Delivering breathtaking cinematics for War Robots

Image courtesy of RealtimeUK

How one studio overcame the dilemma of quality versus time

When tasked with creating the War Robots trailer for Pixonic, RealtimeUK were faced with an age-old challenge, familiar to studios both small and large: 

The client needed the work delivered fast, but they wanted it to be great.

More often than not in this situation, to avoid disappointing on either front, the onus falls on the artists and supervisors to work around the clock.

On the War Robots project, UK-based CG studio RealtimeUK found a better way - one that allowed them to spend more time fine-tuning and perfecting their work, so they could deliver the stunning visuals they’ve built their reputation on.

Automating manual processes to save time

Featuring immense battle mechs fighting for territorial control in a future ravaged by nuclear warfare, RealtimeUK needed to create the cinematic for combat game War Robots from concept right through to the finish, in a matter of weeks.

As Chris Scubli, lead artist at RealtimeUK recalls, “We had to look at the most efficient way to deliver on time without compromising the visual standard we hold ourselves to. One of our recent pipeline developments had been integrating Nuke into our workflow, and that is what allowed us to bring War Robots to life in just a few weeks.” Key to this time-saving was the automation of processes that would otherwise have to be dealt with manually, taking twice as long. “Through custom Python scripting, we built a cinematic toolset in Nuke that allowed for unprecedented automation”, Chris explains.  

“The first benefit of this system is the auto-loading of passes, removing the need for manual sorting or manipulation. Nuke also reads external data to figure out how many shots there are, how long they are and where they need to output frames to at the end of the job. This allowed us to get through hundreds of render passes with the click of a button, getting a slap comp built for us procedurally.”

The upshot? Artists were able to spend more time putting those all-important finishing touches on the visuals, and less time doing the labor-intensive manual work.

Fighting robots trailer for Pixonic

Harnessing nodes to increase efficiency

One of the core benefits of opting for a node-based compositing approach is the sheer flexibility and power it affords, as RealtimeUK discovered.

“We separated our renders into key elements, such as mech, environment, mattes, and so on. Let's focus on one of these for example: each mech in the trailer had a master build in a group node in Nuke” says Chris.

“This way, changes were instantly propagated down throughout the whole project. We still had the liberty to focus on one shot at a time and refine elements within that individually where needed.”

The implications of this for the project as a whole are not lost on Chris, “The fact that Nuke is so easy to customize and the power of its node system have been an incredible boost to our efficiency.”

Streamlining the client review process

Traditionally, the client review process has loomed large as a potentially time-consuming stage for any project. Being able to collaborate and share effectively can make the differences between days of review, or weeks.

Chris explains how they managed to work more efficiently in this stage of production, allowing them to complete the project on schedule, “Once the comp was assembled at this stage, we could already see the entire trailer from start to finish, with internal and client feedback being very easy to implement. Effects such as smoke and explosions came in afterwards, on a per-shot basis.”

“The whole team worked together in unison to deliver within the allocated time frame, but it was thanks to Nuke and its inherent robustness that we had a smooth ride during the latter half of production on the War Robots trailer.”

Nuke for compositing on War Robots cinematic trailer
War Robots, CGI and visual effects fighting robots

The bigger picture

RealtimeUK is a relatively small studio in terms of the amount of staff they employ - but you wouldn’t have guessed looking at their showreel.

It boasts world-class game cinematics for brands such as Microsoft, Hi-Rez Studios, Tencent, SEGA, Amazon and Wargaming.

Part of the reason smaller studios can take on work for clients like these is the availability of tools such as Nuke, which can be integrated into any studio’s workflow, regardless of size.

As Chris points out: “Studio size shouldn’t factor in your choice of using Nuke. It’s a powerful compositing tool that integrates easily into any pipeline. We decided to move to Nuke due to its powerful node system [and because Nuke] let us automate many processes involved in compositing, allowing artists to spend more time fine-tuning shots, instead of building everything from scratch every time.”

The ramifications of this for a project can be huge: “Split amongst our team, we’ve probably saved hundreds of work hours on our projects by going to Nuke for our compositing and finishing” says Chris.

And for the studio as a business, the implications of adopting tools that save significant amounts of time and effort can be even more profound, as Chris points out: “It allows for the budget to be spent more evenly across other departments, and the artists produce high quality work faster; meaning more projects can be tackled than previously possible.”

Want to try out Nuke for yourself? Get a free trial here!

If you’re more used to using a layer-based compositing tool like After Effects, you can learn how to switch to node-based compositing by watching these videos.