normal neighbourhood (i believe there’s no cutting in the last part, that neighbourhood is indeed next to daalseweg) in the centre of Nijmegen.

  28. Inferno says:

    It may be easy to film empty street but not to fuilm them withwrecked buses , cars and bikes all over the road. Was highly entertaining to watch, interested to see where it came from or what time it’s set in.

    As Flappy says having combine humans doesn’t make too much sense if it’s the initial invasion (they may have begun seeding into the planet to take over government for a while though).

    Very interested in seeing where this is going though.

  29. Chris Deter says:

    @gryffinp:
    That’s what I was wondering too. Portal was made when Valve saw Narbacular Drop and said “here are plane tickets, come work for us”, so it’s not unprecedented for them. Then again, Escape from City 17 wasn’t made on commission from Valve; it was recognized by Valve, but they didn’t ask them to make it.

    Also, my first thought on the birds at the end was that they were actually man-hacks that went haywire right along with the combine soldiers before the final explosion – like it was sending out some sort of interference that messed with Combine technology right before the final meltdown.

    I’m still wondering what the deuce the box does – but I suppose that’s the point of the video, eh?

  30. aldo_14 says:

    Bloody impressive, not just in terms of compositing it but also the subtlety; it’d be tempting to focus on stuff like the screens for too long just to show off, but he/she didn’t.

    Doesn’t look like HL2, though. The references to ‘Babel’ and the ‘towers’ breaking down (or something) seem to be too different (if you wanted to reference HL2, you could be far more overt, surely).

  31. Whiskey Jak says:

    At first I read “What IS Box” which is something entirely different and completely hilarious: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l_8yPap-k_s

    Otherwise, this movie is pretty good. I’m still waiting to see more from those other guys from Toronto who did that other City 17 fan movie.

  32. Dinger says:

    Well, the whole Portal-Narbacular drop thing was a little more complicated and a little less expensive than that. There are no scheduled flights from Digipen to Valve, although one would hope that, the next time, Valve would use a Combine dropship to transport their new hires upon indoctrination.

  33. Bruut says:

    I thought I recognized it, I live in the same town :P
    Funny thing I never noticed the singularity

  34. Tonic says:

    This is what’s called a demo film or demo reel. Special effects, animation, and CGI students make them to show off their skills as a kind of resume or as a project for a grade. Often they’re strapped for what resources they can bring to the project and have friends do voices and music or lift them from video games. Here you can see he’s lifted sound effects from HL2 and I think somebody else mentioned he lifted music from LOST.

  35. Jorlin says:

    @Bruut: LOL

    …you should start thinking about glasses ;)

  36. Tonic says:

    Oh also I should mention that’s why there’s the ‘character audio track missing’ at the top and you can’t hear the character breathing or his footsteps, but you can hear all the ‘splosions and lasers and gunfire.

  37. DF7 says:

    The lost music completely took me out of the moment, but other than that it was very impressive. When the first “combine” showed up while he was in the bus I jumped.

  38. Nighthood says:

    If you look on their website ( http://www.whatsinthebox.nl/ ) you see that it seems to be a film project. BUT, for all you conspiracy theorists, if you highlight the box some of the text is covered in red question marks. Maybe someone could work out what that means?

    Also, in terms of the Lost music, didn’t ep2 have lots of references to Lost?

  39. Darthey says:

    There’s a direct reference to Half Life 2 at 2:33, where you can spot ‘Black Messa’ in the news feed.

    I love the level of detail, like the scrolling ‘emergency exit’ signs on the ceiling at the beginning (would probably be better to have had them on the floor like aeroplanes however).

  40. Smurfy says:

    So how long before Valve announce that this and Escape from City 17 are actually viral marketing for the film? *crosses fingers*

  41. AbyssUK says:

    Simon Pegg as Gordon Freeman

  42. Zed says:

    Wow, this is even more impressive than Escape from City 17.
    Crazily good for a fan film.

  43. Foucault says:

    Yea. I would say they have to be students. The machine the main character pulls the box from is a Vecco Isolation Table, used to house an Dimension 3100 Atomic Force Microscope. The entire set up is easily counted in tens of thousands of USD, if not hundreds. I’m honestly surprised they got to stick stuff inside it. If I was the researched using that I would be livid, it could contaminate my observation environment. They definitely needed a friend in the research department to get them access to that thing.

  44. mandrill says:

    @AbyssUK: lolwhut?

    Halle Berry as Alyx.

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    MacBeth says:

    The box is clearly a next gen XBox, except this time the red ring of death is more dramatic than usual…

  46. Fumarole says:

    Impressive video.

  47. Aermane says:

    Anyone else kind of confused as to why the number on the clock after the seconds is counting up in 30s?

    Unless I’m being really stupid, I thought it usually went up in 100s.

  48. SlappyBag says:

    Very good but I doubt done by Valve, the “combine” were just terrible men in biohazard suits, how would that win a 7 hour war =P

    Both this and escape from city 17 proove that we need a god damn half life movie, doesn’t even have to directly relate to gordon or city 17 or black mesa, just people fighting an shitz