Give Life to 2D

User Case Study: NAMCO BANDAI Games

(Interview article by CGWORLD)


"Pushing the boundaries of 2D computer graphics"




The team

LEFT: Tomokazu Fukazawa, Producer, NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.
CENTER: Keitaro Yoshida, Director, Felistella
RIGHT: Chie Iwagaki, Graphic Designer, Felistella 02

After 6 years since the previous title, Summon Night, an RPG franchise, has released its fifth title 'Summon Night 5'. The newly released PSP game takes advantage of 3DCG for its gameplay while heavily integrating Live2D for storytelling. We (CGWORLD) went behind the scenes to see how Live2D came to take such a big part of the game.

Pushing the boundaries of 2D computer graphics

The characters illustrated by Takeshi Iizuka are what has won the franchise a lasting popularity among royal fans. "The fans were excited when they heard that the new title would feature a technology that allows the original illustrations to move and express emotions exactly as drawn" said the game producer Fukazawa.

Live2D is a CG animation tool that lets creators build a virtual 2D model composed of raster texture assets and flat polygons mapped on top for defining motions. It is a radically different approach to animation as compared with the traditional 3DCG modeling, but it has strongly appealed to those creators and consumers favoring 2D graphics over 3DCG, particularly in the gaming industry.

NAMCO BANDAI Games is one of the game publishers who has aggressively employed the technology and released many Live2D-powered titles. With Summon Night 5, the company took a step even further and tried something completely new, which was to integrate nearly 50 Live2D-modeled characters and to render multiple characters simultaneously in a single screen.

Even with such an intensive use of Live2D, the team sees a bigger potential in the technology as the developer Yoshida mentioned; "We actually produced more Live2D content than what actually went into the game. We had to surrender some parts due to the PSP's weak hardware specs. We are planning to make greater use of Live2D for dynamic action in the future".

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Some of 50 characters turned into Live2D models.

Precise control over the smallest details

The team was considering to use Live2D since the initial phase of the project. "What made us go with Live2D was the freedom in expression and precise control over details. Live2D allows us to visualize desired look on desired part of desired pose and create desired inbetweens" said Yoshida.

To practice how to use Live2D, the team began by modeling its own mascot character, instead of going straight to the game characters. "It took about two weeks to understand the whole process of modeling and animation. Having the background in 2D graphics, our staff found a natural affinity with the software" said the designer Iwagaki.


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Topic1: Setting up an illustration for modeling

Separate and re-compose textures based on motion:
The modeling process began with breaking up the original illustrations by Iizuka. "Each moving part needs to be separated and prepared individually. So the amount it takes to set up a model depends on how much details and variations you want the character to contain in itself" Iwagaki mentioned. Left image shows a set of textures separated from the original illustration. Facial textures are enlarged to make the model look sharp on a low-res screen of PSP to help players focus on the face (Yoshida). After mapping polygons on top of each texture, textures are placed back to the original position to compose a Live2D model (shown right).


Harmony between rich illustration and rich animation

With the project going forward, three staff were assignedto operate Live2D software (Cubism Editor). "We were able to learn the software and started producing Live2D content by ourselves" said Iwagaki. After mastering the software, it took an artist, on average, about three days to set up a model and another one or two days to animate the model depending on complexity of the model.

The learning curve of the software seemed to have contributed the quality of the game. "The original illustrations are superb in the first place, and we feel that we created synergy between the beautiful illustrations and using Live2D at its full potential, adding so much to the character expression and the entire gaming experience" said Yoshida.


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Topic2: Setting up a model for animation

Ability to control inbetweens:
After setting up textures, deform the textures based on given angle, emotion, expression, or any other variable qualities you want the model to possess. Top left image is a key pose defined as a start point, and bottom right defined as an end point. Inbetweens are automatically generated, but you can also manually edit any specific part of inbetween. "Most key poses are the original illustrations by Iizuka, but being true to every key pose sometimes appear wrong in animation, in which case, I tackled the exact part to make it look right" (Iwagaki)


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Project Summary

Publisher: NAMCO BANDAI Games Inc.
Project Title: SUMMON NIGHT 5
Genre: RPG
Game Platform(s): PlayStation Portable
Release Date: 2013.5.16