Friday Flashback #366


title22003: Glassworks uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI to drop a cat for the new Mercedes Benz 40-second spot. The creative team works faster and gets a better look using XSI. What’s more, no cats were harmed during the creation of this commercial.

 

THE CAT’S MEOW. Glassworks Relies on XSI to Animate Cat for Mercedes

by Audrey Doyle

There may be several ways to skin a cat. But judging by a new car commercial coming out of Glassworks, perhaps the best way is with SOFTIMAGE|XSI.

Titled “Cat”, the 40-second spot highlights the safety features of the Mercedes S-Class luxury automobile through the use of a slow-motion animation of a cat as it falls from an out-of-frame perch. The cat, which begins its descent as a live-action feline, dissolves into a CG cat shown in X-ray form. As the cat falls, its X-ray body turns upside down and twists in the air to correct itself, ultimately landing safely on its feet. The scene then shifts to the Mercedes, also shown in X-ray form to highlight its own interior safety features. At this point the camera swings around the cat and tilts to show its body, including muscles and skeleton, from every angle. The commercial ends with a live-action/CG composite, as a photo-real CG cat saunters off screen, leaving the real Mercedes to take center stage.

A leading post-production house based in London, Glassworks completed the approximately 30 seconds of 3-D animation for this commercial entirely in SOFTIMAGE|XSI, running on Windows 2000 PCs equipped with Nvidia’s Quadro DCC graphics cards.

As Alastair Hearsum, head of 3-D at Glassworks, explains, the sequence begins with a real cat that was shot using a high-speed digital camera called the Phantom 5, from Photo-Sonics Inc. According to Hearsum, the team had to shoot footage of the cat falling at a very high rate of speed in order to capture the way its body moved as it fell. Bruce Steele, director of Visual Effects at Glassworks, adds that the Phantom 5, which uses high-speed video that stores frames in the camera’s RAM, can hold approximately 4 seconds of action. This, he says, allowed the artists to rotate and tilt the camera in one continuous shot.

Glassworks shot the footage of the cat against green screen with the camera rigged to move around the cat as it fell. Steele, along with programmers from Glassworks’ R&D department, wrote some code to filter artifacts from the frames. This left a film-quality image that they then processed to interpolate the frames from 1000 to 2000 frames per second, thus slowing the motion of the cat even further.

As the cat is falling, the footage moves seamlessly from live action to a 3-D computer-generated X-ray animation that highlights the feline’s skeleton, muscles, tendons, and internal organs. In order to ensure that the approximately 100-frame dissolve from live action to CG was precise, the Glassworks artists painstakingly tracked the motion of the real cat by hand.

To create the 3-D X-ray cat, meanwhile, the artists began with a Viewpoint model of a cat, imported it into XSI, and manipulated the points so that they mimicked the shape and size of the cat in the commercial. Then they built the cat’s internal organs, muscles, and skeletal structure in XSI, using books for reference.1

While the transition from live to CG required precise tracking, once the cat was entirely CG the artists were allowed to exercise a bit of creative license in terms of animating the cat’s mid-air twists and turns. “We had a lot of footage of the real cat landing, so we studied it, and with input from Daniel Levi, the director, we came up with a hybrid piece of action composed of various takes that the director liked,” Hearsum recalls.

To create the X-ray Mercedes, the artists imported into XSI actual design data for the car, which they received in VRML format from the automobile manufacturer. “The data showed all the innards of the car,” says Hearsum. “Once we got it into XSI, we applied the X-ray look to it.”

The X-ray look for both the cat and the car was accomplished with XSI’s Render Tree. “The Render Tree was very important for this commercial,” Hearsum says. “With it, we were able to create shaders that we would otherwise have had to get our R&D people to create. We were able to knock off quite sophisticated shaders just by joining boxes together.” According to Hearsum, the Render Tree’s Incidence Node provided the basic X-ray look. “We then changed parameters, added new nodes, and were able to quickly try out different looks until we got one that was just right.”

In addition to the Render Tree, another XSI tool that was crucial to this project was the Isner Spine, a spine creation technique developed by Michael Isner, the character setup and animation lead for Softimage Special Projects. With this tool, the Glassworks artists were able to intuitively animate the cat’s spine without having to build a complicated and elaborate bones setup. “This tool” says Hearsum, “allowed us to easily bend the cat’s spine in a very flexible and realistic way.” For everyone who is interested, Isner’s spine creation technique is available as a character animation script in XSI.

In addition to the X-ray version of the cat, the Glassworks artists also built a digital version of a photo-real cat, which appears at the end of the commercial, walking out of the shot. The artists built the cat, including its fur, and animated it walking in a convincing manner in XSI.

According to Hearsum, the artists had only four weeks in which to complete the CG for this spot. And thanks to the tools in XSI—particularly the Render Tree and the Isner Spine—they were able to complete the project in this timeframe to the director’s high expectations. “If we had to complete this project in another program in this timeframe, it wouldn’t have looked as good,” Hearsum says. “We wouldn’t have been able to achieve the look that the director and I were after in that amount of time

“SOFTIMAGE|XSI is very comprehensive, which makes it easier to arrive at a solution to a problem that a particular effect might pose,” he concludes. “And as budgets and deadlines continue to get shorter, being able to solve such problems quickly is very important.”

Friday Flashback #352


SOFTIMAGE | 3D 3.9.2 and SOFTIMAGE | XSI 1.5
From the “making of Pico” by Avant Co Japan

pico_14pico_16pico_13

Via the wayback machine and Google translate:

Since we were using SI at the time at that time, we started production at SI.

I tried things using shaders written by the company programmer · Things that used SpeedRender etc, but because it is unlikely that the required quality can be reached in the expression that can be done with shader, I will do Global Illumination I decided to try it. Although GI can be done with SI, I will use XSI for the first time because it seems that the setting using XSI seems to be finely set.

At this point there is not even even touching XSI (it is before the PV of m – flo ), it is difficult to conclude with XSI suddenly, so I will use it together with SI.

We will proceed with “schedule” that we will complete all the basic scenes such as modeling, animation and weight adjustment at SI and attach texture only at XSI.

So when we finished modeling we preliminarily converted to XSI and tried to render using global illumination. It seems that it is very difficult and time-consuming to adjust, but I have decided to proceed with the method SI → XSIm live-action shooting to final combination. Well then. To be continued …
— Hiroyuki Kashima

Friday Flashback #339


05_CS_RE4

Summary

For Resident Evil 4 Capcom Co. Ltd. put SOFTIMAGE|XSI at the core of its development pipeline to establish an efficient workflow, to manage huge volumes of data and to create seamlessly integrated visual sophistication from event scenes to game play.

Even if you think that you’re ready to be thrilled, terrified and amazed, Resident Evil 4 might still be too much for you. It’s one fast-paced, hair-raising, visually incredible game that’s sure to be on everyone’s list for 2005 and beyond. This is definitely not your big brother’s game.

Resident Evil 4 Uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI to Redefine Survival Horror

By Alexandra Pasian

On January 27th, 2005, Capcom Co. Ltd released the latest installment in their Resident Evil franchise and redefined the survival horror genre. With spellbinding visuals, three-dimensional game play and dynamic camera work, Resident Evil 4 will have you seeing and experiencing things that you’ve never seen or felt before. Yoshiaki Hirabayashi, a Designer at Capcom, talked to us about the major role that SOFTIMAGE|XSI played in the franchise’s new look and feel.

XSI AT THE CORE OF THE DEVELOPMENT PIPELINE

In the past, Capcom used both SOFTIMAGE|XSI and SOFTIMAGE|3D for the development of the Resident Evil franchise, including on Resident Evil for Game Cube. For Resident Evil 4, , however, the development environment was migrated to SOFTIMAGE|XSI exclusively for everything from character modeling to animation as well as to the outputting of scene data to actual equipment.

When asked why Capcom selected SOFTIMAGE|XSI as their main creation tool, Hirabayashi explains: “The most obvious advantage to XSI is the fact that it builds on our already substantial knowledge and experience with SOFTIMAGE|3D. In addition, we have developed a real trust in the product through the support that Avid Technology offers. And, ultimately, we know that you have to select high quality tools if you want to create high quality games.”

6In order to achieve the quality that they wanted for Resident Evil 4, the team at Capcom first had to concentrate on their workflow. With more than ten times the amount of content of other installments in the series, the team had to be confident in their development pipeline. In the end, the content for the game was completed faster than usual because the developers at Capcom created an efficient workflow using SOFTIMAGE|XSI as the core of their pipeline.

With an environment that enables outputting to actual equipment, SOFTIMAGE|XSI helped to make Resident Evil 4 a reality. In their game development environment, Capcom also used the Animation Mixer in XSI to manage the volume of data, such as motion data and camera animation, that was necessary for game creation.

mixerIn order to export the scene data to the game, for example, the data that had to be outputted to the Animation Mixer and the character nodes needed to be selected in such a way that, after pressing a single button, the data could be played on the actual equipment.

Even though such operations normally require five to six steps, the developers were able to customize XSI so that, by coordinating the VBS and a proprietary tool, these operations were done in one step. This meant that the designers were able to play the scene in a split second without needing to pay attention to the program running behind XSI.

According to Hirabayashi: “The Animation Mixer in XSI is very intuitive, allowing the designers to easily understand the interface. And our developers appreciate the open and flexible environment. Because of all the advantages XSI has to offer, we were able to produce content faster and with better quality that surpassed even the director’s expectations.”

STREAMLINING VISUAL SOPHISTICATION

According to Hirabayashi: “There were big changes and big challenges on Resident Evil 4 as compared to previous installments. The toughest challenge involved creating all of the cinematic portions of the game as in-game cut scenes.” The team at Capcom used in-game cut scenes to create the cinematic content for the game so that the game portions and event portions would tie together seamlessly. By employing in-game cut scenes, the team was able to reduce the discrepancies in visual quality between game and cinematics, which, they felt, would allow players to concentrate on their game play. And they were absolutely right.

Resident Evil 4 has players on the run for their lives. It is wonderfully scary and offers some of the best graphics out there. What’s more, it boasts game play that is so intense that it prompted one reviewer to say: “You don’t own Resident Evil 4, it owns you.” This tension is due, in no small part, to the fact that the event scenes and game portions of Resident Evil 4 fit so well together visually.

To achieve this visual cohesion, the team at Capcom believed that they had to make sure that their in-game cut scenes had the same visual quality as a pre-rendered movie. In order to achieve the look they wanted, the team at Capcom turned to SOFTIMAGE|XSI.

MANAGING HUGE DATA VOLUME

Being able to control the volume of data was extremely important on this project. The team knew that they had to limit the number of polygons used in modeling but also knew that reducing the number of polygons—in order to add the right amount of texture data, for example—would result in a reduction of light. Achieving and keeping the right balance between quality and the data volume was quite a challenge. According to Hirabayashi, the team met this challenge using SOFTIMAGE|XSI.

“For the process of controlling the volume of data, we have to thank the powerful polygon modeling functionality in SOFTIMAGE|XSI that allowed us to quickly edit the model data. And, since XSI allowed us to make small edits to texture easily using such features as UV development, we were able to maintain the ideal quality for our cinematics and were also able to control the volume of data. This project would not have been possible without SOFTIMAGE|XSI.”