I recently had the privilege of speaking with some of the folks at Production I.G - one of Japan’s best known animation facilities with globally successful anime titles behind them such as “Patlabor”, “Ghost in the Shell”, “JIN-ROH” and “Blood: The Last Vampire”.
This time, Production I.G has returned to the world of Ghost in the Shell, with a new original television series entitled “Stand Alone Complex”. Although much of the production still relies on traditional cel animation and artwork, 3D and post-production played a big part in creating shots and effects that would otherwise have been time consuming (or impossible) traditionally.
The story Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex continues the setting defined in the original motion picture with Major Motoko Kusanagi as the protagonist. Set in the future, the advancement of augmented technology has led to the proliferation of “cyberbrains” – allowing humans to interact directly with computers and networks. The wide prevalence of cyberbrains, however, exposed people to “brain hacking” where adept cyber-criminals could access an individual’s memories and body functions. Though counter-measures were taken to prevent these “ghost-hacks”, they were far from abolished, making for a race against time for our heroes to prevent further brain hackers from causing mayhem.
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Production I.G began working on the 26 episode series in Nov 2000 and it had been decided from the start that 3D would be used in the series for shots that required a lot of animation such as crowds, or that would be too difficult to produce with hand-drawn animation such as hard-surfaced objects like vehicles.
For 3D shots, Production I.G relied mainly on Newtek Lightwave 3D and Discreet 3ds max. Lightwave was used for modeling and animation, and 3ds max/character studio for any 3D characters that would appear in the episodes. Rendering was the most important aspect and I.G developed their own cel-shader plug-in for Lightwave 3D. For 3ds max renders, I.G relied on David Gould’s Illustrate! cel-shader plug-in.
According to Kenji Kamiyama (Director) and Makoto Endo (3D Director), whom I briefly interviewed for this article, the most challenging aspect of creating the CGI in Stand Alone Complex was keeping the look consistent between traditional cel animation and 3D cel-shaded renders.
The advantage to using 3D was that the time to produce animation was severely reduced, allowing for more ambitious shots. Nevertheless, obtaining a consistency between the different renderers and traditional cel animation was an issue. This was overcome by brute force – producing test renders and constantly tweaking them to obtain the correct and consistent look required.
If you're busting to see Stand Alone Complex - you might have to wait. The series has just begun airing in Japan this October. According to I.G, Bandai Entertainment owns the rights for distributing the series in the US, and negotiations are still taking place for worldwide TV broadcasts. [CGN|3DF]
Words: Leonard Teo
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