Final Fantasy XIV is the best game in the
series to date, thanks to its expansions that quite literally expand the world, the relatable
cast, and a Guinness World Record sized soundtrack that never skimps on the creativity. But during
mainstream marketing for these expansions, they rarely take the opportunity to actually
show off the game. This has been a big complaint at E3 where
games would get announced, show off flashy pre-rendered trailers and then say “Please
get excited”, I mean… what even is DeathLoop? But even with that said, these complaints
are seldom directed at Square Enix, and that’s for one very good reason. It’s because the
Visuals Work. Other companies often ask outside contractors
to create these sort of pre-rendered trailers, for instance, that Deathloop trailer wasn’t
created at Arkane Studios, it was done by an animation team in Glasgow, Scotland. But
Square Enix has the advantage of being able to produce incredible pre-rendered works in
their own in-house animation studio, Square Enix Visual Works. These are industry leaders, with the studio
built in a way that they can invite game directors to explain their vision, and then create something
fantastic from that. Not only are they a phenomenal studio in terms of creativity, but in technology
as well with stunningly detailed environments and accomplished motion capture work. You
can really get a sense of that in the recently revealed Final Fantasy 7 Remake opening movie
that they created. But for 14 fans, this is a team that specialises
in larger-than life combat, incredible vistas, and realistic motion that never abandons its
artistic influences. But wasn’t always like that. Visual Works cutscenes are the result of decades
of trials and magnificent error. They started out as a group of budding CG
artists on Final Fantasy VII, ambitiously creating a whole bunch of cutscenes for the
game. And this ambition continued, with Square Enix opting to create a film, titled Final
Fantasy: The Spirits Within with super realistic graphics. They even set up an entire studio
in Hawaii for it and didn’t even bother to apply for local grants. They absolutely
believed in hyper-realism as the future of animation. TRAILER: Nothing you’ve seen… TRAILER: Nothing you’ve experienced… TRAILER: Can prepare you… TRAILER: For where the next evolution in reality… TRAILER: Will take you… And it flopped. Hard. The investment in Square
Pictures wasn’t just for one film, but was meant to be an entirely new venture for the
company alongside games. The team’s obsession with realism has been noted as one of the
reasons for the film’s lack of appeal. And it’s this failure that marks Visual Works’
current direction. Kazuyuki Ikumori made sure of that. He started out his career as a pixel
artist at Square Enix before learning CG for Final Fantasy VII and VIII where he was involved
in the backgrounds. From Final Fantasy X-II, he’s been asked to direct the cutscenes
for several Final Fantasy games, and in 2008, he was made Chief Creative Director and General
Manager of the Visual Works subsidiary. As a Square Enix CG artist, he’d survived
the layoffs that surrounded the Spirits Within and seen how the company had to entirely reform
just to keep on moving. And so when speaking about the current direction for the Visual
Works team, he says “We learned from The Spirits Within and made sure not to repeat
history, so we went with the opposite direction of Square Pictures.” This has meant that
while they’ve worked to make some elements realistic, they don’t see it as a crutch.
In the words of Final Fantasy XV, it’s a fantasy based on reality. Ikumori believes
that CG should be a balance between technology and art, and you can absolutely see that in
his work. Ikumori has directed all the Final Fantasy XIV trailers himself, and you can
see his philosophy throughout. For example, these are excellent realistic run animations
with an immersive shaky POV camera, but as soon as they reach the Warrior of Light, the
rules of time and space go out of the window and are replaced with the golden rule of,
“What would be cool?” A Visual Works trailer or cutscene is fairly
straightforward in regards to CG creation. First, the game’s director or producer will
write a script of all of the sort of things that will happen in the video. Sometimes they’ll
have reference materials, sometimes they don’t, and the Visual Works team will have to find
their own. From here, they will start brainstorming, creating concept art and eventually a storyboard.
And now they split off into teams. An animation team, an asset team and a VFX team. First,
the animation team will create a pre-visualisation, giving everyone a good idea of what’s going
on. Meanwhile, the asset team are working on creating the objects and backgrounds to
fill scenes, as well as modelling and rigging the characters, ready to be animated. Part of the animation team’s work is also
motion capture. Animators at Visual Works have full access to the motion capture studio
and in most cases, they will perform themselves. This means that an animator can be working
on a scene, go to the motion capture studio, do some moves, and then go back up and tweak
it. Visual Works doesn’t adhere too closely to reality though, so the motion capture is
used more as a base than as a representation of the final product. And of course, not all
scenes use motion capture. Once animation is completed, the VFX team
will take over. This is the part where it becomes recognisable as a Visual Works piece.
The team will composite layers together, bring in assets, and create the lighting and visual
effects. A special focus is always given to the characters and game worlds that represent
these IP. So for instance, Final Fantasy XIV fans care a lot about the worlds and costumes,
so you’ll see a lot of special attention paid to them. And this leads us straight into the relationship
between Ikumori and Final Fantasy XIV director Naoki Yoshida, both of whom are people who
strive for coolness in their work, but find each other both impressing and annoying at
the same time. And that’s kind of ideal. The goal for an expansion trailer is twofold.
It must show off some of what we can expect to see, including new areas, mechanics and
perhaps a new job or two, while also being cinematically exciting. These will form the
main part of the marketing push for each expansion, hoping to grow a playerbase that’s already
more than 18 million. It’s not only the trailer as well. The assets from this will
often be used for marketing materials and posters that need to look good enough to be
displayed on large billboards and trucks. It’s a lot of pressure to get right. This process starts about a year off from
the release of the trailer Because this process is so early in development, it relies on these two constantly communicating
and arguing their creative vision. And things can change. The dragons in the teaser trailer
for Heavensward were all white, but after pretty much everything was already done, Yoshida
rocks up and asks them to change all the dragons to red. It’s stuff like this that Ikumori refers to
as a headache, but Yoshida is far from the only person who does this. He once talked
about how when developers come to Visual Works, there’s often very little reference material
and rarely any explanation of how magic systems work. When he asks for more details, he finds
that he is often told “Just make something that looks cool!” and then the developers
will use Visual Works’ ideas in the final game. It’s part of the job though, and thankfully
the Visual Works team are creative enough to get it done anyways. For instance, the
first FFXIV trailer has players fight a Morbol together. In the script, this was just “Players
fight a monster”, so Ikumori had a lot of creative freedom. Likewise, the script for
A Realm Reborn’s End of An Era just states “Call upon the power of the Twelve and attempt
to seal Bahamut again”, so Visual Works had to come up with this elaborate magic circle,
as well as create this barrier with 37 separate VFX layers based on simple sentences. The result are trailers that are watched and
enjoyed by millions of people all over the world and stand as a testament to the skill
and creativity of Visual Works, the Final Fantasy XIV team and composer Masayoshi Soken
as well, who works tirelessly to make sure these scenes resonate musically. Final Fantasy
XIV has a bright future, and it’s a future that will look and sound fantastic. Thanks for watching The Canipa Effect. I’d
like to give a special thanks to all of these viewers for supporting the channel, in particular
I’d like to thank Austin Hardwicke, Chariotwheel, deadermeat, Frog-kun, Jacob Bosley,, JRPictures,
Mike Tamburelli, my own mother, Noland Soga, ShiShi and Thatjuanartist. If you’d like to join them in supporting the channel, please visit Patreon.com/TheCanipaEffect