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FFXIV Backstage Investigators (No. 8): VFX Artist Takayasu Ishii

Hello everyone, this is Miyamiya from the Promotional team!

FFXIV Backstage Investigators is a blog series that share behind-the-scenes stories from the team members who work on all aspects of FFXIV.

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The subject of our eighth interview is...

VFX Artist Takayasu Ishii!

Visual effects, often abbreviated as VFX, refers to in-game imagery that enhances the game's expressiveness and vibrance in ways that wouldn't be possible in the real world. For this interview, we'll be going backstage to learn about how VFX are created!

20220421_mm_02.png ▲ A screenshot of the character Mr. Ishii uses during development. He's a long-time "colleague" to Mr. Ishii, who's been using the same character since A Realm Reborn!

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Miyamiya: To begin, could you tell us about what you worked on before you joined the FFXIV development team?

Ishii: I originally worked for an animation production company, where I created composite shots (the process of merging multiple 3DCG or 2D art assets into one). My experiences there led to an interest in visual effects for games. Square Enix was the first company that came to mind when it came to graphical design, so I joined in 2007. After joining the company, I worked in various teams including those for DISSIDIA FINAL FANTASY, DISSIDIA 012 FINAL FANTASY, FINAL FANTASY CRYSTAL CHRONICLES: The Crystal Bearers, and FINAL FANTASY Type-0. After building up experience through those titles, I was assigned to the FFXIV team around when the A Realm Reborn project was put into motion.

Miyamiya: What sort of work does the VFX team do in FFXIV?

Ishii: The VFX team is largely divided into three major specialisations: the Cutscene VFX team, the Background VFX team, and the Battle VFX team.

As implied by their name, the Cutscene VFX team specialises in creating effects for cutscenes. The Background VFX team is in charge of environmental visual effects; for example, rain, snow, volcanic smoke, water splashing from a waterfall, as well as mechanics related to the environment in boss battles.

20220421_mm_03.png ▲ Flashy cutscene effects are cool too, but fine details like teary eyes can also grip our hearts!

20220421_mm_04b.png ▲ The Limitless Blue trial is brimming with weather-related mechanics like the clouds and rain, all of which were created by the Background VFX team!

As for me, I am the lead of the Battle VFX team, which creates player and enemy-related effects. Some of the aspects we're in charge of include battle actions, crafting and gathering actions, mounts, emotes, minions, and weapons.

20220421_mm_05.png ▲ The /paint emotes were also created by the Battle VFX team! Perhaps you remember them from Sigmascape V2.0?

Miyamiya: Seems like VFX are just about everywhere! Could you explain how battle VFX are generally created?

Ishii: When it comes to job actions, the designers provide documentation for each action, which tell us whether an action will be an attack or a heal, and if it'll be single-target or area-of-effect. The documentation is typically text-based, so the artists are given free rein over the imagery.

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From there, the Animation team drafts several animations for each action as possible candidates. Those are then reviewed by the Animation team, VFX team, and Shinya Ichida (Art team Lead) to decide which draft to proceed with. Once that's decided, we begin creating the visual effects based on the animation and refine them into their final form, while making sure that the design doesn't contradict the intended purpose or the specifications of the action.

As such, the VFX team generally has free rein over how the imagery is visualised. However, there are exceptions when the visual effects need to incorporate preestablished assets, such as the magic circle for Zodiark. In such cases, the Art team provides a design based on the lore, which we then use to design the visual effects.

Miyamiya: I see, so the visual effects and animations of battle actions go hand-in-hand. How did your team create the unique visual effects for the Endwalker jobs, reaper and sage?

Ishii: We already knew reaper would wield a scythe and summon an avatar from the void, so we went for dark imagery based on those details. However, using dark colours alone would make reaper visually similar to dark knight or Ascians. So we decided to give reaper a unique base colour, which resulted in its black and cyan colour scheme.

Although bright greenish colours were common for healer jobs, they weren't used very often for DPS and tank jobs, and we felt it could be a distinguishing feature for reaper. Furthermore, visual effects for previous jobs often emphasised the impact of a hit, for reaper, we emphasised the "trail" of their distinctive sweeping attacks to set their visual identity apart from other jobs.

20220421_mm_07.png ▲ The scythe's cyan trails are sure to grab your attention during battle!

20220421_mm_08.png ▲ On the other hand, the visual effects switch to black and red once the avatar takes over, ensuring that the colours match the lore.

With sage, we had a bright colour palette in mind because of its role as a healer. We also already had the base designs of the nouliths, as well as artwork for Alphinaud and the sage gear, so the colours of white and blue were easily decided. The Art team asked us to give the nouliths a tailing visual effect when they were drawn or sheathed. This also worked well in white and blue, and was another contributing factor in deciding the colours.

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As for the job actions, in contrast to the light and airy spells that white mage uses, sage uses geometric barriers and laser attacks, so we chose a somewhat sleek design based on Sharlayan technology. Additionally, sage's attacks and heals are conducted through the nouliths, rather than releasing energy from the character themselves. The nouliths needed to be the centre of attention, which proved to be a perplexing challenge for the staff member in charge.

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Miyamiya: So deciding a job's base colours at the outset helps you to maintain a consistent look with their visual effects. There are many design-related roles in the industry, but what would you say are some unique appeals of working with visual effects?

Ishii: I believe the diversity and freedom of expression is the appeal of visual effects. As I mentioned earlier, although the FFXIV team has documentation on what needs to be made, we're allowed to have free rein over creating the imagery. Rather than being overly specific in their requests to the VFX team, they start by allowing us to create whatever we like and will give us the green light as long as the specifications and quality are befitting of FFXIV's standards.

Of course, being granted total creative freedom comes with its own struggles, but having no restraints and being allowed to create what we want is fun and rewarding.

Miyamiya: I imagine that creative freedom is what enables you to keep creating distinctive and fresh visual effects, even when we have so much content and many different jobs. Of all the visual effects you've worked on in FFXIV, is there one that you find most memorable?

Ishii: For me, that would be paladin's Passage of Arms.

20220421_mm_11.png ▲ Passage of Arms is a paladin ability that increases the user's block rate and reduces damage for party members standing behind them. It can be used almost anywhere, both in combat and in cities.

In addition to Passage of Arms being usable anywhere and having to look good in any environment, it also had to emphasise the effect of standing behind the user. I had an extremely hard time with these difficult prerequisites, and it ended up being the task where I cycled between creating something and scrapping it most often. I'm sure any artist can relate, but when you focus on a project for too long, you start to lose sight of whether it looks good or bad and fall into this feeling of, "What am I even making again...?"

In the midst of that, I showed my original draft to my leader at the time and Producer & Director Yoshida. Their positive feedback helped me feel that I was onto something, which boosted my motivation and helped me finish the project. So, for me, Passage of Arms is my most memorable work because it reminds me of my struggle and accomplishment.

Miyamiya: Passage of Arms is very cool and flashy, and I like how it really makes you feel protected! Next, I'd like to ask about weapons with visual effects. There have been many memorable "glowing weapons" thus far, but do you have any particular favourites out of the ones you've worked on?

Ishii: Of the weapons I've worked on, Ravana's Hive weapons are my favourite.

20220421_mm_12_2.gif ▲ The Hive weapons feature a reddish glow and fluttering butterflies.

Weapon effects are constantly displayed while the weapon is drawn, so they have stricter limitations. This makes it hard to give them lavish animations compared to something like battle effects, which are only displayed once per activation.

Amid such limitations, I managed to make the fluttering butterflies using models created with minimal polygons. This involved researching super-slow motion footage of real butterflies to replicate their movements as closely as possible, which was a tremendously meticulous endeavour for me at the time.

20220421_mm_13.png ▲ The butterflies are made by adding textures to this mesh (a collection of polygons) and scaling/rotating/moving them to make them appear to be flapping their wings.

Miyamiya: It sounds like every endeavour involves giving the weapons as much visual impact as possible within the provided limitations. Could you perhaps give us a hint as to what the weapon rewards from Dragonsong's Reprise (Ultimate) will be like?

Ishii: Previous Ultimate weapons featured a motif of the encounter, such as the gears and cogs on the weapons from the Epic of Alexander. In a similar way, the weapons from Dragonsong's Reprise also feature a motif, but as for what that may be... please look forward to it. (laughs)

Miyamiya: I'm really looking forward to it! Finally, do you have any parting words for our players, or perhaps your resolutions for the future?

Ishii: I've received a lot of encouragement through your comments on social media and the Letter LIVE broadcasts. At times, the plethora of feedback you've provided has pointed out new aspects for me to improve upon. So, if you have any thoughts regarding visual effects, I'd be glad if you could post them on the forums or social media.

FFXIV places a lot of importance in the variances of colour perception, while also striving to provide visibility and coherence in everyone's gameplay. Gameplay experiences can also be further improved with rousing moments, as well as drawing out the appeal of the various jobs and characters. These are the concepts I'd like to keep in mind as I continue to pursue the art of creating attractive visual effects.

I hope this interview was able to pique your interest in visual effects. Thank you for your continued support!


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How did you enjoy our interview with VFX Artist Takayasu Ishii?

Visual effects can provide myriad different expressions, whether it be "beautiful" or "cool," or even "terrifying" or "eerie" at times. Taking a closer look at these visual details is sure to immerse you even further into the world of FFXIV!

See you next time!

Previous Editions of FFXIV Backstage Investigators
(No. 1): Main Scenario Writer Banri Oda
(No. 2): Lead Level Designer Arata Takahashi
(No. 3): Web Director Hiroyuki Takachi
(No. 4): Lead UI Artist Yoichi Seki
(No. 5): Character Concept Artist Hiroyuki Nagamine
(No. 6): Community Planner Takeshi Kato
(No. 7): Lead Technical Artist Tatsuya Okahisa

Miyamiya
- Promotional team