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Friday, 10 August, 2001, 17:05 GMT 18:05 UK
Q&A: Creating a fantasy
By the BBC's David Gibbon
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has already begun to wow audiences with its lifelike cast of computer-created characters.
Utilising the talents of 200 artists from 22 countries and taking four years to make, it could easily take the honour of being the most technologically advanced movie ever made.
Director Hironobu Sakaguchi (who also created the best-selling video games on which the film is based) and producer Jun Aida went to Honolulu where a studio was specially built to house them.
Despite a perhaps less than brilliant script, one cannot fail to be impressed by the sheer amount of effort that has gone into producing the first action movie using computer graphics alone.
One look at some of the startling facts and one soon realises how far the creators have gone to create virtual actors that come close to doing as good a job as the real thing.
It took a whole month to create a three to five minute scene.
Dr Aki Ross's hair was made of more than 60,000 strands of hair.
It took two hours of rendering time to produce a single frame featuring only Aki's hair.
To make the face realistic it took more than 45 different movements of the mouth alone.
The average frame is composed of 16 layers, but action is more complex and one explosion sequence is composed of 500 frames.
To make realistic looking human skin, the animators created a layer of 'human' facial skin, which was then peeled off and set on to a flat surface - so the artists could begin the process of creating the realistic skin texture using complicated computer software.
To find out more about the movie, we asked producer Jun Aida about its creation.
What complications did you come up against when creating a movie with no live-action elements to it?
Jun: There are a lot of complications and you could ask if it wouldn't be easier to shoot it as live-action.
But we're trying to set new standards and establish a new genre of feature films - it is not our intention to compete with live-action films.
No one has ever done computer generated photo-realistic characters before, so we have put an extensive amount of effort into developing in-house software tools.
And since this is something no-one has ever done before, I couldn't just hire people to show us how to do it.
Other studios have never done photo-realistic human actors, so there was no "right" approach. So again, we had to set those new standards.
Can you provide me with some information about the games?
Jun: Final Fantasy is in its ninth sequel now. It has sold over 30 million copies from inception, so people regard it as one of the most popular interactive game titles ever created.
Movies such as Perfect Storm feature a lot of computer graphics but you have gone to the extreme of not including any live sequences. Why did you take this route?
Jun: A lot of people asked me, "Well, why don't you just not bother with CGI and do live action?". But even if we had tried to produce this live action we would have ended up using a lot visual effects anyway, so we decided we would try to venture out and do it all as CGI.
It is not used in any one particular sequence where the entire story has been told by CG actors. Again, it is a tool that they used to try to convey certain ideas to the audience.
In our case, every single story line, every single idea, is created and told by our CG technology. So, I think it is still very different from Perfect Storm.
Can you describe any of the technologies used when creating the computer graphics in the film?
Jun: We use a lot of different technologies to animate characters into a photo-real look, but one thing we did was to create visual expressions automatically.
The process we have to go through in achieving our visual effects is that first, we're more like traditional live action productions where the story is created, the screenplay is made and then the storyboard is produced.
Then from there we actually record all the voices first, using the actors.
When we are in the recording studio recording the dialogues, we also use two video cameras to capture their dialogue, their facial expressions and so forth and we use that, not as a form of computer data, but merely as a visual reference for our artists to create the facial expressions and so forth.
It is a very labour intensive production.
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