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Episode 115 — Unit Image
This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 115! I’m speaking with the team at Unit Image. I’m a massive fan of this studio. There is only a few studios out there that constantly puts out great stuff. Looking at their work and history of successfully executing every single project, I was excited to sit down with some of the key people on their team:
– Cofounder and Director Maxime Luère;
– Head of Productions Célia Digard;
– CG Supervisor Tony Dugard;
– And Head of Communication Johanne Beaupied (as well as Head of Production at Scan Engine).
It was really inspiring!
Let’s dive in!
FIRST THINGS FIRST:
[-37:22] We’re doing the Bootcamp on the Best Year Yet: www.allanmckay.com/bestyearyet/. We’ve put in a guide that consists of 9 Episodes and Videos.
[-36:43] I’ve just launched a new Free Training: www.allanmckay.com/decay/. It consists of 7 videos, over 10 hours of visual effects training, shot on Epic-W Camera. It’s available until January 12th, 2018.
[-36:05] I’ve put out a free book: www.allanmckay.com/productiveartist/.
[-34:52] I’m getting ready for a few film shoots coming up.
INTERVIEW WITH UNIT IMAGE
Unit Image is a high-end 3D animation and VFX Studio based in Paris, France. It is specialized in full CGI and special effects for video games and commercials.
Since being founded in 2010 by Maxime Luère, Léon Bérelle, Dominique Boidin and Rémi Kozyra, the studio has been creating impressive images and raising the bar with the quality of their award-winning work. The most recent work includes films for Ubisoft, Activision, Square Enix, Michelin, Cartier and many more. The studio has created trailers for video games Good and Evil 2, The Division, The Crew, Call of Duty, For Honor, ZombiU and several others.
In this Episode, the creative team at Unit Image talks about the studio’s history and its groundbreaking work in commercials and video games.
Unit Image Website: http://www.unit-image.fr
Scan Engine Website: http://www.scan-engine.fr/#
Unit Image Reels on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user7515497
Unit Image on Art of VFX: http://www.artofvfx.com/tag/unit-image/
Unit Image on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/UNITIMAGE
Unit Image on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/unit-image
Unit Image on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/UNITimage/
Unit Image on Twitter: @UnitImage
[-33:11] Allan: Thanks for taking the time to do this! Do you, guys, want to introduce yourselves?
Max: Sure. I am Max, I’m a Director and Co-Founder at Unit Image.
Tony: I’m Tony. I’m the Lead CG Supervisor.
Célia: I’m Célia. I take care of production at Unit Image. I also handle production at Scan Engine.
[-32:38] Allan: So, who is Unit Image? Do you want to give a bit of a background on what your company does?
Max: Yes, so Unit Image: We’re a 3D and Animation Studio based in Paris. The four of us created the company 7 years ago: Maxime Luère, Léon Bérelle, Dominique Boidin and Rémi Kozyra. We started in a small room like this. After some work, we grew to 74 people. Some of our projects have been Beyond Good and Evil trailer, The Crew 2 trailer, Call of Duty, For Honor, The Division.
[-30:52] Allan: That’s great!
Max: I want to thank you very much for the interview! I remember looking at your work for years and it was really inspiring. So it’s a great pleasure to get interviewed by you!
[-30:35] Allan: Thanks so much! I could say the same: The work that you do is amazing and it has set the bar really high for everyone else. I’d love to dive into the projects you’ve done, but also to learn how you got started. When did you get started and what’s the backstory?
Max: We created Unit Image seven years ago. We started in a very small room, 20 square meters. We started with a commercial. We really wanted to create video games but there weren’t any studios in France. Our first trailer was ZombiU, The Crew. We started with four people. Now we are at 74 people.
[-28:13] Allan: What was the reception when you put out your first cinematic. ZombiU was amazing. I forget where I was in the world at the time, but all of us were like, “Wow! Who the hell did this?” What was the reception like around the world?
Max: We had a lot of constraints on this project. We didn’t have a lot of time to do this. We tried to write a concept that could match visually. There was a very small team and very little time.
[-27:01] Allan: With that project, what were the tools you used?
Tony: The same tools we use now: It was V-Ray and 3DS Max. We also used Zbrush and that’s it.
Max: But because we were using frozen correctors, we used Kinect [for Xbox]. That’s the first time we wanted to use body scanning.
[-25:47] Allan: Yeah, you guys have a sister company that you use for body scans. Is that the origin from Kinect?
Celia: Yes, kind of, actually. I remember the trailer for The Division. For that one, the need for super high quality characters became even higher. At that point, the four founders decided to build their own photogrammetry structure, just for that trailer. The result was really good and very helpful. It saved us a lot of time. Other studios later came asking for that structure. The demand was pretty high in France so it made sense to make it a service that would help other studios as well, for CGI, VFX video games.
[-24:30] Allan: That’s cool! I worked on The Division cinematic for Blur back in 2014. In general, is it one big rig or multiple ones?
Célia: We have a growing structure. We started with 90 cameras, we upgraded to 120 about a year and half ago. Now we are up to 150 camera. But also have a separate structure for body scanning.
[-23:36] Allan: Did you always want to focus on video game cinematics or was it something that naturally progressed?
Tony: No, that’s what we always wanted to focus on since the beginning. We did commercials but we wanted to do video games at the same time. In a trailer that’s 2-3 minutes long, you can tell a story. With the commercials we did in the beginning, we were very lucky to work on some incredible ones. It was great stuff for us!
[-22:36] Allan: One of the things I wanted to ask was whether it was hard to break into the international market. But with ZombiU, you made a pretty big impact on everyone.
Célia: Yes, exactly. We were lucky enough to start the company with these amazing projects and it gave us enough visibility around the world. Then we did more trailers for Ubisoft and doors started to open even more for us. We were able to work with Square Enix, Activision. We try to work with as many companies as possible. Thanks to the first project we did, all the doors are starting to open.
[-21:33] Allan: You’ve obviously worked on a lot. What’s your most challenging projects to date?
Max: It was The Division. It was the first time, where there wasn’t too much action. It was the first time we used motion capture. It was challenging to use a lot of new stuff, at the same time. We had to do a scene in New York, in Times Square, Madison Square Garden. We sent a team to New York to take a lot of reference videos.
[-19:55] Allan: How many people worked on that project?
Célia: I think it was between 40 and 45 people.
[-19:48] Allan: That’s amazing! Such a small team to do such a large scale project! What was the turnaround, with so many environments?
Célia: So, for this one, there were the main characters and the crowds. There were 53 characters and many environments — one in the past and one for today — so [we had] two versions of each environment. Basically, the whole trailer took 6 months. It usually depends on whether we’re writing a story or not. With The Division, we didn’t write the story. So, it took a bit more time.
[-18:51] Allan: When a project typically comes in, what’s your level of involvement in the beginning? Do some clients with a story in minds, or do they get you to put together a treatment of what would make a great script?
Tony: It depends on the project but most of the time, we agree with the client. They show us the game and we are to write the trailer. Sometimes, with commercial divisions, we see the script.
[-17:21] Allan: Everyone would love to nerd out about your behind-the-scenes. Typically, how many people are doing effects and how many people are doing lighting and environments. Did you use a lot of mo cap or was it key framed?
Célia: On The Division, we used a lot of mo cap because it had a lot of human characters. On something like Good and Evil 2, we had animal characters as humans. So we had to use mo cap and key frame. The Division was mainly mo capture and animation. Each department has 5-10 people, depending on the project. It’s important for us to have people who can be responsible for the environment from the beginning and then take it until the final shot. They do everything: lighting, compositing.
[-15:29] Allan: I love that you have a compositing department. Some places I’ve worked at, like Blur, never had one. Artists had to composite on their work. Did you always have compositors or it is something you’ve done along the way?
Tony: The compositors are always the same people. Sometimes, if the time on the project is really short, we have to bring in more compositors.
[-14:05] Allan: It’s become popular for people to become specialized in one area, so it’s hard to find people who know how to do more than one thing. I definitely think that having an understanding of the whole pipeline makes you a better artist. If you understand where your project is going, you can anticipate the needs of another artist.
Tony: We have compositors who can do modeling. We have modelers who can do simulations. The thing is, the more you do on one shot — the more involved you are in the movie.
[-12:28] Allan: Does your studio rely on a lot of custom developed tools? Or, do you work with tools that have been given?
Tony: We have some custom tools that we have already developed for each department. Eight months ago, we decided to develop a big production pipeline too, to help our artists.
[-11:52] Allan: Has previs become a big part of your workflow?
Célia: We’ve been trying to have more and more people doing previs. It’s becoming more important.
[-11:24] Allan: I’m curious about FX. With your FX department, what tools do you use?
Tony: We use the best tool in the market: Houdini. We write in it a lot. We’ve also used FumeFX. It depends on the artist and what he / she needs to do. Houdini isn’t the only way to achieve certain effects, but we started to use it a lot. It’s really powerful!
[-10:39] Allan: I love Houdini for its workflow! In some productions, it can require more time from the artists to get results. But its procedural workflow is amazing!
Tony: It’s great for set-ups.
[-10:20] Allan: Do you want to talk about some of the challenges on For Honor?
Célia: There were several challenges but we loved this project! The first one the introduction of the scene, there were a lot of special effects. The destruction was absolutely perfect. The time lapse was challenging because we had to do beautiful choreography. At the right moment, the light had to change. It was important to understand that a lot of time had passed in the story — but it had to be beautiful. Then there was the choreography of the people. It was so cool to do! But we worked directly with [Director] Damien Kieken in Canada and we were able to work with the person in charge of the fighting choreography and the actors from the game. So they all knew how to fight in that style. That’s why we had really realistic fights.
[-08:17] Allan: The Characters in Good and Evil 2 are amazing. Were there any big technology shifts you’ve done on some of these projects?
Max: Not particularly in technology but there was a lot of work. We really wanted for it to be a signature movie. There was a lot of talk about its style. I think the style is somewhere in between realistic and cartoon-like. We didn’t use any special technology.
Célia: We had to make the pig move like a human.
Tony: It’s key frame animation. There was a lot of work to make these characters realistic because [we couldn’t] find any reference. That was really hard.
Célia: We had to create new steps. We had to work on the facial rig a lot. On the pig, for example, we created new steps.
[-05:55] Allan: What are the key tools you use now, as opposed to in the beginning of your studio?
Tony: Same as before but we started to use Shotgun for production. We work to make artistic and technical stuff. Sometimes, when there is 80 percent of technical stuff, we want the artist to focus on what they’re good at — on the artistic thing. That’s why we are working on our workflow. Now we use Maya too.
[-04:33] Allan: Obviously, you get thousand of reels per day. What do you think some of the most common mistakes people make when they apply for a job?
Tony: We don’t have too much time to look at reels. Instead of a big, long reel, [we want short but well done shots].
[-03:38] Allan: Do you have any advice for people who are trying to stand out and get into the industry?
Max: Yes. If you are an animation or lighting artist, you need a good reference. If you have a good reference, half of your work is done.
[-02:57] Allan: I think it’s so critical to learn to look for reference material. Thank you for taking this time. Where would people go to find out more about your studio?
Célia: Our main website is: http://www.unit-image.fr. We’re on social media as well.
[-01:45] Allan: Thanks again for doing this! It’s been great.
Célia: Thank you so much for reaching out to us!
I want to thank Max, Tony and Célia for doing this Episode. The next Episode will be with Concept Artist Justin Goby Fields.
Please check out the Bootcamp (which you can access at any time): www.allanmckay.com/bestyearyet/. If you have any ideas on future bootcamps, please email me at email@example.com. The free training will be available until January 12th: www.allancmay.com/decay/.
Please review this Episode on iTunes.