Rising Sun Pictures delivered more than 170 VFX shots for the first season of One Piece, the Netflix adventure series about the young pirate Monkey D. Luffy and his ragtag crew on a quest for treasure and glory. The studio’s work centered on the fantastical array of naval and pirate ships featured in the show, a live action adaptation of Eiichiro Oda’s immensely popular manga. The series was developed for Netflix by Steven Maeda and Matt Owens.
One of RSP’s noteworthy tasks was building a full CG version of the Going Merry, the ship piloted by Luffy and his Straw Hat Pirates. Artists used scans and photogrammetry of the onset build as a base for the CG replica. For some shots featuring the Going Merry, live action elements were shot in South Africa on a life-size, practical set designed to match Oda’s colourful artwork of the wooden vessel, including its iconic sheepshead bow, and the shot was enhanced by RSP’s artists. CG elements added detail to the deck, jib, masts and sails. Other subtle enhancements indicated the effects of time and sea battles on the ship’s exterior.
For the naval battleship commanded by Luffy’s principal antagonist, Marine Vice Admiral Garp, RSP’s team built an entire CG version of the warship which was used in full CG shots and combined with live action. The elaborate extension for a partial set, included elements of the ship that conformed to its canine theme such as masts shaped like bones and a crow’s nest in the form of a dog house.
Artists built more than a dozen other full CG ships, including Cooking George, a large ship topped by a chef’s hat, and Orbit, whose brow is shaped like a wine bottle.
“All of the ships are grounded in the manga, but we brought them into a live action world,” says RSP VFX supervisor Dennis Jones. “It was fascinating to dig through artwork from the series’ 25-year history and soak up its unique aesthetic. Our aim was to assimilate its spirit into our work as much as possible. Our modellers had great fun with it. We loved the journey.”
The CG team brought a touch of realism to the vessels by studying technical drawings of caravels and galleons dating back to the 15th century as well as more modern cruise ships, sloops and tankers. “We asked ourselves, what features would each of these ships have if it was built in real life?” recalls CG supervisor Naeem Chudawala. “Ships of the pirate era had large sails, tall masts, complicated rigging and unique portholes. We were careful to apply ropes and chains in a way that conformed logically with their function.”
Integrating the ships into sailing sequences proved more challenging. Artists set ships in motion and added wind, water and other environmental effects. Jones says that his crew spent weeks developing a water simulation that could be used as ocean across multiple scenes.
“It had to work with different camera angles, perspectives, times of day and weather” he explains. “Something that looks brilliant in a wide shot, might appear too big in a close-up. We experimented with different frequencies until we hit on one that worked consistently. We then used more traditional compositing techniques to create dynamic effects such as wakes and splashes as ships move through the water.”
Placing the ships into the water and getting them to move naturally involved close collaboration between the studio’s CG and compositing departments.
“We set up a system that allowed us to move ships at whatever speed we wanted,” says compositing lead Boini Bharghava. “Ships interacted naturally with the FX ocean, generating wakes depending on their speed. For individual shots, production provided direction for the blocking and the look and we took it from there. If a shot iteration needed adjustment, our system made that happen easily. From handling complex shots with good aesthetics to wide variety shots which involved matte paint extensions and seamless CG to live action integration, our incredible compositing team really brought the shots to life.”
Through several months of VFX production, RSP collaborated with the series’ production team, Netflix and Eiichiro Oda. “The feedback was very positive,” recalls VFX producer Nigel Venning. “Oda commented on how happy he was with the development of the ships, and that was much appreciated by our artists, many of whom were longtime fans of the manga.”
CG ships appear in several extended sequences. One centres on a thrilling chase. Garp’s battleship pursues the Going Merry and shoot cannon balls at it. RSP’s VFX team providing the cannon balls, sparks, smoke, impact debris and more. Another epic scene occurs at night and shows a tall-masted ship being capsized during a violent storm, with effects elements including mist, sprays, swells and thunder clouds.
The project’s biggest task was the series’ 2,000 frame opener. It begins with the camera moving over a pirate map of the world before landing in the small harbor town of Loguetown. The narration comes from a long dead pirate who describes the legend of One Piece, a treasure that holds the key to becoming King of the Pirates.
RSP artists created many elements for the sequence including the map, Loguetown and the more than 20 ships that fill its harbor. “The title sequence establishes the world of One Piece,” explains Chudawala. “As we travel across the map, we visit important stops in the story, a swamped ship, sea creatures, etc. We’re letting the audience know what to expect.”
RSP continued to hone its work until just a few weeks before the show’s debut on Netflix. “We were very proud of the way we were able to capture the spirit of the show and deliver rich, creative,” concludes Jones. “It was very rewarding to be given so much freedom and ownership over our shots. The results are really good.”