Images courtesy of Sony YAY! | Gamitronics

Gamitronics cuts the cost of animation production by 65%

January 31, 2022
Gamitronics isn’t a traditional animation studio. Yet despite being a video game development studio with no previous background in producing animation, the company was chosen to deliver a high-profile animated spin-off series of one of India’s most popular sitcoms.

That achievement is partly thanks to the studio’s real-time mindset. They’ve been using Unreal Engine for over a decade to produce various types of interactive content, including VR experiences, theme park rides, defense simulation, and AAA games.
 

With this experience under its belt, it’s no surprise that the advantages of real-time workflows have been known to the company for some time. When it came to animation, Gamitronics had an understanding that using a game engine would enable its team members to review look development together, iterating on camera angles, lighting, and post effects in real time. 

Anyone would be able to jump in and suggest new approaches, and the concept could come together in minutes rather than hours or days. Their animation pipeline for Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah proved this out, significantly reducing iteration and feedback cycles—which in turn slashed the cost of production by 65%.
 

Real-time workflows for animation 

Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah (translation: Taarak Mehta's inverted spectacles) is a Hindi sitcom based on a weekly column by Taarak Mehta in Chitralekha magazine. The show holds the Guinness World Record for the longest-running sitcom on television by episode count. 

When Sony YAY! was exploring the prospect of creating an animated spin-off series for the sitcom, a conversation with Green Gold Animation put Gamitronics on their radar. Green Gold is India’s largest IP studio and a partner company of Gamitronics, and they told Sony YAY! about Gamitronics’ experiments with real-time technology for animation. One quick trial later and the studio got the green light to bring those interactive 3D workflows to the project. 

“Children across the country have been as fascinated as adults by the world of Taarak Mehta,” says Ronojoy Chakraborty, Head of Programming at Sony YAY! “We felt that there was an opportunity to create a special slice of the universe with its iconic characters using advanced animation tools.”

This insight sparked the idea for the concept. Using some of the best tools for animation at our disposal—including Unreal Engine—we were able to capture the nuances of Taarak Mehta’s beloved characters and deliver high-quality content for the young fans. We’re very excited to keep exploring the software to bring more stories to life.”
Images courtesy of Sony YAY! | Gamitronics
Rajat Ojha is CEO of Gamitronics. With 25 years under his belt, he’s a veteran of the games industry. Ojha explains that the challenge Gamitronics faced on this project was effectively a reversal of the one faced by animation studios exploring real-time technology for the first time.

“We don’t operate in the traditional animation industry, so it was a flip situation in our case where we already knew Unreal Engine’s capabilities and had confidence in the final output from the beginning,'' he says. 

Instead, Ojha’s team were coming at the situation from the other angle—learning about traditional TV animation processes and their challenges. “This is very different from an animation studio picking up Unreal Engine and figuring out how to fit it into their existing pipeline,” he explains. 

Armed with a good idea of what real-time technology is capable of, the team had a feeling they’d be able to complete the lion’s share of the animation work using real-time workflows. That hunch turned out to be correct.
 

Aside from asset development, which was done using Maya, the entire animation process took place in Unreal Engine. That includes motion capture and facial capture, lighting, shading, and adding post-process effects. 

The team used real-time ray tracing to enhance the lighting, producing more natural soft shadows, accurate ambient occlusion (AO), interactive global illumination, reflections, and more.

“Pretty much every tool in Unreal Engine has been used—the Shader Graph, lighting system, Sequencer, particle creator, post-processing, Movie Render Queue, and so on,” says Ojha. 
With unfettered access to Unreal Engine’s source code, the team was also able to create its own tools that sped up the animation process. “Gamitronics focuses a lot on technical artistry,” explains Ojha. “We built our own custom tools to make our process easy. Most of the engine work has been automated.”

For example, the team found that heavy polycounts and the necessity to manually assign shaders was making it time-consuming to import characters in Alembic file format. To address this, developers were able to build a tool that automated this process, freeing up time for artists to work on other things. 


Faster animation workflows 

For Ojha, high graphical quality and faster render times are the biggest advantages of using game engines for animation, enabling them to compose scenes quickly and efficiently. “Artists can see the final output in the scene view itself, so the feedback cycle is way quicker,” he says. "They can adjust materials, lights, and cameras in a 3D scene and get immediate results—no need for test renders.” He goes on to recount how directors and producers often tell him that this instant feedback is a game changer for them. 
 
Images courtesy of Sony YAY! | Gamitronics
Beyond these immediate pipeline improvements, game engines present a tantalizing prospect. Animation IP can be rendered as CG content and then reused for a wealth of other things like VR experiences, games, AR apps, and more.

“Because we are using a game engine, assets are ready to be used for other transmedia adaptations,” explains Ojha. “This is simply not possible with assets created in a traditional pipeline. Since we are in the AR/VR/game industry, that helps us pitch the entire package more effectively.”
 

Animation industry wakes up to real-time workflows 

Once word got out, Gamitronics’ real-time approach on Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah sparked a deluge of interest from other studios. “Many studios reached out to us after seeing our work to enquire about us training them, setting up a pipeline for them, or simply to hire us for their animation work,” says Ojha. 

Ojha believes the rest of the industry is starting to wake up to the advantages of using real-time technology for animation. “Game engines are definitely the more efficient way to work, and it’s not ‘the future’ anymore—everybody is realizing the impact, efficiency, and cost savings,” he says.

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