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RealtimeUK: from defense industry to CG and VFX

Michał Franczak 2016-02-08 11:43 article  > Interview

An interview with people from RealtimeUK - the studio behind inspiring commercials, marketing trailers and VFX & CG imagery.

First things first: What is RealtimeUK?

RealtimeUK is the product of a frustratingly quiet animation industry back in 1996 when very few opportunities existed in the UK to create exciting animated content. Founder and Managing Director, Tony Prosser had a huge desire to create some of the best work in the industry and this still drives the very ambitious 30 strong team we have 20 years on. The studio started in automotive and defense industry work before moving into the games industry to work on what back then were called FMV’s – Full Motion Videos.

So what makes us different? Firstly, our location, we don’t have a network of high-end freelancers in our area of the UK so we employ a large core team of all the key departments we need. The benefit of this being team strength and commitment – some of our team have been helping us push the boundaries of what’s possible for 20 years! Secondly our tremendous passion and desire to keep pushing image quality and the emotion within our work – we spent many years focusing mainly on image quality and cinematography, but now that we’ve focused on storytelling and character performance to the same degree – it’s really boosted the excitement factor in the studio and we hope this is reflected in our more recent productions.


How much time it took to create this trailer (from order to final animation)?

After a preproduction stage where our team worked closely with Hi Rez to agree the creative and characters, approx 20 artists worked on the project ramping up and down at various stages – in total production spanned approx 6 months.

Describe the pipeline from concept to finish. How much time it took to render this animation, did you use external render farms?

  • Research: This is a combination of researching the game and seeking out inspiration for our approach.
  • Treatment & Storyboard / Budget & Scheduling: A written treatment with supporting storyboard is costed and a schedule is developed. Once this has been agreed and signed off by the client, we can go into production.
  • Concept / Animatic / Reference Photography: This is the first stage of production. Assets are designed, the storyboard is developed into a 3d animatic and keyframe concepts are produced.
  • Animation Blockout & Environment Layout: The animatic moves into blockout and staging. This is where the animation department start roughing out performances. Basic environments are also developed at this stage and broken into what needs to be sculpted and what can be matte projections.
  • Modelling / Texturing / Mattes: The modelling department builds and texture assets. They build characters, vehicles, props and Environments. Many of our assets are sculpted in Zbrush and textured in Mari. During character building, our modellers work closely with our rigging department. Our art department start creating Matte work.
  • Pipeline / Shaders / Lookdev: Assets are assembled in 3dsMax and shaders are developed in Vray under a variety of lighting conditions.
  • Rigging & Animation Tests: Our riggers work closely with our animation department to ensure our assets can perform as required.
  • Mocap (if needed) / Dialog Recording / Reference Shoot: This is the stage where live-action is most useful. Whether it’s shooting video reference, recording dialogue or using motion capture. The project’s structure is in place and this will guide what we capture.
  • Animation: Character animation goes through various stages. We start with the body. In First-Pass we establish key poses and develop the correct timings between each pose. Second-Pass fills in the gaps, blending between poses while adding to the performance. We then do a first and second pass with character facial animation.
  • Cloth and Hair: Having been developed earlier during rigging and look-dev, Cloth and Hair can only be simulated once the animation has been signed off.
  • Scene Assembly: Here we combine assets such as characters, vehicles and props with environments and apply cached animation data. It’s also where we incorporate Mattes and apply set dress. Almost everything in these files is referenced to allows for quick updates.
  • Effects: Although many effects will be started at the beginning of the project, it isn’t until the closing stages, when the animation, cameras and edit are locked down, that the work can be executed.
  • Lighting: Rigs which are developed during Lookdev are applied to the scenes and tweaked on a shot by shot basis.
  • Rendering / Compositing / Grading: Shots are rendered and composited. Shots are broken into passes to allow manipulation and fine tuning during compositing. We try to make each pass as comprehensive as possible; this helps characters feel grounded and aids the overall believability of the finished image.
  • Final Edit and Mastering: Finally, the visuals, music and sound effects are brought together and the movie is mastered.

Also: Watch SMITE: to Hell and Back Behind the scenes part 2.

You use V-Ray for rendering your trailers, what stood behind the choice of this renderer? What V-Ray features are important to you?

We use Vray as our primary renderer. We initially adopted Vray back in 2003 for its GI rendering. With features such as Vray proxies, Vray displacement, physical cameras and sphere fades. It has become an integral part of our studio’s pipeline over the years.


What other projects are you currently working on?

We’re extremely proud and feel very lucky that we’ve marked our 20th year with a record number of both games trailers and automotive projects. In this year’s line-up of the games trailers, you’ll see a rich mix of character based, vehicle based and sci-fi productions as well as some exciting automotive projects for some of the world’s most prestigious manufactures.

Realtime UK is recruiting: We’re always on the search for world class talent to join our team either full time or freelance, and since we’ve started working with some of the biggest car brands in the world (can’t name names) our Automotive department is expanding at a rapid rate! Get in touch with your details recruitment@realtimeuk.com we would love to hear from you.

Could you describe 2015 as successfull for RealtimeUK? What has changed this year for you? What important events have taken place?

Yes, absolutely, 2015 was a turning point of our studio – it was the year we truly felt the benefit of many years of development in our skills, production methodologies and the creation of our pipeline tools. These valuable developments were used to their full on our latest Smite trailer, To Hell and Back and this production also demonstrates the shift in our work towards emotive, character based productions. Also in 2015 was when many years of development in our Limitless/RT system, the system for the automotive side of our business, truly came into its own delivering powerful CG solutions for our automotive clients.


What are your plans for the future? More cg artists? New offices?

We are currently on a major recruitment drive to help support the huge uptake in new projects on both sides of our business. We’re also investing in a lot of new infrastructure ready for our up and coming 4K projects as well as investigating GPU rendering, in-game VFX and VR solutions – it’s a very exciting time to be in the world of all things CGi.

Where lays the secret of visual quality of your works in your opinion? In which stages do you put the most effort / quality control?

We’ve always followed the philosophy that to truly excel in this industry, you’ve got to push each and every production phase to 11 out of 10. We put specialist into each of production departments to ensure that each discipline is executed the top of its game. I believe certain styles of animation can afford to selectively place the majority of the effort into a smaller number of specialist areas but our productions tend to need everything polished to finest standard.

How does your communication with clients looks like? Do you mail / skype, meet in person, etc? How much do you allow your customers to participate in the process of creating the film?

Almost all of our clients are overseas and quite often we don’t actually meet them in person until after the project has been delivered! We do use Skype a great deal and our production process is very ‘client inclusive’ by sharing and discussing content and our work in progress with the client every step of the way.

Thanks for interview!

More about RealtimeUK:

Author: Michał Franczak Editor: Michał Franczak
Tags: interview REALTIMEUK smite
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Bachelor film project from The Animation Workshop, Viborg, Denmark.


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