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Customer Success Story :: RealtimeUK
23 May 2012
Interview with Ian Jones & Will Elliott
"RealtimeUK was an early adopter of V-Ray. We’ve built much of our cinematic production pipeline around V-Ray taking full advantage of V-Ray Proxies, Sphere Fades, Sun and Sky and other unique lighting solutions."
Total War: SHOGUN 2 - CG Trailer
Tell us a bit about RealtimeUK? When was the company founded and how did it evolve throughout the years?
Ian Jones: RealtimeUK is a creative CG studio working on animation and imagery projects for video games clients and brands. We produce cinematic game trailers and cut scenes, as well as brand website content for adventurous on-line projects and commercials.
We started in 1996 working on marketing animations for the defence and automotive industry. Since then, we’ve always maintained a passion and expertise for highly detailed and realistic work and in 1999 we began working on pre-rendered marketing trailers for the video games industry. To this day we still work in the video games and automotive sectors as well as TV commercials - always putting high levels of image quality and attention to detail at the heart of everything we do.
When did you first start using V-Ray? Can you list the projects you have completed with V-Ray over the years?
Ian Jones: We started using V-Ray back in early 2003-2004. The first big release to use it was the original E3 trailer for Motorstorm in 2005 and we've used it ever since. In game trailers alone, we used it for: Motorstorm 1 and 2, APB, Juiced2, all of our SCEE : Buzz work, Stormbirds, Split/Second, Squeeballs, Super Car Challenge, Napoleon : Total War, Dirt3, Kinect Sports Season 2, Dirt : Showdown, and we are currently working on two exciting trailers for this year's E3.
TEAM WORK AND INSPIRATION
How many people work on your team? What is their background?
Ian Jones: We have a full time, core team of 25 people and frequently crew up beyond 40 people with our established freelance network. Our Artists have quite varied backgrounds- everything from video games, animation graduates, TV commercials work and even some very impressive self-taught specialists.
Can you describe a typical day at your studio?
Ian Jones: The team arrives between 8:30am and 10am each day. Once everyone's been through their renders from the night before, we have our project dailies. Our studio often runs a number of projects at any one time, so we have a quick catch up with each team every morning. We'll run through any 'work in progress' as a team and I'll critique shots and assets and give direction. This is where our artists ask questions, raise any concerns and offer solutions. It's important that everyone sees where the projects is up to and they're aware what each other are doing. The afternoon is usually taken up with 'one-to-ones' with artists, client meetings, pitch work and quotes.
Which are the projects you are most proud of?
Ian Jones: Different projects have achieved different results. I'm still very fond of Stormbirds because of the reaction it received. It was a fun, light hearted concept movie, it wasn't very realistic, but it really sparked a lot of people's imagination. Split/Second was the closest we've come to a traditional Hollywood action sequence. It was all very bright and shiny and had some great effects pieces. Shogun : Total War was a good exercise in film making as well as being a large technical challenge. It was slower pace than our usual work, and this gave us chance to develop real drama, suspense and atmosphere. Then we've got projects like Dirt: Showdown which had a very tight turn round and sold a concept in a very short, action packed, single shot. Our Kinect Sports Season 2 commercial contained our most complex live action integration to date. It was a very exciting project to work on, and it was very rewarding to see the whole thing come together. That all demonstrates that the thing I'm most proud of in our work is simply the variety of what we can achieve.
THE BACKSTAGE EXPERIENCE
Shogun: Total War
Give us a bit of background about this project. How did the client brief turn into the amazing action-packed trailer you created for the game eventually? How many people worked on this project? How long did it take to complete the trailer?
Ian Jones: At RealtimeUK, we like to produce small internal movies, that we can use for R&D and to demonstrate our capability in different areas. At the beginning of 2010 we were looking for such a project. We'd been speaking to Sega about their future titles and decided to base the movie of one of their upcoming game. The internal piece was simply entitled "Samurai" and it demonstrated many of the techniques and approaches we'd use to produce a Shogun marketing trailer. Sega already had a rough script, but assumed it would be way too ambitious to achieve in CG. Our internal movie convinced them otherwise and gave them the confidence to commission a full CG trailer with RealtimeUK.
We started by developing the script a little, offering a more cinematic approach to some of the shots. We then moved into Initial Block-out and 2D Concept. We used two stunt men and a coordinator to create all the character performances needed for the project, including the dramatic fight sequence. The raw mo-cap data was then used to complete the block-out. Once we'd pinned down the content, the cameras and the edit, we moved into full production.
Our characters were all modelled in Z-Brush before being optimised for rigging and animation. One of the more challenging aspects of the project was in achieving all the samurai armour's secondary motion. This required some extremely complicated bespoke rigs and a lot of hard and soft body dynamic simulations.
V-Ray Proxies were a great help throughout. The immense Zen Garden scenes, with their masses of waving grass and trees, were constructed almost entirely with animated V-Ray Proxies. As was the huge marching Japanese army.
We had a small core team of four technical directors working for four months, but the team scaled up to around ten artists during the main phase of production.
Did you like it working with the V-Ray physically accurate tools such as the V-Ray physical camera, V-Ray materials, and V-Ray lights? Did this help to create realistic looking images?
Ian Jones: Definitely. Many of our senior artists are interested in photography and we had a very strong idea of how we wanted the movie to look. Physical cameras helped us achieve this. Even at the block-out stage, I was aware of which real world lenses I'd use for each shot. The entire movie was "shot" with realistic apertures, shutter angles and focal lengths.
Many of the outdoors scenes were lit with a combination of HDRI maps and V-Ray Sun and Sky. The Sun and Sky system gave us a degree of flexibility which we would not have achieved through HDRI alone. We also used V-Ray light to emulate the real world soft-boxes, reflectors and space-lights.
We stuck strictly within real world constraints, even for the camera moves. The majority of shots could be achieved with dollies and tracks and we kept "expensive" aerial shots down to a minimum. This approach helps ground the entire piece in reality and establishes a sense of authenticity that is often missing from CG trailers.
How much did you rely on the renderer when creating realistic images and how did you decide when the rendered frames are ready for the post-production stage?
Ian Jones: Every shot was built up of a good number of layers. Some shots had as few as three or four, others had thirty to forty individual renders, a handful of shots had many more. With this project we didn't go through a Post stage in the traditional sense. The "comps" were built relatively early on as each shot was broken down into passes, background matte, background render, hero render, interactive environment and so on... and then each comp was continuously updated as the shot developed. The aim of each of the composites was to create a very "matter of fact" image, emulating what we would get from a physical camera. We could then colour match and grade the "footage" to achieve the final look.
Give us a bit of background about this project. What was the assignment and what was the project duration? How many people worked on this project?
Will Elliott: To coincide with the launch of the new V8 Vantage and V8 roadster we were commissioned by Aston Martin to create a launch images for each of the cars. This was Aston Martin’s first venture into using CGI for marketing imagery so the final work would only ever be compared to existing photography. This meant the bar was set high for the standard we had to deliver but also set the tone for the style that would use. There was only myself working on this particular project and I had a week per image to complete the project.
Was it easy to achieve the look you were after with V-Ray?
Will Elliott: With the back plate and corresponding HDR imagery the base lighting was relatively easy to setup using the V-Ray dome light. From here we could then work on the shaders, especially the car paint, and make sure that these shaders are matching the reference and working well in the shot. Finally with a base lighting and materials created we could add some extra lighting with V-Ray area lights to help bring out the shape of the car. This is where the art of lighting a car comes into play and you can have some fun trying out different styles for the look of the image.
Do you find it easy and satisfying working with the V-Ray material and the V-Ray blend material when preparing the shaders for your scenes? Have you used the V-Ray Carpaint Material?
Will Elliott: The V-Ray blend material is by far my favourite and most used material. It is so quick to work in extra layers, which is especially useful on materials like car paint and alloy shaders. The V-Ray car paint I normally use as an extra layer with my V-Ray blend material to use the flake feature.
Did you take advantage of the V-Ray real-time rendering solutions and what is your opinion of the V-Ray RT?
Will Elliott: V-Ray RT was great for adding my suplimental lighting as I could quickly see where the reflections and highlights were falling over the car. I feel V-Ray RT is a great tool for certain situations though it still needs a few fixes before I could use it for all my projects. As long as you know what translates into your final render and what will not, you can jump in and out of using RT to help speed up certain tasks.
Did you find it easy and efficient using V-Ray in animation and why did you choose it?
Ian Jones: RealtimeUK was an early adopter of V-Ray. We've built much of our cinematic production pipeline around V-Ray. Taking full advantage of V-Ray Proxies, Sphere Fades, Sun and Sky and other unique lighting solutions, it simply wasn't an option to use anything else on the Shogun project.
Which V-Ray features were most useful for your working process and what new features would you like to see in V-Ray in the future?
Will Elliott: Having worked with various other renderers over the years, I am very glad that I am able to use V-Ray for my day to day tasks. It is by far the quickest renderer in terms of setting up the scene and being able to get what I want out the other side. There are a few things I hope V-Ray to further achieve. Personally I am not a fan of using sub pixel mapping as it kills a lot of the highlights that make an image look real. However I find that I have used this when using HDRI imagery or there is too much noise. You can improve things slightly by increasing the clamp level but you still lose so much detail in the highlights. I hope in the future that there will be some merging of the two so that we can have our nice pings without the noise.