Goodbye Kansas's Cyberpunk 2077 teaser features cities, cyborgs — and Keanu Reeves. Go behind the scenes and learn how to create great skin with V-Ray for Maya.
Thanks to a spectacular E3 trailer, the hype for Cyberpunk 2077 is at fever pitch — and V-Ray for Maya played a big part in bringing the sci-fi RPG’s metropolis to life. That, and the presence of a certain actor named Keanu Reeves, whose roles in The Matrix and Johnny Mnemonic have made him synonymous with the high-tech fantasy of the cyberpunk genre.
To create this awe-inspiring teaser, Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Projekt Red turned to Goodbye Kansas Studios, the versatile Swedish VFX house which has recently contributed seamless effects to Jack Ryan, The Walking Dead and Zombieland 2: Double Tap. We catch up with Director Fredrik Lofberg, VFX Supervisor Henrik Eklundh and Producer Rebeca Cervantes to go behind the scenes of the trailer that has taken hype to another level, and to find out how they make use of V-Ray for Maya.
How does Goodbye Kansas tackle such a wide array of projects with equal aplomb?
Goodbye Kansas: We make sure that we always evolve our pipeline to cater to every project that comes in, and we also have roadmaps to make sure we are where we need to be in terms of tech to pull upcoming ones. For cinematics, characters are a big focus point to make sure they perform the way both we and the clients want them to.
Keanu Reeves via V-Ray for Maya
What was your brief for the trailer?
GBK: By nature, Goodbye Kansas is a studio that has a boutique feeling. We pride ourselves in being creative partners to our clients, and for CD Projekt Red, this was no exception. So began our collaboration on what became the biggest cinematic trailer to come out of E3 2019.
When we started working on this project, CD Projekt Red sent us an early draft of the script that had the overall story they wanted to tell: a heist gone wrong. From there, we developed it together, bouncing ideas back and forth. CD Projekt Red knew the details of the game and narrative that we didn't, but we contributed to the story of the cinematic.
We began by figuring out the beats, started working on storyboards, fleshed out the camera language and storytelling we wanted in terms of direction, emotions, etc. We talked with CD Projekt Red constantly to find nuances that matched the world of Cyberpunk 2077. Throughout the process, we had great collaboration between our studios. Every single person working on the trailer wanted the same outcome: for it to become something spectacular.
V displaying his mantis blades fighting Solo
Which assets did you get from CD Projekt Red to help you create the trailer?
GBK: We got the basis for most assets and then we worked in collaboration with CD Projekt Red in making sure they fit the trailer and had the necessary fidelity. Both the locations and characters are based on the game.
How much creative freedom did CD Projekt Red give you?
GBK: We are a very collaborative studio, so we always felt we could present our ideas to CD Projekt Red. They trusted us in making this cinematic and listened to our suggestions and thoughts. The game is an open-world RPG with a multitude of outcomes and story branches depending on your choices and, in this trailer, we show one possible result of that scenario. It could play out completely differently if V made other choices during the heist.
How did you find the actors for the mocap sessions?
GBK: We cast talent from the UK. Our goal was to find actors that could portray the characters, so we talked to agencies in London. Swedish specialists, with whom we have worked for many years, formed the stunt team. We also worked tightly with CD Projekt Red's stunt coordination team.
Skin shading, hair shading and the speed and reliability of V-Ray are crucial for us. We made the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer in 4K, so render times needed to be as well-managed as possible.
Fredrik Lofberg, Henrik Eklundh and Rebeca Cervantes, Goodbye Kansas
Could you talk us through your pipeline and where V-Ray fits into it?
GBK: We use V-Ray to render our final imagery. For this trailer, we used V-Ray for Maya, but we have also used V-Ray for Houdini on some occasions.
Which V-Ray features are important to you?
GBK: Skin shading, hair shading and the speed and reliability of V-Ray are crucial for us. We made the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer in 4K, so render times needed to be as well-managed as possible.
How did V-Ray lights and materials help you achieve that grungy, high-tech look?
GBK: V-Ray ensured we could use all the detail maps, materials and hair that was created by our amazing lookdev team — without breaking render times.
Dex meets V after a job gone wrong.
How did V-Ray help you balance maximum level-of-detail with fast render times?
GBK: Our light lead, Kristian Zarins, set up some different quality presets that we almost never altered: Low, Mid and Final quality. The stability of V-Ray helped us a lot. We never really blew out on render times, even though some of the closeups ended up taking a while. Our proprietary render manager, scene setup and other pipeline tools, together with V-Ray's ease of use, helped us quickly set up and iterate shots.
AlSurface gives realistic results even in its basic form. From that, you can only improve until you are happy with the results.
Fredrik Lofberg, Henrik Eklundh and Rebeca Cervantes, Goodbye Kansas
What do you like about using AlSurface shader with V-Ray?
GBK: AlSurface gives realistic results even in its basic form. From that, you can only improve until you are happy with the results.
Realistic skin ups the ick-factor of shots like this
Could you talk us through the steps for creating realistic skin?
GBK: It's all about the quality of the input and how it's handled in light and comp. If your lighting isn't right, it will still look wrong or unrealistic regardless of your efforts in creating the asset.
We have learned from previous occasions how we need to merge the lookdev phase with the lighting phase. To do that, we have lots of different lighting scenarios and even project-specific lighting scenarios when we are creating assets.
What's the most important thing to remember when rendering skin?
GBK: Specular is vital when handling skin. The surface detail needs to have enough fidelity to break up the specular pleasingly and realistically. We often need to tweak the speculars or surfaces based on the shot, so we usually have switches to help out lighters if the character is close or far away. Still, focal length and resolution also comes into play when handling specular and reflective details.
V washes away the guilt — and provides Goodbye Kansas with a technically challenging shot
The Cyberpunk 2077 trailer received a rapturous response at E3 this year. How did it feel to see the crowd get such a kick from it?
GBK: We all knew this was a milestone in our careers and everyone hoped that the response would be good — but we were super nervous! The responsibility of producing a cinematic trailer for one of, if not, the most anticipated upcoming game was a bit nerve-wracking. You never know how the audience will react.
And then it all hit us like a massive wave. It felt incredible but also surreal. It took a while for it all to sink in. Overall, we are super happy about what the team achieved.
GBK: We are always pushing to be better and to surpass what we have accomplished so far. The idea is to keep working hard to improve our pipeline and to create amazing products for great clients.
Cyberpunk 2077 is released April 16, 2020.
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