CG Studio interview, October 2018 Part 1

We heard about how Sublimation, the CG producer of Space Battleship Yamato 2202, creates big battleships

Published by Gigazine, October 31, 2018. See the original article here.

Yamato 2202 Chapter 6, Regeneration Chapter, opens in theaters Friday, November 2, 2018. So far we’ve heard stories from Writer Harutoshi Fukui, Director Nobuyoshi Habara, Scriptwriter Hideki Oka, Composer Akira Miyagawa, Producer Hiroki Komatsu, and Sound Director Tomohiro Yoshida, all staff members involved with the production. [Click on each name to read their interview in English.] This time we had the opportunity to talk to Sublimation, the company in charge of CG production, about how they created Yamato, Ginga, the large battleship, and various other things while also including materials Sublimation was given to work with at the time of an order.

Click on each production image below to view an enlargement.

For this interview, we met with Sublimation’s Project Manager/CG Animator Yuuto Uwabo, CGI Director Taichi Kimura, and CG Designer Yasunori Honma.

Visit the Sublimation website here.

Interviewer: First, since we’re talking during the time when Chapter 6 is getting closer, your work on it is in its final stage. I’d like to ask you for your candid impressions about the production up to Chapter 6.

Kimura: It’s gone so quickly. About three years have passed since the preparation period started, and we’ve arrived at Chapter 6 in an instant, really. We were exploring 3D as we made the first one, but new we’re quite used to it, and I think the feeling is that the combat scenes are pretty spectacular.

Interviewer: Mr. Uwabo, Mr. Honma, do you have a similar impression?

Uwabo: Well, it sure doesn’t feel like two and a half years have passed, and I realize that when you see the finished work the content is “dense,” but it feels like the time has passed quickly. When I look back, it’s like, “Oh, we’ve come so far.” As we wrestle with the feeling of “We have to do more,” I hope you’re looking forward to Chapter 6.

Honma: Same here. The density of the visuals has increased, and the action scenes have quickly increased…especially since the battle has intensified from Chapter 5. Even though we’re making it, I feel that the upsurge is amazing. I’m thinking we have to raise the CG quality to be able to get there.

Interviewer: How are your three roles divided up?

Uwabo: Rather than working on actual shots, I manage the schedule and progress of each worker and handle the data communication work with the client, which is Xebec Studio, and there’s a lot of desk work. I’m also a CG animator, so when we’re in a rush and need support, I might handle a shot or two in an emergency.

Interviewer: Like the term “production progress” in general anime. [Translator’s note: the English equivalent for this is “production management.”]

Uwabo: That’s right. It may be close to production progress.

Kimura: We also ask for data confirmation. Indeed, at the time of the first episode, I wasn’t in my current position, I was an animator. And then I turned around…

Uwabo: The workload is more than expected, and making 26 episodes for all seven chapters is pretty tough, so in our division of roles I’m involved in management.

Kimura: I look at the work and the quality aspects of CG in general. It’s not a lot of actual work, but it’s about checking the workload through completion. The overall quality will fall apart if one person doesn’t oversee it, so to some extent I check it until it gets released. I listen to the opinions of Director Habara and Assistant Director Kobayashi, then make something that fits their opinion. It’s my job to get the OK from the director.

Interviewer: I see. How about you, Mr. Honma?

Honma: I’m in charge of the actual work. Part of that is making base data for beams and other effects. If everyone were to make that separately, you’d get a different colored beam depending on the person, or a completely different effect, so I prepare the base data that dictates that in a form that makes it easier for anyone to handle. On top of that, I pick up some difficult shots or a certain number of shots in an episode.

Interviewer: I see, thank you. It’s been about three years since the preparation period started. What part was prepared before you entered actual production? Did you inherit CG data from Yamato 2199, or did you start from square one?

Uwabo: Regarding the CG data, Sunrise D.I.D. Studio was responsible for the CG and software for 2199. Since the software we mainly use is different, we couldn’t use it as is. If it’s anime there is an outline, but that line doesn’t just appear as is and the color data will also scramble, so I did all the work to convert it so it could be used with our company’s software. We converted about 30 to 40 models in three or four months.

Kimura: There were a lot of them, so it took a long time.

We were given a new explanatory diagram of the changes made on Yamato.
As shown in the figure, the red outlines describe the
2199 version, and the black outlines depict the 2202 version.
When viewed from the front, the bulge of the ship’s belly is slightly more pear-shaped.

Here the expanded side and stern nozzle are well understood.

Material for the command tower, rear bridge, and rocket anchor.

Uwabo: Nevertheless, since we inherited the assets of 2199, it took less time than making everything from square one. In addition, we modified the model for Yamato since the shape of the hull has changed, and we started modeling work on Andromeda and the large battleship (Calaklum) that appeared in Episode 1. I started preparing things in this area three years ago, around the beginning of 2016, and we put together a foundation as storyboards came up and we were preparing for shots.

We started the actual animation and shot work in the summer of 2016. Meanwhile, we also prepared data for beam effects and the Wave-Motion Gun. In fact, effects are actually harder than a ship…since there are places where you use “specific software features,” it can’t be easily transplanted. We examined the finished visuals from 2199 and the reference data that was used, and copied it by eye. (Laughs)

Kimura: Mr. Honma did that.

Honma: There were places where it couldn’t be used as is, like converting models, so once I completely routed all the data I rearranged it and reproduced the shape as close to the original as I could in Lightwave. In that process, I naturally added some things.

Interviewer: After the 2199 series was finished, it was said that Sublimation got some experience by helping with Ark of the Stars. Is it common to inherit work from completely different software, or is it a rare offer?

Kimura: I’ve talked about this before, but at the time of Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex, Eiji Inomoto, the present representative of Orange, said that the Tachikomas would only work in 3D Max, but it’s unusual to take over the whole thing.

Uwabo: I will supplement or take over an entire data project, but it’s very rare to take over while a series is in progress. Mr. Kimara has said, “It only comes up in some scenes, so it’s OK to use different software,” so there are other cases like that.

Interviewer: I would also think that some parts can’t be changed because “specific software features” were used, as you mentioned earlier about converting. Naturally, the finished visuals we see for 2202 are pristine, so we don’t understand which parts don’t work. Is that because you make small fixes as you modify it? It’s not an automatic conversion, is it?

Uwabo: It’s not an automatic conversion, everyone puts a hand in. One place that’s easy to understand is the fine detail information on the large battleship. It’s all new data, so it’s no problem, but on the other Gatlantis ships there is some very fine detail included in the same way. I set the parameters in the data to control where lines appear, one by one.

Interviewer: Are there battleships that you built up from square one after you took over?

Kimura: Yes.

Interviewer: Was it a feeling of modeling it from the mechanical design?

Kimura: That’s right.

Uwabo: For example, with regard to Yamato and Ginga, the body is a little wider compared with the Yamato of 2199, and the shape of the engine nozzle has changed. I think it’s also clear how the bow fairing has changed. That was remodeled from the base. On the Earth side, Andromeda, the main battleship, the patrol ship, and the escort ship are all new. On the Gatlantis side, there’s the large battleship and the Baruze.

Kimura: Also the Dessler ship.

Uwabo: Right, Goland and Neu Deusuler are completely new. I think it’s easy to understand when you see the actual materials, how we get instructions from the designer and make corrections.

Uwabo: There’s also a concept for how to open Yamato’s rocket anchor. This is pretty hardcore, isn’t it…?

Interviewer: Ah…this is amazing…

Uwabo: I get these documents, then send the data created based on this order to Xebec, and I go through checks with the director and designer. At that time we get written corrections like, “I’d like you to thicken this line more like this” or “The angle here is more like this.” We get instructions like that and make further modifications. It can take a while…

Kimura: About four or five months.

Interviewer: Four or five months!

Honma: After taking four months for modeling work, the texture comes in. First, I’ll bring it into Lightwave for adjustments. There are various tasks, for a total of about five months.

Kimura: The large battleship was especially filled up with extra lines… (Laughs)

Uwabo: The ships were made during the early preparation period and everyone had time, and I had an “I want to do more!” feeling to pursue the quality. From the fine detail in the setting, I got the feeling from the director and designer that, “I want to do it this way.”

Interviewer: More lines than in the order diagram?

Kimura: More than that. (Laughs)

Uwabo: The Mecha Collection model kit of the large battleship has all the lines of 3D, and when you compare it with the real thing you can see that the detail around the engines is even finer.

Kimura: When it went through checks, we got instructions saying, “Please add detail.”

Uwabo: You see multiple angles in a 3D pass. There are also things you can’t see in a three-sided view, so I would get shape instructions like, “I want you to add a line here” and “This is a dent instead of a line.”

Kimura: As it escalated, I gradually found out that it was, “Do what I say.” (Laughs)

Uwabo: The design of the gun turret was also packed with such feeling. Basically, there’s a base for the rotary turret of Gatlantis origin. And the linework on a bridge has such a feeling.

Kimura: Maybe I didn’t understand the influence, but it shows in the detail on the ship’s stern. Something else that couldn’t be depicted in a three-view drawing. I know when it comes up. There were a lot of hands on it, and I said, “This is never going to end, is it?”

Interviewer: Was it just one model? Or were there separate models for distant views and closeups?

Uwabo: When the large battleship appears in Chapter 3, there are a lot of them crowded together for the Legionnaire Cannon, so we did a slightly lighter version that reduced the amount of data. There were three types, high, middle, and low, and they were basically moving all the time, so that was a really severe scene. (Laughs)

Kimura: That’s the point of different software. When there are a lot of models in 3ds Max, high models are hard to deal with, but in Lightwave it’s possible to keep the models unexpectedly high.

Uwabo: Lightwave has convenience functions and not as many complex functions, and all the basics are there, so it’s light and easy to work with. Simply put, it is software that can handle the quantity.

Interviewer: In 2199 it was Yamato vs. Garmillas, and in 2202 it’s Earth & Garmillas vs. Gatlantis, so a mixed force is made. When hundreds of ships appear in one shot, it’s extremely important to be light so they don’t look bad.

Uwabo: Yes, thanks to the lightness of software, everything is finished with high models. As both a worker and a director, I’m saved if I can finish it all with high models. It just takes a minute to say, “If it’s this far away, high may be better than middle,” and it becomes unnecessary to do fine checks.

Interviewer: And a LOT of ships appear in Chapter 6… (Laughs)

Kimura: It already happened with Chapter 5. (Laughs)

Interviewer: The software lived up to it.

Kimura: That’s right.

Interviewer: Thank you very much. Was the range of CG models you worked on all mecha, like ships and aircraft?

Kimura: Almost all of it.

Interviewer: Was any of the mecha hand-drawn?

Uwabo: 3D is often used for cars in other works, but with this production they’re all hand-drawn.

Interviewer: The one for Kodai and Yuki…

Uwabo: Yes, the pink convertible was hand-drawn.

Honma: Later, for example, some battleships that are variations of Andromeda only appear in one shot.

Kimura: The ones that appear in Chapter 6.

Uwabo: There are some guest ships that don’t appear enough to prepare 3D data, and some originals are mixed into scenes where the Earth fleet is moving out. I think you’ll definitely see them.

Interviewer: Are they Andromeda types?

Uwabo: You’ll like what you see. The hand-drawn data isn’t sent to us, so there are actually places where we don’t control the entire picture. (Laughs)

Kimura: It’s easy to see them in Episode 21 when they come out of the time fault. (Laughs) You’ll find out soon.

Uwabo: “There’s one I’ve never seen!” (Laughs)

Honma: In the end we just go, “Whoah.” It’s so casually added in there.

Interviewer: Mr. Uwabo and Mr. Kimura, you both mentioned that you went into management because the workload was more than expected for a 2-arc series [26 episodes]. Is there something unique about this work that makes it heavier than usual?

Kimura: We first assumed that, like in 2199, shortcuts would be made by drawing some things by hand, including explosions. This time almost everything is done in 3D, so the scale was greater than we thought.

Uwabo: I thought there would be hand-drawn shortcuts, and when I worked on the first episode, when it came to the director check, he said, “Also use 3D here, please.”

Kimura: Before the first storyboard meeting, we had assumed that we’d be doing “Atari.”

Uwabo: “Atari” is a 3D output of a line drawing, used as a drawing reference. The intention is to draw over it.

Interviewer: Your schedule was set up with arrangements to produce “Atari” drawings?

Kimura: That was my assumption when it was arranged in a meeting beforehand. “I’m asking all of you here,” and they said “Yes.” (Laughs) Mr. Honma said, “We can only take it this far” and “We’ll do this if it’s OK” and the flow at that point was that it would be OK.

Honma: The first thing I presented was a single shot with an explosion and I said “It can be done with CG up to here.” But while I said, “I’m being pretty strict on that limit, so please do it with key animation,” since I kind of liked it, maybe I was brought around to just follow suit.

Interviewer: Maybe it came out better than Director Habara thought, so the feeling was, “Let’s do everything in 3D!” (Laughs)

Kimura: Could be. (Laughs)

Interviewer: There was a story in an earlier interview about how hard it was in the early stage, and now Chapter 6 has been very hard. Is there a place where the quality of hardship has changed?

Kimura: When we took over from the previous work, the primary goal was, “Let’s not be inferior to that.” When we got used to it the demands increased (Laughs), but then we got used to that. Now it’s like, “Let’s do it this way this time” and “Let’s make the explosions even better” and “Let’s make this battle intense” so we’re struggling in another way. (Laughs)

Uwabo: Now we get orders from the director like, “Since you were able to take it that far last time, can we request this?” and sometimes we give suggestions like, “We tried to do it this way” or “We made this effect flashier.” At a very early stage, in the scene where Yamato and Andromeda pass each other, I proposed stretching the scale. The first episode suffered from a sense of “matching 2199,” but from then on we said, “We can do it like this and make it cooler and more flashy.” The data has increased and it takes more time to render the 3D images, so that’s where we suffer.

Kimura: The explosions in the early days were really different from the explosions now.

Uwabo: The quality is different. It’s being broadcast on TV now, so someone who has seen it up to Chapter 5 might look at it and think, “Is that what the first episode looked like?” That’s because we worked hard on a lot of things. (Laughs)

Kimura: In the latter half, the director’s and assistant director’s preferences for the explosions is coming out. At first a normal explosion was usually OK. Now we understand the preferences of, “Slightly more luminescent, or strengthen the flare,” so we can get closer to that. When I look back at Episode 1, I think it’s improved steadily since then.

Interviewer: Is that the main part of your work, Mr. Honma?

Honma: For explosions and other things, I create the standard for the data and pass that on to the staff with a form like, “Feel free to make it cooler on your own.”

Kimura: From that point forward, it’s really about everyone’s individuality.

Uwabo: The direction of flame and smoke are different depending on the shape of the ship’s hull and the way it gets hit. Each person in charge arranges it according to the shot.

Kimura: Actually, I have to arrange it. (Laughs)

Uwabo: Then all the explosions would feel the same. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Even here, the explosions have a personality.

Uwabo: That’s right. Mr. Kimura does a quality check on the shots as they come up. For example, an explosion feels stronger when light comes out of it, and I want to feel something like heat. With an inexperienced staff, they may not pick up when “There isn’t enough lighting!” so we brush it up with instructions like that. If the director sees it and gives us an OK in the check stage, it becomes the image that goes out to everyone.

Interviewer: Model kits and Chogokins are coming out now. Was Sublimation’s 3D data for the ships used as a base?

Uwabo: We send the 3D data to Bandai, but we have no way to know whether or not 100% of the data is used. (Laughs) Also, if a ship like Andromeda has a nameplate or the Earth Defense Forces mark on it, we send the texture data that we use in the story, and I think they make decals based on that. That was recently the case with the pattern on Keyman’s personal plane, the Czvarke. However, there are places where the proportions are different from the 3D data. Yamato’s hull has a lot of curves, and the bulges and curves are more beautiful than the 3D data, so I think it’s more packed in that area. As more 3D data is eventually stuffed into anime, it will become, “This is enough like this,” and parts will be deformed and omitted.

Kimura: Ginga will probably be a lot cooler than the 3D data.

Uwabo: Looking at solid three-dimensional objects is always cooler than working in 3D. (Laughs)

Interviewer: Well, that’s the way it is. (Laughs) Thank you very much.

After this, they showed me the studio where Yamato is actually produced. I heard various stories during the studio tour, especially about the Cosmo Tiger “Version K” which is very characteristic of Yamato 2202.

Click here to continue to Part 2

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