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Polygon Pictures (Transformers: Prime CG Animation) Staff interview

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Old 03-03-2012, 09:57 AM   #1
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Polygon Pictures (Transformers: Prime CG Animation) Staff interview

Disclaimer: The original interview was published in Figure King issue #168. The reason I'm providing this translation is solely to help non-Japanese fans who are unable to read this insightful interview in the magazine they have purchased. Hope you'll enjoy.

Thanks goes to Masabon for his contribution, and mad props to our Pravus Prime for proofreading and bringing more sense to the whole translation



Polygon Pictures (Transformers: Prime CG Animation) Staff interview


Who are they?
Mr. Shinji Santoh (right), Producer
Ms.Meiko Sato (left), Line Producer
(The gentleman in the centre is Mr. Hiroyuki Hayashi, Japanese Director of the show)

- Firstly, tell us about your company, Polygon Pictures.
Santoh: The majority of our work is in creating animations. Our past work includes movies like "The Sky Crawlers" and cinematics for the "Street Fighter" video game series. We have also created many full CG animation series for television and visuals for exhibitions.

- Tell us about how you came to be responsible for "Transformers: Prime" animation.
Santoh: Polygon Pictures had worked on animation shows made for overseas televison in the past, and because of our work with staff members who are currently working on "TF: Prime", we received an offer to join the production.

- How did you feel when you found out you would be working on "Transformers" sereis?
Santoh: I had an impression that (Transformers) originated from Japan and the brand had been developed via various media worldwide. These days people associate Transformers with live action movies - however, those works feature VFX of transcendent quality, and to be honest I was initially uncertain of what we were expected to do. The first script we received explained (the story was) set three years after "Revenge of The Fallen", though it is an ambitious project with new character settings and designs. I resolved to make a proper product worthy of the brand.

- What was the difference from your other works in the past?
Santoh: I was amazed at the large volume of action scenes in a 22 minute episode when we received the first rough script and storyboard.
Sato: There are many action scenes included, and they require quite a large volume of 3D drawing. The script was more like a movie than a TV show for children, and while I thought it looked interesting, I also wondered how we would manage it. (*laughs*)
Santoh: All the main characters had to be ready from the very beginning as they were to be all present in every episode, that was very hard, too.

- How much time did you have to prepare for the first episode?
Sato: The start of the new TV channel, The HUB, was coming closer and we hardly had any time to prepare.
Santoh: We were expected to provide a short visual sequence for the production announcement, but I thought I might die trying to make it on time. During that time I had a meeting with the American Director and Producer, and their positive response to the character models we completed gave me the confidence to continue (with the series).


- Tell us about the environment and work process of CG animation creators.
Santoh: A storyboard is drawn up by making a sequence based on the script, then the storyboard is lined up on the timelines - this is called V-continuity (storyboard animation). This is all done in America. The tentative recording of the dialogues are included as well, and we refer to it for the timing and such while making (the animation). However, even if the timelines are there, the result is often not as imagined when the sequence is done in a 3D environment. When that happens, the Japanese Director grasps the essence of the sequence and we take the initiative to direct the movements and camera work. Sometimes we suggest a change which we think should make cooler (scenes), and more often than not it is accepted.
Sato: The people we worked with for a TV series in the past are the Directors of American side (of TF: Prime production), and I appreciate that they trust our animation work.
Santoh: I heard the Producers had a hard time picking an animation company that were reliable with a short notice. Then they thought, "hey, how about Polygon Pictures?", and our negotiation went quite smoothly, though there still wasn't enough time. (*laughs*)
Sato: Normally, we would have liked at least six months to prepare, but we weren't even given that minimum six months. We did the routine check in cooperation to condense our work hours.
Santoh: The first five episodes were consecutive and they were planned to be a special premiere. There was a large volume of work to be done, but we had to go ahead without enough time for the preparation. We delivered just barely in time.
Sato: We added retakes of the visuals as the soundtrack was being added in America.

- How is the production paced?
Santoh: One episode is 22 minutes long, there are 26 episodes in one season, and we have one year to finish them. It's about 50 minutes a month. An average movie is 90 ~ 120 minute long, which means the amount of the animation we're producing is equivalent to 5 or 6 movies a year. There is no way we can manage it with the standard production process, and we introduced a Function-Based System, where the tasks are divided and assigned to the respective teams - Direction (direction of the whole episode), Modelling (building 3D models), Rigging (setting up the joints to move the models), Layout (placing the characters, objects and camera in each cut), Animation (giving the characters movements), Look Dev (shaders), Shot (lighting, rendering and composite), Display (creating monitor displays within the story), Matte (combining the background - often not in 3D - and the visuals to give the whole animation a realistic appearance), Effect (special effects) and Edit (editing). When one team is done with their part of the animation, it is passed onto the next team. Currently there are 350 staff members in our company, but at one stage we assigned about 150 members to "Prime".


(the workplace - nearly half is dedicated to producing "Prime")

- Are there any hardships you come across that are unique to a Transformer series, and what steps did you take?
Santoh: Due to the content of the series, incidents in the story occur in various locations in each episode and we need to create a new 3D set every time. Many locations are used only once and we can hardly re-use the same set as generally done in a series, while the quality is expected to be high. The "Prime" staff members who are responsible for the background and colour designs received a 2011 Daytime Emmy Award and the bar has been raised even higher since. (*laughs*) Also, each Transformer has a very distinctive appearance and their parts often bump against each other when in action. We customise the rigging to avoid those occurances.

- How about transformations?
Santoh: I was worried about transformations when we started the project. We do not have any staff members who are capable of building transformable models without any time restrictions to begin with. Initially we thought we would have to create dramatic and showy transforming sequences as seen in Japanese robot anime or Tokusatsu (live action shows with special effects such as Power Rangers), however, when we made inquiries to the American Director it became clear that was not the case. What was required from us was to create transformations that would blend with the flow of the story - it might be only a couple of seconds long, but the transformation was to be done as (the characters) move, run or jump.
Sato: We needed to create various transforming sequences for each character to suit different situations. For example, there are variations as to which parts start shifting first.
Santoh: We visited a transformation specialist, and after many trials and errors, with the help of a former Transformers 2D cartoon animator, we created transformation patterns cut by cut. As for (Transformers) such as Arcee whose size changes before and after transformation, it is impossible to shift the parts as they are, so we alter the scale and process the transforming sequence to make the transformation appear smooth. We now have each pattern stored as a library to deal with various situations.


3D model of Optimus Prime

- I understand the production started before the toys were developed. What did you base the character models on?
Santoh: We used the designs sent from America. With few exceptions, they were mostly in 2D and we made them into 3D robots and vehicles.
Sato: What we were given were mostly drawings from three sides and only had basic outlines, we designed parts details ourselves.
Santoh: We obtained some Transformers toys as a reference as we had no three dimensional reference materials.

- Lastly, message for the fans please.
Santoh: "Transformers: Prime" is aired not only in America, but all over the world, in such countries as Britain and Canada. It has been very favorably received. I am very proud that a project* originated in Japan has been accepted by the world and became a major TV series, and I feel honoured that the series is produced in Japan. Each staff member is working on it with devotion, and we are very much looking forward to "Prime" going on the air in Japan. Please enjoy a new Transformers world different from the live action movies.
Sato: To be honest, I was not interested in Transformers at first (*laughs*). But as I worked on the series and become familiar with the characters I began to enjoy and become more emotionally involved with them. The second season we are currently making features amazing visuals. Please look forward to it.

(*note by Pravus Prime - It's unclear as to whether Santoh is referring to work on Prime or if he mistakenly believes the Transformers brand originated in Japan. )
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Old 03-03-2012, 10:10 AM   #2
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Awesome interview. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 03-03-2012, 12:21 PM   #3
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No interviewer ever asks about the derp eyes on Starscream and Megatron...
Here's a list of stuff I'm looking for!

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Old 03-03-2012, 12:22 PM   #4
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Quote:
The first script we received explained (the story was) set three years after "Revenge of The Fallen"
So Prime was at first meant to be part of the movieverse before it was made part of aligned?
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Old 03-03-2012, 12:24 PM   #5
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Amazing interview from the animators thenselves!

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Old 03-03-2012, 02:05 PM   #6
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Yet another invaluable contribution from SydneyY and his team; As a major Transformers: Prime fan I find this incredibly insightful, many thanks guys!
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Old 03-03-2012, 02:36 PM   #7
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Quote:
Arcee, whose size changes before and after transformation, it is impossible to shift the parts as they are, so we alter the scale and process the transforming sequence to make the transformation appear smooth.
Even though this has been generally accepted from the beginning - its nice to know we aren't crazy for thinking it...

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Old 03-03-2012, 02:40 PM   #8
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Interesting interview.

Aren't these the same people who adore Miko more than any other character?
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Old 03-03-2012, 04:18 PM   #9
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Thanks to all concerned for the Translations

I suspect he might mean Diaclone became Transformers when it moved to the west But He might not have been initially aware that Marvel/Sunbow developed much of the material after it was brought over as a Concept from japan.

So I'd say the origin of the Transforming concept and goes back a long while and is Japanese but the origin of the brand in detail is initially American and product development wasn't even really handled very much by Hasbro other than to get the ball rolling and Provide a few names which were then built on by Marvel. Later on with many core aspects added into it via the UK, Canada and Japan that later stuck such as Primus or some ideas around the Matrix.

But Transformers is in some ways quite "Un Japanese". But Orson Welles thought they were Japanese too but I guess as always with such statements he's partly right and partly wrong.

It's a bit like if someone said Beast Wars is American.. I'd be tempted to counter that it's part Canadian and Mainframe was originally a British Company and they moved to Canada for lifestyle and tax reasons. likewise if someone said Beast Wars was a Hasbro product again I'd be tempted to say it's more of a Kenner one really.

There's often no easy answers for these things though.

Personally I'm glad they don't use set piece Transformations they got a bit tedious in TF Cybertron at times.
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Old 03-03-2012, 07:49 PM   #10
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Quote:
Arcee, whose size changes before and after transformation, it is impossible to shift the parts as they are, so we alter the scale and process the transforming sequence to make the transformation appear smooth.
So W he means is Arcee's bike mode is too small to transform into a robot of her size. Didn't make that very clear "..to shift the parts as they are..." wtf does that mean? Luckily I loosely understood.
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