NEXODUS was tasked with bringing some of PlayStation’s most beloved and high-profile video game characters to ESPN for an intro to the 2022 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl. Leveraging their nationwide network of high end talent, NEXODUS lined up specialists across a broad range of VFX services including post-viz, character rigging, animation, lighting, and detailed hair, fur and cloth simulation for the spot, which features Kratos from God of War, Ratchet and Clank, Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn and Nathan Drake from Uncharted.
The intro reimagined football as an epic battle, with the game characters marching through the tunnel of a football stadium into a fog of war and transforming into real-life football players. “The game makers themselves were invited to weigh in and give creative notes,” reports NEXODUS Senior CG Artist Mike Oakley, who oversaw materials, lighting and rendering for the spot. “It was really refreshing to get feedback directly from Naughty Dog, Guerrilla, Insomniac, and Santa Monica Studios — this really helped us nail down the look of their characters, and keep them authentic in the eyes of fans.”
3D assets from Sony Interactive arrived with varying levels of readiness for VFX use, and it was up to the team at NEXODUS to figure out what each of them needed. “Our first assignment was to complete the set-up for Ratchet, who is a furry, feline creature”, explains NEXODUS VFX Supervisor Matthew Steidl. “We didn’t receive Ratchet’s fur as part of his asset, so we ended up building an XGen fur system from scratch in Maya.” On the other hand, “we did receive curves for Aloy’s hair – 20,000 NURBS splines to be exact. Our brain trust of NEXODUS Houdini artists went to work on that one.”
Longtime NEXODUS production partner Artclass Content oversaw the live action shoot at a football stadium in Kansas City, supplying background plates both with and without stand-in actors. The resulting edit was turned over to NEXODUS for post-viz, equipping director Shahana Kahn with tools to explore the type of motion she wanted to see from the characters. “Part of our job is to equip client-side Producers and Directors to speak confidently to their stakeholders about the VFX in their projects,” says Steidl.
With post-viz approved, the team moved on to final animation for all of the characters. NEXODUS rigger and cloth sim expert Stephen Pavelski added a unified control system to speed up the process. “You really got a sense of how far video game characters have come in the last decade, with elegant wardrobes and hairstyles,” Pavelski says. Even so, NEXODUS went to the next level of detail for the Fiesta Bowl intro. “We get so close to these characters that you can see every wrinkle, every pore in some cases,” says NEXODUS Compositing Supervisor Frank Fieser, who composited the close ups of Aloy and Nathan Drake.
Access to a network of high-end talent enabled NEXODUS to solve a diverse set of challenges for the spot, which would otherwise have forced the production to use a traditional VFX studio rather than the more nimble in-house team approach. “We ended up using essentially the full range of techniques that go into a CG animated feature”, says Matthew Steidl. At the same time, NEXODUS was able to coordinate schedules so their specialists were only on the project when they were needed, with no requirement to keep them booked for the duration in case of changes.
The intense 3D rendering needs of the spot were handled seamlessly by the NEXODUS Cloud Platform, designed from the ground up for on-demand scalability, and the project was completed well ahead of its scheduled air date on New Year’s Day, when it was watched by over 8 million ESPN viewers. “It was a privilege to represent no less than four AAA games studios on national television,” concludes Steidl, “not to mention working with characters that many of us love from playing their games!”
Get a behind-the-scenes look
Roll over the images below for a behind-the-scenes look at our work.
Tap on the images below for a behind-the-scenes look at our work.