Story of a Crowd Artist: David Raymond

David Raymond is the Crowd Department Supervisor at Rodeo FX, where he has worked on legendary shots like the attack of The Wall in Game of Thrones, the biggest Golaem scene ever done to our knowledge. Today, he shares his experience about being a Crowd Artist. 

How did you become a crowd artist?
My very first crowd shot was in 2006, on a small movie named The Covenant. It was a swarm of spiders crawling on a bed and walls. It was quite fun to do. At the time it was done in Softimage Behavior. And it went on from there. I've worked most of my career in small companies so I basically was the only crowd artist in the team for a very long time. It gave me plenty of opportunities to work on various crowd shots when needed. Crowds demand being sporadic, it gave me opportunities to do a lot of other things too in the last 15 years that relates to crowds like rigging, cloth sim and various FX and animations.

Could you share a few projects you have worked on?
The Covenant ( 2006 ) - spider crowd, Black Swarm ( 2007 ) - killer bees swarms, Flood ( 2007 ) - city streets, Doomsday ( 2008 ) - riots, Ben Hur ( 2010 ) - Various gathering & naval battles, Stonewall ( 2015 ) - parade, Arrival ( 2016 ) - various gatherings, Game of Thrones S07 ( 2017 ) - The whitewalkers attack at the Wall, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ( 2018 ) - Intro sequence, Zombieland : Double Tap ( 2019 ) - Monster truck sequence zombies, Stranger things S03 ( 2019 ) - rats : crowd, rat bubbling and explosion, Lovecraft Country ( 2020 ) - War with Aliens, funeral scene, various city street

Given your experience in crowds, which trends have you seen emerge over time, and how do you see the future for crowds?
Well the covid situation temporarily boosted the demand for crowds right now, until the situation stabilizes and extras are once again able to be hired to fill sets. It gives us the opportunity to shine and show what can be achieved in cg, and improve our tools to better match what can be done live and more. With the rise in power of AI, machine learning and powerful gpus, I'm fairly confident a lot of our jobs as crowd artists will shift from being technically involved to something more like a choreographer focused on performance and flows.

Would you recommend CG artists to get in crowds? How? Which skills should they develop?
I would say that the most important skill to have is to be able to focus on the ensemble rather than the detail first. The eye will always try to find patterns and flows first, then it will seek details. It doesn't matter how much detail is in there, if the big picture doesn't work, people won't see it or understand it. It's a choreographer job at its core. That's the one thing that is common no matter which tool is used, the rest is just technicalities. Golaem, Houdini, Massive etc. They all have their technicalities specific to themselves that will have to be learned to make the shot work. But it's not that big of a deal if you know where you want to go with this particular tool. That being said, other skills that will facilitate the use of the tools would include maybe a bit of coding skills, nothing impressive, just general knowledge, enough to write basic expression statements. Animation skills also would help if you want to go in a small enough company where you might have to do some yourself or at least guide the animators to do what you really need. Basics in rigging would also be fun to have for the same reasons. The rest, like cloth sim, hair grooming etc. It's so software specific, don't bother that much if you are just starting. You will learn that on the job when you get there.

Anything else you would like to share?
Not really I think I babbled long enough to put you all to sleep. And I got shots to work on!

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