Production I.G> WORK LIST> IGPX> SPECIAL FEATURE> The Making of IGPX 3D Animation Step 4: Effects

The Making of IGPX 3D Animation Step 4: Effects

Hyper-dynamic battles between lavishly detailed IG machines running at speed higher than 400 km/h is definitely one of IGPX most impressive characteristics.
For this reason, we decided to get inside Production I.G's 3D Room, and ask the computer graphics team to tell us everything about the creative process behind the astounding mechs of IGPX.


Miki Yoshida
3DCGI. Yoshida is the leader of the IGPX 3D animation team. His main works include: Blood: The Last Vampire (2000), Kaidohmaru (2001) and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002).

What is the process called "combining effects"?
Yoshida: To put it in simple terms, the process could be understood as creating materials to render visual effects to 3D models. If we just put IG machines on a moving circuit, the scene doesn't really look alive. To add that realistic touch and give an extra visual sense, we use this process of combining effects.
For instance, we use sparks where the machines touch the ground and white air-streams behind them to show the speed. We also insert several different patterns in green to the circuit surface, which, incidentally are called "speed lines" in manga. They add reality and the tension to the race on the screen.
There are wide varieties of effects actually. Sparks, for instance, could result from touching the ground and also from machines smashing into each other. More recently, effects showing rain are becoming more important. Special treatment is required for night scenes, where pin lights and large spotlights are reflected on the machine bodies.

How much effect materials do you create and actually apply to the animation?
Yoshida: There might be about forty different kinds of them. In the beginning, we started from scratch and we stocked them all as the episodes progressed. We first check the storyboards to see whether we have to create new effects; for example, there might be lightning strokes or circulating shock waves. These are usually made to fit each scene. You know, we did have sparks at the feet of the machines right from the beginning, but they were gradually improved as the episodes progressed. Let me give you an example. By the time the machines go into the third round of the circuit, they are in "speed mode" and Takeuchi-san ordered us to create sparks which were slightly different. Apparently people liked the new sparks, so we decided to use them instead after that.

How do you count the effects?
Yoshida: Take for example the sparks; one "effect" would cover sparks emerging, expanding and then disappearing. These materials are stored and shared among the entire staff. New materials that had good responses get improved and updated quickly. Basically, we have a system of distributing online the library update information among the staff, so that they can obtain the material directly.
In the beginning we didn't even have air-streams trailing behind the running machines. Someone came up with an idea for the Velshtein machine to emit white air-streams as a precursor to attempting the Indoraga Mano stunt. When I modified these air-streams and applied it to a machine I was working on, hoping to add more speed to it, it worked so well that everyone liked it. So we decided to use white air-streams with a more subtle color. That way it would not stand out too much.

Do you limit the way you apply the effects?
Yoshida: When somebody who is working on a particular scene comes up with an idea, we encourage him to just do it. If it works, we will take it on right away. We sometimes ask for some changes, but basically, we never say no right from the start. It's just that when we are tight in terms schedule, we sort of have to put it off till later.

Is there any particular scene in which we should look for outstanding effects?
Yoshida: If you ask me, I'd say where Team Velshtein starts the Indoraga Mano stunt. The effects are very well made. From just before they start the stunt to where the tornado appears. It's really cool. After seeing the stunt, I felt the other teams had no chance of winning the race. (laughs)
And I should also add the scenes in rain. As the machines slow down and the air-streams disappear, the raindrops start to fall slower. When this happens, the raindrops move like in the movie Matrix. This fits in so well, so you should not miss it. You see, when the rain falls, it gives more depth to the entire scene.

What are the things you pay attention to when combining the effects?
Yoshida: In IGPX, we only apply sparks when the machine touches the circuit surface. The sparks should not flicker at the front of the feet. When the feet are not touching the ground, there shouldn't be any sparks. These are the small details we check. We also added a rule about how the sparks should be smaller during the first round before the battle takes place; only then do the sparks burst out. So when you look at the earlier episodes like the first three, there are big sparks right from the beginning. Since IGPX machines are not supposed to run by the power of the sparks, but by generating plasma at the base of the machine, we decided to make the sparks less obvious.

When do you combine the effects to the scene?
Yoshida: The effects, such as the sparks, are made up of 3D parts, so we add them after we finish the process of motion renderings. Even when we use ready-made effects, we have to adjust the speed to match each scene. This actually could be a difficult job. Even if the speed of the sparks fitted perfectly on a machine that is moving horizontally, the same speed on a machine that is coming towards you would look oddly slow. As a result, when we have machines facing you, we increased the speed so it would look okay. We are putting a lot of effort so that things don't look odd on the screen.
We also made all the buildings of the team sponsors visible from the IGPX racetrack. We actually decided which sponsor's building should be visible from which location. For example, before the course goes up and downhill, there should be a building belonging to Team Sledgemama's sponsor and we must show the team emblem on the wall screen of the building. We check the details meticulously to keep these things consistent.

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