Interview - RealtimeUK
Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about yourself…
My name is Tony Prosser, I am the Managing Director and founder of RealtimeUK, a UK based CG Production studio creating CG animations for the games and advertising industry. Currently in our 14th year, we work with some exciting clients including Publicis, TBWA, BBH, Glue, McCann Erickson and AKQA to bring dynamic new imagery to advertising and digital campaigns for clients like LG, Audi, Nike, Hewlett Packard, Sony, Black & Decker, Jaguar, Philips and Fiat. We also work heavily in the games industry creating marketing trailers and x-movies including Split/Second for Disney Interactive Studios, Napoleon:Total War for Sega and Stormbirds for THQ.
How many rafting trips do you have in a year? (looks like a lot of fun)
That was our first rafting trip, but we try to do fun staff activities throughout the year whether it’s paintballing, go-cart racing or just a night out with a meal and drinks. We even took the whole team on a long weekend away in Spain in 2006 to celebrate our 10th anniversary.
What can you tell us about Motorstorm? What were the challenges on this project?
In December 2004 we were approached by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe and Evolution Studios to create a movie which would help conceptualize a future project they were developing for the Playstation3. At the time, the PS3 was a good couple of years from release and all they knew was that they needed to create a ground breaking “next generation” racing game unlike anything anyone had seen before. In January 2005 they returned to us with a more refined brief and Motorstorm was born.
Since this was the first animation we had produced in HD then we weren’t quite sure what level of detail we could get away with. Our initial approach was to simply increase the polygons and texture resolutions of everything, but we quickly learnt the dangers of that approach. At the time our render farm was considerably smaller than it is today and hardware limitations meant that we had some serious memory issues when rendering. One thing we quickly learnt, was to only build exactly what you see on screen. You need to evaluate how long each asset will be on screen and how visible it will be, and then allocate the amount of effort and detail that that object requires. In essence, there is no point in making a 3k texture map for the buckle of a bikers shoe if it will be caked in mud, motion blurred and only appear as ten pixels on screen.
Another challenge was the grass. One of the shots in the movie involves vehicles tearing through patches of long grass. With this being a HD movie we assumed that the grass would need to stand up to close scrutiny and so one of our talented artists set about the complex task of creating and simulating each individual blade of grass using a dynamic hair system. This allowed the vehicles to collide with the grass, to bend it and leave trails through it. This simply didn't look very good. Everything was happening that should be happening, but it simply didn't come across as grass. We decided to go back to basics and reassess the shot. The reality was that the grass was far easier to read and easier to animate if it was created using simple textures of large tufts of grass mapped onto billboards which fell over when hit by the vehicles.
Do you also collaborate with advertising agencies? Do you find it difficult to work on “somebody else’s vision”?
Most of our advertising and digital pieces have been collaborations with ad agencies. With each job we do, our team of Directors and Producers work alongside the client to understand their vision of a project whilst also providing our creative input along the way. Some client’s are looking for that creative input, whilst others have spent many man hours researching and developing their ideas for a piece so they have a pretty good idea of what they want already. It isn’t difficult to work to someone else’s vision, but we like to think we have a bit of creative input on each project we do.
What was the most difficult part in the Stormbirds Cinematic project?
When starting the movie, we aimed to create a montage more in the style of a Hollywood trailer than a traditional x-movie. Rather than inventing more than 40 random scenes, we decided to produce four short narratives which could be edited together to give the feel of a montage. However, in our initial edit, this appeared far too random, jumping from one scene to another. We then decided to only edit together two narratives at a time. This meant the first half of the movie intercuts between two plot lines and then the second half between the remaining two. As a result, it’s far easier for the view and to follow the story.
Do you recognize differences between VFX artists/ companies, in terms of style? How does your style compare to the best you’ve seen?
Most studios have some work which is their house style. In order to not become too pigeon holed and to break away from that house style and diversify, you sometimes have to work with a specific Director to alter that style deliberately.
Over the past 14 years, we have been known for our crisp, clean, hyper-realistic style and we’ve had feedback from clients that they are able to identify our style in new work. This style has helped us a crate a standard CG rarely seen outside the film industry.
Which effect do you believe was the most difficult to achieve? (How did you do it?)
Water such as the burst storm drain in Disney’s Split/Second has been the most difficult special effect for us to achieve. To simulate the water, we used a program called Realflow which is a fluid and dynamics simulation tool. We started by building a proxy mesh for the background in 3ds Max and then imported that into Realflow. Next we created several emitters in Realflow which create dynamic particles which interact with eachother and the collision mesh from Max. We then made a surface mesh from the simulated particles in Realflow and brought that back into Max.
What programs/ plugins/ scripts do you use?
We mainly use 3ds Max, Vue, After Effects, V-Ray, Photoshop and Afterburn.
What is the typical starting point in a 3D/VFX project? How long does it usually take?
Our typical starting point is the brief taking process. We try to get under the skin of what is needed to ensure our creative proposal meets the clients’ needs and leaves the desired effect on the target audience.
Stormbirds for THQ seems to be the front runner thus far. Even though we weren’t able to publicize about it until years after the project was complete, once we did it caused quite a stir in the CG community. One year on, we’re still inundated with interview requests for it.
Do you think computer graphics changed visual advertisement and consumer behaviour?
It has. Visual advertising is such a powerful visual and influential medium that is able to touch and effect its target audiences in a way that most other treatments and production techniques cannot.
What are your company goals?
We’d like to become known as the leading CG Production Studio in our chosen market sectors. We’d also like to continue to innovate and reinvent ourselves in order to maintain our leading position within the industry. We do this by developing and nurturing the skills of our world class team of creatives and designers enabling them to reach their full potential.
With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?
An artist must strive to truly satisfy at least one part of the production process to a world class standard which requires a combination of natural talent and competent technical knowledge; this will allow you to rise above the massive competition that is now among us.
What is your favourite movie/ commercial?
From a CG point of view, our team are in awe over the new movie Avatar. From a CG point of view, it is the most technically advanced movie to hit the big screen to date and the fact that it is in stereoscopic 3D is just the icing on the cake.
What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
We’ve recently completed a promo piece entitled ‘Samurai’ which utilises Avatar style 3D techniques. You can view that on our website at http://www.realtimeuk.com/projects/view/samurai
So far in 2010, we have been busy working with two major games publishers and several advertising agencies to produce various games trailers, digital animations and tv commercials. All of those projects are currently under non-disclosure agreement, so we can’t speak about them unfortunately, but I can tell you that 2010 will be a big year for RealtimeUK so watch this space.
If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
Quite specifically, Greg Butler, VFX Supervisor at MPC, he lead the VFX team for Harry Potter and GI Joe. It would just fascinate me as we see our quality benchmark getting closer to the TV and Film industry and it would give us great insight into how they approach film work.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to specialize in CG for advertising?
Choose your niche within the many aspects of the production process and become a specialist within that niche rather than spreading yourself too thinly to become a jack of all trades.
Watch the "LG Behind the Picture" campaign