Crytek’s Cinebox – an update

It was in late 2012 at the CVMP Conference in London that fxguide first saw Crytek’s Cinebox tool in action in a presentation about film and game convergence. Cinebox is Crytek’s implementation of its CryENGINE game engine built specifically for previs, virtual production and cinematics. Although some impressive trailer work was demo’d at the time, there hasn’t been a great deal of information about the development of Cinebox has made available since.

So where is Cinebox up to, and what has it been used for? To find out, fxguide caught up with Cyrtek’s Cinebox product manager Kirthy Iyer, and previs director John Griffith who has used the tool on several recent film projects such as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Maze Runner. We’ve also got several exclusive videos showing Cinebox features and how it was utilized for a Ryse: Son of Rome TVC and a feature film pitch.

Behind the scenes of the Ryse TVC.

We asked Iyer what was causing the delay in making what seemed like a very promising tool available? “When we started being public about Cinebox,” he says, “we went to our roadmap and saw that there was a lot more that could be done with the software. We just didn’t feel at that point to put it out in the market – we wanted to continue development.”

That development has occurred, Iyer explains, in areas such as adapting to common film pipelines. “We got a lot of feedback and saw that getting assets into the library is one thing, but how do you make it even easier? And that’s when we started implementing Alembic and improving our FBX pipeline.”

Order Independent Transparency in Cinebox.

“We have made our pipeline easier to use, too,” adds Iyer. “We have a LiveMocap functionality – you can use it with any mocap server that is available and stream data, animation, static, camera and lights. And we support Ptex in MARI, and we’ve also incorporated open source file formats that are standard for the industry, including OpenEXR, OpenColorIO and CALLADA.”

Still, and despite it being used on several productions, Cinebox remains in what Iyer calls “an eval phase.” Currently, the only way to get access to Cinebox is to contact Crytek.

Ptex support in Cinebox.

So where has Cinebox, in its current form, been used? Presentations from 2012 showed it being part of Crysis 3 trailer production, with others cropping up in various places, such as Erasmus Brosdau’s The Lord Inquisitor teaser (see below). Crytek recently also used Cinebox’s game engine virtual production capabilities – including LiveMocap – to aid in the development of on-set performance capture and virtual set viewing during the making of the game Ryse: Son of Rome.

But Crytek has always pitched Cinebox as a new way to craft linear creative content with the ability to iterate on creative ideas: quickly. It follows, then, that Cinebox seems like a welcome fit for previs, something John Griffith has been doing with the tool for the last couple of years. Griffith was previs director at 20th Century Fox and worked on Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He also contributed previs for the upcoming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Maze Runner, both using Cinebox.

On Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, for example, Griffiths used Cinebox to take in environment assets conceived by the film’s production designer so that they could be explored further with correct time of day lighting. “The assets had been created in Rhino,” explains Griffith, “and we brought it in, textured it, lit it and lit it right through the environment. They were able in realtime to make tweaks to adjust the lighting and the shadows, and change things. It gave them a way to create concept art in realtime. It meant there was a portal for everyone to communicate through. I hope that’s a way we can work in pre-production from now on.

Go behind the scenes of Craven. Thanks to John Griffith and Chris Wolak for this video.

Along with recent film projects, Griffith and his team delivered shots out of Cinebox for a Ryse: Son of Rome TV spot and also a short film as a pitch for a feature film project called Craven Marsh that took six artists only three months to complete. Griffith says in some ways these Cinebox projects are more like ‘advanced previsualizations.’ “It made sense that the previs pipeline I’d established was no different than a final VFX pipeline. It’s allowing you to light, render, create an atmospheric world in a shorter period of time than it would take to do it in a standard way.”

Griffith says his workflow still uses Maya, ZBrush and other 3D tools on the front end of the pipeline to create assets, with everything then mirrored in Cinebox. “I can then set up a pipeline with Maya animators and they can animate just like they normally would for any production,” explains Griffith, “with the exception that they’re scenes are much lighter and much faster than normal, because they don’t have to deal with the final assets. So those two worlds are mirrored, and all the environments, props and everything are created in the engine. It’s also an amazing renderer – it renders in realtime and rivals a lot of final render quality work.”

– A teaser for The Lord Inquisitor, directed by Erasmus Brosdau. Brosdau works in Crytek’s internal cinematic department (CVG). Cinebox was used to complete this teaser, although the film is not an official Crytek production.

The benefits of this approach, says Griffith, is the ability to sit with a director and make fast changes and, if necessary, plug into a VFX pipeline. “My previs pipeline was very Maya-centric so all my shots were created in Maya and mirrored in Cinebox,” notes Griffith. “So the engine in previs is a renderer and a viewer – in realtime. Those shots still exist in Maya, so I can provide the exact same shot in Maya to the production if they need it for technical purposes.”

Griffith, who now runs his own company called CNCPT, says he “wanted to push the quality of the previs up to a conceptual level as well as speed up the process. Speed’s always the most important thing when it comes to previs. My goal has always been to merge concept art and previs into one discipline, so that we can help design the look of the characters and environments and props in previs, while we’re also designing the story and the action.”

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