Blur Studio on The Elder Scrolls Online cinematic

Located in Venice, California, Blur Studio has a vast experience in VFX, animation, game cinematics, TV entertainment, commercials and trailers. Remember the title sequence to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? (You don't? Check it out by clicking the link.)

Watch The Elder Scrolls Online - The Alliances Cinematic Trailer

After watching this truly awesome cinematic, that's got fantastic CG characters and scenery, cool VFX and animation, and more werewolves and extendable wooden ladders than you could shake a stick at, we caught up with Blur Studio's Senior CG supervisor Jerome Denjean to ask him some technical details...

Q: What 3D software did you use?
The Blur pipeline revolves around 3ds Max for layout, modeling, lighting and rendering; and Softimage XSI for rigging and animation.

We also use a combination of ZBrush, Mudbox and Mari for modeling and texturing, V-Ray 2.0 for rendering and Eyeon's Digital Fusion for compositing.

Our software suite is fairly straightforward, even though we rely heavily on our own scripts and extra programs to boost their capabilities and fit our needs.

A Nord. An inhabit the northern province of Skyrim. While the character seen here looks fearsomely awesome, the jury’s still out on what quality the gameplay will be

Q: What was the most useful piece of software and why?
It's difficult to point at any one piece of software in particular since each department has different needs.

Max, XSI and Fusion remain the backbone to our production pipeline at Blur. However, this large Elder Scrolls campaign required us to elevate our creation of CG hair, and we made big strides in our hair system.

We switched to the newest version of Ornatrix, used in combination with V-Ray 2.0, to achieve some really spectacular results.

All the previous systems we've used either had a separate render engine for the hair - which always created a whole host of problems with matting, lighting, compositing, etc - or would create geometry at render time, which would create insane amounts of polygons and lots of aliasing issues.

Ornatrix and V-Ray can now render hair strands as splines at render time, which allowed us to render our characters and their hair in the same pass and using the same GI lighting solution. This proved to be a tremendous time saver on characters with long hair and dozens of braids, like the Nord and the Elf.

As Ornatrix and V-Ray can render hair strands as splines, Blur Studios could render characters and their hair in the same pass and using the same GI lighting solution – saving loads of time

Q: What was the biggest technical challenge?
The main technical challenge for Blur these days is being able render everything without bringing our machines to their knees.

To streamline production we strive to render as many elements together as possible because it's the fastest way to achieve realistic results with V-Ray.

This minimizes the risk of inferior results trying to reconstruct various passes during compositing.

“Our scenes have become very complex over the years, rendering million-poly characters with fine render time displacement and hair, on top of multi-million poly environments with displacement.”

It is imperative to have enough RAM in each workstation and rendering machine because we're trying to access gigabytes of texture maps.

This means that it is important that the artists give careful attention to complicated shots with lots of assets to see where they can lower the texture settings without sacrificing overall image quality.

Q: Can you talk us through a key scene?

I'm proud to say, I think people would be surprised at how deceptively simple our setups are nowadays at Blur.

Five or six years ago we could produce elaborate breakdowns of simple shots into hundreds of passes all cleverly composited back together.

It's still somewhat true when we deal with cartoony or stylized projects, but I find that the key to a realistic project like Elder Scrolls is to spend most of your time inside the 3D package.

We spent lots of time and attention making sure our characters look terrific, then lots of time perfecting our environments and making sure our lighting made everything shine. The following images break down a few shots.

These smart setups allow us to work on multiple shots simultaneously. The following is a compositing file containing 10 final shots, that can be globally updated, perfected and rendered at the touch of a button.

About the interviewee: Born in Lyon France, Jerome Denjean has been in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years. He joined Blur Studio in 2003 as a character modeler and lighter/compositor, and worked his way up the ranks to Senior CG supervisor for dozens of game cinematics, commercials and film effects. Some of his most notable projects include the Warhammer Online and Dark Souls 2 game cinematics, or the recent opening credits for the feature blockbuster David Fincher's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."