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Converging on Ubisoft's Acquisition of Hybride

Ubisoft's Yannis Mallat and Hybride's Pierre Raymond go deeper into their strategic roadmap for convergence.

Major videogame creator Ubisoft adds to its luster with the acquisition of vfx studio Hybride Technologies with the intent on raising the bar for vfx in games and the big screen. Unless noted, all images courtesy of Ubisoft.

Last July, Ubisoft, the third largest videogame creator, surprised the industry with its acquisition of visual effects studio Hybride Technologies, boldly stating that this convergence was going to raise the bar for vfx in games and better enable Ubisoft to adapt its intellectual properties for the big screen.

"The future of our industry depends on our ability to create brands that captivate audiences and to extend those brands to other forms of entertainment," said Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot in the original press announcement."The acquisition of Hybride falls directly into the strategy that has already led us to open a digital creation studio in Montreal and to acquire the Tom Clancy brand for videogames and ancillary products. The exceptional quality of the team at Hybride and the expertise of our Ubisoft teams will allow us to create one of the best 3D animation studios in the entertainment industry."

VFXWorld recently had a chance to follow-up with Ubisoft (Assassin's Creed) and Hybride (Dragonball, Journey to the Center of the Earth, 300/>, Sin City) about their future roadmap. Although it' still too soon to get into specifics, Yannis Mallat, CEO of Ubisoft Montreal, and Pierre Raymond, founder and CEO of Montreal-based Hybride, elaborated on their joint strategy.

"It is not [just] an opportunity," Mallat emphasized."The Hybride deal is part of a global strategy that we started years ago. In 2007, we opened a CG studio in Montreal, which was our first major milestone. We decided to acquire Hybride with an understanding [about pushing convergence], which was our second major milestone."

"We've been working on parallel roads and directions for some time," added Raymond. "We use the same tools and talents to share techniques but are now embarking on more problem solving."

Assassin's Creed was a recent Ubisoft release.

For Ubisoft, the acquisition comes down to one simple fact: The GPU and CPU are merging for faster and more efficient rendering potential. "We will be able to reveal [superior] image quality in the pre-rendered world," Mallat continued. "First, to make better games, but also because the industry is moving toward a different world [in terms of] generating assets and the creation of realtime movies."

Raymond offered that the particle animation and vfx from Ubisoft is already helping Hybride. "It's been amazing to see the environments generated by Ubisoft for realtime. Their tools and human expertise are already being used by us at Hybride. There is a real sharing of resources going on."

For its part, Hybride has a thriving pipeline that is very conducive for a director's creative vision, hence the visually rich work for Zack Snyder and Robert Rodriguez. In addition, the R&D department is equipped for "beta testing and validation of the very latest visual effects, 3D animation and editing products by Autodesk and Softimage… In addition, Hybride's R&D group develops its own post-production automation tools," some of which are custom-designed while others "are developed to facilitate common, repetitive tasks… "

Hybride will continue to be involved in image processing, as it was with 300 (above), and new tools will be introduced to address this on a larger scale. Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

"The thing is, if we think about convergence, we have people, processes and access to different people working on IPs," Mallat said. "We still want Hybride to work with Hollywood. And we'd like them working on Ubisoft IPs. That's a future we're looking at someday where we'll see our properties crossing media, and Hybride will become part of the family."

And what kind of re-tooling are they talking about?

"We're taking the same kind of tools in a different [way]," Mallat suggested. "They use Maya and 3ds Max and XSI and so do we. From a convergence [standpoint], with the use of a console, we can start building assets for both mediums from the beginning. It gives us a direction in building a pipeline."

Raymond added that "down the road we will be involved in image processing, as we were on Sin City and 300," and they will be introducing future tools to address this on a larger scale.

"On the surface, it is a totally different way of approaching a pipeline," Mallat stressed, "one which [encompasses] complementary characters and environments. Ubisoft is flexible enough to manage our own IP with a new model to think about from the very beginning."

Raymond reiterated that they have a mutual R&D plan that is pushing realtime to make the workflow easier: "We have a spectrum that we deal with in film and games to establish a pipeline that brings us closer for visual treatment that can be used on any game."

ubisoft04_ShaunWhiteSnowboa.jpg

Ubisoft will release Shaun White Snowboarding this Christmas. 

"What we are doing is defining the future of interactive entertainment," Mallat continued. "As Pierre mentioned, we have a realtime pipeline that is integrating the way Hybride is working. We have reached a different scope and are applying this to [an as yet unnamed] common project… It's a human challenge at this point with realtime world people working with pre-rendered world people. The first reaction was that a movie modeler has no constraints vs. an animator with constraints. TDs and vfx supervisors quickly understood the potential of what the pre-rendered world can bring and vice versa."

In fact, according to a Hybride artist that was initially dubious about the acquisition, it has turned out to be a creatively-inspiring situation. The artist said that Ubisoft has a committed long-term roadmap for creating the finest quality IPs for the next generation of interactive, 3-D stereoscopic home entertainment, among other things, which perfectly complements Hybride's pipeline and R&D strengths.

"We are content providers and forced to make the most with what we have," added Mallat. "Next-gen consoles [in the future] will provide content that we've never seen before."

"Game companies and film companies will be going somewhere else in the future," Raymond offered."We have to identify this change, technically speaking. Again, we need to develop image-processing that can be applied to games. Stereoscopic movies, games, need to be more believable. There will be new interactive narratives further down the line… At the moment, we are introducing a new level of photorealism to the Final Destination 4 feature at Hybride [to be released next year]. We will be useful at Hybride. We are addressing facial expression in our R&D for realtime. In two years, everyone will push the best photoreal actor for facial expressions."

Bill Desowitz is editor of VFXWorld.

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