Exclusive interview: Kei Yoneoka - Up Close and Personal
Kei Yoneoka shares with us his talent, previous experiences and being part of the Pixomondo team in Berlin - the International VFX company with its global network and limitless creativity
Over the past 9 years, Kei Yoneoka has been working in Tokyo on high-end CG projects related to feature films, TV commercials and game cinematics among others.
Originally from Japan, he started his career as a VFX generalist broadening his spectrum to -not only- effects but also modeling, texturing, lighting and compositing.
He has been focusing on effects, however, for the past few years now and is part of PIXOMONDO team in Berlin as a FX TD since April 2011.
cebas: It seems that “Space Battleship YAMATO” was an important project for you (and
your company). Can you tell us how you were involved?
“Space Battleship YAMATO” is one of the most famous and popular animation-series in Japan made in the 70’s. In 2010, “Space Battleship YAMATO” was recreated as a live action feature film. It was the first challenge to work on, expressing realistic space battles in Japan.
When the director Takashi Yamazaki of Shirogumi Inc – the main VFX Production Company of this project - started “Space Battleship YAMATO”, he began looking for partners who were able to work on and create heavy and complex effects. He accidently stumbled upon my work and that was how I initially got in contact with him. During that time, I was working with my previous employer – a company called OXYBOT - but I’ve always had such respect for him, ever since I was a student, and was so excited when he approached me with an offer where I was put in charge of some difficult and complex VFX shots for the project.
“Space Battleship YAMATO” is a very memorable project for me, as I was able to work with director Takashi Yamazaki for the first time ever!
cebas: Which shots/images/sequences in particular were you involved in?
I was responsible for 90% of “the mother ship destruction” effects as a FX supervisor at OXYBOT. This scene was so complex, I remember the director explaining the scenario to me: “YAMATO shoots the enemy’s mother ship engine. The engine is driven by a special energy so when it explodes, a small black hole is created breaking the whole mother ship into pieces and sucking everything up. The energy is then reversed and a huge explosion occurs.”
I thought about how difficult my task was and that completing it successfully required better tools than those I was used to like PFlow or Reactor.
cebas: What cebas software did you use and why?
I used thinkingParticles for destruction of the mother ship. When it came to breaking objects into pieces, we had a few solutions, but for the debris to be sucked up by a black
Hole, it had to be particles. Accordingly, I could influence and control these particles by using space warps like gravity or vortex and then delete them in the black hole. Therefore, using thinkingParticles was the obvious choice for me since the very early stage of this project.
This was actually the first project to use thinkingParticles for a major effect.
cebas: What was the most difficult aspect of this project and how did you solve it?
This effect is a completely unrealistic situation; so making it look real and convincing to the audience was indeed a challenge.
I did a lot of research for images that are similar to a black hole. For the motion of the destruction, I referred to how tornados cause damage to buildings. However, on the larger scale and in terms of how a black hole can destroy the mother ship, references were far from what I had expected!
Hence, most of the animation had to come from imagination and I had to work on this shot more from an artistic point of view rather than a physically correct simulation. I was able to do a combination of key-frame animation and particle animation.
cebas: What was a step-by-step breakdown of a typical shot/image/sequence?
Since the VFX team in Sirogumi Inc uses mainly Maya, I exported the mother ship in OBJ format and then imported it into 3dsMax. I used the Obj-to-Particle operator upon conversion so I could work with thinkingParticles.
Major difficulties were related to the mother ship destruction and the handling of tens of thousands of debris. The thinkingParticles fragment function gave me amazing and realistic results, while the fragment operator controlled by light intensity range was really intuitive and worked very well. Where I needed a much higher density of small debris, I could easily emit additional geometry instanced debris from the edge or cross-section surface of fragments.
These fragments and debris were also used as a particle source for FumeFX smoke and holdout for other elements, such as, the black hole’s swirl and core. I had to render these elements with Krakatoa; thinkingParticles group objects worked well as a matte object of Krakatoa and were really stable in network rendering.
Another complex process was the transition from key-frame animation to particle simulation, where I had to put key frame animation to the enemy’s mother ship. In the scene, the enemy’s mother ship is pulled and bent by the extremely strong gravity of the black hole and it was difficult to make an ideal timing of animation only using particle simulation. I had to transform and rotate the animation as well as lattice deformation to the original model in the beginning then track key-frame animation using thinkingParticles objects. Finally, I switched from key-frame animated object to particles from the center of the black hole outwards naturally and gradually. In such complex situations, thinkingParticles worked really well.
cebas: How did the cebas tools perform for you and how was the experience of working with them like?
thinkingParticles workflow saved a lot of time and contributed to high quality. I think the quality of effects depends on how many times we can iterate trial and error. I used an approach with manually pre-fragmented geometry in this shot but almost all of the destruction system was completely procedural. Therefore, I was able to iterate trial and error many times without interrupting a smooth workflow. I can say that without thinkingParticles I wouldn’t have been able to achieve these complicated effects.
cebas: What was the most fun or rewarding part of this project for you?
In Japan there aren’t a lot of large-scale projects such as this movie, so it was a very valuable experience. In addition, working with director Takashi Yamazaki and having these responsibilities was the most rewarding for me.
His vision of this project was set from the start, yet at the same time, I had the freedom to work and create. It was such great fun and honor!
cebas: What new projects can we expect from you in the future (if you're able to tell us).
Being part of Pixomondo team, I have recently finished working on the George Lucas’s “Red Tails’ and I’m currently working on Brad Peyton’s “Journey 2 : The Mysterious Island”.
Thank you Kei Yoneoka for that exclusive interview, we can't wait to watch both movies :)
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