09 Jun 2004 Ubisoft , one of the world's largest videogame publishers, recently revealed that the critically acclaimed and best-selling Myst® franchise will launch its newest adventure, Myst® IV Revelation, this fall. Chaos Group's V-Ray renderer was used to render the environments and cinematic sequences for the entire game.


Chaos Group interviewed Gwenael Heliou, Myst IV Revelation technical director at Ubisoft’s Montreal studios about the use of V-Ray on this project.

Can you give us some background on Ubisoft and the Myst IV project?

“Myst IV-Revelation” was set in production at UbiSoft's Montreal studios (Canada) around September 2001. There have been great games coming from the Montreal studios in the past: Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Raven Shield, Prince of Persia The Sands of time, as there will be many more in the future. You can find the latest screenshots and videos of “Myst IV Revelation” here: http://www.mystrevelation.com/

What made Ubisoft choose the V-Ray renderer for this project?

In the early stages of production, V-Ray was chosen for artistic reasons, because the global illumination was cutting-edge and had not been used at this scale in a video game yet. We needed fresh, realistic-looking graphics. With little training, CG artists were able to render such graphics with V-Ray, even with a beginner's understanding of the rendering theory.
In fact, using a GI package for a pre-rendered game project seemed nuts, until reliability, short render times, and user-friendly interfaces would be available. At the end of 2001, V-Ray was already at that level, and that's without counting the numerous additions that were made since then. Secondly, practically, V-Ray's user licenses cost far less than other packages. In the end, we were able to put some lovely GI lightings into our pre-rendered interactive environments for a very reasonable price.

Were there any specific features of V-Ray compared to other rendering solutions that you found particularly useful?

Clearly, its fast raytracing abilities for GI solution-solving (ie. Irradiance map) and of course, its displacement features. We also made extensive use of reflection and refraction. The same with its way to handle large amounts of instances, because many 'thingies' (I can't say more) were replicated. V-Ray fitted these tasks very well.
By the way, we also used its motion blur, DOF and fisheye camera from time to time, and we were very happy with it.

What were some of the challenges that you faced during this project and how did you solve them?

Above all, we had to create worlds that would inspire the players' curiosity and imagination. We were also challenged to put life and diversity into those worlds. And no doubt, at the end, “Myst IV Revelation” will be compared to its big brothers, Riven and Exile, which are each huge pieces of CG-art.
I will not give details, but this production is, in some cases, certainly closer to cg-fx or movie production that most video games I know. (size of the render-farm, number of frames rendered, use of live-action HD shoots, graphical production pipeline, and so on).

Practically, because it is an interactive product, most of our material is 3D only. But we had to split animated objects and static backgrounds into different scenes and render processes. Matching the former and the latter afterwards was a bit tricky without using large amounts of color correction and touch ups. Using V-Ray's irradiance maps helped us to recreate smooth and homogeneous lighting, merging all these materials and providing the results we were looking for.
Rendering huge environments which people can visit and gaze at for hours was quite complicated too. Traditionally, there's no time limit or emergency of any kind when playing Myst. You can stand at a point and watch the scenery for hours, literally. The 3D scenes simply risked becoming too heavy or detailed to render properly.

Which parts of the Myst IV Revelation were rendered in V-Ray?

I would say, almost everything. We used the scanline renderer for preview purposes or gameplay validation but almost every piece of art will be rendered with V-Ray at the end. I am speaking about tons and tons of frames!

How complex were the sets you had to create for the game?

These 3D scenes are, by far, the most complicated I've ever seen.
It was decided to gather as much detail as possible in the same 3D scene to ease the validation and update of each environment during the production process. Plus, multiple artists (modelers, texturers, animators, renderers) had to put their hands into the same scene, which is sometimes confusing and tends to generate a bit of chaos at each step, so, we had to classify, organize, stamp, and rule every polygon entering the graphic pipeline.
To give you an idea, some of our scenes sized 300+ MB, 3,000+ objects, 2,000,000+ polys (after optimization, before displacement), 600+ bitmap textures, 50,000+ frames, many plug-ins, many light sources (both shadow map and V-Ray shadow), both internal and exterior point of views, etc.

In short, we had to optimize these complicated scenes in many ways, without loosing sight of achieving high quality and impressive environments. And V-Ray was versatile enough to help us in that way. We were able to pre-visualize our work, and know what it will look like at the end, right from production start.

How do you rate V-Ray's performance for the tasks you had to complete?

Fairly well indeed! Using V-Ray for such a big production was new and untested, so we planned which element were and were not renderable. For example, we decided early on which features we might use or not. We are talking about a raytracer, which, without control, may utilize all of any computer's CPU for hours... Being reasonable is the key. We wanted to get the best of our renderer without impacting on the deadlines.
For example, we decided to avoid the use of motion blur, except for certain live action shots where we had to integrate 3D objects. Even if V-Rays' MB is one of the best I've seen, it was still too time-consuming. But we were able to add displacement (millions of polys) in almost every set without killing the render times.
So, compared to other packages, V-Ray kept rendering at a quick pace. You guys were able to surprise us during the last 2 years because you kept adding great features we could not avoid playing with.

Are you satisfied with the final result of your efforts?

Ha, you know that the game is still in development, but…oh yes!
I am very proud to be involved in such an ambitious production, and all the graphics are actually amazing. There is a hugely graphics-heavy game, made by lots of people. They will certainly be proud of the result when this amazing game will be released. Of course, the final judgement belongs to the player, but as a CG artist, I'm very happy of what has been realized so far.

Are you using V-Ray on other projects and do you consider using it in the future?

Hey, that's top secret information here. But be sure I would love to work again with V-Ray.

Is there anything else you want to add here about V-Ray?

Of course, even if V-Ray is a great piece of software which helped us accomplish great CG artwork, I want to give a warm thanks to the guys who hide behind the lines of code. Making a game is a long and complicated process, and you guys were always ready to give us a hand at the right moment by giving advice or doing a special build for us in a few hours. This help was greatly appreciated. I owe you many beers in the pub of your choice!

About Ubisoft: Ubisoft is an international producer, publisher and distributor of interactive entertainment products. A leading company in the multimedia industry, Ubisoft's strong and diversified lineup has grown considerably, as has Ubisoft itself. As well as steadfastly continuing to partner with several high-profile companies, Ubisoft has also confirmed its presence on the global market by developing its own exceptional properties. Founded in 1986 in France, Ubisoft is now present on every continent, both through offices in 21 different countries including the United States, Morocco, Germany, and China and through sales of products in over 50 countries. The group is dedicated to delivering high-quality, cutting-edge videogame titles to consumers around the world. Ubisoft generated a turnover of 508 million euros for the 2003/2004 fiscal year, up 22.5% over the previous fiscal year. To learn more, visit http://www.ubi.com/.
Ubisoft, ubi.com, and the Ubisoft logo are trademarks of Ubisoft Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries. D'ni (TM), Cyan®, and Myst® are trademarks of Cyan, Inc. and Cyan Worlds, Inc. under license to Ubisoft Inc.

About ChaosGroup: ChaosGroup is a company specializing in the development of software solutions for the VFX industry as well in the making of contents for the entertainment industry. More information about ChaosGroup products can be found on our websites: http://www.chaosgroup.com/ , http://www.vrayrender.com/ , http://www.chaoticdimension.com/

all trademarks and copyrights belong to their respective owners. V-Ray software and V-Ray logo are property of Chaos Group
(c)2004 Chaos Group