CG Producer & Director × CG Producer

Kiichirou Inoue × Taisuke Iwakiri (Part 2)

In this second half of our conversation with the CG producers on "MOBILE SUIT GUNDAM THE ORIGIN" (hereafter referred to as "THE ORIGIN"), we talk in detail about the 3DCG used in the series. We spoke at extended length about how CG was specifically used in "THE ORIGIN," what they focused on in modeling and animation of the mobile suits, and points to look for in the CG use from their perspective as the CG producers.
- Was there any technology or way of showing things in terms of CG that you used for the first time on "THE ORIGIN"?
Inoue: In terms of CG technology, I feel like we really had to apply almost all of the knowhow we've cultivated so far. In terms of showing things, we paid attention to the depictions of things like the mobile suits' thrusters, for example. Regarding the sorts of effects, we used different ones for the attitude control thrusters and the main propulsion thrusters. And when we were designing the mobile suits, too, we designated exactly where the attitude control thrusters were going to go, and based on that we decided for how many frames the effects would appear when they were in use. As for the way we show the effects, the animation director was focused on the frames where the thrust effects begin and end, and how they affect the position of the machine itself. And we put care into effects that would bring out the weight of the mecha, and we made sure that even small movements weren't out of place when matched with the animation parts. You could say those things were specific to "THE ORIGIN."
- One gets the impression that the animation and CG work are separate. But to maintain "blending" in terms of timing to prevent disconnection, the chief animation director, who is himself key to the animation, needs to check it, right?
Inoue: That's right. If the CG production side does that, there is a worry that the CG will "disconnect" from the animation. The number of CG frames versus animation frames per second was different in the beginning, but recently you don't get the sense of something being off in the same image. There are fewer CG frames, and they've been fine-tuned so that they blend with the animation. There are scenes where a foreground character is depicted at a large size, and a car is coming towards them from behind, or scenes where characters are riding in those cars, and we need to be particularly careful with those types of shots so that nothing feels mismatched. Even in crowd scenes, we deliberately mixed CG mobs with hand-drawn mobs, and with effects we layered CG smoke on hand-drawn smoke and so forth, so we worked with the episode directors to compare and adjust things to create the animation. A single shot is never just CG, there are traditional art elements mixed in, and our aim was to make it hard for people to tell whether it was CG and not be bothered by it.
- When CG-drawn mobile suits and characters appear on screen at the same time, do you need to be even more careful?
Inoue: In the trailer for Episode 4, there's a shot of Dr. Minovsky fleeing across the surface of the moon, with a Guncannon running after him. Even there, we had to spend time doing things like fine-tuning where the frames fell. Also, we had instructions about the camera angles when we were making adjustments in terms of the art. If the traditional animation angle and the CG angle don't match up, it causes things to feel off. So when producing the shot, no matter what, we couldn't match the perspectives on the Guncannon and Dr. Minovsky, but we lowered the position of the Guncannon to match up with the animation art. We corrected the positioning of the mecha and the animated character two or three times, and the perspective doesn't follow logic, but we adjusted it so that it looks natural, and that kind of "lie" is okay with art. Also, in the shooting process, we matched up the tones of the CG and the animation to give the textures a blended finish too.
- When shooting scenes that were comprised only of CG, did D.I.D. Studio handle that?
Inoue: Up until about Episode 2, D.I.D. also did the shooting. But after the production of Episode 2 there was a review meeting, and with regards to shooting, it was decided to leave that to Mr. (Takeshi) Katsurayama, the director of photography, and maybe we should unify the overall tone including all the traditional animation and CG.
Iwakiri: There are shots that we shoot here, but Mr. Kuzuyama looks over those too and works on them if necessary, so the series comes out with a unified overall tone.
- It's important to have that unified tone, isn't it?
Inoue: Yes, it is. Of course, the last thing we want to hear is that the CG looks disconnected, and we also want to further enhance the quality of its appearance. We need to cooperate on each and every section, and give the work the feeling of being a unified whole. When you factor that in, "THE ORIGIN" does indeed involve a lot more time and effort than other projects.
Iwakiri: On "THE ORIGIN," when it comes to combining CG and traditional animation, there are two patterns. Sometimes the animation art is completed first, and sometimes the CG is completed first. We imagine what the final shot will be, chat with the animation director, and then decide which should be completed first. For example, in some cases we first set the camera angle in CG, and then add the traditional animation to it. Or in some cases, it's better that the traditional art is done first and the CG is generated afterwards, so we have detailed meetings about each shot as work proceeds, and that takes time.
- With regards to CG modeling, in what ways is this different from other projects?
Inoue: Before we get to CG modeling, "THE ORIGIN" has its own procedure, so I'll explain that first. Prior to CG production, the mecha designers get together and have "Mecha Meetings." After that there are design orders, and meetings about the form and interpretation are held with people at Bandai to talk about the plastic model kit versions. Also, they also have discussions examining what will be modeled in CG, so we attend as well since we're in charge of the CG.
Iwakiri: On "THE ORIGIN," when designing begins, we use simple models to investigate the size. For example, when deciding how many mobile suits could fit aboard a warship, to see if that would be realistic, we use CG to work out what volume would be necessary to carry so many machines. We present that to the designers, and that's how the design work sometimes proceeds.
Inoue: Also, with mobile suits, they need to be able to make three-dimensional plastic models as well. So to investigate that, we get rough design art, and do further study, and then finally settle on the design. Then we start 3D modeling to match the line art. For the modeling, we check the CG direction ourselves, and if there are no problems, then we get the mecha designers to check it. Once they give the OK, we enter the detailing process. The reason we have these checks before we get into crafting the details is that it's important to get the right balance of proportions, and it's difficult to fine-tune the balance after the detailing is complete. The designers dip into Mr. (Yoshikazu) Yasuhiko's original manga and then draw the form of the mecha, so if a standard level of quality isn't achieved at the balancing stage, then the detailing work can't be done. Because of that, the process is that first the balance is checked, and then fine detailing is added.
- On "THE ORIGIN," the CG is made to look like traditional animation, isn't it?
Inoue: That's right. So that it blends well with the animation art and to make it look hand-drawn, we put in lines and textures. When modeling, we decide in detail whether to reproduce the lines in the design drawing with modeled forms, or to put them in artificially using texture mapping, and so forth. With regard to the hues, the color designer, Ms. (Nagisa) Abe, decides the normal color conditions and tints in space, so once the shape of the CG model is set we go into the work of adding texture. The mecha designers check everything up to the form, but with regards to the texture, the episode directors check that. Once all the markings and stuff are on it, it goes through a flow of checks from the general director, to the episode director, to the animation director to see what kind of impression it creates on screen. Marking instructions will be different depending on the model, but sometimes we get an instruction from Mr. Yasuhiko or the designers that "We want a marking here," or the setting staff give us an instruction that they want a certain marking to make the mecha easy to tell apart.
Iwakiri: The markings are surprisingly detailed. We also considered the number of machines that appear in the series and changed the numbering for them.
- With regards to modeling, another thing to be aware of is showing the mobile suits' moving parts. What is the process like for that?
Inoue: First of all, at the rough modeling stage, we work out exactly which parts move and which parts don't. After that, while working on the details, we check that the parts in the movable areas can move properly, and whether the same movement can be expressed in the plastic models. The idea is that we aim for the CG model to have even more moving parts than the plastic model. In the old days, the plastic models had a small range of articulation, but now they even have double joints, so they have much more movability. We reproduce that in the CG models, and we also reference the plastic models for tricky bits like the cylinders deep in the joints when we do the modeling work.
- With 3D models, there's the problem of parts caving in when they're posed. How did you deal with that?
Inoue: Actually, when we're adding animation, at the first stage we don't worry about the caving in. We focus on making the overall form look cool so the movements don't get too small. After that, we separate and output the 3D elements, and then we go through a process of covering over the caving in. With 3D models, each element can be moved separately, so we put an emphasis on the form and fine-tune the parts of the model on a frame-by-frame basis. Also, the movable parts of the joints have gaps in them, but the animation director asks us to connect the parts so that those gaps aren't there, so we make fine adjustments there.
- So you give serious consideration to how things look, and that changes the modeling too.
Inoue: We did that particularly from Episode 4 onward, and it was really hard to find the balance. We did give priority to how things looked, but if we overdo it, then we get to a stage where the design and the form are different. So we need to be extremely careful with each shot, doing checks and repeated adjustments.
Iwakiri: Depending on the way each scene is produced and presented, the size of the head may also change.
Inoue: If we change the length of the projection of the chest, or shift the position of the crest on the back of the Zaku I's head, then we're able to make parts you wouldn't ordinarily notice closer in image to the artwork.
- In "THE ORIGIN" the backgrounds employ a lot of CG too, right?
Iwakiri: For the colonies, and the lunar surface in Episode 4, we did development views of parts that were CG modeled, and handed those over to the people in charge of art at Studio Easter. They added textures to give them a unified feel, and then we put those on top of the CG to complete them.
Inoue: Regarding the backgrounds, if you just paste on the background textures and stop there, you still have to do modeling of the buildings and the rest of the background itself. For example, in the scene where Casval and Artesia part in Episode 2, the grass under their feet, the leaves dancing in the wind, and the trees were all modeled in 3D. With the grass, there were only grass highlights on top of the background. We made that all in 3D, and we did several look tests and in the end adopted a hybrid. With the Earth Federation Forces control tower in Episode 3, we used a method called "camera mapping" in which we used simple modeling to film only the scenery as shown from the camera angle. So even if the camera circles around a little bit, it's portrayed in a way that still feels solid.
- Something impressive in Episode 3 was the camouflage uniforms of the students at the military academy. That was handled by the CG team, right?
Inoue: The director said, "Let's do the camouflage with CG." There are about 300 shots total with camouflage uniforms, and we had to wait for the animation art to be finished for us to add the CG, so we were worried we wouldn't have much time to do the work. There was a short period between the footage being ready and the actual shooting, so to deal with that high volume, we split up the work with outside companies.
Iwakiri: There was no way they could hand-draw military camouflage in all those shots. So we decided we should try something as a test, and we tried adding 3D camouflage on top of footage of Char walking around that was made for the Char's Auris commercial. As a result, we learned that it was technologically possible, and then it was just a matter of balancing the time and the workload, so we decided to take on the challenge.
Inoue: When they decided to use CG for the camouflage, the staff in charge of the test made grim faces as they imagined the effort. But doing that hard work has significance. It creates higher quality footage, and adding camouflage to the bodies enables us to express visuals that move solidly.
Iwakiri: The camouflage patterning is perfectly matched to the contours of the sleeves, so I think they make the heavy march scenes and training scenes really impressive.
Inoue: When you do camouflage, some people have the opinion that the characters should all be done in CG too, but for the sake of effect, aside from some shots of distant characters, we decided on the method of pasting it into the animation art. In the final stages of the work, we're able to paste in the CG and adjust things during the shooting process, and that was a real help. Shooting technology is advancing more and more too, so when we separated the colors of all the parts where we wanted to add camouflage, we realized the camouflage patterning there could follow it. Thus we could manage the volume, and we were able to enhance the overall image quality too. After this trial, I think we'll be able to use it on future military-themed projects as well.
- So adding camo to the animation art really was hard work, then.
Inoue: It's something else that I think is unique to "THE ORIGIN." The feel and form of the characters that Mr. Yasuhiko drew are an absolute requirement, and CG hasn't reached the stage where it can express those characters yet. Based on that, and specifically because it's "THE ORIGIN," doing the camouflage that way was the solution, I think. Also, in Episode 3, there are daytime training scenes with CG fighting vehicles and camouflaged characters combined, and I think that's something to see. In the "Dawn Rebellion" scenes in the latter half, there are scenes with infantry and eight-wheeled armored vehicles running around, and the backgrounds are also done in 3D, so along with the live feel of the camera movements, I think the end result is impressive. The scene where military academy students get out of the armored vehicle, the one in which Char jumps from an armored vehicle with a landmover, and the one where Lino grabs onto the Type 61 Tank, were all a combination of CG and animation art, as we discussed before, so the process there is unlike that of other scenes and well worth watching.
In the production process for the shot of Char jumping from the armored vehicle, first of all we got an initial drawing to work out the position of the armored vehicle and other mecha, then we generated a 3D vehicle that matched it. We created rough animation in CG, added the camera work, and did one check. And once we got the OK from the episode director, it went back to the animators and they began working on the character animation. During that time we created the 3D models for the backgrounds, and we thought about the background art which served as blueprints for the backgrounds and the pasting on of background textures. Finally, when the animation was ready, we did a test combination. Then, to adjust the positioning and any timing errors, we had further meetings with the episode director and animation director to review each frame, and we discussed further effects with the photography team... So there's a lot of trial and error, involving a lot of people, in the process towards completion.
Iwakiri: Besides the camo, in the scene inside the factory where they're assembling the Waff mobile suit, that scene was made with a combination of CG and animation as well. That took a lot of work, finely combining the CG and the animation until it was complete.
- Did you get any opinions or instructions from Mr. Yasuhiko about the CG work?
Inoue: At first he said, "I don't want you to repeat things." The CG doesn't repeat the same things the line art is doing, and having it not repeat is an advantage. Mr. Yasuhiko said more about the presentation of the art than the CG technology. For example, with large structures, we should spend time showing them in the anime to give a strong sense of how huge they are. Or, for instance, when panning across ships, logically things right in front of the camera would move faster, but he said, "Move slowly so we can show how long it is." Those types of opinions are Mr. Yasuhiko's instincts or focuses as an animator, so we considered them important. Of course, on "THE ORIGIN" we were careful to respect Mr. Yasuhiko's movements and forms in creating the artwork. Also, because he has more confidence in CG now, he also asked us to show him what reality would look like with a CG perspective. For example, when a colony was drawn using SF research for realism, he said he wanted to confirm how to show it. This will come up in the Loum Chronicle, but he said he wanted to see how we would show the mobile workers working on the outside wall, and how it would look if you looked up at their work from inside the colony. So we did a CG verification. Actually, if you film from inside an actual-size colony at that angle, it's almost exactly the same as what Mr. Yasuhiko imagined and drew in the panels of his original manga. Mr. Yasuhiko was happy about it, and said, "It's interesting to be able to confirm things like this." But I was really surprised that what we created with a sense of realistic size, he had already drawn on instinct. So after those repeated CG tests, it developed a good form overall, I think.
- What should we look out for in the CG of the near-completed Episode 4?
Inoue: This time, you should see the battle scene on the lunar surface. The lunar surface is mostly made in 3D, including the backgrounds. There are a lot of shots of the background moving to match the mobile suit battle, so we're using 3D modeling for the battlefield itself. But we're not just using the model as is. We're matching it up with the rough key animation, and adjusting the elevation for each shot, and really aiming to up the quality. Also, the clouds of dust. We've been doing lots of tests to see how clouds of dust would billow on the surface of the moon.
Iwakiri: We sent for some moon footage from NASA, and we're using that for reference.
Inoue: Regarding the movement of clouds of dust on the moon, they rise fast, but then fall slow. So we're working to create the feel or impression of the moon's unique gravity.
Iwakiri: We're finally depicting a full-scale mobile suit battle, so I hope people will look forward to that.
- Finally, do you have a message for fans looking forward to the fourth episode?
Inoue: I don't think "THE ORIGIN" is something you watch conscious of the CG. I think the CG should be used as a spice to expand the world of the source manga. After you've seen the main feature, it would be awesome if you watched the Making Of and thought, like, "Oh, that part was CG!" Also, there's merchandise such as plastic models and so forth. So when you get a model of a mecha that appears in the story, we're trying our best on the CG to make that something you'll be satisfied with. I hope everyone is looking forward to Episode 4.
Iwakiri: When I myself thought about what would be good CG for this project, I reached the conclusion that it shouldn't make people conscious of whether or not it was CG. It would be wrong to create flashy CG that no one's ever seen before. So, I think we needed to create CG that would immerse you in the Yasuhiko world. I hope everyone will watch the next episode.

Next time in our Relay Interview series, we speak to Mr. Hirofumi Kishiyama and Mr. Mizuki Fukuda of Bandai Hobby about "THE ORIGIN's" plastic model kits.