Plastic Wax on Darksiders II

CGSociety :: Production Focus

23 August 2012, by Paul Hellard

Plastic Wax Animation, a digital animation studio specializing in CG content and in-game cinematics for the videogame industry, has been pretty busy over the last 18 months or so, collaborating with Vigil Games and THQ Inc. on their latest blockbuster, Darksiders II.

With over fourteen years of industry experience dedicated to large AAA titles, Plastic Wax Animation is a full service studio that works with marketing and product development groups to produce award winning in-game cinematics and pre-rendered CG scenes. Located in Sydney, Australia, Plastic Wax's studios include a state of the art motion-capture studio, sound recording and editing suites, and a complete art, design and animation studio.

“The projects have come in on a constant stream.” explains Studio Manager Matt Dignam. “Sometimes, we’ve been working on two or three at the same time.” Most of these projects have just been released and they came from all genres. THQ's Darksiders II and Disney's EPIC Mickey 2 are polar opposites. They couldn’t be further apart. “One is the personification of Death himself, slashing up demons in hell, and the other is Mickey Mouse sharing loves and hugs with Disney characters,” explains Dane Maddams, Production Manager at Plastic Wax.

Plastic Wax has been doing work with THQ for a number of years, the previous major project with them was the Saints Row The Third. Plastic Wax did about 55 minutes of all the cut-scenes in the game itself as well as the CG trailer, so they were first in line to be called to work on Darksiders II. In fact, Plastic Wax has also been responsible for work in THQ properties since 2006, like the original Space Marine and Warhammer cinematics, as well as Dawn of War 2, Kill Team and Retribution in between. The line up is pretty full on. Plastic Wax Animation is bringing home some great material and is pretty much Australia’s answer to Blur Studio.


Darksiders II

Plastic Wax created over five minutes and 30 seconds of CG content which was made into five trailers, released over the course of six months. The first trailer, Death Lives, revealed the game to the world during the 2011 Video Game Awards. two CG sequences were released as Death Strikes Part One and Death Strikes Part Two. They worked on the fourth trailer, The Last Sermon with Hammer Creative. Then, Salvation was the TVC on air at the moment worldwide. Plastic Wax was also asked by Vigil Games to create and produce all of the in-game cinematics for Darksiders II. Over 45 minutes of hand-keyed facial and body animation went into showing the story of Death himself, one of the most feared members of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Coinciding with the events of the original Darksiders, this epic tale follows Death as he tries to redeem his brother War's innocence for being accused of starting the Apocalypse.

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Discussions began about the content of the cut-scenes in Darksiders II straight up. Plastic Wax also worked on about 50 minutes of in-game animations, to drive the story, aiding the playability of the game. This included all the marketing and the CG work. There were about 35 artists brought in from all corners, including also some production staff to run the project. Some from Team Bondi, some animators from the coalface of LA Noire, others off movie projects like TED. High profile artists from all manner of media projects.”We had a constant stream of people involved in high resolution character assets work,” adds Dane Maddams.

Pretty much all the pre-rendered material Plastic Wax Animation did on Darksiders II began with very high resolution model of the main character 'Death'. “That really gave us an idea of how much work we were about to embark on with Darksiders,” says Dignam. “The responses we got in from THQs legal and marketing department was that they wanted to see the model release form. They couldn’t understand how Plastic made the actor’s pupils dilate without shining a torch in their eyes. This was a huge compliment because they couldn't distinguish between live action and CG.”

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“We did a lot with their in-game assets,” Dignam continues, “we worked far more detail and resolution into them for a two part series called ‘Death Strikes,’ each of them were two minutes highlighting the kind of action and strategies a player would encounter in the game. We introduced many other players including his horse, named ‘Despair’”. [Yes, ‘Death’ and ‘Dispair’.] Also introduced in the main cinematic is the main enemy boss, called the Guardian. This guy is hundreds of times bigger than Death. There are many shots that include Death and Guardian, and Guardian is in the blue misty background, blending in with the mountains on the distance. “It took for some interesting camera framing to get these two in frame together,” adds Maddams.


By the end of the production for Darksiders II, the Plastic Wax crew knew the Darksiders universe like the backs of their hand. The last piece for the title they did was the launch TV commercial, called The Darkside of Salvation, which is on worldwide airplay at the moment, took inside of four weeks to produce, from the brief. “We had the Darksiders ideas pretty well tamed, and we could swing the material out in a reasonably short amount of time,” says Dignam. These look like they took a few pointers from Danté’s Inferno. Not the game, the real story. But the reference actually came from the in-game level action of Darksiders II. “We dug down into the asset builds in the levels and gathered a deep understanding of the complete environment. We then took all that information and re-rendered that into the cinematic space. Going into hell where Death is fighting 300+ demons, all with unique animations, it was an enjoyable challenge for our crew,” adds Matt. “The game level designs were brilliant to work with. Vigil Games and THQ really knew their game.”


Plastic Wax worked very closely with Vigil Games on the cut scene in-game work they did. In fact, working with the developer and the publisher THQ helped maintain and balance the ideas for both sides while allowing Plastic Wax to really dig deep into the universe and deliver a cohesive and enthralling cinematic experience. They had to tie in flawlessly with the game play and this meant direct communications with the lead animators and production team at Vigil as the production rolled along. The core workflow for the kind of production like Darksiders II, Plastic Wax makes extensive use of their own in-house Motion Capture facility. “Once the shots are designed and we have the best people we can for the job, we collaborate with the game developer or the client directly,” explains Dignam. “Then we take the script, adding what we think it needs and go out to employ those people we know we need for that. That might be an actor with a particular performance, an acrobat, gymnast or stunt person.”

Once the MoCap data is caught, that is applied into the scenes that have already been blocked out with the initial camera pass. The modelers and the clients work very much together to make sure their body movement that brings the right proportions to the character. Lighting and rendering then comes onboard with the compositing team as well, to create the full 3D integration with NUKE. Other parts like set extensions and atmospheres are applied. These pipelines lend themselves to work within or alongside pipelines for other projects that enter the mix sometimes concurrently, as the Plastic Wax Animation crew have found just recently.

Disney EPIC Mickey 2 and Civilization V

Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two - Opening Cinematic

While the production of Darksiders II thunders along, the work wasn't all Death, Despair and Hell riding through battles, as mentioned before. Alongside the mayhem of nightmares, existed a fun filled musical game EPIC Mickey 2, where the history of Disney animations and Mickey Mouse adventures were being given a loving treatment for the younger audience. The Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two work done by Plastic Wax Animation concentrated on the ingame cinematics and some musical productions. Proving they can juggle, cuddle and kill demons all at the same time. Slated for release in November 18.Reviews of the game cinematics and musical numbers, animated and created at Plastic Wax, have been tremendously positive.

‘Civilisation V’ also recently won the AEAF Award for Best Game Cinematic for Plastic Wax Animation.

Plastic Wax Animation showreel.