Magnificent Hybrids
A Meeting of the Minds on Final Fantasy
By Kristinha McCort
Final Fantasy resulted in exceptionally realistic human characters and an exceptionally collaborative pipeline. Pictured: The lead character, Aki.
Click for larger image.

While many will praise-or protest-the exceptionally human characters of Columbia's Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Millimeter had a chance to observe the real humans working painstakingly behind the scenes at Square Pictures, Honolulu.

Wandering the studio, one comes to realize the secret hidden behind the moistness of the characters' pored-and sometimes pimpled-flesh, the advanced articulation of each entity's movement, and the elaborate sets and effects that surround them. Final Fantasy has not just pushed the boundary where photorealism meets CG. Final Fantasy, under the watchful eyes of director Hironobu Sakaguchi and producers Jun Aida and Christopher Lee, has also pushed the boundaries of collaboration, uniting artists from around the world.

"We've worked together in a way where it's not just a pass-off," states Tani Kunitaki, staging director, who previously worked as a conceptual illustrator for Fight Club, Blade, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and as storyboard artist for The Matrix. "Everything has been very integrated, and you can always follow up with other departments, whereas on many other productions there are more walls of demarcation."

Indeed, the greatest walls of demarcation for Square may just be the dark drapes concealing the panoramic views of paradise from the downtown studio's creative womb. In this shrouded maze of rooms and cubicles, and on the _motion-capture stage nearby, Kunitaki and his colleagues displayed for Millimeter their own beautiful scenery and _described the collaborative pipeline that evolved around Final Fantasy. Following are a few of the magnificent _hybrids that have resulted from their efforts.

East Meets West

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It is fitting that the film's artists should come _together in such a way-headquartered between Japan, the birthplace of Final Fantasy the game, and the continental U.S., the stomping grounds of Hollywood-on an island whose very name, Oahu, means "The Gathering Place." The film in its stars and styles is diverse, fluid, and multicultural, and the union of Eastern and Western sensibilities, in particular, played a prevalent part in production.

Kunitaki notes that he bridged the cultural divide during storyboard and layout by combining the graphic sensibility of Japanese anime with the cinematic influences of traditional Hollywood films.

"If you just cut out a frame, there's a nice feeling of anime within the film," he explains. "However, since we're dealing with a three-dimensional environment instead of a graphic environment, we installed a lot of camera work that's very traditional. You're looking at late '70's style of camera work-it's very subtle."

Editor and post supervisor Chris Capp adds that this combination of Eastern and Western influences also _resulted in a blend of live-action and animation styles. "The subtle camera work makes the audience feel that they looking at live action more than at animation," he notes. "We had the capability to create really wild, fast cameras, but that would have just called attention to the fact that this is a CG film. The directors have taken a strong stand on making this very Western from a cinematography standpoint, and very Eastern as far as what's in the frame."

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