3D World

This means war

3D World dis­cov­ers the se­crets of DIGIC Pic­tures’ epic Assassin’s Creed: Val­halla cin­e­matic trailer

- Entertainment · Arts · Filmmaking · Video Games · Animation · Movies · Gaming · Egypt · Ubisoft · Assassin's Creed · VA-11 HALL-A · Valhalla, NY

“LAY­OUT AND AN­I­MA­TION OF THE CROWD SCENES RE­QUIRED A LOT OF TIME AND LABOUR, WITH MANY, MANY IT­ER­A­TIONS IN-HOUSE” Ágos­ton Princz, CG su­per­vi­sor, DIGIC Pic­tures

DIGIC Pic­tures have been build­ing a rep­u­ta­tion for high-end CG an­i­ma­tion across fea­ture films, com­mer­cials, and the video game in­dus­try for the past 18 years. Their most re­cent collaborat­ion with Ubisoft saw them cre­ate an ac­tion-packed cin­e­matic trailer for Assassin’s Creed: Val­halla, the lat­est in the beloved video game se­ries and the fran­chise’s first re­lease in the new con­sole gen­er­a­tion. The game takes place dur­ing the war­rid­den age of Vik­ings and DIGIC were tasked with us­ing their CG skillset to de­pict a bloody bat­tle for its first trailer.

“Assassin’s Creed games have al­ways in­tro­duced play­ers to an enor­mous and de­tailed world, this is also the case with Val­halla,” ex­plains char­ac­ter su­per­vi­sor An­drás Tar­soly. “We had to show this in­tri­cate world by mak­ing a trailer with a for­ward-look­ing at­ti­tude. All cin­e­mat­ics are dif­fer­ent. The his­tor­i­cal era is a given with this game, then the client tells us what they want to see in the cin­e­matic. This can cover game­play fea­tures or new ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the en­gine that aren’t ap­par­ent at first glance.”

Although DIGIC have cre­ated no less than 11 cin­e­mat­ics for the Assassin’s Creed fran­chise, Val­halla was no walk in the park for the team. This cin­e­matic is more story-focused than their last project in the se­ries, the cin­e­matic for Assassin’s Creed: Ori­gins, the fran­chise’s foray into An­cient Egypt. “For Ori­gins it was mu­sic video-like sto­ry­telling, end­ing with a bat­tle among a few char­ac­ters,” adds Tar­soly. “In the Val­halla trailer there were a lot of char­ac­ters in closeup, then a wide shot de­pict­ing the bat­tle, so the ac­tors faced some chal­lenges. The era and the lo­ca­tion didn’t make the job eas­ier, as there are a lot of char­ac­ters with fa­cial hair.”

The cre­ative process be­gan with the ar­rival of an elab­o­rate script from Ubisoft, along with game as­sets such as char­ac­ters and en­vi­ron­ments. “Based on these in­puts, our main task was to cre­ate the whole cin­e­matic ac­cord­ing to our client’s vi­sion and add that magic com­po­nent that only DIGIC can,” ex­plains CG su­per­vi­sor Ágos­ton Princz. First, the team cre­ated a sto­ry­matic to pre­vi­su­alise the cin­e­matic. “At this stage, many ques­tions re­mained unan­swered,” adds Princz, “such as de­tails of the lo­ca­tions, the role of the priest­ess char­ac­ter, the sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­mony, and the film’s length.”

Fol­low­ing this, they be­gan to pre­pare for the mo­tion cap­ture shoot, where they made many sto­ry­telling de­ci­sions. With the main story beats nailed down, a rough cut of the cin­e­matic was as­sem­bled in Maya. “Once the pre­vis is com­plete, the length of the film, the lo­ca­tions, events, and the shot num­ber be­come clear,” says Princz. The un­writ­ten rule dur­ing this phase of pro­duc­tion is that any­thing can change at any time. “A lot of things can’t re­ally be fore­seen as the film pro­gresses, there might be el­e­ments which need to be re­moved or put in. There may be a scene that doesn’t sup­port the story well enough and there­fore needs to be changed. For ex­am­ple, we were close to the dead­line on this cin­e­matic when one or two ex­tra shots needed to be put in, and there was a sig­nif­i­cant change to cam­era move­ment,” Princz ex­plains.

The de­tailed char­ac­ters that pop­u­late the cin­e­matic were a cut above DIGIC’S pre­vi­ous ef­forts in the fran­chise. “As time goes on, our char­ac­ters be­come more com­plex,” says Princz. “This is re­flected in the num­ber of geo­met­ric poly­gons in the mod­els, the res­o­lu­tion of the tex­tures, and the qual­ity of the dif­fer­ent types of hair – on the head, fur, fluff, beards.” Then there are the eyes, the win­dows to the soul and a no­to­ri­ously dif­fi­cult thing to ren­der well in CG. “This is where art and tech­nol­ogy meet,” Princz con­tin­ues, “tun­ing the shader’s phys­i­cally cor­rect pa­ram­e­ters to get a gaze that is full of life.”

DIGIC’S char­ac­ter de­part­ment was tasked with pro­duc­ing the cin­e­matic’s plen­ti­ful cast of de­tailed CG char­ac­ters, us­ing Ubisoft’s con­cepts along­side their own. “To cre­ate a large num­ber of char­ac­ters, we had to in­no­vate in sev­eral ar­eas. We looked at how we could stay true

to the con­cepts, but sim­plify the char­ac­ters from a tech­ni­cal as­pect,” re­calls char­ac­ter modelling unit lead Daniel Mol­nár. The need for masses of de­tailed cloth­ing saw Mar­velous De­signer be­come a cru­cial part of the pipe­line for Mol­nár and his char­ac­ter team, al­low­ing them to change char­ac­ters’ clothes as though they were shoot­ing a live­ac­tion film.

Then there was the cin­e­matic’s abun­dance of de­tailed CG faces to con­sider, some­thing that would need more than the tra­di­tional scan­ning and hand sculpt­ing tech­niques. “Once in a meet­ing, I joked to our char­ac­ter art di­rec­tor, Károly Porkoláb, that I’d make a char­ac­ter-cre­ator like the one you see in games,” Mol­nár re­flects, “but then, think­ing about it, I re­alised that the idea wasn’t crazy at all. We man­aged to fab­ri­cate a face-cre­at­ing pro­ce­dure that can com­bine the fea­tures of ex­ist­ing faces in many dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions.”

Another chal­lenge reared its head in the form of the com­plex com­bat be­tween these char­ac­ters. “Bat­tle scenes can’t re­ally be cap­tured with tra­di­tional mo­tion cap­ture tech­nolo­gies, as the mo­cap is based on cap­tur­ing as many mark­ers from as many an­gles as pos­si­ble at the same time,” Princz ex­plains. It is al­most im­pos­si­ble for mo­cap sys­tems to cap­ture com­bat chore­og­ra­phy with more than five to ten per­form­ers. “In this trailer, more than 100 Vik­ings and sol­diers fight at the same time. Typ­i­cally, most scenes in­clude the record­ing of clashes of three to five peo­ple – du­elling, small group fights, or sim­i­lar com­bat sit­u­a­tions. This makes lots of unique move­ment

chore­og­ra­phy, from which bat­tle scenes can be built up like build­ing blocks.” Large crowd scenes can also be cre­ated through mass sim­u­la­tion, how­ever, the more au­to­mated a sys­tem be­comes the harder it is to make in­di­vid­ual mod­i­fi­ca­tions.

For Val­halla’s cin­e­matic trailer DIGIC com­bined two so­lu­tions to over­come their tech­ni­cal and artis­tic woes. “The more dis­tant bat­tle scenes were Go­laem sim­u­la­tions,” says Princz, “while the closer ones were in­di­vid­u­ally de­signed and timed. So, ba­si­cally, the lay­out and an­i­ma­tion of the crowd scenes re­quired a lot of time and labour, with many, many it­er­a­tions in­house.” The so­lu­tions pi­o­neered by DIGIC to over­come their chal­lenges will help them con­tinue to hone their craft across another gen­er­a­tion of game cin­e­mat­ics and be­yond.

“TO MAKE A LARGE NUM­BER OF CHAR­AC­TERS, WE HAD TO IN­NO­VATE IN SEV­ERAL AR­EAS” Daniel Mol­nár, char­ac­ter modelling unit lead, DIGIC Pic­tures

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