Milk VFX recently completed 1000 shots for the BBC’s television drama Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. One of the VFX highlights was the Battle of Waterloo, including 50,000 soldiers simulated with Golaem Crowd.
Building on its experience with Golaem Crowd on feature films The Divergent series: Insurgent and Brett Ratner’s Hercules, Milk VFX created a one minute long shot for the Battle of Waterloo sequence in episode 5, as well as fifteen shots of a giant flock of ravens in episode 6 and 7.
Battle of Waterloo
The opening five minutes of episode 5 transports the audience into the 1815 Battle of Waterloo where Jonathan Strange (Bertie Carvel) directs his otherworldly powers to aid the British war effort. Milk spent three months creating a full range of effects to bring this epic sequence to life for television, including; full 3D aerial shot of the battle with extensive crowd work as well as water and mud effects simulation, modelling and texturing, matte painting, animation and 2D work.
The episode opens to a spectacular sixty-second swooping aerial shot of Waterloo, panning over a smoke-covered battlefield filled with thousands of soldiers and cannon-fire to reveal the full scale of the war. Milk worked closely with director Toby Haynes to design the sequence, pre-visualise the shot and get the camera move absolutely right in order to transition from full 3D to live action.
“Rather than just seeing twenty extras in the scene, with the main battle happening off-camera we wanted to get the full horror of the fighting. Milk has done similar scale shots for films such as “Insurgent” and “Hercules“ so this represents a crossover to what can be done in high-end television in 2015.” said Will Cohen, Milk’s CEO.
Inspired by battle scenes in Sergei Bondarchuk’s film “Waterloo” – in which 40,000 extras were used - the Milk team began building the Waterloo sequence, using it as a point of reference for terrain and textures.
The Milk team studied historical reference maps of the battle and Google maps of the area to ensure the terrain geography and formation of the soldiers was historically correct. Once the camera move and length of the shot were locked down, the team worked on the choreography of the shot by blocking all of the soldiers’ actions using simplistic rigs.
Four different types of soldier identifiable by their uniforms and two types of soldiers on horseback were created. The team also created a variety of props including cannons, trees, bushes and houses.
All the props were researched to ensure historical accuracy: Each cannon for example, had five soldiers manning it. The production’s costume department provided the soldiers’ uniform references and Milk photo scanned each one.
In total, Milk created 50,000 digital extras, cannon fire and the crowd fighting and running. Nicolas Hernandez, CG Supervisor on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell explains: “We used Golaem Ragdoll for the soldiers being hit by cannonballs. We created a library of canon explosions with projection of a cannon ball; done in Maya and Houdini. We also created glinting water for the puddles and created footprints for every person on the battlefield. Smoke, mud and atmosphere elements were simulated in Houdini and rendered in Maya. The 50,000 extras were rendered using the Golaem Crowd for Arnold procedural.”
Hernandez, concludes “The shot was created over a three-month period; with a very small team (around 10 artists, including only one FX TD for crowds). The pipeline was very smooth. Considering the length of the Waterloo shot and the tight deadline it was good to be able to render the full CG shot without any worries.”
In episode 6 and 7, Milk created 15 shots of a 250 ravens flock. On top of the swarm creation, the raven model being particularly detailed (including more bones than a real raven!), Golaem Crowd was particularly useful for caching the animation and getting an interactive visualisation in Maya.
As for the Waterloo shot, the crowds work on the ravens shot was done by a single FX TD.
Milk is an independent, boutique visual effects company with studios in London and Cardiff and creates innovative and complex sequences for high-end television and feature films.
Founded by award-winning VFX Supervisors and Producers in June 2013, the team has created visual effects for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Doctor Who, Sherlock, Thunderbirds Are Go, 24: Live Another Day, David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive 3D and Ice Age Giants on television, and for feature films including The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Ex-Machina, Poltergeist, Brett Ratner’s Hercules, Snow White and the Huntsman, Les Miserables, Dredd 3D and 47 Ronin.
Milk has recently completed work on director Ben Wheatley’s forthcoming feature film High-Rise (Recorded Picture Company) and the BBC and Hartswood’s Sherlock special episode.
Milk has won two BAFTA Television Craft Awards; in 2014 for their work on the BBC’s Doctor Who 50th anniversary special: Day of the Doctor and again in 2015 for Doctor Who: Deep Breath.
Milk is located in Fitzrovia and Cardiff Bay and has the capacity for 120 artist seats.
We are very proud to announce that Golaem Crowd has been nominated in CGAwards 2015 Plugin Category. Please vote for us so that we can make it to the final shortlist!
Here is what the CGAwards says about Golaem Crowd:
'"If you need crowds in your production, and you want to do it with as few hassles as possible, then Golaem is what you need. It is powerful, flexible, and does what it says on the box. Support is also excellent."
Alf Lovvold is a 3D Generalist, cofounder of Gimpville studio. He used Golaem Crowd to animate hordes of Mixamo zombies for his personal project "Dawn of the planet of the zombies and the giant killing plants..."
The result is an incredibly appealing teaser. Knowing that Alf did all this by himself with few external help speaks volumes about his talent.
Alter Ego, Director Mark Zibert and Innocean Worldwide Canada have completed a commercial for Cycling Canada. “Bicycles” features real and CG bikes on mountain roads and other venues across Canada.
The epic commercial illustrates cycling sports in various environments with a dark, dirty and gritty look. The catch of the spot is that in all the scenes the bikes are missing the riders which in turn should inspire the viewers to hop on their bikes. Avid cyclists within the agency's, the client's and Alter Ego’s staff provided their detailed knowledge on cycling, bicycles and riding techniques to make the spot look as real as possible.
Every shot had two takes, a hero reference pass with bike & rider and a close match without them. The editor kept two synchronized edits going, developing the feel with the bike/rider shots and using the biker-less edit to guarantee clean shots for CG. At the end, half of the shots (25) where slated for CG, a third for paint and a few hybrids of cg/paint outs. Whenever possible the bikes were shot without rider, using props to facilitate the paint out job, but it was seldom the case.
The spot ends with a few peloton shots with +100 bikes which triggered the need for a crowd solution in order to easily iterate on the animation and handle the rendering. It is a rather unusual usage for crowd systems, which are more accustomed to simulate humans than the things they are riding. However, Gareth Stevenson, an experienced Golaem Crowd user, had built together with the Golaem team a bicycle rig enabling to get wheel traction and ground contact. (Gareth used the rig in a yet unreleased feature film and presented the setup in his course on fxphd)
Sebastian Bilbao, who recently joined Alter Ego to lead the CG department's growth explains “Golaem Crowd was offering a plug-and-play bicycle solution, fully integrated into Maya and V-Ray; not only that but the fact that their demo team was in town and available to meet with: we were sold. Golaem's support team and Gareth helped us through the fast learning curve, putting us up to speed and helping us derive template scenes for our crowd shots.”
Eileen Peng, CG artist in charge of the crowd shots continues: “Along with classic crowd functionality and asset diversification, Golaem provided us with flawless wheel traction and wheel ground contact. We explored several methods to obtain the most reliable motion library possible; from object tracking to motion capture solutions and traditional keyframing. We ended up using mostly keyframed motions because the "real" motions had nuances that looked unrealistic without the rider, go figure. Once we had the Golaem templates integrated with our tracked layout and camera scenes, we could cruise through the shots iterating countless versions without any problems nor glitches.“
Shots were rendered with Chaos Group V-Ray, using V-Ray RT to refine the light rigs, and getting fast renders on the farm: ~5min at 3-4K with +100 bikes with motion blur.
The workflow was smooth enough that Alter Ego’s team ended up using Golaem Crowd for a mini-crowd in one of the underpass-tunnel shots which had enough bikes to take advantage of the iteration speed Golaem Crowd provides. All in all, the four crowd shots in the spot were in production for about four weeks, about a week each, scattered through a two month period.
Sebastian relates on his previous experience in many famous studios: “Crowds are now fun and easy. Having used older crowd systems, Golaem Crowd proved to be much more user friendly without the steep learning curve. We are now pitching non-peded living forms: snakes and worms!”
Andres Kirejew, VFX Supervisor, concludes “Both the client and agency aimed for an epic spot and gave us lots of creative freedom to meet this challenge. It was a super fun project to work on. We are very proud of all the shots, even if the aerial long shot with a large peloton going up mountain curves stands out the best. We are glad that the slick workflow prevented us from losing any sleep on this project!”
Alter Ego is a Toronto based leading color grading studio with a growing vfx department. In total 5 color suites, 4 VFX suites, shooting studio and a CG department; most Canadian commercials get something done through Alter Ego.