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Japanese animation studio Graphinica, Inc., creators of innovative TV and cinema animation productions, set out to discover whether it’s possible to produce theater-quality anime using real-time rendering. We collaborated with the studio to develop a proof of concept, then shared the results at Unite Tokyo.

Graphinica, Inc. has been producing 2D and 3D animation projects for more than a decade, handling most of the production in-house. This September, the studio released the animated film HELLO WORLD to theaters across Japan.

The majority of the film was made using traditional pre-rendering techniques, although the studio also used Unity tools to create backgrounds for scenes where the main character dives into a virtual space. This enabled the animation team to iterate faster, according to Nao Hirasawa, Graphinica’s managing director. “The speedy trial-and-error enabled by real-time rendering software is indispensable for meeting increasing consumer demand for high-quality films delivered in a timely fashion.” 

Even before the film was released, the team wondered whether they could use Unity’s real-time tools for more challenging scenes involving extremely complicated rigs, cinema-quality high meshes, and precisely controlled shadows, while still achieving the same theatrical quality.

Nao Hirasawa at Unite Tokyo.

To make it work, Graphinica teamed up with Unity Technologies engineers. The teams planned a proof of concept exercise to reproduce scenes from HELLO WORLD – but this time, with real-time rendering using animation production tools currently in development. 

This project mainly involved implementing two technologies: real-time ray tracing and shadow effect technology, specialized for limited animation. The latter technology, Raytraced Hard Shadow, made it possible for Graphinica to produce the same level of high-quality, highly accurate, pre-rendered anime-style shadow effects in real-time.

Technology for outputting complex high-mesh data from digital content creation (DCC) tools for real-time replay in Unity also played an important role. The VertexCache feature added to MeshSync, a live link for connecting to DCC tools, helped create a workflow for importing animations with complex rigs directly from DCC tools into Unity.

Watch the demo Graphinica presented at Unite Tokyo to learn how they used Unity to recreate scenes at theatre quality.

“Unity holds a lot of potential for improving the production process by smoothing out coordination between creators and engineers,” said Hirasawa.

Real-time solutions for the Japanese anime style

Hiroki Omae, Regional Director of Unity in Japan, said: “This is just the first step by Unity towards creating tech for Japanese anime, and we’ll definitely continue developing these tools.” 

Take a look at the session from this year’s Unite Tokyo Keynote, where Graphinica walked through the experiment, the solution, and the before-and-afters.

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  1. I hate 3D anime, and I am not the only one.
    They feel uninspired, they look stiff, they are artificial characters and it shows. At least characters must be drawn by hand. Scenery in 3D with cell shading is OK.

  2. There is some cool tech here!
    Wonder if this Raytraced Hard Shadow will be integrated on “default” Unity. Looks awesome for some sylized looks!