Red Sky Studios creates amazing crowds on a budget with Golaem

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.”


What’s next?

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!”
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Atomic Fiction creates epic crowds for Game Of Thrones Season 5

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.

Dothraki Horde

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.”

Learn more:

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.

Motion Retargeting for Crowd Simulation, our DigiPro 2015 paper

We were delighted to present Golaem Crowd motion retargeting techniques at ACM DigiPro 2015 this summer. Today we are sharing our full paper as well as slides and videos. You should definitely check the other amazing DigiPro 2015 presentations by Pixar, Dreamworks, ILM and Iloura which are available on the ACM Digital Library.

Amongst the various tools embedded in Golaem Crowd, it includes a dedicated character animation engine. Golaem Crowd animation engine allows real-time motion retargeting as well as interactive motion synchronization and blending.

For this talk, we detailed the Golaem Crowd motion retargeting workflow, as well as its features and how it helps solving production constraints by reducing the number of assets to create and by facilitating the reuse of assets.

Indeed, in a crowd simulation context, motion retargeting has several benefits. A same motion can be used for several character morphologies helping to reduce the number of motions to capture, process or create. It also allows reusing motions created for a specific character, in a previous show, on a new character.

Here are the slides and videos from our talk:

Learn more:


Meet the Golaem Team at Siggraph / DigiPro 2015

The Golaem team will attend both DigiPro and Siggraph this year. We will be happy to meet you there and hear about your next crowd challenges. Do not miss the live demos on booth #737!

We are excited to show you the latest productions done with Golaem Crowd 4 (Game Of Thrones, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, ...), our new integrations (3dsMax+V-Ray, Renderman 19/20, Guerilla Render, Katana...). You will also get a chance to see the latest features we have been working on. They are going to revolutionize the way you do crowds!


Motion Retargeting for Crowds

Get a technical overview of the Golaem Crowd motion retargeting workflow and how it helps reduce the amount of assets in your production.

Saturday, 8th  9:45am - 11:25am
Beaudry Theater, Los Angeles Center Studios

More on DigiPro Website


Meet with our Team

Meet the Golaem Crowd Product Manager and our developers to get a live demo of the latest features in Golaem Crowd.

Tuesday 11th - Thursday 13th
Siggraph Exhibition floor, booth #737

Book an appointment

Golaem User Group

Meet with people creating crowds

Get together with Golaem Crowd users and people interested in crowds while enjoying free food and drinks.

Monday 10th 6 - 9pm
Ask your favorite Golaem guy for an invitation


Mikros Image shakes crowds with Orangina and Golaem Crowd

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!
Learn more:
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.