For the first time, video games and motion pictures converge to unleash a new reality in Columbia Pictures/Square Pictures' Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
The first Final Fantasy set on Earth, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within emerges from its successful interactive game roots to deliver an exciting new breed of motion picture adventure. Representing a fresh take on the sci-fi genre, the film blends spiritual underpinnings and the universal concerns of man vs. nature with the energy of the digital gaming medium and the scope of the motion picture environment. Final Fantasy game creator Hironobu Sakaguchi's vision now comes to the big screen-a feast of concept, motion, design and imagination with all-new characters embarking on an all-new adventure.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within represents the continuing evolution of the synergy between gaming and cinema. It is the next creative step from the trendsetting Final Fantasy game series, which has sold more than 33 million units worldwide and ranks as one of the most popular interactive game franchises of all time. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within realizes the dream of Hironobu Sakaguchi, the acclaimed visionary creator of the role-playing interactive entertainment series, to take the latest in computer graphic technology and the best artists in the world to create a brand new form of entertainment.
"I have always wanted to create a new form of entertainment that fuses the technical wizardry of interactive games with the sensational visual effects of motion pictures," says Sakaguchi. "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within takes us one step closer to that dream. "
"The Final Fantasy game series is renowned for creating genuinely touching characters and relationships and for always leaving players wanting more. Each installment has started anew with fresh characters and storylines in order to present a self-contained and uncomplicated story.That's the philosophy that Sakaguchi brought to the movie as well," says Chris Lee, one of the film's producers.
"This is the first time that the movie has been created by the creator of the game, in the medium of the game," he continues. "What gamers have come to love about Final Fantasy is that Sakaguchi always raises the bar in terms of the images he produces and the storylines he creates. Those are the same standards that were applied to making this movie."
"This is a chance to tell a great human story with a completely different medium. Only Sakaguchi would have the vision to take what he had learned in gaming and apply it to the motion picture process," says Lee.
"The movie, however, does not retell a particular story from any of the nine versions of the Final Fantasy interactive game," explains Chris Lee. "Just as each of the games has consistently told a new story about a new group of characters, the film presents an all-new storyline and characters. "
Each game and the film are originated from Final Fantasy's rich storytelling tradition and underlying themes of love, friendship, dreams, epic adventure, life and death, with a spiritual backdrop. The film expands upon territory familiar to those who have known the games-the concept of creating an ultimate fantasy story about life and death.
"While capturing the kind of excitement, energy and integrity presented in the phenomenally successful game series, the film's subject matter and plot appeals not just to gamers but to a wide audience of moviegoers," said Lee.
This summer, fantasy becomes reality in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within.
Columbia Pictures presents a Square Pictures production of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Hironobu Sakaguchi directs from an original screenplay written by Al Reinert and Jeff Vintar. Story by Sakaguchi. Hironobu Sakaguchi co-directs. The film features the voices of actors Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Peri Gilpin, Ming-Na, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland and James Woods, among others. Sakaguchi, Jun Aida and Chris Lee are producers.
The film's creative team includes director of photography Motonori Sakakibara, animation director Andy Jones and conceptual director Tani Kunitake.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for sci-fi action violence.
Final Fantasy: The Story
Universal themes meet a new kind of storytelling
Like much of classic science-fiction, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within takes the universal concerns of man vs. nature and borrows from some Eastern philosophies-strong mythological themes like the idea that Earth and all living beings have a spirit ("Gaia") which can be injured or destroyed.
"What is fantasy?" says Sakaguchi, posing one of the questions that serves as a linchpin of his story. "Is it a genre, a structure, a state of mind or a technique? Fantasy invokes wonder by making the impossible seem familiar and the familiar seem new and strange. Experiencing fantasy, we explore the unknown. Fantasy gives a comprehensible form to the basic questions around life and death, good and evil, mystery and magic"
"In Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within," he continues, "the stage is Earth in the future, where scientific advances during the second millennium have allowed the mysteries of life and death to be analyzed as never before. In order to express these subjects to the audience, we took a different approach in depicting 'life,' using a virtual platform. "
In developing the screenplay, blending the screenwriters' American sensibility with Sakaguchi's Japanese approach to storytelling presented challenges. "We had to fit these two philosophies together," says screenwriter Al Reinert. "Sakaguchi would stand at a blackboard and draw pictures; he's a very visual guy. It wasn't like writing any other movie I've ever worked on. "
"It's a very emotional story. It's about how we're all part of a whole. It's very much in keeping with Sakaguchi's philosophy, which is really a strong part of the success of the Final Fantasy game series," says Chris Lee. "The games already employ a cinematic way of telling a story. "
Says Sakaguchi: "I wanted to create a visual story about the emotion of the 'heart' and its existence at life's most basic level-survival. This film will set the viewer on an exciting voyage of personal discovery, focusing on the spiritual and philosophical aspect of 'life,'. "
Final Fantasy: Concept
The film born from a video game
Video gaming is a $20 billion a year industry and prepares to enter what promises to be the biggest and most lucrative cycle in its 20-year history.
There is no better evidence of this phenomenon than the international blockbuster successes of the Final Fantasy game series which continued with its ninth title released in November 2000. Sakaguchi conceived the project and watched over every stage of the development of the game series. His Final Fantasy is the unchallenged leader among interactive role-playing games and is largely responsible for the tremendous growth of these kinds of RPG titles.
The first game in the series was introduced in 1987, and instantly appealed to game enthusiasts because of high production values and the sheer joy of playing the game. Square then produced and released six more versions during the decade that followed, but it was the release of Final Fantasy VIII for the Sony PlayStation system in 1999 that rewrote the record books in the interactive entertainment industry. Achieving a new high level of animation and graphics sophistication drove game VIII to record sales; 2 million units sold on the first day of release in Japan and eventually an amazing 6. 5 million units sold worldwide.
The level of CG animation in these games is already extremely sophisticated; recent months have provided the most competitive as well as most innovative period in the entire history of 3-D graphics and animation software. Performance of computer workstations and software are evolving at warpspeed, setting the stage for a new generation of films and filmmakers waiting to happen.
"It's a natural progression to bring this style of animation to a feature-length motion picture," says Chris Lee. "Final Fantasy brings this goal to life as the first film with an entire cast of hyper-realistic computer-generated human characters, the ultimate integration of real-world images, human characters and fantasies into a complex 3-D space on the screen. "
As a century of filmmaking via traditional techniques drew to a close, it was inevitable that new innovative methods of motion picture production would emerge, propelled by freshly imaginative screenwriting and direction, blazing-fast computer technology and brilliant computer graphic artists. It was the goal of the filmmakers for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within to harness this lightning in a bottle.
"Most people don't realize the power and impact of videogaming on popular culture, and on moviemaking," says Lee. "Video games impact on three aspects of moviemaking-structure (time shifts, levels, parallel worlds), aesthetic (CGI), storytelling (collecting)."
"We owe much of the unconventional storytelling of films like Matrix, the (1999) and Mummy, the (1999) to video games as we do conventional moviemaking," says Lee. "Digital characters abound in films now, and they are very lifelike. Today's kids are really past flat animation, and I think that has to do with the fact that they're brought up not just with movies, not just with television, but with video games. The synergies are already there."
"I saw a prototype of PlayStation 2," adds Lee, "and I figured we'd either get crushed by this future or become a part of it. "
"It's quite revolutionary in both its execution and its appearance," says Lee of the film. "Here, there's no disconnect between reality and the computer-generated images. Here, the characters and the world all inhabit the same reality. "
"Years ago, when the motion picture project was just in its infancy, few except gaming industry insiders knew about Square Pictures." Recalls screenwriter Al Reinert, "My friends thought I was crazy for taking this job. They didn't know who these people were. They had never heard of them. And I didn't have anything that I could show them to say, 'look how cool it's gonna look!'"
"But you knew how good they were," he continues. "You knew they were going to create the best animation in the world. "
"There were a lot of complications," explains Aida, "and you could ask if it wouldn't have been easier to shoot it as live-action. But we tried to set new standards and establish a new genre of feature films-it is not our intention to compete with live-action films."
Final Fantasy: The Characters
The story of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within revolves around an ensemble of seven key characters:
The heroine of this digital journey is the beautiful Aki Ross (voiced by Ming-Na). A brilliant scientist and compassionate physician, she is sensitive, intuitive, articulate, as well as focused and driven. When she is infested with one of the alien creatures, she becomes somewhat mysterious and withdrawn as she struggles to comprehend and overcome the alien torment within her. Resolute and cautiously optimistic, she searches for answers.
Gray Edwards (voiced by Alec Baldwin) is a military Captain and leader of the elite Deep Eyes Squadron which patrols the vast restricted wasteland overrun by alien creatures. He is determined, focused, intrepid and valiant. A loyal soldier, effective leader, and trustworthy friend, he lets his conscience guide him.
The brains behind the wave theory, Dr. Sid (voiced by Donald Sutherland) is a scientific genius. Balanced and wise, he doesn't let his ego into the lab. He is a dedicated and imaginative thinker. His relationship to Aki is that of a collaborator, mentor, and father figure. Sid is confident, adept, an authentic visionary with a sense of humor.
General Hein (voiced by James Woods), a futuristic version of General Patton, is afflicted with hubris and a firm belief in the rightness of his cause. Intelligent and single-minded, he is partly fueled by a thirst for revenge. His family was lost in the initial alien invasion. He is, first and foremost, a soldier. He is arrogant and stubborn, skilled and driven.
Second in command to Captain Edwards, Master Sergeant Ryan Whittaker (voiced by Ving Rhames) is the glue that holds the Deep Eyes squad together. He is nothing if not loyal. Gray Edwards' best friend, Whittaker is irreverent, accessible, brave, and true.
An integral member of the Deep Eyes force, Jane Proudfoot (voiced by Peri Gilpin) is determined and intelligent. She is quick to action, quick to anger, but ready to play. She is proud and principled and when the circumstances require it, she makes the ultimate sacrifice for her compatriots.
Neil Fleming (voiced by Steve Buscemi) is The Deep Eyes unit's resident geek. He's the one with the brainpower and the dexterity to muscle out of most jams. He's also sarcastic and potentially pessimistic. Ultimately, he is reliable and dedicated, an integral member of the team.
Final Fantasy: The Production
Nearly four years was spent researching, developing, and creating Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Once production was up and running, the speed, flexibility and quality of content creation quickly reached new levels.
For Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, the digital backlot was not in Hollywood, but in Honolulu. Square's Honolulu-based studio was where 200 of the world's top graphic artists and exceptionally creative animators worked on the hottest SGI (Silicon Graphic Ink) machines and CG software available to forge new frontiers in digital content creation.
"Square selected Honolulu because of its centralized location in the Pacific," explains Jun Aida. "This enabled us to maximize the most creative and experienced talent from all over the world. "
The studio gathered its prestigious talent from 22 different countries, including Hollywood, Tokyo and Europe. There were artists who worked on Godzilla (1998), Titanic (1997) and Toy Story (1995), some former Disney animators, and a conceptual director who labored on Matrix, the (1999) among other films. Security cameras mounted next to doors that opened only by coded electronic key protected the top secret project during production.
Next to the beautiful Pacific Ocean, with palm trees rustling in the tropical breezes and a 180-degree view of sea and surf that stretches all the way from Honolulu International Airport to Diamond Head, the studio where Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within came to life occupied several floors of Harbor Court, in downtown Honolulu. Specializing in film production and employing close to 200 people, the studio came well-equipped with state-of-the-art computers and software.
Another part of the Square studio was located in the shadow of the familiar Honolulu landmark known as Diamond Head. Here, at the Hawaii Film Studio's production facility, specially trained staff members spent hours working in customized body suits, bringing a unique physical personality to the series of complicated and realistic action sequences in the film.
Final Fantasy: The Visual Effects
The Alchemy of art and high-tech
Times Square crumbles in the dark, burnt to near extinction, but elsewhere huge force barriers hold back the alien army. As death lies in ambush like a shadow, Aki searches for the miraculous, believing that human values of courage, dedication and love can ultimately save our planet Earth
This isn't taking place on a soundstage
Welcome to today's digital backlot-where computer graphics and animation have reached the point of creating motion picture imagery that enables viewers to experience the excitement of the fantasy like never before.
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within draws upon many traditional cinematic strong points-a compelling science-fiction story, attractive heroes, adrenaline-pumping action, exotic settings and myths, even a love story. But it is the development of new computer graphic techniques and technology that allows the artists to achieve the highest degree of unprecedented realism.
"By using CGI in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, we were able to be innovative in using various camera angles, lighting and special effects on the action scenes. But most important, we were able to create a computer-generated human character. That's the CG artist's dream," says Sakaguchi.
The filmmakers and artists put extensive effort into developing their own, one-of-a-kind software to bring the film to life. "Since this is something no one had ever done before, I couldn't just hire people to show us how to do it. We had to create the software," says Jun Aida. "Other studios have never done hyperRealistic human actors, so there was no 'right' approach. So again, we had to set those new standards. "
"In the case of Final Fantasy, we had to do everything from scratch," adds Chris Lee. "That's one of the things that sets this film apart from other attempts to do this kind of computer animation. "
"Anyone who's watched a badly dubbed movie and seen bad performances knows the difference between what is an engaging character and what isn't. The difference for us is having people like Alec Baldwin, Ming-Na, Steve Buscemi and Ving Rhames to power our characters. "
After the dialogue was recorded, the scenes were then played out at the Diamond Head studio during the process known as motion capture.
During motion capture, a staff member wearing a skin-tight black costume laced with 37 reflective markers simulated true-to-life human motions in the scenes. Sixteen specialized cameras, each silently and rapidly blinking a red light, were connected to computer screens for motion capture. Huge speakers played a pre-recorded voice track.
The capture-each and every bit of action recorded-was electronically sent back to the programmers at Harbor Court. The result of the scene is a 3-D stick figure that matches the staff members' movements. This is just one of a series of complex computer graphic procedures that the artists reference to create the finished feature film.
The heroine of the story, Aki, like all characters, was entirely built on the computer, in one particular camera view. Aki has since taken on a life of her own, even gracing a photo spread in an issue of Maxim and appearing in Entertainment Weekly's "It" issue, on stands June 25.
The most time-consuming and render-intensive part of Aki is her hair. There are 60,000 hairs on Aki's head, and the computer has to look at each one. The software to create Aki's hair, which also determines how the hair looks and moves, was written in-house because existing software to create long hair was inadequate. Lights are then positioned in the computer to allow the hair to interact with it.
An artist first sculpted Aki's face in three dimensions. She is then rendered in 'wire frame mode,' in which a three-dimensional wire frame is superimposed over a sketched drawing of the character. The wire frame becomes the character's skeleton and allows animators to give it lifelike movement and form. The spike in Aki's head is actually her 'spine,' which simulates real bone and moves like real bone.
Second, the frame is then given a skin, which is known as 'shaded mode. ' In the third step, texture mapping adds lighting, texture, detail, shadow, and reflections in the eyes, imperfections and other details. Freckles, pores and other details are then added by handpainting on the computer. No digitizing of a real person or scanning of human skin was done to create these authentic human characteristics-it is all made from scratch on the computer.
A costume is separately rendered and layered on top of the form. Technical directors spent months ripping up clothes and learning to sew in order to faithfully render the hangs and creases of fabric in motion.
Most of the film's designers worked in high-ceilinged rooms behind windows that had been draped in black cloth to prevent glare on the two or three monitors crowded before them. On any given day in the studio, one might see hundreds of hand-drawn storyboards taped to walls everywhere, workstation screens abuzz, some designers handpainting fine details-such as skin textures and hair for the human characters-others building vehicles, battlefields and futuristic weapons in cyberspace.
The accurate rendering of skin colors and textures and facial expressions, as well as hair details and clothing wrinkles as each character moves about, presented enormous challenges which needed to be answered by special solutions. Again, the programmers at Square wrote their own software tools. Artists often went through hundreds of transformations and refinements as they labored on renderings for the film's many characters, each of which has a full range of motion and rich facial expressions.
"Technically, the natural human facial expressions were the most difficult aspect," explains Sakaguchi. "Unlike bringing inanimate objects to life, it is an extreme challenge to simulate human movement, hair and clothing, because our eyes are naturally critical toward human movements-we observe them everyday."
"An audience knows when it's false," adds Chris Lee. "That was the challenge for our artists, to be able to replicate that on a computer. None of us are saying that we're making photo-real people. It is true, however, that we have created technology to expand the envelope of what is possible. "
"Those little details are extremely difficult to animate because if they're done wrong, they look really weird and automatically pop out as something strange. It's important to get the timing of the word being said and the expression on the face right," says Andy Jones.
Sakaguchi points out one advantage of using computer-generated performers: "Our 'actors,'" he says with a smile, "are always willing to work on time and take direction. "
"My goal was to create a film in which each scene embodies our artists' spirit," says Hironobu Sakaguchi. "To express a human's spirit is expressing 'life' itself. "
Screenwriter Al Reinert puts it more simply: "It's gonna look like no movie you ever saw before. "