Interview with Kei Yoneoka, CEO of StealthWorks, on the 'Shin Godzilla' movie FX with thinkingParticles 6.0
~ Shin Godzilla 2016 general video on CGI
Cebas: Welcome Kei and Stealthworks LLC, Japan to this exclusive interview on the thinkingParticles visual effects for Shin Godzilla. Let's start with some background information about yourself.
Cebas: If you were to remember the one person or Guru that you feel gave your career in VFX a big boost, who will it be?
Kei Yoneoka: There are some people I want to choose but if I have to choose only one, it is Joe Scarr. I learned a lot from him when I was at ScanlineVFX in Vancouver.
Cebas: Now, that you started in 2015, Kei - could you tell the community how you came to startup your own VFX company? How has it been going?
Kei: Before getting back to Japan from Vancouver, I decided to start my own company. I had a choice and I thought, if I belong to some big company then I could not proceed with my idea and startup process quickly, so I decided to move on and start my own small VFX production business. My startup company's name is 'StealthWorks'. It means that our team are like "professional groups of Ninja who perform their tasks stealthily and surely" or "researching into invisible effects as the essence of VFX..like a ninja. "
This is our logo that gives a feeling like retro game style yet powerful :)
( You can connect with Kei Yoneoka at StealthWorks : firstname.lastname@example.org )
For now, we at Stealthworks have been very fortunate as we landed some amazing big title jobs, mainly in Japan, like "Evangelion Another Impact," "Gamera's 50th anniversary movie, " "Shin-Godzilla," and "Final Fantasy Kings Glaive" You can see some of them in our works on this exclusive cebas-Insights StealthWorks reel.
Cebas: can you tell us about the popular Japan movie, 'Shin-Godzilla' that is launching this July in Japan? What was the most challenging effects?
Kei: Shin-Godzilla is the latest Japanese Godzilla movie directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. 'Godzilla' is still one of Japan IP's most iconic and famous character! We, at StealthWorks, worked on some truly heavy FX shots like Godzilla's heat breath and building destruction. We collaborated with Shirogumi (Shin-Godzilla's main VFX production company (http://shirogumi.com/) and we worked together with their FX team.
I was responsible for FX supervising of both StealthWorks and Shirogumi, and shared my destruction work flow and asset. It was really challenging but it turned out to be a successful teamwork in terms of creating the FX as wanted by the director. Every staff handled things skillfully and they caught on with my methods in no time, because they were also Max-thinkingParticles users. In the end, in spite of a really tight schedule, we manage to make massive destruction shots before the deadline. You can see our destruction shots in Shirogumi x StealthWorks Shin Godzilla DestructionReel here, shared exclusively for the first time:
(Note from studios - the permission granted for studio showcase was limited to a year only)
Cebas: Kei, can you give us an account of how did the collaboration with Hideaki Anno ( Director of Evengelion) go?
Kei: Oh, Hideaki's imagination is beyond our expectation. As you may know, if you follow Japan's movie circuit that Hideaki is a legendary 2D FX animator. So, it can sometimes be really difficult to meet his high demands, but at the same time, our team at Stealthworks were inspired with the really interesting and challenging ideas that Hideaki came up with. He thought that the inspiration from previs is important so much so we had to match layout and timing with previs precisely. We brought over the guide object from previs scene and used them for primary animation so everything could appear the same as in the previs.
Cebas is so glad Stealthworks team met Hideaki's high expectation and that TP was used. Could you also elaborate on how did Stealthworks work on this project?
Kei: As I said, we worked on mainly heavy FX shots. Because we shared the same work-flow based on my assets, we could help each other without stress. And more than this, my duty as FX supervisor was to collaborate with other departments. For example, to make the destruction much more productive, I asked our modelers to create similar building structures even though there were different companies in the project. Say, if they had made the building structures differently as they like, we would have to maintain destruction assets for each modeler's structure. Animation is also the same thing. In the climax of this movie, there is to be a special mission named "Yashiori mission", and the sequence StealthWorks had to worked on will be about 1,000 frames length and it has 4 cuts for first period and 4 cuts for second period. So, if the animator arranged the Godzilla's animation independently for each shot for better posing or animation, we would end up simulating very long frames for every shot... What I have decided is to ask the animator to make only one uninterrupted animation. Every artist was really helpful so we manage to cut cost and time as possibly as we can.
Cebas: Any insights as to how you and the team used thinkingParticles in this project?
Kei: In this project, thinkingParticles was and is really essential. Both StealthWorks and Shirogumi's FX team are primarily on the 3dsMAX pipeline. Some artists used Houdini as well, so TP 6's Alembic export feature became really useful, because thousands of fragments can be saved with only one group, one mesh. It was really easy to bridge between the two Max-Maya software.
So without thinkingParticles, I think we wouldn't have made it in time, and within budget. ThinkingParticles's cache-driven workflow showed to be really productive in parallel work-flow structures, when the team is comparatively small and do not use a standard pipeline.
For example, when I'd finished primary concrete simulation of the building, other artists could start secondary FX like debris, glass, steel and cloth based on my primary simulation cache at the same time. I used shapeCollision (SC) for primary simulation which needs precise collisions. For secondary FX, mostly debris, we used flowSolver to create fake rigid body collisions. Calculation speed is really fast so we can create precise collisions. This time, we didn't use bullet for RBD but for the cloth FX for the curtain. Bullet cloth speed is really fast. So, I can say from experience, that thinkingParticles has a really productive procedural structure and absolutely fast simulation engine.
And thinkingParticles is really effective when we used together with FumeFX. Normally, when we export collision objects like 'wall', 'window glass' and so on.. using Alembic or Xmesh, it will take 2 or 3 hours if the 'building' is so huge. So I decide to use the "wind particle" work flow for fake collision objects. Wind particle is the bunch of particles that you can just attached onto 'wall' or 'window glass' and then bring them to FumeFX, adding only velocity. Wind particles pushes the smoke with their velocity and make it look like as if they were objects colliding. This method, we could save time for export from 2 or 3 hours down to 0 hours.
Cebas: thank you, that's good user info, Kei. Can you also tell us more about "Yashiori mission" VFX in the climax of the Shin Godzilla movie?
Kei: "Yashiori mission" is the mission to try and make Godzilla frozen with coagulant:
SteathWorks worked on a complex effects sequence that required explosion of seven tall buildings with some of them collapsing down onto Godzilla and the creature knocks or sweeps the falling structures down. I think there were never such massive destruction sequence in Japanese VFX before. The components of this scene are extremely huge.
There were altogether 43 TP caches adding to a total of some 520 Gbytes. In addition, there were another 18 FumeFX grids adding to 3.3 Tbytes.
Luckily, I had several previous destruction assets from 'Kaiju' RnD and had continued to develop destruction assets (see reel on Kaiju Building Destruction Breakdown).
And 'Evangelion: Another Impact' (see following reel), 'Gamera' to 'Shin Godzilla', our studio's current asset accummulation is around 1,300.
There were so many model assets of huge buildings and their components, simulation scene that were very complex, but thanks to TP's LayerToParticles node, we could organize TP setting to be truly procedural. We didn't need to pick up building models to TP on purpose. When the model's structure changed, we could just merge them. Building models were assigned already in certain layers, and amazingly, TP read them automatically. It saved us a huge amount of time.
The major problem was render time and simulation time. At the beginning, in previous .tps cache format, render time and simulation time were so long when we did the cache through the network. But luckily for this project, thinkingParticles 6.3 was released in time. So I tested the new feature cache format in .tpc and the Hierarchy record and I found that these 2 new features were very powerful and they saved a lot of our simulation time and render time. In general, I'd say that upgrading software in the midst of a project that has already started for some time and so close to deadline would be highly risky! But I decided to bet on the new thinkingParticles 6.3 and our team won the day !
It is a big sigh of relief!
Cebas: Wow, that was truly some insights from Stealthworks in actual VFX production work. Thank you so much for sharing. Tell us, Kei, what is your future vision for Stealthworks?
Kei: We are still a small team but we will soon get bigger. We are focusing on projects in Japan for now, but we do hope to join projects outside of Japan one day. We would want to grow to be much more international. Recently, I was fortunate to be invited to Taiwan as a speaker for the 2016 IM'FX organized by Gemhorn: International Movie Effects Forum (http://gemhorn.com/web/index.php/component/k2/item/685-imvfx-event) and I met some great people there. I thought of gearing up to collaborate much more with companies around the larger Asia region and I think this will be our near future goal!
Cebas: In your view, what is your utmost wish for cebas software to be able to do even more that it is not currently doing for you?
Kei: sure, when we work on destruction with softbody stuff like steel components, I want to be able to just bend or add noise, like putting some modifier on the shape. It will be sometimes OK not to have precise softbody deformation. It will also be great if we can check Data Channel's value from info Tooltip.
(Kei gave cebas a tall list! And cebas will keep it secret and continue our efforts as user-driven so Kei look out for them.)
Cebas would like to say, 'arigato gozaimasu' to Kei Yoneoka, for this amazing
Insights Interview, to the Stealthworks' and Shirogomi's VFX teams for
being such amazing TP users!
And to Toho and cebas reseller TMS Japan.