HN: I would like to move on to the production of the scenes in the sea with CGI. Could you please let us know what you did to develop the scenes of dynamic composition and bring life to the sea creatures?
Kotaro Hirano: I was mainly responsible for animating the 3D models of large creatures such as whales and whale sharks, and Jasbeer took charge of the school of fish and the mass of small fishes. It is my personal impression of each other’s role, but we are CGI creators who attract audiences with sheer quantity and who pursue the coolness of a single material.
In terms of the production method of the 3D animation of whales, firstly I animate them as 3D CGI. After that, 2D animators decide the movement of whales at almost all shots with hand line drawings. Finally, I complete each cut by adjusting the 3D models to forcibly trace the line drawings and give them life.
I’m a little nervous to talk about this in front of Mr. Konishi (laughs), but I made the visuals with the goal of ensuring that the textures do not have that CGI look. There is a tendency of CGI models feeling like a plastic doll is moving, so I decided that it’s impossible to create the atmosphere of hand-drawn drawing animation, which gives the illusion of life, only by CGI. Hence, I decided to add more hand drawing elements to the CGI, and the final picture be the result of lots of various, overlapping materials. That is to say, for me, those are the sort of things that are just a jumble of various things, which is hard to categorizes as just 3D CGI or 2D animation (laughs).
As you know, 3D animation production is divided labor and generally each animation title has only one 3D model of each character that is shared among the team members to use in multiple scenes throughout the title. However, the same whale models in this film have different set-up for each cut.
As I customized the set-up of the 3D models of whales to allow them to behave the best in each cut, keeping them aligned with my personal policy of making the 3DCGI the same as hand-drawn 2D animation, I became the only person in the team of the film who could touch the whales’ 3D model! But, I think that is the reason why I could achieve the final visual.
Jasbeer Kootobally: Regarding my cut with all the fish going a bit crazy at the end, we used a particle system for that. We have a lot of fishes with different animation loops, and then create various particle systems to create that deep volume of fish. We also have individually-made animation, so for the fishes that are closer to the camera, we don’t use particles, we used individual animation on the fish, so we have individual, non-particle fishes with animation on it following a curve.
The reason for that is since it’s near the camera, you see more of the fish. With a particle system, you don’t have a lot of control with how they intersect and interact or collide with each other. Sometimes they will get too close to each other and they intersect, so if it is too close to the camera, you can actually see that they are going through each other. So, for the fishes that are far away, we used particles, but not for everything that is close to the camera. There are lots of types of fish in that scene.
HN: To be able to animate that many fish, what kinds of research did you do?
Jasbeer Kootobally: I watch a lot of video references, because there is a lot of them, especially with sardines, the movement of the sardines, and the way they move in groups. So, I spent a lot of time watching videos and YouTube videos that we also have collected. We just watch them noting especially the depth, because the farther way it, is more you cannot see, but you still see the movement of the fish. I also did compositing as well.
So, I watched the videos to see when it is in front of the camera, how we perceive the color and movement, and how the further away it is, the more it gradually mixes together with the color of the sea. So, that is the research I have to do.
Obviously in the sea, the fish move however they want, but for the animation, you have the storyboard and everything that has been provided to you, and then you have the characters moving as well. So, with the framing of the scene, you have the characters, the big fishes and the whales moving, but then you have all the different small fishes going around. So, everything has to work together.
If a lot of things are happening, you still need to able to tell what’s going on and see the characters and the fishes, so I need to get them to the right places, get the right fishes, and getting the right movements, with some going this way and some going that way. They are not always my decision to make, so the way I work is I’m provided with the basic layout, I know the storyboard, and then I start populating the scene with as much fish as I want. Sometimes I know what are the fishes in that scene, so some will be sardines, other will be big fishes, something like that. These are told for me, but how much fish to put is not up to me.
So, I go and put according to how it feels for the scene and looks good, and then I send it to check and if I put a wrong fish or maybe one of the fishes from the particle system are too close, in which case they need to be farther away. These are the checks that I get back and then I correct them. Finally, we end up having the final layout for that scene.
HN: Sounds complicated! The basic information from the storyboard is 2D but all of your work is, of course, in 3D.
Jasbeer Kootobally: Because that’s the thing with 2D. It’s two dimensions, so you see all at once, but with 3D, there is a lot of space between where the camera is and where the farthest fish is, and taking into consideration the camera angle and camera lens. At the same time, let’s say there are five different fishes from the camera to here, we would then separate them on different layers. We rendered out the further one on a different layer and then we do closer and closer to the camera, so that when we do the compositing in the end, we have full control on how much we can see and how to add depth to that.
That’s why at the end we think you can’t tell what is 2D and 3D, but you know its 3D because there’s depth to it.
[Continued to page 5]