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The Making of Final Fantasy

The Making of Final Fantasy By Iain Blair
Senior Contributing Editor
Film & Video Magazine
It has taken several years and the combined efforts of some 200 visionaries, artists, animators and technicians, along with the latest software and computers, to simulate a full range of human emotions and movements with hyper-real human characters and backgrounds, all in CGI for Columbia Pictures
Dr. Aki Ross
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Withins CGI heroine, Dr. Aki Ross
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Produced by Square Pictures, directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi and produced by Jun Aida and Christopher Lee, the Columbia Pictures release is a futuristic tale set in 2065 when the Earth is under alien siege.

Roy Sato, lead animator on the films alluring digital heroine, Dr. Aki Ross, first came on board four years ago and was the only animator at the time. "Ive used Maya 2.5 to do it all, but its been radically customized," he noted. "Along the way on a project this complex you always find extra tools you need, such as a hair tool, so wed integrate those as we went."

Ultimately, Sato and his team added tools for hair, body controls and facial controls, among others. "Facial controls were slowly developed as we went," he said. "We began with a base setting of about 20, and then added more features, such as different ways to move her mouth, so that now we have over 100."

He went on to outline the basic pipeline used to create Aki and the other characters. "First we start with storyboards, essentially 2-D drawings of what the director wants to see," said Sato. "Then we go to layout, where we build those into 3-D using rough models, and 3-D cameras to get the overall feel of the storyboards. From there, it comes to me and the other animators. We then start putting in the animated characters and props. Once thats approved, it all goes to lighting, and they then transfer all the animation to a detail model, which gives us a lot higher resolution. Once thats done its all rendered out."

The rendered images are then sent to the compositing and special effects teams who add any necessary explosions, fireballs and effects.

"Probably the most tricky sequence to do in terms of the animation was the ?LOV scene, where Aki kisses another character," he said. "Its probably the longest shot in the whole film, and it all had to be hand-keyed. Theres so much detail when youre that close, with her hair moving around and so on. It took over a month to get it right."
Sato, who previously worked at Disney in traditional animation, said that this project has been, "a dream come true for me. With computers you can animate anything you can imagine."

Kevin Ochs, technical director of the character section, joined the team three years ago, when a lot of the techniques were just starting to be developed. "We had a major uphill battle as there was no one to call or swap notes with. We were discovering new stuff every day," he recalled.

Ochs, who previously worked extensively in commercials, oversaw eight artists who created every aspect of the characters, from their bodies and underlying muscle structure to their hair and their clothing, he explained. "Maya is just the starting point. We did so much R&D on top of that, it really pushed the program."

In fact, the team even had Alias|Wavefront staffers on site while they worked. "They sent us two of their top programmers, partly for technical support and partly just to see how we were using their product," Ochs said. "They knew this was a monumental job. We also basically found every known bug and were able to show them better ways of using Maya. So, it was a collaborative effort. Ironically, if we began afresh on this film today, wed be able to do it a whole lot faster. Weve come up with some great ways of working in the course of all our R&D."

Tani Kunitake, staging director, described his job as part storyboard supervisor, part script supervisor and part art director. "I began by meeting with the director and going over the whole script, and then bringing it to life in the form of storyboards," he said.

Kunitake, who worked as a conceptual artist on Fight Club and The Matrix, oversaw a large team of storyboard artists, including eight from Japan and eight from L.A. The walls of his office are covered with the results of their labor. "Wed try to interpret the directors vision for each scene, and then wed take these boards and compile them into the Avid with the editor, Wed do this quite early on, and make a storyreel thatd be like a slideshow. Sometimes wed also dump in the scratch dialog. This allowed us to pre-visualize the whole movie."

Copyright 2001 Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc. All rights reserved

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Related Keywords:Square Pictures, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Dr. Aki Ross, 3-D cameras, Kevin Ochs

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