Digital Frontier uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI to make "Appleseed" an Anime classic for the 21st Century

April 16, 2007 9:33 pm

Digital Frontier uses SOFTIMAGE|XSI to make "Appleseed" an Anime classic for the 21st Century
By Alexandra Pasian

If you think you know Anime, you haven’t seen Appleseed.  With this entirely 3D film, Japan’s Digital Frontier has taken traditional Anime to a whole new level.  Appleseed represents a new style in animation in which CG characters look like old school Anime but move like real people.  The artists at Digital Frontier call it 3D Live Anime.  You’ll call it amazing. 

To get to these new heights in animation, Digital Frontier put together a hugely talented team, used a considerable amount of motion capture and, of course, took full advantage of SOFTIMAGE|XSI.

The film’s producer, Sori, who first worked as an animator on James Cameron’s Titanic, explains how the idea to create 3D Live Anime came about: “I wanted to make a full 3D-CG film, but I worried that it would be difficult to convince the audience to empathize with 3D characters.  I have watched Anime since I was a child, and I understand the connection between the audience and this style of characters.  It seemed a natural fit to combine the two.”

With an assembled team of over 70 talented CGI animators, Sori produced over 100 minutes, including 1300 cuts, for this 3D CG film in a single year.  Although they were working in an entirely new style of animation, the team at Digital Frontier, with SOFTIMAGE|XSI at their fingertips, were more than ready to meet the challenge. Almost all of the 138 characters for Appleseed were created in SOFTIMAGE|XSI.  Among other things, XSI was used in modeling and character set-up.  According to Kawamura, Director of Animation at Digital Frontier: “Using XSI made character set-up fast and easy.  With other software packages, we would have had to write editors, but, with XSI, all we had to do was drag & drop.” 

Otsuka, the CGI Director, adds: “Without XSI, we would have had to spend huge amounts of energy setting up so many characters.  But we were able to save both time and resources using the scripting functions in XSI.  We were also able to build a motion library based on the Animation Mixer, which proved incredibly useful for our group work.”

In addition, the development team at Digital Frontier used SOFTIMAGE|XSI for camera and character loading and saving.  Kawamura explains: “We imported the motion capture data into XSI and applied it to the different characters.  It would have been impossible to manage over 1300 cuts without the scripting functions in XSI.” 

According to both Kawamura and Otsuka, the Toon Shader in XSI was also key in the development of the Appleseed characters: “With the Toon Shader, we were able to achieve amazing results.  Our standards are very high, and XSI more than meets them.  We were so impressed by the quality of work that we were able to get.  Of course, we tried other software packages, but nothing compares to XSI.” 

In order to have their characters express realistic emotion, the team at Digital Frontier focused a great deal of time and energy on facial animation.  Traditional Japanese Anime does not synchronize voice and lip movement, so, here again, the creative team was working in uncharted territory. 

A Facial Capture system allowed Digital Frontier to create a new kind of Anime character whose facial expressions were as large as “real life”.  Then, the team synched the voices to these new, more expressive faces.  Using the Audio tools in XSI, they were able to precisely map voices over their characters.  The final result is a collection of characters who have faces that look like traditional Anime but can express realistic emotion through movement and perfectly lip-synced voices.

XSI was also instrumental in helping the team to get the exact look that they wanted for these Anime characters in 3D.  In any Anime style animation, the contour line is extremely important.  According to Kawamura: “The contour rendering in XSI is excellent. It allowed us, for example, to modify the thickness of the line based on the characters’ distance from the camera, a smashed line in the distance versus a more precise line close up.  XSI allowed us to create an expression  that would change according to the line’s relationship with the camera.”

As with any 3D project, in the end, a great deal depends on the rendering.  According to Otsuka: “The rendering in XSI is so much faster than anything any other software.  We could not have imagined working on this project without the Render Pass functionality in XSI.  This film required us to render a huge number of images, and we knew that we had to have an efficient workflow to manage our production.”

Otsuka goes on to explain: “One of the ways in which XSI helped with our production workflow was during the compositing.  Instead of creating separate scenes and rendering each one individually, which is prohibitively heavy, we simply created separate passes for shadows, reflections and matt.  We then used each pass in one scene.  This is an unbelievable innovation.”

From the innovations in SOFTIMAGE|XSI to the creative leaps made by Digital Frontier, Appleseed is clearly the Anime for the future.  Welcome to the 21st century.

All content and images within this article are copyright ©2007 Avid Technology, Inc. All Rights Reserved.,
and used with special permisson. Use of these images without written permission is prohibited.

About Softimage Co.
Softimage Co., a subsidiary of Avid Technology, Inc., delivers innovative, artist-friendly character creation and effects tools to animators and digital artists in the film, broadcast, post-production and games industries. Its product line includes SOFTIMAGE|XSI, the industry's only non-destructive digital character production software, and SOFTIMAGE|Face Robot, the first production toolset that multiplies face animation productivity by simplifying the complex process of preparing the face for animation and by giving artists precise control over the results.
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April 16, 2007

Article Comments

Giolon ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 17 April 2007

So I guess these advertorials are going to be regular hat around here now, eh? First the Bullet Witch and now this one? Why is it all of these things have in common that they look great, but have little substance. Appleseed is an amazing technical and artistic achievement to be sure, but it's poorly executed story, rushed pace, and nonsensical villains keep it from being the classic it could/should have been.

LillianH ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 17 April 2007

Hey Goilon, Maybe you might like to write a review, or article for the Front Page that you think the community would enjoy more. We would certainly welcome contributions to the Front Page :-) Thanks, Lillian Hawkins Renderosity Marketing Manager "By serving each other, we are free!"

ThrommArcadia ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 19 April 2007

Appleseed was a great movie with a fantastic visual style and some great characters. Thank you for this interesting and informative article.

Korda ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 19 April 2007

I really liked Appleseed, it looks great and the plot holes weren't so bad that it ruined the storyline. It is pretty old now though a more recent movie to talk about would be renaissance. It is a french 3d movie using similar techniques and a monochrome filter.

darkprojectworks ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 20 April 2007

I too thought Appleseed was a stunning film. More movies should be made like this.

jerr3d ( posted at 12:00AM Sat, 21 April 2007

ALOT of people are working toward making 3d animation indistignusiable from real life. Appleseed , thankfully has no interest in looking like real life. It has a highly sylized toon look with beautiful characters and settings. Its amazing to see these perfect Anime-style characters in motion. The opening fight sequence between Deunan and the rogue mechs it truly amazing. And later in the story the flying police mech sequence thru the modern skyscraper city is Awesome! It was also very nice to see Briareos Hecatonchires, Hitomi and Yoshi's wonderful character designs come to "Anime-life". I agree the story can be a little hard to follow. If you really want to understand the story go read the original 5 book manga by Masumune Shirow. The book is always better than the movie anyway. On my second viewing I just switched to the Japanese dialog and sat back to enjoy the Eye Candy. Although it is somewhat of a niche, or "cult" movie, I imagine you can rent it at Blockbuster, except the last person to rent it probably decided to keep this Ground-breaking Animation DVD, rather than return it! Or if you are a really hard core techno fetishest cyberpunk manga wunderkind go buy the special Collectors edition.