Justin Leach chronicles his experiences as 3D CG creator on Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence in this informative production journal.
While I was working for Production I.G in Japan from 2001 to 2003, Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, the president of the company, asked me to keep a production journal of my experiences. The entries excerpted below are from Oct. 2002 to Dec. 2003 while I was in production on Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence.
Sometimes I look back at my journals to reminisce about all of the amazing learning experiences I had there. Those years spent in Japan really changed my point of view on many things and gave me a new appreciation for the craft of Japanese animation. It was so inspiring to see the work of the talented staff there. People like Atsushi Takeuchi, a prolific Mecha designer (Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed, Ghost in the Shell 2, Yuki Kaze), and Shuichi Hirata, the art director responsible for the beautifully detailed hand painted backgrounds (Ghost in the Shell, Metropolis, Ghost in the Shell 2), and all of my co-workers on the CG team. Also, while I was there I had the chance to meet Hayao Miyazaki, Katsuhiro Otomo, not to mention Mamoru Oshii my boss at I.G.
As 3D CG creator, my CG team and I were responsible for delivering all aspects of the shot from modeling, rigging, texturing, animation, lighting, rendering and pre-comping. For GITS2, I created several shots, including grenades falling down stairs, an arowana fish in a glass bowl, a basset hound mechanical toy (music box) and a Togusa doll dangling from a rearview mirror.
In many ways, I can honestly say that it was an opportunity I never expected, and at times my experiences in Japan felt like a surreal dream. But I will always be thankful to Production I.G for allowing me to be a guest at their wonderful studio. The future is bright for Japanese animation and for the folks at Production I.G.
Oct. 3, 2002
Today, once again was another typical busy day. After updating the I.G English Website, which I do every weekday morning, I spent most of the day modeling for a full CG shot that involves a Togusa doll hanging from a rearview mirror. It finally seems to be nearing completion (at least I hope so). Oshii-san is supposed to come by today to take a look at the shot I have been working on. I hope he likes it.
Oct. 5, 2002
The doll shot that I have been working on seems to be going in a good direction. After Suga-san (CG lead) saw my latest test, he assigned more shots for me to do. I was relieved for the positive reaction. Being that this is my first shot on the film, I was a little concerned of my first impression at a Japanese animation studio.
In America, large-scale feature film work is usually divided among several people, and each person is given a very specialized task. For example, mine was character setup. In Japan, usually one person completes the entire shot (perhaps in America this would be similar to a small-sized CG boutique or a game company). As a result, I must brush up my skills in modeling, texturing, animation, lighting and compositing. So far, it has been a great learning experience overall.
Dec. 5, 2002
Currently I am helping to make the animatic for Innocence. Interestingly, there were no plans to make an animatic (this is not very uncommon) but Ghibli was interested in making one to help with the marketing aspect of the film. In Oshii sans ekonte, (storyboard in Japanese) he writes down the timings for the shot. This is what everyone relies on for shot timings as opposed to the animatic.
Over the last two days, I have been busy rendering QuickTime movies for all of Oshii-sans storyboard drawings so that they can be exported into a different editing program. Getting two different software programs to talk to one another can often be a tricky endeavor; much like a foreigner in Japan.
Regarding Oshii-sans storyboards, I have heard some people here comment on how simple Oshii-sans drawings are but I think they are really quite good. His drawings are simple but masterfully efficient. When I look at his panels, I get a strong sense of what the final image will look like. Oshii-sans creative sense really is amazing. It has been interesting to see the progression from ekonte to finished image. Its no wonder he has become well regarded in the industry.
Dec. 10, 2002
Today, I continued to work on the Togusa doll shot. Yesterday, Oshii-san (director), Nishikubo-san (sequence director) and Ezura-san (visual effects supervisor) came by my desk to take a look at one of the shots I am working on. During the critique, they made some comments regarding the lighting and texturing that I will fix in the next version. As I am extremely critical of my own work, and in such great admiration of the people that work here, I tend get a little nervous when they come by.
Dec. 13, 2002
Today, I finished rendering a set of frames for the Togusa doll shot, which took my computer a whole day and a half to render! I look forward to the day when all CG can be rendered in realtime.
Dec. 20, 2002
Today, I have been adjusting some lighting and textures for the Togusa doll shot. The particular challenge of this shot is to get the lighting and 3D to match with the 2D animation in the following shots. Currently it takes about one day to render the shot. By the way, Production I.G formally announced that they would be making GITS2. So far from what I have seen of the film, I think it looks amazingly beautiful.
Jan. 9, 2003
Earlier in the day, a friend from Studio Ghibli came by to discuss some business regarding the new GITS2 film (Studio Ghibli is co-producing). As for my CG work, I have spent most of the day fixing texture maps.
Jan. 10, 2003
Last night I attended the shinnenkai (an after New Years party) for the GITS: Stand Alone Complex TV series in Shinjuku. All of the staff members and companies involved in the show came for the event. Even Iyadomi-san from Bandai America traveled all the way from L.A. to attend.
The voice actors were there as well. The actor who played Batous voice was a really funny character. This was the same actor who did the voice of Spike Speagle in Cowboy Bebop and Curtis in Porco Rosso. His personality actually seems to closely match many of the characters he portrays. I think his special talent is being cool. Also, there was another celebrity there who was the husband of Utada Hikaru, a famous pop singer in Japan. I dont know his name, and didnt even know who he was when I saw him, but apparently he is quite well known here. From what I understand he is a great admirer of I.Gs work.After the party was over, several of the staff with Kamiyama-san (director of the TV series) traveled to the ni-jikai (second drinking party) at another restaurant. Then after that was finished, we came back to Kokubunji with a smaller group of people and had a san-jikai (third drinking party). Then by the time that party was finished I just couldnt stay awake (about 3:00 am) and had to go home. Believe it or not, another group of I.G staff went for the yon-jikai (fourth drinking party)! I honestly dont know how much of the I.G staff functions on such little sleep!
Jan. 20, 2003
Today, I was handed a packet of key animation drawings and a timing sheet for the shot involving a 3D basset hound. Usually for each shot, the CG staff receives a packet with all of the information needed to complete the shot. Complete with notes from the key animator and Oshii-san.In addition to that, I am laying out UVs for a CG basset hound model. It is very tedious and time-consuming work. Basically, its like taking a 3D model, making a flat paper foldout and then refolding back together again!
Jan. 22, 2003
Maya just decided to crash on me so I thought I would quickly update my journal! Today, I started modeling the two grenades and have been gathering reference material off the Internet. Thank goodness for Google! Hopefully, I should finish the modeling part soon. They had a very specific grenade model that I needed to find.After coming to I.G, I would say that my general knowledge of weaponry has increased somewhat. I feel it is sort of ironic for a country where guns are illegal. I really knew nothing about the subject before I arrived. I remember when I went home for my winter vacation and visited my local sporting goods store, I saw row after row of guns and rifles. I am sure some of my co-workers would have loved to be there.
Feb. 10, 2003
Today, I have been working on some animation for a shot with some CG elements. For this particular shot, Nishio-san, one of the key animators for the film I am assigned to, handed me a series of key animation drawings of a grenade falling down the stairs. Actually I am really enjoying working this way because I feel it gives me a chance to learn the timings of the traditional Japanese animators at the studio. I hope I get more shots like this in the future!
Feb. 13, 2003
I am still recovering a bit from the flu that hit me a while ago, so I feel a little tired. My two other co-workers were hit by the flu as well and both didnt show up for work yesterday. Since the offices are really small, its like a game of viral dominos.
Feb. 17, 2003
A few days ago, I told my seisaku staff (Inoue-san) that I was ready to show an animation test for my grenade shot for approval. Later that day, a big group of people came by including Nishio-san (supervising animator,) Nishikubo-san (sequence director), Yusa-san (color supervisor), among others. To be honest, I wasnt expecting so many people to show up for just an animation test. I wonder if they were expecting something different. Anyhow, they seemed to like the animation and gave me some comments for things to work on.
Feb. 24, 2003
Last Friday, I had a directors check for the grenade shot. When I have a shot check, I never really know who is going to show up. To my surprise, it was Oshii-san this time. I showed him the animation and he gave me some direction for the next test. Today, I took one of the painted backgrounds for stairs in the grenade shot and mapped it onto a 3D object using a camera UV projection. I think this technique really adds a nice level of dimension to a shot whilst retaining its traditional feel.
Feb. 27, 2003
Over the last two days I have been busy preparing the GITS: Stand Alone Complex Website for this Saturday. In addition, I am doing my regular CG work that has been assigned to me. One bit of advice for anyone interested in working in Japan: Versatility comes in very useful. When companies are small, people usually have to do many things in order to work within limited budgets. In the U.S., most small companies start out this way and get more specialized later on as they become more successful. However, since the economics of Japanese animation have remained relatively unchanged, everyone must keep that high level of versatility to be successful.
Mar. 3, 2003
Right now, I am compositing a shot with a 3D basset hound. This particular shot is a little tricky because the render times are quite long. At high-resolution, high quality, it takes about 13 minutes a frame, which means in order to finish 10 seconds of animation, it takes about two days of continuous rendering.
Also, I am busy preparing a presentation for an Italian animation festival called Cartoons on the Bay, where Production I.G has been selected as a Studio of the Year for 2003.
Mar. 10, 2003
Today, I was happy to find out that my animation, lighting and texturing for the Togusa doll shot was approved for final render. Because I have decided to go with a radiosity solution, I figure it might take me about four to five days to complete all of the final frames. In the meantime, while my computer is busy crunching numbers, I am going to start preparing an outline for a presentation I will be giving at an animation conference in Italy.
Mar. 15, 2003
Finally, my render has finished. It only took 57 hours, 19 minutes and 51 seconds to render 240 frames. Next it will get passed onto to a compositor who will tweak the final color and effects. Also, when I came into the studio this morning, I noticed one of the staff was sleeping at her desk. She has been very busy lately preparing for the Tokyo Animation Festival and probably stayed here all night. Actually, this sort of thing is very common here. Many people here have a spare pillow and or blanket at their desk for those all-nighters.
Mar. 25, 2003
Today, the seisaku staff moved into our room. The publicity section (Yamakawa-san and Kurosawa-san) has moved somewhere, but I dont know where. Often within the studio, I find we are constantly moving around. I have moved four times within the building over the last two years! I wonder where I will move next.
Apr. 17, 2003
Sakurai-san, Ishikawa-san and I just got back from Italy to present at the Cartoons on the Bay animation festival in Positano, Italy. After that we traveled to Paris for various business meetings for GITS2. It was great to see both countries, as it was the first time I had been to either. Paris in many ways reminded me of New York, and Positano reminded me of a Miyazaki film (especially Cagliostro.) All in all, the entire trip went very well, I think. I must battle jet lag and keep my eyes open. This morning I woke up at 4:00 am.
Apr. 18, 2003
Today, we had some visitors from a Japanese company that built a small armature rig for capturing motion data for 3D animation. It was sort of interesting, but I think in I.Gs case, it would be difficult for us to use it. I think its a good concept, but it is such a difficult problem to actually work out. At the moment, I am re-rendering the grenade shot using XSI. A friend of mine who lives in Japan wrote this amazing cartoon shader program for XSI, so I thought Id give it a shot. My friend was kind enough to come to I.G and give me a quick tutorial on how to use it. So far I really like it.
Apr. 23, 2003
Yesterday, I was back to work on my grenade shot for GITS2. Currently, I am working on adjusting the shaders to a 3D but not 2D, somewhere in the middle look. Finding that middle point is always the hard part.Today, I am also having my yearly review with Ishikawa-san. So far I have been at Production I.G for about two years. It seems the time has really gone by quickly.
Apr. 24, 2003
Today has been business as usual. As I mentioned earlier, I have switched over to XSI for my shots. So far, I really like its cartoon shader and render pass workflow. I think CG animators should use as many 3D packages as possible. I think in the long run it can only increase your flexibility and help you understand what the best tool for the job is.
Apr. 25, 2003
Today was a good day. Nishikubo-san, second in command from Oshii-san approved my grenade shot I had been working on over the past month. It always feels good to get a shot approved.
May, 1 2003
Today, I have been re-rendering some passes in XSI. All in all, it was a somewhat normal day at the studio. Earlier this afternoon, Nishio-san (one of the key animators on Innocence) brought one of the animation directors from Studio Ghibli who worked on Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. I forgot to congratulate him about Ghiblis Oscar win!
May 9, 2003
Today, I am getting back to my regular work on GITS2. I have been staring at particles on my computer monitor so much that I actually see particles in my sleep. Its kind of creepy!
May 16, 2003
Last weekend I was visited by a friend of mine named Michael Isner, who works for Softimage. He specializes in doing research and development for character setup tools in XSI. As I mentioned earlier, I have been learning XSI in my spare time and am slowly getting up to speed using it. Every time we hang out, he always shows me the latest and greatest tools that are in development. In my opinion, XSI has really come quite far over that last few years. I have been having much fun learning it and using it in production. After we hung out, it made me feel a little nostalgic during my time in the states. I remembered the real pioneering spirit that existed strongly there. Many people living on the border of innovation trying to constantly evolve the medium technologically and artistically. For me, that is one of the most exciting aspects of being involved with CG. There is some much room for evolution and change that you actually have a chance to make a little history.
May 22, 2003
Recently, the seisaku staff has been showing more shots to the animators from GITS2 to the creators here at the studio. I guess this would be the equivalent of dailies in America, except the schedules are slightly more erratic and on a much smaller scale. Usually they happen in the evenings around 7:00 to 8:00 pm and are shown on a small monitor. Oshii-san and Nishikubo-san both come in and take a look at the shots and make comments. At this stage the shots are nearly approved for final tweaking using a Domino system at an outside post-production facility. Every time I see the work in progress I get more excited to see the finished film.
May 26, 2003
Last Friday, I went to Studio Ghibli to meet Sakurai-san and some other Ghibli staff for a meeting regarding a new GITS2 Website in development. When I got there, we first had lunch at this hand-made udon shop situated in the middle of an open-air Japanese architecture museum. It was really incredible. I had learned from Ishii-san (a Ghibli staff member) that this museum was an inspiration for Miyazaki-sans Spirited Away. It was quite a strange sensation because I really felt like I had walked into Spirited Away. After that we went to quickly view an exhibit at the museum that had many original drawings from Spirited Away as well as the Oscar the Miyazaki-san won. It really was amazing to see the volume of work to come from one persons hand. I honestly dont know how he can do it. He really is a creative genius.
June 27, 2003
Today, we went to Studio Ghibli to watch an upcoming preview trailer that will be coming out sometime later this year.The GITS2 preview trailer looked great (good job to Ishii-san from the Ghibli staff and Sakurai-san who helped out.) As a fan of the original film, I can whole-heartedly say that I was not disappointed at all. I think people are really going to be blown away by the visuals. I will have trouble waiting until next fall.
In addition we also got to see the teaser trailer for Miyazakis next film, Howls Moving Castle. I think it too will be a big hit.
July 1, 2003
Now I am rendering a shot of the 3D basset hound toy. So far is has been taking nearly two days to render the shot! Yikes! In the meantime, I have been working hard catching up on all of my mail that a never have time to answer.Also, today Sakurai-san came by the studio. It was really good to see him. I asked him how work was going and he said that he is adjusting to the intense work schedule, which is allowing him to only get about four hours of sleep each night! He really does work hard.
July 5, 2003
Yesterday, we went back to Ghibli to watch about 15 minutes of dailies from GITS2. The dailies looked great as usual. The imagery is such a pleasure to watch and enjoy for its own sake.
July 11, 2003
The past few days, I have been moving a scene that was completely setup, lit and textured in Maya to XSI. This work has been pretty tedious, but within a couple of days I managed to get everything working. Now I feel I am at a point where I can get XSI to do what I need it to do. The reason why I moved my scene over to XSI is because the directors really liked XSIs cartoon shader and render pass technology. Incidentally, Michael Arias, who was the producer for the Animatrix, wrote the cartoon shader for XSI.
Sept. 30, 2003
I am now entering crunch time on GITS2 and am working on finishing up my last shots for the film, which involve an arowana fish swimming around in a bowl. Today, Oshii-san came by to give me some advice on what to change for my shot. It has been really pleasant working with him as a director. He tends to really trust the people he works with so he doesnt usually make to many changes.
Later, Nishikubo-san worked with me on getting the timing right for the animation. Once the shot is approved I will create several render passes and then use the compositor in XSI to pre-comp all of the elements.
Nov. 19, 2003
I have gotten approval for my last shot for Innocence!
Dec. 1, 2003
I went to Imagica to see the third season dailies. As we all watched the cuts, everyone was so quiet you could here a pin drop.
Dec. 12, 2003
Well, all of my work on the show has finished up and I am heading back to the states after living here for nearly three years. I truly enjoyed the chance to work here alongside some of Japans top talent. I never in my wildest dreams expected to be in such a situation. I felt in many ways like a visitor from another planet, observing and studying a foreign culture.
What lessons did I learn in Japan? Stay true to your vision. Often in search of opportunity, people forget what got them into filmmaking in the first place.
The chance to work in Japan has really changed my perceptions on Japan as well as my own views toward my own country. At times, I struggled with the language and culture, but I loved every second of it. I will miss all of my close friends I made at Production I.G. And last but not least, I would like to thank Mr. Ishikawa for allowing a stranger to visit and stay a while. Ill never forget my time in Japan.
Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence is currently playing in U.S. theaters. It is distributed by Go Fish Pictures, a division of DreamWorks. Check out an updated list of theaters and information on Production I.G.
Justin Leachs earliest professional credit was as a video game design consultant in 1992. Since then, he has worked on commercials, short films and theatrical features; notably for Blue Sky Studios, from May 1997 through March 2001, where he was on the teams for Bunny and Ice Age, among other projects. Leach currently works for Softimage Special Projects in Los Angeles as a production consultant.