El Ranchito creates hordes of White Walkers for Game Of Thrones S7

El Ranchito used Golaem to create a White Walkers army surrounding the Brotherhood in a daunting moment of Game Of Thrones Season 7. They kindly detail their process and pipeline for us.

El Ranchito crowd team, Oscar Marquez (Crowd Lead) and Jordi Camps (Crowd TD), delivered around 200 crowd  shots, around 60 unique shots with its own simulation, including Golaem characters for Game Of Thrones Season 7. Most of them are in the 20 minutes battle scene happening on a Frozen Lake in Episode 6. 
In this scene, our hero and his group of friends are besieged by the Army of the Dead.  After defending themselves against an epic attack, they are saved in a huge battle of dragons.  As every penultimate episode in a Game of Thrones season, Episode 6 is made to be spectacular and visual effects are very impressive.

Although some shots are full CG, foreground live-action crowds were also used, which adds to the challenge for VFX artists. Indeed Oscar explains: “We had to deal with the same speed, including some slow motion shots, as the real crowds with our cg crowds and also to match their style with fx interaction and cloth simulation. To achieve that control in our agents we captured five sets of locomotions with several variations to give more range of movements to our agents. We also had a big library of motions with different walking, running, crawling, idles, specific actions and poses to make additions to our Army of the Dead ”. 
Some shots feature in total up to 100 000 wights. They were created by separating crowds in different levels, as Oscar details: “The first level usually had fore and background crowds, depending of the live-action crowds plates. We prepared different kind of simulations libraries depending on the crowds behaviors: excited, walking, run to the battle, with or without cloth sim…”.
For the far crowds “We created other simulation cache libraries in different states/behaviors: idles, excited, walking down the mountains… We divided the shot into cardinal points and different height levels, with different LOD and split caches in order to optimize render times. During the whole sequence of the frozen lake battle, anywhere you see you will see a crowd agent moving”

The team spent two months on pre-production including the time they need to setup the workflow and integrate Golaem into the El Ranchito pipeline. “Delivering so many shots with this quality was a crazy amount of work, but Golaem made this possible. It was so easy, thanks to the atomized Goalem files system we were able to smoothly flow one shot from the asset creation to the final render in only one week, and it took us around 3 to 4 months to deliver all these shots”. 
Oscar explains: “In that project we focused our workflow around the Golaem Layout Tool and its Cache Library. We created some simulations with specifics behaviors and cached them in the library to be shared in hundreds of shots, most of the time modifying them with the Layout Tool to get a nice agents placement.” 
He adds “Around 125-150 shots were made from 8-10 library caches, only with layout tweaks. As in most cases the ground during the project was live and non-approved, we relied a lot on the Layout Tool terrain adaptation to take these new terrains into account without having to redo the simulation. You cannot imagine how the post-simulation edition was so useful in this project! I cannot imagine achieving our schedules without that feature, our feeling was always that we have our assets, shots, files, simulations, and layouts of the project under control, and that allows to any artist spend much more time working in a beautiful shots instead of be worried in managing your files“

After the initial attack, El Ranchito crowd team created dozens of shots with mid and background cg crowds to support the sequence, in most cases coming towards the inner rock where our heroes are trapped. “During that sequence we have prepared a specific library of caches with different levels of wights, down level, 1st level with several actings to feed part of the shots. We also had cached same behaviors with cloth simulation with Apex PhysX and nCloth. For the shot where wights break the ice circle we worked side by side with the Fx department. The fluids simulation was made with Houdini and we interchange files in order to match the ice fractures with our agents falling down controlled with physics behaviors, and we shared our agents cached to make the ice fractures and fluids more accurate”

They also worked on the opening shot of the season, where the Army of the Dead emerges from the fog or on episode 5, when Bran uses ravens to spy on the Night King and his army. The ravens fly over a seemingly infinite army of the dead. To our great pleasure, Oscar reveals “We used Golaem flock system too for a couple of shots, when the night king stares at the ravens!”
Oscar concludes about Golaem “Supervisors, producers and executives are very happy with the quality of the results we obtained and with Golaem flexibility, procedurality and functionality!”
Learn More
About El Ranchito
El Ranchito is a Spanish visual effects company for film, television and advertising. Created in 2004, El Ranchito has participated in the postproduction of over one hundred spots and more than seventy films and television series, many of them for the international market.
The work of El Ranchito  has been recognized with seven Goyas in the section of Best Special Effects and with three VES (Visual Effects Society Awards) for Game of Thrones and The Impossible.