Behind the Scenes: PowerFX & Vocaloid 4 Ruby

There has been a bit of a media blackout concerning Vocaloid Ruby here at Engloids.Info, part of it was because most of the ongoing reports and ‘leaks’ in Ruby’s production were of questionable vivacity. It wasn’t until AnimeExpo and the 4th of July reveal event that we were able to get the first official word on the finalized details besides the name “Ruby”, an event that surprised many and lead to much confusion within the Vocaloid community.

There was a lot of fragmented information and conjecture involved in piecing it together; ultimately this article is the result of our findings.

Table of Contents

Note: information in this article is sourced from a variety of sources including, but not limited to, official VocaloidOtaku posts, official social media, and interviews & emails with those involved. 

Special thanks to @agatechlo who provided the featured image photo.

A Clear Distinction

Before we get into the meat of this article we must first take a look at the company behind it all: PowerFX Systems AB, colloquially known as PowerFX or simply PFX. Not all PowerFX Vocaloid are the same and it is important to understand the different ways a Vocaloid is made.

There are two main ways that PFX makes Vocaloid, completely in-house Vocaloid where PowerFX assumes all responsibility of a Vocaloid’s production and what I am going to call “collaborative” Vocaloid where PowerFX acts as a publisher where other parties handle the Vocaloid production and PFX limits itself to the marketing and distribution of the final product.

Examples of in-house developed Vocaloid include Sweet Ann, Big Al & YOHIOloid. An example of collaboratively developed Vocaloid is Oliver, a Vocaloid that was co-produced by VocaTone.

Meet the Team

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In the context of Vocaloid Ruby revealed last week she was a collaborative effort between PowerFX and various outside parties. Some are familiar, others new, there are of course more than we name but we will go over the main players below.[1]

PowerFX Publisher
Anders Project Lead
“Syo” Lead Programmer
“Misha” Voice Provider

Anders is of course being the same Anders Södergren who some might consider one of the fathers of English Vocaloid. Anders has been working with Vocaloid since the V1 days with Zero-G, being involved with LEON, LOLA, and Miriam in various capacities. As an independent contractor he not only worked with Zero-G, but later would move on to work with PowerFX and Yamaha directly. More recently he founded his own Vocaloid company, VocaTone and together with PowerFX he lead Vocaloid Oliver’s production.

Syo, a relatively new face in the Vocaloid production scene, hails from a background in UTAU production. According to Anders Syo has been involved in Vocaloid production since early 2013 when he was brought to Anders’ attention by a fellow VocaTone member as being “good UTAUs and good with phonetics”. After an initial good impression through interviews conducted over email and Skype, Syo was brought “on board” and issued a copy of Yamaha’s development software where he immediately was put to work in optimizing Vocaloid phonetics for American-style English.

Misha, like Syo, comes from a background in UTAU. She is the voicer and creator of the UTAU Hachi Makune. UTAU Hachi is no longer available for distribution and all her downloads have been set to private. Despite her UTAU singing exclusively in Japanese it is unknown if her downloads are related to the, now public, announcement that she is the voicer of Ruby. She is photo-ed in the header image at AnimeExpo for her part of the reveal.

Last but not least is of course PowerFX. They are a 3 man team from Sweden that produces and digitally distributes a wide variety of sound sets, sound libraries, SFX, loops, samples and software for over 20 years, working with such companies such as Apple Computers, Steinberg, Cakewalk, Denon, MOTU, Ableton, SanDisk and Yamaha. They also make Vocaloid.

There is also Yamaha, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone as Vocaloid is theirs and they make the rules, the rest of us just have to put up with them. In the end they have final approval over everything Vocaloid and nothing can be released without passing certification and getting Yamaha’s stamp of approval.

Setting the Stage

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Ruby, as a collaborative work has many moving parts, with all the different parties having their own area of responsibility.

Anders’ main role and responsibility seems to be to oversee all aspect in Ruby’s production. His primary role seems to be in deciding the direction the project would take and helping facilitate communication between all parties involved.

Syo, relatively young and coming from a background in UTAU his experience (and inexperience) would take a major role in the events to unfold. He is enthusiastic and passionate, throwing his all into the project till it would almost consume him.

PowerFX, as the publisher they are responsible for all marketing and distribution. While the making of the Vocaloid is handled by other people, PowerFX is ultimately responsible for the Vocaloid and is the one that has to answer to Yamaha.

Make no mistake, Yamaha is a major player here. Brandishing a new America-centeric reclist and new Vocaloid 4 engine Yamaha has a vested interest in all things Engloid. Yamaha would set hard deadlines, force hard decisions, and eventually be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The Problem

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Even with clearly defined roles and experienced members, anyone that has ever collaborated before can tell you that communication eventually breaks down, let alone an internet based collaboration with a team that spans three continents and members where English is not necessarily their first, or even second language.

Challenges the Team Faced

  • Time  Not enough of it.
    The pressure is on, Ruby needs to get prepared for mastering and Yamaha wants her by July.
  • Distance  Too much of it.
    The team is spread across the globe, with email and Skype being primary means of communication.
  • Language  Don’t speak of it.
    Its not just the fact that English isn’t everyone’s native tongue, its that sometimes some statements are ambiguous.

Where it Went Wrong

Based on their roles the team basically split itself into two to groups, those involved in the publishing (Yamaha, PowerFX) and those involved in production (Syo, later Misha), with Anders acting as an intermediary between the two parties. Confusion arose when somewhere along the project’s development there was a communication oversight, one party saying something, the other only getting half the message.

This miscommunication, dating back to December 2013, involved Syo bringing a friend in to do some possible character designs for the as of then, still unnamed Vocaloid. When he asked Anders about this he replied:

Yes she can, I can’t say that she will have the final say, but she can certainly come up with ideas for the design and if they’re good we’ll use them.

Thinking he had been given the green light to design as he wished both parties would be led on diverging paths with a different artistic vision about how they wanted their end product to be. With a July deadline from Yamaha fast approaching, publishing hired a separate artist, the art revealed at AnimeExpo reveal was submitted to Yamaha and ultimately the design differences between both sides of Ruby’s production was not able to be reconciled.

Inglorious Aftermath

Taking offense to ostensibly having opinions ignored and the alternative design apparently discarded, people reacted poorly, with one individual breaking NDA (Non-disclosure Agreement) and going public with their dissatisfaction.

After the public reveal fans mobilized themselves, the general fandom was agitated, a social media #hashtag was started, the race card was played, and disinformation campaign was put into effect with hundreds of hostile and uninformed mails streaming into PFX’s inbox.

How Things Stand

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Despite all of the drama Ruby is still on track to production. In fact Ruby has already been mastered at YAMAHA. When asked about the possibility of change PowerFX responded that it was still a possibility, but it would be at great expense, would require certain conditions, and the final date to do so was “12:00 July 9th”, likely Japanese Standard Time. At the time of press that is 12 hours from now.

Good news is with that “final” deadline literally right around the corner that means Ruby is in a good state, has passed her Yamaha certification, and that she is ready to go “gold” where the final masters for her inevitable physical release will finally be etched. No word yet on a release schedule or “official” demos, but we will post the news as it happens now that Ruby has finally made her debut.

A Non-Conclusion

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You can probably guess how I feel based on the heading and image embedded above about my person conclusions. Sadly, those opinions are unsuitable for the main “news” namespace and you can expect a related VocaRant sometime following. – Hentai

 

Editor’s Notes

  1. ^ Actual project titles are never explicitly stated. Above titles are inferred from their described roles.