© COPYRIGHT MMXXI CHROMOSPHERE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
2D/3D HYBRID ANIMATION / 2021
CASE STUDY NAVIGATION:
In late 2018 we began a small internal experiment at the studio with the goal to push the boundaries of what we could achieve with our unique house style of hybrid 2D/3D animation. Over the course of 3 years, that experiment exploded into a 3-episode micro-series which would take us to unexpected places and introduce us to brand new technologies!
^ MAKING OF YUKI 7 / PROCESS VIDEO
Producing this series required using every skill we’ve learned as artists and as a studio, as well as learning lots of new skills along the way. From start to finish it has been a passion project, and encapsulates the best of what our team can achieve.
As a collective, Chromosphere has always strived to do really ambitious things with small, tight-knit teams. We take a lot of pride in how you can really see each artist’s hand in the final products we produce.
KEVIN DART (Creative Director): When I started the studio in 2016, it followed years spent creating films and other projects with a couple of really close friends & collaborators, especially my longtime friend Stéphane Coëdel who is still working with us today. One of our first major projects as an “official” studio was the short film June, which utilized a really cool 2D/3D hybrid style. We really enjoyed the process of making that film because it employed all of our best skills – especially stylized 2D design, cinematic lighting & camera moves, and getting flat-looking things to feel and move in a 3D way. Since that project, we’ve been looking for other opportunities to employ those skills on other projects and continue to push the style forward, so in 2018 we resurrected an idea that had been somewhat dormant for a few years – Yuki 7.
One of the earliest collaborations between Kevin and Stéphane was a 2009 animated short called “A Kiss From Tokyo” which featured an early version of Yuki 7 in a faux movie trailer. This spawned two books and another short, “Looks That Kill”, which laid the foundations for an AfterFX process that would become central to Chromosphere’s approach to animation.
^ STILLS FROM “LOOKS THAT KILL” AND “A KISS FROM TOKYO”
KEVIN: I was always really enamored with how Stéphane could take a 2D painting and bring it to life and make it feel like a 3D space. To me it demonstrated a realm of possibilities where we could bring all of these unique worlds and styles to life and create things no one had seen before. Seeing these paintings move made everything feel more real, and it also led me to thinking a lot more about the character of Yuki – who she was and what kinds of adventures she could go on.
^ HONG KONG VISUAL DEVELOPMENT ART BY BENJAMIN FLOUW
Another key aspect of the Chromosphere process is how much we value collaboration and the contributions of individual artists. Even though Yuki was somewhat of a “legacy property” for us, we were eager to do a bit of reinvention and see where our team of artists might take her.
^ EPISODE 1 THUMBNAILS BY KEVIN DART
KEVIN: Yuki was originally inspired by my wife Elizabeth Ito (creator of City of Ghosts) and her very badass attitude and approach to life. I loved how hard she fought for her ideas & convictions, and I got inspired to create a world where a facsimile version of her could tromp around fighting bad guys and using cool gadgets and just being the hero of her own story. Over the years that world became a mashup of so many different things, including old spy movies, 1970s sci fi TV shows, Hong Kong action flicks, and 80s cartoons. It’s really a big playground, and it’s been so fun to invite other artists to come play around in that world with these characters. One of the first people I wanted to invite in was our character designer Keiko Murayama, who did her own take on Yuki and her friends that was the first step in setting a visual tone for the series.
^ YUKI 7 CHARACTER DESIGNS BY KEIKO MURAYAMA
KEVIN: I thought the best way to re-introduce the world to Yuki would be to throw them into the middle of a really crazy action scene where she’s being chased by raptors and simultaneously trying to coordinate things with her unpredictable teammates. I had been introduced to Dashawn Mahone’s work through my friend Tiffany Ford and was a really big fan of his comics and general storytelling approach, so I asked him to create this explosive chase sequence and what he turned in was absolutely phenomenal!
^ EPISODE 1 STORYBOARDS BY DASHAWN MAHONE
With our first sequences storyboarded, we were able to start exploring how we would actually create the final hybrid look that we were imagining.
^ HONG KONG MAP BY ELAINE LEE
OUR ORIGINAL PROCESS
Finding the look for Yuki 7 was a long-running experiment that took place in between lots of other projects at the studio. Because the look was going to rely heavily on a combination of 2D and 3D assets and sophisticated compositing treatments, many different artists at the studio had to be involved in the process.
^ HONG KONG STYLE FRAME BY ELAINE LEE
KEVIN: Despite working on a lot of 3D projects, we don’t consider ourselves to be a 3D studio. Our approach to 3D is kinda lo-fi and purposely imperfect, as we are not a hugely technical group of artists. We wanted all of that to really be a part of the style for Yuki – to embrace a CG look that was rougher around the edges. To get that look on the characters, our CG artist Lucy Xue worked really closely with Keiko to figure out how to “mess up” the character models by sketching over them in Quill. We wanted the characters to have all kinds of jagged polygons sticking out to create interesting shapes and detail when they were lit, and Quill seemed like a good approach for finding that. After doing this a few times, Lucy figured out that she could also imitate the sketchy Quill look in Maya a bit more easily, so we started integrating that into the modeling process.
^ 2D YUKI TURNAROUND BY KEIKO MURAYAMA, 3D YUKI TURNAROUND BY LUCY XUE
Once the 3D assets were built and animated and lit, it was time for Stéphane to take over and figure out how he was going to process those renders and get the look we were ultimately after.
STÉPHANE COËDEL (LEAD COMPOSITOR): I asked Andrew our 3D generalist to render all the light passes in black and white, so I could manage the colors in After effects and edit (paint) them the way I wanted. We tried to have the CG passes used more as base elements onto which I’d apply a bunch of effects and patterns. I would degrade, posterize, distort and offset them in order to get a look between a (bad) print and some old school video games. I created a set of patterns dedicated to the shadows, the direct lighting, the indirect lighting, the flares and the glows.
^ PATTERN DIAGRAM BY STÉPHANE COËDEL
STÉPHANE: I’d set up a flat rectangular iris for the depth of field blur, so everything that would get out of focus would spread horizontally. Andrew rendered “cryptomatte” passes which allowed me to generate mattes for every single object or asset in the scene. This was really useful since I had to isolate some pieces of geometry like the store signs in the HongKong sequence, and make them generate glow. I then applied the appropriate pattern on top of these. There were some scenes in which I had to do some camera tracking, due to the amount of 2D elements added in the environment. The 3D set was in fact very minimalistic in regard to details and polygons. The richness was in the color patchwork (for HongKong) and the way we would play with lights and tones. All water, stars, fire and smoke effects were 2D elements integrated in the environment. Sometimes the 3D set would only be used as a references for how to animated the 2d background layers in order to simulate a 3D space, like in the underwater scenes in which only the characters are CG. There were some tries and errors early on, before we came up with a pipeline that wasn’t too heavy and slow. It’s still a very organic process that relies a heavily on the artist’s sensitivity and tastes. Which, maybe, doesn’t make it the most production friendly. Like I was completely free to come up with my own ideas and effects. I even sometimes drifted away from the original color script. I know from experience that’s something we can rarely allow on a classic show, unless we know our artist crew very well and they’re in perfect tune with each other and the art director.
^ COMPOSITING BREAKDOWN BY STÉPHANE COËDEL
By early 2020, we were well into production on the pilot when suddenly the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted everyone’s lives. That disruption would scatter our team geographically and also ultimately lead us to a brand new way of working.
The Epic Megagrants program is an initiative to support developers and creators who want to use the Unreal Engine to make exciting new things. In the Fall of 2020, we found out about the Megagrants and started to consider how we might be able to use Unreal on the Yuki 7 project.
KEVIN: Our incredible Executive Producer Karen Dufilho first suggested the idea of using Unreal to me, and at first I couldn’t quite picture it. The process we were using for Yuki was so complicated and so dependent on our 2D tools like AfterFX, that I couldn’t imagine how we’d be able to migrate that to Unreal. As I started looking into it more, I began to realize that Unreal could actually help us to streamline the process, and that maybe we could even continue to build on and improve certain aspects of the Yuki 7 style. I was really excited by Unreal’s workflow and the idea that we could set up an episode as ifit was a real life action sequence. So we decided to dive in and apply for a Megagrant with the idea that we would produce the next episode of Yuki in Unreal.
In our next installment we will be talking with our team about what it was like learning a whole new software and pipeline, and how we started to build the next iteration of Yuki in real-time.
A CHROMOSPHERE Production
BASED ON A CHARACTER CREATED BY
PROPS & FX
TECHNICAL ART DIRECTOR
LIGHTING & RENDERING
POST PRODUCTION SOUND SERVICES
Boom Box Post, Inc.
SUPERVISING SOUND EDITOR
Brad Meyer, MPSE
Kate Finan, MPSE
Jeff Shiffman, MPSE
Katie Maynard, MPSE
Jessey Drake, MPSE
Xinyue Yu, MPSE
ASSISTANT SOUND EDITORS
NATIVE AUDIO – DAN NATHAN
Dialogue Recorded at
LEAD DIALOGUE MIXER
UNREAL ENGINE SPECIAL THANKS
YUKI 7 THEME
Performed by The Go! Team
Written by Ian Parton
YUKI 7 END THEME
Performed by The Go! Team (feat CHAI)
Written by Ian Parton
The Go! Team appears courtesy of Memphis Industries Ltd
CHAI appears courtesy of Sony Music Entertainment (Japan) Inc.
PRODUCTION ART ASSISTANT
DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION
The stories, names, characters and incidents portrayed in this productions are ficticious. No identification with actual persons (living or deceased), places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred. No animals were harmed in the making of this motion picture
Copyright MMXXI Chromosphere.
Yuki 7 is a registered trademark of Chromosphere.