character department created proprietary software for characters'
skin, hair, and clothing. Pictured: Close-ups of Aki's detailed
lips and eyes.
Click for larger images.
Capp's comment regarding
live action vs. animation points to the film's most obvious hybrid:
the union of photorealism with computer-generated animation. While the
primary goal of the artists was more "hyper-realism" than
photorealism, at moments the characters, props, and effects do appear
and move with frightening familiarity. With characters, such complexity
partially resulted from a synthesis of what motion-capture director
Remington Scott calls the three stages of performance.
"First, we had the voice of the actors that bring the initial character
to life," Scott states, referring to the vocal performances of
Ming-Na, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Buscemi, among others. "Then the
motion-capture actors supplied the technical element, where we created
those characters visually through movement. That's usually where people
tend to think it ends, but then we also had animators who spent a great
deal of time working on these characters."
The role of the animation department was especially crucial, since Scott
and his team, working with an optical, 16-camera Motion Analysis system,
did not capture characters' facial and hand movements at the motion-capture
stage in Diamond Head. Rather, once the team exported the body data
to Square Pictures' downtown studio as Maya scene files, animators had
to keyframe facial and hand gestures to convey subtle, detailed performances.
Animating characters' eye movements was particularly challenging.
"When you watch movies, you are actually looking at the eyes more
than anything else on the character during a _performance," says
animation director Andy Jones, who previously worked on Godzilla and
Titanic. "I asked animators to watch peoples' eyes and study when,
how, and why they move. You don't want it to look like someone else
is moving them-you want the characters to look like they have a soul."
It was not just their physical movements that gave the characters their
"soul." Also crucial were Square's extensive texturing efforts.
"We had no bar to go to, so we had no idea how far we could take
it in terms of realism," says CG artist Kevin Ochs.
The character team pushed the CG envelop to the limit, creating proprietary
programs for realistic skin, hair, and clothing textures and dynamics
to work with their existing tools, Maya, Photoshop, and Alias' Studio
Animators also devised proprietary solutions for scaling inverse kinematics
to motion-capture data, filtering and smoothing movement, and blending
multiple passes. Artists created sets, props, visual effects, and lighting
in Maya, and composited via Avid Media Illusion and Shake.
The Past Meets
capture was one step in the pipeline that brought characters to
for larger image.
While Final Fantasy
has enjoyed a long existence _as a video game, Final Fantasy: The Spirits
Within is the epic's first feature-film incarnation. As such, it departs
from the past in a variety of ways.
"The film is a completely different presentation from the technology,
to the look, to the story background," explains producer and president
of Square Pictures Jun Aida, who formerly produced the feature-film
version of Street Fighter.
Indeed, the Honolulu studio acquired hardware, software, and talent
solely for feature-film production, not for game work, which is still
handled by Square's Tokyo-based location. Aida, of course, hopes that
the Honolulu studio's considerable resources will soon be used again.
"I hope that we will be producing Final Fantasy 23 with Columbia
when I have much more grey hair," he jokes. "Hopefully, there
will be many more projects out there."
At press time, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was set to debut in
theaters on July 13.
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