Alter Ego hops on and leads the peloton with Golaem Crowd

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!”
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About Alter Ego
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.

Golaem Crowd 4.0, Take Full Control Of Your Crowds

In addition to an improved animation system, Golaem Crowd 4.0 enables to create more sophisticated shots and to populate scenes even faster by providing artists full control over the simulation. 
Golaem Crowd is being used by more than hundred vfx studios worldwide. The newest releases include Dracula Untold (Framestore), Hercules (Milk VFX, Cinesite), 22 Jump Street (Pixel Magic)... Golaem Crowd helped them ramp up on crowds and deliver great projects quickly.
Golaem Crowd 4 provides more advanced features with the same ease of use and facilitates the interaction of the crowd simulation with other elements in the shot: open access to simulation data, curve driven simulation, simulation cache scrubbing and editing… Artists can now take dailies requests into account immediately, without going back to the simulation, and get their shots validated in no time.

Thanks to Golaem Crowd’s ease of use, artists from different disciplines such as layouts, environments and animation could be trained up very quickly and be running shots within a week or two

Ben  Lambert, CG supervisor at Framestore

Iterate Faster On Your Shots

Golaem Crowd artists benefit from instant previsualization of crowds geometry in the Maya viewport. Previsualization now even includes advanced animation like blend shapes and cloth simulation. The result is close enough to the final render for studios to validate the crowd simulation with playblasts before rendering. 
The simulation can now be debugged by activating the Visual Feedback to check which behaviors or motions are running and display debug information in the viewport.
Golaem Crowd 4.0 allows artists to cache the simulation for Interactive Replay and Timeline Scrubbing, facilitating work and validation steps. When small retakes are needed, they will enjoy the new simulation cache editing functionalities: cached characters can now be selected and directly moved, removed from simulation or imported for manual keyframe editing.

Create More Sophisticated Shots

The new Channels System gives access to a character internal states, to get information such as its type, the current Motion Clip, bones positions, orientation, color... These can be used to trigger behaviors or feed custom written scripts.
A nCloth based Cloth Simulation behavior has been added, enabling artists to benefit from advanced cloth simulation for close-up shots. 
Last but not least, the Synchronized Motion Behavior enables artists to precisely control the occurrence of an animation by placing locators in the scene. It facilitates precise interactions like climbing ladders, triggering jumps, or synchronized close combat.

Animate Smarter

Golaem Crowd 4.0 introduces new ways to get a more realistic and varied crowd at nearly no additional animation cost.
The new SetBone Behavior allows to modify the orientation of any bone with a fixed value, a noise function or any other expression. It is an efficient way to add noise when input motions are too static or even to design procedural motions without any motion capture input.
Golaem Crowd 4.0 also integrates Animation Layers, which enable to extract a pose (e.g. clasped hand) or secondary animation (e.g. breathing) from an existing motion, and add it on top of other motions. It is possible to add any number of additional motions and randomize them individually to create an infinity of new animations.
Golaem Crowd 4.0 animation engine now supports Squash & Stretch and benefits from a new ground adaptation system, more precise, and even able to adapt characters feet on other characters lying on the ground.


Extended Compatibility & Alembic Export

Golaem Crowd has been updated to support the latest releases of major renderers (V-Ray, Arnold, Renderman Studio, Mental Ray, 3Delight) and still offer compatibility with previous versions.The Golaem Crowd Arnold procedural plugin for Arnold can also be used in SoftImage and Katana.
On top of the existing FBX export, Golaem Crowd for Maya 2015 can now export Alembic Geometry Cache including shaders name information and user attributes. 
Golaem Crowd is compatible with any Maya version from 2012 to 2015 (Windows or Linux, 64 bit). 
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Golaem and Framestore at Paris Image Digital Summit, January 21-22

Framestore will be giving at talk at Paris Images Digital Summit on Thursday 22nd at 5:15pm covering how Dracula Untold huge battle scenes were brought to life using Golaem Crowd.

The Golaem team will be attending the summit, ready to answer your questions about how Golaem can help bring life to your productions.

If you are still a student, ask us why Golaem is the right choice for kickstarting a student carrer, we will be happy to explain how you can find a job in crowds!

Learn more on Paris Images Digital Summit

Dracula, Framestore unleashes the monster in their crowd pipeline

Framestore helped Gary Shore to tell an unusual Dracula story. With 80+ shots, crowds were an important part of the story and Framestore made an extensive use of Golaem Crowd to turn 120 extras in armour into 10 000.

A successful collaboration

Ben Lambert, CG Supervisor at Framestore, tells the genesis of this collaboration: “We hadn’t done crowds for a while, so there was a nice blank canvas element to it. We knew the final output would have to feed into fMob, our proprietary crowd tool, and be rendered in Arnold, but the front end of actually making the crowds was open. It was fun to be able to evaluate different crowd software and start staging shots. Having worked with it already on commercials we decided to use Golaem."

He continues: "We had a really close relationship with them throughout the show. With that software support and the ease of use that comes from the software being embedded inside Maya, artists could be trained up very quickly. Our R&D team integrated it into the interface of fMob and artists from different disciplines such as layouts, environments and animation could learn it and be running shots within a week or two."

Building the Turkish army

In some scenes, Framestore had to turn 120 costumed extras into 10,000. They created 5 types of soldiers with various props using cyber scans and used their own motion capture studio to get various marching, fighting and retreating motions. These data were then imputed into Golaem Crowd to layout and simulate the army.

Christian Manz, Overall VFX Supervisor, explains "Due to the limitations placed on us during the shoot – the number of stunt performers and extras varied from day to day – we ended up with digital soldiers much closer to camera than planned. In a couple of shots the bat flock rides through the entire army tossing soldiers and props into the air. Though we filmed blue screen elements for these, the shots ended up entirely digital which speaks volumes of amazing team we had!"

The hand of bats

In one signature shot, Framestore simulated a huge flock of bats flying through 10 000 Golaem CG soldiers on which Golaem Crowd performs physics simulation, thanks to the Bullet engine integration. As the other shots, this one started off on set with only 120 men in armour.

“We shot four cranes at the corners of the quarry and a Spyder cam that could zip across and follow the army,” explains Christian, “but later, as we became more confident in our CG soldiers and the shots became more complicated we replaced more and more, to the point where 90% of it was replaced with CG.” The live-action soldiers generally fill the foreground in close-up shots, while the CG crowds fill out the rest of the Turkish horde. 

“The larger scale shots with crowd behaviour changes that Montreal did really pushed Golaem’s functionality at the time, so it’s great to have helped improve it and it’s a good base for us to build upon in the future. It was a fun process and once we saw the first crowd renders of them all marching, with the flags and their armour glistening in the sun, it was really encouraging to see the route we took worked,” says Ben.

All the Golaem team also loved to work with you guys, and we are really proud of the results. We actually enjoyed it so much that we hired one of the 5 crowd artists, Sallu Kazi, as our support specialist!

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Landauer crowd breakdown by Lavalabs

Lavalabs, a creative and innovative VFX studio based in Germany created all crowds for "Landauer - Der Präsident", a movie about a popular president of the FC Bayern Munich. They provided us with a great crowd breakdown!

Kurt Landauer laid the foundation for the most successful football club in the post-war German history. A former player of the FC Bayern Munich, Kurt Landauer was first appointed as its president in 1913, but had to leave because of the WWI. He was elected again when he returned after the war, but had to leave germany due to the rise of the nazis in 1933. After being arrested and sent to Dachau, freed 33 days later, he had to emigrate to Switzerland. He returned again to Munich after the war and assumed a third tenure as president. 

Lavalabs created loads of Visual Effects to recreate WWII germany as well as the historic FC Bayern Munich stadium which they populated with thousands of supporters. Golaem Crowd and its character pack enabled them quickly create diversity in the stadium as well as on the roofs of the surrounding buildings.

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