Red Sky Studios delivered more than 300 shots, nearly all of them including crowds, for the american sports drama Woodlawn, released theatrically on october 16th.
Red Sky Studios is a fast growing post production house located in the central United States which provides editing, sound mixing and visual effects to a wide range of clients. They run a "virtual office" which contains a core studio building and a network of artists from the United States that are remotely involved in their visual effects projects.
More than 300 shots in 4 different stadiums
Ethan Ledden who assumed the triple role of VFX Supervisor, Lead Crowd and Lighting TD on the movie explains: “We used Golaem to populate 4 stadiums for the film Woodlawn. One stadium is the massive Legion Field located in Birmingham AL which seats 72,000 spectators (193 shots). We also made a CG Sugar Bowl Stadium replica that seats 50,000 spectators (11 shots) and also populated two other small high school stadiums for other scenes in the film (102 shots).”
Red Sky Studios worked on Woodlawn during 6 months, from March to August 2015, with 10 to 15 people involved. The crowd team was composed of a Lead Crowd, 2 crowd TDs creating behaviors and scene setups, and 1 animator for custom animations (only 5 additional were created!).
Wide angle / no creative limit approach
Although most football films are shot tight to avoid seeing much crowd to save VFX, Woodlawn director decided to do the opposite. Ledden details “The majority of the shots had intense low angle roving Ronin and Steady Cam shots right on the field with the players streaking all over the place. The director wanted the freedom to do pretty much anything he wanted on set so we rarely told him that something wasn't possible. The footage was shot on epic dragons at 6k with Anamorphic Cooke primes and Optimo Zoom lenses. A typical shot was low wide angle looking right into the crowd with players in the foreground.“
He adds “Interestingly even though Legion Field can hold 70k people we found that it tended to look unrealistically full if we took the number that high. Above 40k and it looked like it was bursting at the seams from some angles. So for the super wide shots I kept it at about 35k, which seemed to look quite nice and helped keep render times short. For shots that weren't super wide, 28k seemed to work well to fill the stadium decently. For the 11 sugar bowl shots at the end of the film I populated it with 50k people, though we don't ever see them all at once.”
A very powerful tool
When asked about how Golaem facilitate his work, Ethan answers “Where to begin! The ease with which you can use golaem to quickly populate large areas of people is astounding. You can have a basic 25k crowd in front of you cheering in 10 minutes flat. And trust me, nothing compares to that moment when you see thousands of people staring back at you.”.
He continues “Beyond that for customization it took a bit to get the hang of the system but once you understand how things connected it was very easy to create behaviors for the crowd. When I compare it to Massive, it looked like it was going to take a month just to learn and I jumped into Golaem in a couple days.”
Ethan was solely responsible to light and render every plate for every shot on Woodlawn, in addition to his other responsibilities VFX supervising the comps. He had to make sure 6-10 plates and their passes were ready every week for the duration of the project. He says “That was pretty intense, but render times were very speedy, which basically made this project possible for us on a relatively small render farm. I think our average frames took about 10-15 minutes to render with all passes.”
Ledden kindly adds “Last but not least, Golaem support team was awesome! I had a lot of questions and they answered my emails quickly and effectively. They even added a few features that I suggested would make things easier.”
Ethan Ledden now feels very confident in Red Sky Studios ability to handle a new project involving crowds: “Every project is a stepping stone and we definitely learned a lot of tricks to working with crowds on this one. Working with difficult fast moving anamorphic footage was not easy, we knew it wouldn't be, but my VFX Production Supervisor Dustin Ledden helped keep us on schedule and within budget. We had a small team of hard working guys and I think with Golaem's help we were able to pull off a lot with a little.”
Actually he is even already planning his next projects: “We've started some R&D on some swarms of snakes for a potential project and we definitely have some projects farther out that will be using Golaem again. In the meantime we are totally gung-ho about doing more crowd work after this experience and hope to get the chance to do more soon!”
We are thrilled to announce that Atomic Fiction used Golaem Crowd for Game of Thrones, one of our favorite show. They delivered impressive shots giving life to the Dothraki Horde, the Stannis Army and the Bolton Cavalry.
Atomic Fiction delivered 217 shots, spread out over 7 episodes. On top of amazing crowds, they also created several Environment Extensions, Matte Paintings, CG Snowfall and a Horse on Fire!! Rudy Grossman, CG Supervisor at Atomic Fiction says “We are huge fans of Game of Thrones, so we were thrilled to have the opportunity to be a part of it. It’s an amazing feeling when we put our heart into something and can later step back and feel really proud of what was achieved”. Among these shots, 11 were crowd shots, done with Golaem Crowd: “This was our first project using Golaem, and we definitely put it through the trial by fire! It now has a proven track record with us, and is a solid part of our growing arsenal for tackling complex visual effects.”
The Atomic Fiction team started building the assets about 5 months before delivering final shots. The entire crowd team consisted of 4 crowd tds running the Golaem simulations, 2 animators creating a library of animation cycles for the various agents, 1 character rigger, 1 character modeler, 2 lookdev/texture artists, 2 lighters, 2 compositors, 1 fx td, 1 cfx TD, 1 pipeline TD.
Most of Atomic Fiction’s crowd work was for the season finale, episode 10. Daenerys is engulfed by a swirling horde of 4,000 CG Dothraki on horseback, created with Golaem Crowd.
These shots involving complex choreography of full screen quadrupeds were done by Hirofumi Kasagi who had the most experience using Golaem Crowd. Hirofumi also supported the other three crowd tds (Lalida Karnjanasirirat, Saurabh Maurya, and Carl Kaphan) by helping them learn the software on the spot and setting up their shots.
Stannis Vs Bolton Armies
Also in the season finale, Stannis' army is greatly outnumbered by Bolton’s cavalry during a siege on Winterfell. Golaem Crowd was used to create the wave of Bolton cavalry emerging from behind the ridge line, as well as the wide shots depicting the battle between the two armies. These shots had 3,000 Bolton Calvary mowing down 1,500 Stannis foot Soldiers.
The result is one of the best looking battle choreography done with Golaem Crowd. Rudy Grossman explains “Overall VFX Supervisor Joe Bauer and VFX Producer Steve Kullback were instrumental in giving us amazing guidance and a lot of trust in figuring this important sequence out. Joe worked with us very early on, through screen-sharing “camera blocking” sessions, where he helped us find interesting angles for shots. Joe, along with Atomic Fiction’s VFX Supervisor Ryan Tudhope, really wanted us to research battle formations and come up with interesting variety and movement to the battle. One of our rock star animators Julie Jaros, and myself, had the opportunity to plan and block out the battle sequence in this regard. We ended up devising an attack formation utilizing heavy and light cavalry offensive maneuvers, which was both historically accurate and looked really cool.”
Hero Quality On Crowds Characters
When asked about the most valuable points in Golaem Crowd for this show, Rudy Grossman first notes that it does not get in the way of artists and let them use their normal pipeline for building assets: “It was super important for us to apply the same standards we have for hero digital characters to our crowd characters. Not only were we able to integrate Golaem into our hero character pipeline, it also allowed us to keep our best artists doing what they do best. This can’t happen when the crowd software is a black box. During the asset build phase we were able to model, texture, lookdev, and animate our characters the same way we would if we weren’t using a crowd system. Then using Golaem Crowd, those same characters could be driven by the thousands!”
Another very important aspect Rudy notes is that Golaem provides the ability to layer animation: “By layering in subtle animation variations we could quickly add a complexity of unique and individual motion within the crowd.“
Rudy Grossman concludes “Golaem Crowd was essential for achieving the quality results demanded when delivering final shots to a high profile show like Game of Thrones.”. He adds “Also we really appreciated the responsive and helpful support team at Golaem, they made a huge difference in helping us hit the ground running!”.
Cloud Based Rendering
All shots were rendered with V-Ray on Conductor, Atomic Fiction’s cloud based rendering platform. To Rudy Grossman, this coupled to Golaem Crowd’s procedural rendering plugin was key to handle the multiple changes being requested on the shots: “We were throwing these 100+ frame shots at the render farm with thousands of cavalry, soldiers, Dothraki and getting the entirely rendered shots back dramatically faster. We could quickly scale up and reduce our wait time for the entire shot to just the wait time of our longest frame.“
Atomic Fiction is currently working on a film that should be released in mid-November. Rudy says “As soon as I saw the script, I knew this would be another project that would benefit from the power and efficiency of Golaem Crowd’s ability to layer animation over complex crowds while still fitting into our hero lookdev and lighting workflow.”
About Atomic Fiction
Atomic Fiction is an award winning visual effects studio making waves by combining talent and technology in a truly unique way. The company has embraced cloud computing, is small in size but benefits from a scalable ‘big shop’ infrastructure, and employs an exceptional team who wield a generalist approach to get the job done. The studio recently completed work on two Oscar-nominated films, Star Trek Into Darkness and The Lone Ranger. The company’s Emmy-nominated work can been seen in Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, as well as Flight, Looper and the upcoming release The Walk.
Atomic Fiction was founded in 2010. The company is headquartered in Oakland, California, and has offices in Los Angeles and Montreal.
Mikros Image filled the coliseum of the latest Orangina commercial with more than 20 000 Golaem Crowd spectactors cheering at gladiators. Combats end unexpectedly with a lot of water and fun.
Orangina renew itself with the "Shake the World" campaign, produced by Soixante Quinze and directed by Matthijs Van Heijningen. Mikros Image was responsible for the all visual effects: 45 shots, including 9 crowd shots.
Michael Etienne, Crowd TD, explains "We achieved the effects of this commercial in a record time of 18 days. We had a team of 20 people. 2 of them were in charge of producing models and specific motions for the crowds and I was in charge of crowd simulations."
He continues: "Golaem Crowd allowed us to produce quality and realistic images very quickly. One of the challenges was to match the CG crowds with the real plates, and Golaem Crowd did the job thanks to the powerful animation engine and the geometry and shading diversity management tools"
When asked about the shot he is most proud of, Etienne says "The final shot was the most interesting one. It’s a full CG shot that combines crowds filling the whole coliseum, and crowds interacting with the water of the giant pool (with divers and swimmers). Our animator provided us with diving animations that we fed into Golaem Crowd, and we placed characters along the pool. We constrained geometries to the bones of crowd characters, and the FX artist used them to calculate the fluid simulation into Houdini."
After this big success, Mikros Image is now working on another commercial for the car industry where they are filling a moving stadium with Golaem crowds. Stay tuned!
About Mikros Image
Mikros image is a post-production house, specializing in high-end digital visual effects and animation. Founded in 1985, Mikros image serves the entire entertainment industry including feature films, advertising, TV, video games and experiential events.
Headquartered in Paris, with offices in Brussels, Liège and Montréal, Mikros Image is home to a robust artist community that works on over 400 projects a year across the entertainment industry.
As an award winning studio, Mikros Image has been part of many celebrated projects.
The features animation division has built a strong creative team that has worked on a number of major animated films including the recent releases of le Petit Prince and Asterix: le Domaine des Dieux as well as Mune, which was awarded best animated film in Tokyo festival this year. In 2010 the team worked on Logorama which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
In advertising, Mikros Image’s work includes campaigns for marquee brands like Evian, Dior and Audi. and has won three Visual Effects Society Awards for its work on Citroen C3 Dog, Dior J’adore and Canal+The Bear.
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 VFX: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
- Cinefex: The VFX of “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”
- FXGuide: The strange effects in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
- Try Golaem Crowd
About Milk VFX
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.
(Spoiler Alert!) Rhythm & Hues used Golaem Crowd to populate the Meereen fighting pit with thousands of spectators cheering at fighters and then fleeing in front of an unexpected danger.
These epic shots features cheering and fleeing CG crowds made with Golaem Crowd as well as a CG dragon showing the huge expertise of Rhythm and hues on creature works.
See a breakdown of the scene published by Wired: