Creative studio A52 explains how custom scripts and VRay rendering brought the worlds of Xbox One racing and pixel art together

Blending retro with next-gen in the Forza 6 trailer

For the launch of Forza 6, Microsoft teamed up with creative studio A52 to develop a special trailer that shows the evolution of racing games.

The footage, which you can see below, shows the 2017 Ford GT – one of the flagship vehicles of Forza Motorsport 6 – racing through environments based on past driving titles, encompassing a mix of pixel and polygon-based worlds.

We spoke to A52 to find out what tools and technology their team used to recreate the look of classic racing titles alongside the advanced visuals of Forza.

You can check out the trailer itself below.

Where did the idea for the trailer come from?
Kirk Shintani, Head of 3D:
The idea came from the advertising agency Twofifteenmccann. Working with Xbox, they came up with the concept for the trailer and then the Director Michael Spiccia evolved the idea with A52 as their creative partner.

Which games were your points of reference for the different legacy sections?
John Cherniack, CG Supervisor: This is a great question, because we’ve seen so many people guessing which games we’re referencing. Some people were close, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone get all of them correct yet.

Here are the games, in order:

  • Gran Trak 10
  • RC Pro-Am
  • Pole Position
  • Chase HQ
  • Ridge Racer

Gran Trak 10 is usually the one that people get thrown off by.

What were the biggest challenges in recreating the look and feel of each section and how did you overcome them?
Cherniak:Some of the challenges were simply a matter of perspective. Sounds simple enough right? But when almost all of the early games only had one view, usually top down or 3/4 angles, we had to ask ourselves "if we were to take the camera and move it from this iconic playing position, how do we make sure the game feels the same?"

For instance, in Gran Trak 10, the player only sees the world from one vantage point. So we needed to be sure we kept the feel of the game, but showed the environment in a new and unique way. The floor in Gran Trak 10 was the one element that helped ground the shots, and allowed this beautiful 2017 Ford GT to sit in the same world as a five-pixel car. Composite also added a ton of atmosphere and lots of subtle details like blooms and flares that gave the beginning sequence a ton of depth and realism.

For RC Pro-Am and Pole Position, we needed to be sure that the pixels that make up the cars and environment felt right. We did some custom scripting to help us out with that.

Chase HQ and Ridge Racer were a little more straight forward since the games themselves had a more modern look. We wanted to spend the time to make the environments believable, and that the camera work was grounded and felt natural. We actually referenced real racing footage and used that where ever we could to ensure that the cameras weren’t too perfect.

How did you ensure that the Forza car is representative of the final game?
The great thing about modern games, and especially what Turn 10 is doing with the Forza Motorsport franchise, is that their technology and process are very, very advanced. So for us it was actually a pretty easy fit.

We started with CAD of the 2017 Ford GT and executed the way we normally do. The process for both pre-rendered and in-game are slowly merging as the technology is advancing, and the end goals for look and realism are basically the same. The car in the game looks pretty stunning. We just needed to make sure that our work was just as well executed.

What tools did you use to create this trailer?
From start to finish, there were a lot of different people who contributed to this. The process was to create style frames and proof of concept artwork in Photoshop first to define looks. Then we went into Maya to create the worlds that you see in 3D.

We also wrote a bunch of custom scripts to help us create the pixel look and speed up the process. We use Mari to generate all the detailed textures and for lighting and rendering we use VRay to give us the quality, control and speed we needed.

From there, the compositors used Flame to put all the renders together. They integrated the realistic 2017 Ford GT and the pixel worlds to form this stylized hyper real world and gave the spot its final look.

This project was a blast, because we all remember plunking down quarter after quarter to play these games. It’s a great tribute to the pioneering games of the past, and shows, very succinctly, how far the industry has come in such a short amount of time.

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