- Executive ProducerMasanao Maeda
I’m proud to present at the 2016 GDC awards our original short-film title “THE GIFT”, created using Unity’s game engine.
At MARZA ANIMATION PLANET (“SPACE PIRATE CAPTAIN HARLOCK”, and “Sonic the Hedgehog” co-produced with Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.), we created “THE GIFT” through an innovative process that integrates the components of Unity’s game engine into MARZA’s feature animation process. Through this new production style, we have fundamentally changed and solved those various issues that lead to bottlenecks in conventional production, such as rendering times, lengthy production schedules and associated costs. MARZA is a unique movie production company derived from the game company SEGA. I believe that background and our expertise in R&D (technology) was a big impetus for the inspiration of this project.
Using “MARZA Movie Pipeline for Unity” co-developed with Unity Technologies Japan, “THE GIFT” incorporates feature-quality character motions and shaders, which previously have been difficult to achieve through game engines. Not only will we be capitalizing on this tool for movie content production, we’ll also be expanding this into digital content projects and developments across various platforms such as game, film and VR.
I hope you’ll observe our achievements in this original story, created making full use of our storytelling capabilities and the breakthrough technology of UTMP.
- General ProducerHaruhiro Uchida
There were two big challenges we had to overcome in the development of this project.
One was to solve the various issues pertaining to the mainstream pre-rendering CG visual creation process, such as lengthy schedules, investment in rendering equipment, iteration cycles, inability to check the final quality before the late stages of production and the overall cost increases due to the accumulation of these problems.
The other was to establish a production process that took into consideration the characteristics of CG technology; creating a production method that allowed us to work freely across various platforms without having to remake the process to fit each platform at each stage.
To solve these challenges, we have presented a number of projects integrating game engine into the visual creation workflow. One of our latest answers to these challenges is “THE GIFT,” our original short-film.
The newly developed visual creation pipeline used for this project allows us to easily check visuals close to final quality in the early stages of production, which is different from the pre-rendering pipeline. We expect this new pipeline will dramatically increase work efficiencies due to the improvement of iteration cycles and will lead to solving the various issues faced in the current mainstream pre-rendering pipeline.
We aim to capitalize on the advantages of this new pipeline and actively promote them in practical initiatives for various platforms such as TV animation and VR.
- ProducerMasahito Imamura
I believe the door to using GPU in CG movie production will sooner or later be opened. Moreover, game engine will gradually expand from its origins as a game-developing tool into becoming an authoring tool for 3D creation.
During my SEGA days 10 years ago, I saw the graphic quality of the game being created for PS3 right next to me and I had the conviction that this was going to be the next generation for CG production. If the door to this was going to be opened, I wanted to be a part of it. I knew there would be big hurdles that would need to be overcome, but I was ready to face them in the creation of “THE GIFT.” Thanks to the team members’ hard work, we were able to overcome the challenges and create a higher quality movie than we had originally expected it to become. I hope “THE GIFT” will become a starting point for the next generation movie production process.
- DirectorKohei Kajisa
“THE GIFT” was a rare test project with an objective to “realize a new system for high-quality movie creation using game engine”.
There were largely four processes involved in our production workflow:
“Development: Creating the story base”
“Engineering: Developing basic expressions and integration into the game engine visual pipeline”
“Pre-production: Applying the idea, design and layout into a system best-suited for 3D expression”
“Production: Actual visual production of the idea, design and layout”
As the director for this production, my main role was to “grasp the characteristics of game engine and make sure the above four processes were properly balanced and functioning at the appropriate timings in production” and to “help the team visualize the final output”. What I specifically did was to “select the production method and 3D expressions best-suited for Unity”, “have our team of experts develop the tools and pipeline needed for the production and 3D expressions” and finally to design a workflow to “use the tools and pipeline to create the best visual output within the given deadline”.
The above processes within our workflow were all moving forward simultaneously within the limited five month production period. I’m sure it was a very hectic schedule for the staff, given the fact there were many aspects in production they experienced for the first time. However, despite all the challenges, we were able to send out this new short-film filled with “MARZA’s originality and new visual creation potential”. Last but not least, although we focused on the integrating of new technology aspects, we also placed high importance in creating a story that children would enjoy. I hope you have fun watching it with your children and families.
- Art DirectorToshiya Umeda
In terms of process, as you may expect, there really wasn’t a difference in the art direction, nor the art production process between Unity and pre-rendering. I’d say the only extra step that was needed, was some redesigning due to difficulties & limitations in design expression using the current Unity tool. That was about it. Everyone in the production team worked really hard on this project. Even I, who was fully part of the production, was truly amazed when we achieved the level of expression on par with the pre-rendering production workflow. We were able to achieve extremely beautiful visuals. I’m sure you’ll enjoy watching them.
- Charactor SupervisorSatoshi Kounosu
“Sarah” the little girl and “Porter” the furry stuffed toy who is Sarah’s guide throughout the story are the two main characters in this film. It was a great challenge to express human skin texture and hair/fur using real-time engine, which by nature is a difficult tool for these types of expressions. At a glance, the look is very similar to pre-rendering, but the method used to achieve the look was completely different from the visual creation method used in pre-rendering techniques. Thanks to the cooperation of our technical engineers, we were able to recreate realistic textures. Unity is great because changes and adjustments made are reflected right away, allowing quick multiple trial & error. If you properly understand the characteristics of Unity and if the goals are clear, I believe it’s a tool in which great results can be achieved very quickly. Hope you enjoy watching our creations, Sarah and Porter, through their journey and adventure.
- Shader SupervisorSatoshi Takahashi
“THE GIFT” is MARZA real-time project’s first Unity title. Easy to use but a profound tool to master, we took our own unique MARZA-style approach using Unity.
As a result of engineers and artists working closely together, sometimes even having heated discussions until late in the evenings, I think we were able to achieve texture expressions comparable with pre-rendering in a short period of time. I think you’ll be surprised, especially on some of the expressions that we’ve done. I’m looking forward to everyone’s reaction and comments.
MARZA will continue to seek the possibilities of real-time. For the time being, I’d be happy if many of you will enjoy feeling warm & fuzzy watching our charming film with cute, lively characters.
- Setup SupervisorMiguel Campos
“THE GIFT” was the first big project at MARZA where we used mGear as the main rigging system. Although mGear allows the creation of rigs ready for real-time, I was a little worried about the rigging technical limitations inside real-time engines, due the nature and high quality standard objectives for this short film. But thanks to the new Unity Alembic pipeline developed at MARZA, the rigging process can be exactly the same as classic offline renderers. This way we have been able to focus more on other tasks, like the deformation quality and characters’ expressivity.
- Layout & Edit SupervisorTakaaki Kise
The workflow for the layout and editing process in Unity is the same as pre-rendering, so there wasn’t a need to place any limitations at the layout stage. We created the sequence involving the sea of balls, using MAYA, Houdini and Unity. The sea was created using Houdini and the cache was opened in Maya where the layout work was done. The final effect was created using particles from Unity. I was impressed how light the visual data was in Unity despite using so many particles. We put our heart and soul into this production, working as long as time permitted to create the best. It’s a fun film, and I look forward to having many people watch it.
- Animation SupervisorJiro Yamagishi
The animation process was not overly different from the regular pre-rendering workflow. Since it was a short-term project, the character development and rigging was running alongside the animation process, which was quite thrilling. But thanks to the hard work & determination of the various production staff at each stage – especially the director who was always open to discussions and the animators working late every day, we were able to complete the film. I hope you all enjoying watching the animation of characters running around energetically.
- Lighting SupervisorKaoru Chikaoka
I had the pleasure of contributing as lighting supervisor for “THE GIFT,” which was my first experience on a project using real-time engine. There were times where I was puzzled by the “cultural difference” with the pre-rendering workflow, but I found the lighting-related settings on Unity very simple, allowing me to take a back-to-basics approach. I’m glad I was able to do my part in adding color and life through lighting to this fun and heart-warming story.
- Composite SupervisorYasuharu Yoshizawa
There was nothing extra that needed to be done using Unity within compositing. The tasks needed were no different from the regular pre-rendering workflow. The most challenging for us was to quickly produce the composites based on the daily updates & revisions and return them to the lighting staff. In addition, as we were using scene-linear, the final visuals were produced by creating a LUT curve matching the output produced by Unity.
- Sets SupervisorYoshihiro Hanada
“Kodawari” – Determination and passion! The sets team was constantly challenged on a daily basis to apply the techniques refined for pre-rendering to the world of Unity.
What’s the right softness for the objects while maintaining the wonderful art expression? This is it!
Cloudiness in color of the moving character, caused by the reflection of the background textures? This should solve it!!
What’s the best state for the object for light-baking? How about this?
Every day our team was determined to make the best decisions. Of course there were areas that needed compromise due to circumstances, but even in such situations those compromises were carefully made by thoroughly considering our options and concentrating on them.
Hope you enjoy the colorful background created by our determination and passion on this project!
- Effect SupervisorTakio Koizumi
I love playing games and have always been interested in creating visuals with real-time engines, so I enjoyed this project very much. There was no great change to our normal simulation pipeline as Unity was able to read Alembic caches exported from Houdini. For the effects we used Houdini for rigid body sims, and Shuriken and PopcornFX for particles/smokes FX.
The most challenging sequence was the sea of balls. We simulated points in Houdini, then exported the point data as an Alembic cache. Back in Unity we imported the Alembic data and created the balls from the points procedurally, using a shader.
At first, Alembic point data wasn’t supported by Unity. We tried to export all the balls as geometry, but the data was too heavy to light the scene smoothly in Unity. Thanks to Mr. Ishibashi of Unity Japan, who developed a tool to import Alembic points to Unity, and another tool to draw balls at each point using a Unity Shader, we were able to draw a flood of balls quickly. At first we were at a loss, as the data was way too heavy, but after these tools were implemented, our team could smoothly view a flood of balls, shaded and lit, while dragging the time slider…. It was a very impressive moment to see that amount of data play back so quickly, and we began to see the massive potential in Unity.
Collaboration with Mr. Ishibashi has given our team a new insight into the real-time effects, which is a lot different from pre-rendered effects.
Thanks to the speedy support offered by Unity Japan and the efforts of MARZA’s artists, we believe the sequence turned out to be very dynamic and dramatic. Please enjoy!