Remember the movie classic, The Wizard of Oz? Where Dorothy is trying to get back home to Kansas after a tornado drops her in a mysterious land of flying monkeys and talking scarecrows? Of course, only the almighty, wondrous and all-powerful Wizard can get Dorothy home to her beloved Auntie Em. You may also recall that once she finally reaches Oz to talk to said Wizard, Toto pulls away the curtain to reveal him as an ordinary man – no crazy magic after all.
I see a common theme in our business of manufacturing high-end video game collectibles and life-size characters. Our Limited and Collector’s Editions are meant to create amazement and inspire awe. The minuscule details, the finite texturing, the transparent water, the patterned garments, the battle-worn armor – they all create the illusion of reality – and elicit a bit of game-inspired respect. “Wow – how did they do that?”
Well, friends, I’m here to tell you it’s definitely not magic! In today’s blog, we’re going to give you a peak behind the manufacturing curtain to show you the incredible amount of planning & engineering required to take one of our projects from idea to reality. Getting from point A to point B took some skilled navigation.
You’re likely familiar with Ubisoft’s beloved Assassin’s Creed franchise. The series reboot, Assassin's Creed: Origins, released in October of 2017 to public and critical acclaim. In the game, players take on the role of Bayek, a highly trained agent of the Pharoh, who is destined to become the first Assassin.
To promote the release, Ubisoft asked Idea Planet to create more than 100 life-size statues of Bayek and his eagle companion, Senu, shippable to marketing events across the globe. Of course, we were thrilled to partner with Ubisoft on such a cool project!! With this assignment, a couple of structural considerations immediately came to mind:
The base must be substantive enough to securely hold the height and weight of the statue
The pose of Bayek and Senu should be thoughtfully engineered for stability
The statue must be created in pieces that can be readily assembled on site
Since this is a public display piece, the fragility of some items must be addressed
The packing & crating has to be protective but also designed for multiples uses
The first step was to get full turnarounds of Bayek in his game attire with complete regalia – all his weaponry & related accouterments. Turnaround is a slang term used to describe a series of photos generated from a 3D model. 3D models can be incredibly complex, so turnarounds are used to break down and simplify the 3D model, facilitating communication between the various teams involved in the project. Turnarounds are critical to making any statue or sculpture, whether it is 6 feet or 6 inches tall.
The next thing we needed to understand was what he would be standing on – would the base be a simple podium or a piece of the game environment? With input from Ubisoft, Idea Planet designed three base versions, all of which had the appearance of carved Egyptian stone rising from the sand, and included hieroglyphics and the game logo. Footprints show where Bayek will stand and the direction he’ll face, relative to the base. Once the base as chosen, Idea Planet began creating a 3D model of Bayek standing on the base in the final, approved, pose. Each element was scrutinized to ensure precise detail of shape, texture, decoration and positioning, from every point of view.
Once we had final approval on the 3D file (yes, there were a few rounds of revisions), we “sealed” the files to be watertight. Sealing is another slang term we use. The need for sealing arises from the nature of game development. Game developers use tricks on 3D models to save computing resources and facilitate animation, they leave holes in places that will not be seen either because it is covered by clothing or because parts overlap enough to hide the hole. When we seal a model, we ensure that there are no holes and that the model is one single solid piece. It’s important to do this after approval as it’s much more time-consuming to make changes once the file is sealed for outputting. That said, we did make some adjustments after the fact!!
In studying the final files to mill the full-size output, we determined the structural integrity at such a large size could be compromised. So, we “opened” Bayek’s right arm a few degrees at the elbow to better hold the eagle. We also doubled the size of the eagle’s talons and reshaped its ankles and thighs for a stronger connection point – which also gave the raptor a more menacing and powerful appearance.
To compensate for the new arm position, we turned the eagle’s head slightly inward to bring its gaze back in line with Bayek’s. Our engineer also suggested bringing his left wing in towards the character. Given the very large span of the wings at the finished size, the new, tighter positioning made the wing stronger with more support. This was an important factor to reduce the chances of breakage when displayed in public. The bow angle was also adjusted from a horizontal hold to a slightly more vertical position, again to decrease the likelihood of breakage in an open viewing environment. Creating a full-size output of the statue took several weeks. The exceptionally large 3D file size and extreme detail meant the CNC machines took longer to recreate the individual pieces and sections of the statue. That, coupled with hand sculpting, was necessary to achieve the hyper-realistic, complete look.
During this time, we established reference for colors and finishes for each component of the statue, from Bayek’s skin tone and eyes, to the sand at his feet, to the pattern on his sash. While this might seem like a simple task, determining color via digital examples is actually quite tricky due to the differences in monitor calibration. Even a set PMS color can look one way on paper and very different on resin – or even under florescent light vs. sunlight. Our goal, of course, was to match the game graphics as closely as possible. The photo below shows work in progress on the paint and deco of the output. You can see the sash and sand have not yet been finalized, but you do get a sense for the immense scale of the piece, especially relative to the door in the background (our guys are not quarterbacks, FYI).
With a life-size tooling master and a paint master completed, production began. Our challenge, at this point, was hitting the deadline while maintaining the incredible level of detail in the deco. Since the statue was shipped in pieces, we also printed step-by-step instructions on how to put it together. Check out the number of parts! Each of these pieces was cast in resin and hand painted to match the paint master.
A this point in the process, a huge amount of effort goes into quality control. Paint batches are constantly tested for consistency of color, and each piece must fit together perfectly, both mechanically and artistically.
Here you can see Bayek’s upper body on the factory floor followed by the base with his legs. Many things can have an affect on how material settles, even the humidity in the room and the amount of light must be consistent across all pieces or problems will arise. Some units will come out perfectly the first time, while others will require some "extra love" before they are ready for the showroom floor. The challenge comes in the amount of time we generally have for production. There is a window of time between getting final 3D files from the game and the release date of the game. We must operate within that window, ensuring that all the products get shipped out in pristine condition, generally two months before the game is released.
We have many, many more pics of production, but let’s move on to show you the packing and crating. Each piece was individually bubble wrapped and carefully packaged in numbered wooden boxes. It took 3 crates to pack and ship one statue.
The first promotional event for Ubisoft to feature the life-size statue of Bayek in its full glory was at ChinaJoy. The response there was overwhelming! Attendees flocked to Instagram with these comments:
"Ubisoft has just unveiled a mesmerizing life-sized statue of Bayek from Assassin’s Creed Origins at ChinaJoy, featuring a brilliant sense of art and attention to detail."
“Probably the most lifelike and detailed statue I’ve ever seen”
“THIS IS EPIC!!!!!”
“I need this so badly! <3”
"The details are super well done”
It’s fascinating, isn’t it? A team of developers and artists uses historical reference to create a digital character that absolutely could have existed in ancient Egypt, then we take that digital vision and bring it back to life in a highly realistic, larger-than-life statue. It’s kind of hard to get a sense for the level of detail in a few photos, but I’ll do my best to include a couple of close-ups here that show more.
We feel a tremendous sense of pride in our role, helping give “birth” to Bayek on behalf of our friends at Ubisoft. While our destination, our end result, was quite clear, and the journey was well mapped, the actual path we took had a few zigs and zags. As experienced designers, engineers, and manufacturers, we know the road to success is rarely paved in a smooth, straight line! (Oh my… that quote should be on an inspirational poster!) Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of skill, science, creativity & diligence “behind the curtain” in the wacky – but wonderful – world of high-end video game collectibles. I’d like to think I’m the “wizard” of it all here at Idea Planet, but the truth is that each of us here works a little bit of magic in the process. And with a click of my heels, I’m signing off!