Friday Flashback #534

SOFTIMAGE|XSI user case study

“Vegetable Fairy NYSALAD” , Digital Media Lab Co., Ltd.

By Lucy Hiwasa

When I hear that a TV series that airs four episodes a week will be produced with 3DCG animation, I tend to be interested in how to streamline the work and proceed with the production. However, those who see this work should be more interested in how such high-quality images can be produced. The “Yasai no Yosei: His NYSALAD” project (hereafter, “Vegetable Yosei”) produced by Digital Media Lab Co., Ltd. (DML), was produced under a strict schedule, but it has excellent artistry. It is a work.

Yasai no Yosei NYSALAD” trailer (on Yasai no Yosei official website)

What is “Vegetable Fairy”

“Vegetable Fairy” is based on the art book “NYSALAD” created by Yoshitaka Amano. This work is based on the motifs of vegetables that Amano himself saw in his daily life in New York, and is a collection of softly touched pictures of cute vegetable fairies playing around the kitchen at night.

If you are familiar with Mr. Amano’s paintings, it may be easy to imagine, but in fact, most of his works are drawn with such a delicate touch that they run into various obstacles when moving in 3D. This “NYSALAD” is no exception. Just hearing that the picture will be made into a three-dimensional figure and then added animation will make you feel daunted, but when you hear that there are four episodes a week, it may be hard to believe until you actually see the finished work.       

Amano’s actual sketch
Amano’s view of the world

When you watch the video of “Vegetable Fairy”, you will be soothed by the unique vegetable characters moving around in a kitchen in New York at night. For the little vegetable fairies, the spacious kitchen is the ocean, the steep mountains, and the deep forest. It’s always the best place to give them a play called adventure.

Starting with the main character, Brussels sprouts, there are many vegetable fairies such as lettuce, garlic, and white eggplant. Even though she speaks the fairy language, the story is conveyed just by looking at the video for a strange reason. Since April 5, 2007, NHK Educational TV has been broadcasting every Thursday and Friday from 7:15 am to 7:25 am (5 minutes x 2 episodes), so be sure to check it out.

From “Prototype” to “Vegetable Story”

Four years ago, I was interviewed for the prototype “NYSALAD” user story. Even at the time, I was moved by the fact that Mr. Amano’s paintings were moving with the same touch, but this time I am even more impressed.

We asked him about the process from the actual production of the prototype until it became a program to be broadcast on NHK Educational TV.

“Two years ago, I worked with NHK Educational on a program called ‘Eigo de Asobo.’ Just around the time we started working together, the video of “NYSALAD” caught my eye, and it was decided that it would be good material for the audience of NHK Educational TV, and this project started. DML Senior Managing Director Takahiro Urasawa. “The actual work started with Mr. Amano drawing up the design concept in a way that was different from the previous prototype, so that it would be easier for children to understand,” continued Mr. Urasawa.

Challenge to new images

I was shown Mr. Amano’s character draft, and Mr. Amano carefully drew the various facial expressions and body movements of each character. Based on Mr. Amano’s original plan, he created a three-sided drawing in DML and completed the design while consulting with Mr. Amano so that modeling and animation would be easy.

Director Noriyuki Aomi asked, “How far can we express the texture of Mr. Amano’s paintings in 3D? It is said that the construction of the expression technique was the most difficult point this time.           

Mr. Amano’s Brussel sprouts draft        
Mr. Amano’s carrot draft

“For the prototypes, I always kept in mind images that popped out of picture books. Aomi always thought that it would be a hand-drawn work, but he didn’t get satisfied even if he was told that it looked hand-drawn enough,” added producer Masatoshi Kobayashi.

what is a tv series

The biggest difference from the prototype is that it’s a TV series. Mr. Aomi was troubled by the need to produce a total of 26 five-minute stories and about 100 minutes of video. “We needed to create a production line, but if the process becomes too complicated, it becomes difficult to control. It was really difficult to find a landing point for 2D,” says Aomi.

“When we were working on the prototype, we worked with XSI, but when this project started, we considered a wide range of methods, including packages other than XSI and methods other than toon. We had to achieve three things, and after conducting these various tests, we finally chose XSI,” says Kobayashi. At DML, we organized the prototype process again and simplified the process so that we could increase the number of production lines. By packaging it in the form of a “salad shader” and putting it on the line, we tried to improve efficiency. Since we use multiple lines, we focus on how well the pre-production is done, and spend about 5 months on look tests.

Mr. Aomi says that he was at a loss when it came to expressing his style, especially the “white background”. “It’s an important factor that determines the taste of the work. It goes without saying, but the background is indispensable in developing the drama. How far should this ‘white’ be expressed in this work? I created the series with a firm grasp of the concept of regularity, and made sure that the entire series was well-coordinated.” It was also a question of whether to express it in 2D or in 2D.In the end, we chose the best method for each scene.”

If you look at the trailer, you will notice that the world is not only white, but various worlds such as the sea and icicles are drawn even though it is based on white.

Between hand-drawn and 3D

“Just texturing 3D data makes it look 3D, especially when it comes to video. I explored whether it could be established in a different way,” says Mr. Aomi.

“We called it a “washerasha” feeling, but Aomi and I had a lot of discussions about expressing the fluctuations in the outline of the character. said Mr. Kobayashi. In the prototype character, the fluctuation of the line was given to the whole. However, in “Vegetable Yousei” this time, each part of the body fluctuates differently, and the overall impression is clean. Regarding that, chief creator Manabu Takahashi says, “We used 2D processing to play back the image that was created using passes in XSI, with the lines fluctuating. However, this fluctuation is also weighted. For example, the face line, etc.”      

Mr. Amano’s original idea for Aunt Sunny
Setting picture for modeling
Aunt Sunny on XSI

“In the previous prototype, the facial expressions of the characters themselves were inorganic, and it felt like the characters were animated using their entire bodies to compensate for that. At the time, I was hesitant as to whether it would be possible to reproduce such rich facial expressions in 3D,” said Mr. Kobayashi. “But conversely, I think that the staff was motivated to express Mr. Amano’s original idea in the best possible way, and thanks to that, we were able to create the character so far.” Mr. Kobayashi I say so.

production workflow

Next, we asked about the actual workflow.

“In producing this anime series, we asked a reliable partner to do a certain amount of work because we couldn’t handle everything in-house,” says Mr. Kobayashi. Aomi says that in order to create an external production, he first created a character of Brussels sprouts in-house, prepared the basic rig structure, and asked the partner to use the same rig structure. Since the character’s limbs are short, there are times when it is necessary to stretch out the storyteller’s legs. Therefore, the rig is made so that it can be extended and retracted. However, in response to the question of whether the rig would collapse if it were to expand and contract, Mr. Takahashi said, “It’s limited to cuts. The basic motions are made with the length of the hand now. Sometimes it happens that I can’t reach my hand, so I changed the length of my hand only at that time.Since normal animation is based on the premise of expressing only the structure of the body.” answer. Mr. Takahashi says that the facial expression was the most important thing in the production. “I focused on making it as cute as possible.” All the actual face animations are created with shape animation, and the facial expressions can be changed with custom parameters. The texture animation used in the prototype is not adopted, and the eye animation uses shape animation. The cuteness that Mr. Takahashi emphasized is fully expressed.

Improved animator quality

For the animation work this time, we used a rig with a high degree of freedom so that the animators could breathe life into the characters as they wished. As a result, the quality of the animation exceeded expectations. “The animators were very attached to Mr. Amano’s work, and everyone was particular about the movement when making it,” said Mr. Kobayashi.

Basically, we wanted to proceed with the production in a small group and in a way that was flexible, so a team of 3 to 4 people was created for each episode (5 minutes). I was surprised that the 3-4 people were the number of people including the synthesis process. “I was also creating a tool set for the look, so I had a feeling that I could do it there to some extent,” says Kobayashi. “In this anime series, unlike movies, where a large number of people are put in to complete the work, the premise was that the character’s individuality should be known, so it should be done with a small number of people. I had ideals.”

In “Vegetable Fairy” the fairies are really moving. We asked him what the secret behind this adorable move was. “There are no particular technical restrictions. The animations by NetView are just a few basic patterns such as walking and running. Basically, XSI is easy to animate, but the animators have a lot of freedom. I got it,” said Mr. Aomi.


Mr. Takahashi says that the emphasis was on how to produce materials efficiently, and the partition function that came with the model information when the pass was spit out was useful. “When composing a scene, first prepare a scene with only path information. When you bring all the character data there, it will automatically divide it into materials. I think that’s one of the secrets to being able to work efficiently.”

“Vegetable Fairy” is a work filled with the desire of everyone involved to “deliver good quality animation to children”. Not only is it wonderful as a video work, but it will surely warm your heart after watching it.

(From the left of the photo)
Mr. Ichikawa / Mr. Aomi / Mr. Kobayashi / Mr. Takahashi