Netflix’s super giant real-time animation makes it easy to discover and play

Super Giant Robot Brothers! on Netflix
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is about two giant robot brothers who, in the future, will defend Earth against an evil intergalactic empire. But the real story is about how the show was made. The Netflix production is one of the first anime series to be rendered entirely in real time using the Unreal Engine, one of the most popular 3D computer graphics game engines. This revolutionary approach applies virtual production techniques to animation, including motion capture and virtual camera blocking of characters and actions.

Essentially, this process, demonstrated by mouse guard, a canceled animated film that pioneered animation technology – allows animators to inject live-action sensibility – and process – into the animation workflow. It also allowed director Mark Andrews, who was in the Bay Area, and his editing team in Dallas to work together without latency (thanks in large part to Evercast, a remote workflow collaboration platform in real time). At the end of the day, Super Giant Robot Brothers looks like an anime series, but make no mistake: there are a few key differences below the surface.

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“What we loved [using real time animation] was the idea of ​​shooting an animated series as if it were live action,” says producer Paul Fleschner at Microsoft 2022
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Production Summit in Los Angeles.

What he means is that by using Unreal Engine, the world of the anime series exists in three dimensions the same way the real world does. This allows a camera to move across it like a camera capturing filmed content, contrasting with the traditional animation process, which has animators building the story world cell by cell, frame by frame. In the traditional method, the animation team needs to know the shot they want so they can work on it. With real-time animation, the animation team has the luxury of being able to find it.

As Andrew confirms, “The biggest thing that virtual production allows us to do is be really playful.” One day on set, a crew member reported, Andrews just picked up some props and thought, “Can you put one of the characters on it?” And then they did. Then, all of a sudden, they have sequences, from wide shot to close-up, like the post-production team of a filmed show, only animated and without having to draw any.

“I get everything a publisher needs to do creative writing and have fun and play,” says Chris Collins, publisher of Reel FX.

Corinne Gibeault, Animation Lead at Reel FX, totally agrees. “In fact, we can make decisions and make choices. And the mocap is there to help… You’re like well, I don’t really know what to do for this shot. You’re fine, well, I have all this information, and it saves a lot of time and effort.

DIFFERENT MINDSET

This technology has been around for a while and continues to improve, but it is not new. As Fleschner points out, “What we are doing is not suddenly possible in the last six months. Rather, it’s about making people who haven’t been exposed to live visual effects and have only been doing animation for 20 years familiar with call sheets, not is this not ? It’s very, it’s a very, very different mindset.

Ultimately, even with existing technology, there is a process for building a team that knows how to use it in the context of animation. “There are a lot of people who have worked in different silos,” Fleschner explains, “kind of have to learn a different way of thinking.”

And it’s not just the thinking that needs to be different. This process also requires new tools and pipelines. The Super Giant Robot Brothers the team custom-built many of both, often under time pressure. As Fleschner says, “The only way to really build pipelines is when we have something to build them on.”

As for tools, it’s no secret that necessity is the mother of invention.

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While real-time animation presents a learning curve for veterans of the animation industry, it also provides access and opportunities for outsiders – a tool for democratization – if you will. “It’s a strange dynamic of, yeah, we’re democratizing, anybody can do it. We want everyone to have a chance,” says Fleschner. “But if we put the tools in everyone’s hands, what are the mechanisms for finding [the top talent]? Like what are the mechanisms so that we can be held in the hands of strong storytellers? »

It’s a valid concern, although one could say that everyone has always had access to the tools of animation: pen and ink. Perhaps the real game-changer is not just the real-time engine, but the real-time distribution and wide-open platforms with reach accessible to everyone.

REAL IMPACT… OVER TIME

Fleschner points out that Super Giant Robot Brothers really does two things: “There’s the show itself, which is hugely important to us… and then there’s the way we do it, which is this infusion of live action, kind of colliding with animation.”

Real-time animation has the potential to be the next generation of animation. After all, rapid technological innovation has been key to the animation space since Disney’s pioneering beginnings. It remains to be seen what effect the differences in abilities, mindset and talent pool have both behind the scenes and watching them.

That being said, Fleschner is bullish on the technology. “This process supports the story in a visual context and in a way I’ve never seen before. This film crew can live inside the story.

Real-time animation technology doesn’t just take Walt Disney
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pursuit of realistic animation to the next level, it also enables spontaneity in animation. This has the potential to usher in a new era of play and discovery in the animation space.

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