Story of a Crowd Artist: Louis Maëro

Louis Maëro and his team at MPC Paris just finished a bunch of 240 epic battle shots for "Astérix & Obélix: l’empire du milieu". We wanted to know more about his story, how he came to become a Head of Crowd and what his vision is regarding the future of crowds.

How did you become a crowd artist?
I discovered Golaem for the first time 6 years ago during an internal training at MPC (when it was still called Mikros). This training was given by Michael Etienne (now Crowd Supervisor at Fortiche) to about ten people. At that time, there were relatively few projects involving crowds. Following this training, I was offered the opportunity to work on crowds for an upcoming project. It involved filling the Champs-Elysées with pedestrians and cars for the film "Santa et Cie" directed by Alain Chabat.
Afterwards, I was offered the opportunity to collaborate on every project involving crowds, and gradually gained experience with Golaem, becoming the main point of contact for any crowd-related requests. I was able to integrate Golaem and develop a crowd pipeline in MPC's pipeline along with the various needs. The increasing demand for crowd quality in projects allowed me to develop tools to overcome various challenges.

Could you share a few projects you have worked on?
My first crowd project was "Santa et Cie," but the biggest crowd project to date is undoubtedly "Astérix & Obélix: l’empire du milieu"! I also worked on the movies "The Last Duel" directed by Ridley Scott, "Adieu les cons" directed by Albert Dupontel, "Aline" directed by Valérie Lemercier, and the TV Shows "The Serpent Queen" by Starz. More recently, I worked on projects which have not been released yet, such as "L’empire", the Netflix show "Tapie," and "Marinette" for example. 
These recent projects gave me the opportunity to use Golaem to populate shots with non-human character assets, such as penguins or spaceships. It is interesting to be able to rely on the same tools to manage a large quantity of diverse and complex assets.

Santa & Cie VFX Breakdown by MPC Paris

Given your experience in crowds, which trends have you seen emerge over time, and how do you see the future for crowds?
Over the past few years, the number of projects requiring crowds has been continuously increasing! When I started working with crowds, there were only one or two projects per year. Now, I regularly have multiple projects running simultaneously. As a result, I am no longer alone, and we have had to assemble a team of crowd artists to meet the demand.
I believe that crowd effects will become even more prevalent! They are visually impressive on the screen, and the technologies used to create them are becoming more affordable and accessible. This includes simulation software like Golaem and the creation of third-party elements involved in crowd fabrication, such as motion capture systems.
Furthermore, in addition to being more frequent, crowd effects will move away from the classic stadium filling. Crowd characters will be closer to the camera and, therefore, necessarily more detailed. They will often be as detailed as main characters themselves.

How did the Covid crisis affected film production and the way you are working with crowds? Can you feel the difference now and before covid or is everything back to normal?
I believe the increase in crowd projects is no longer directly related to the Covid crisis. There was a surge in requests for real-time crowd effects, for example, filling football stadiums with reactive audience reactions based on what was happening on the field. However, these requests never went beyond a few preliminary tests.
For VFX, I don't think Covid has had a significant impact. Anyway, due to budget and technical constraints,  it is unrealistic to fill a stadium with extras for two shots in a film or gather tens of thousands of extras dressed as Romans. 
Moreover, creating crowds using CG allows for greater control over the appearance, actions, behaviors, and emotions of the crowd.
For me, crowd production has been quiet during the Covid period, but that was due to the global halt in shootings rather than a specific impact on the crowd sector.

Would you recommend CG artists to get in crowds? How? Which skills should they develop?
I definitely recommend CG artists to venture into the world of crowds!
I really enjoy working with crowds because it spans across an extremely wide and diverse range of areas. Creating a crowd shot involves asset creation, rigging, animation, simulations (both crowd simulations and sometimes post-simulations for cloth or particles), lighting, and even the basics of compositing, depending on the projects.
Therefore, I believe a crowd artist should be comfortable and skilled in all of these steps. These different steps are regularly performed on numerous elements. So, one essential skill for a crowd artist is the ability to automate tasks that can be automated. It's important to have scripting knowledge!

Would you have some advice for people wanting to create a demoreel in order to be hired as Crowd TD?
As I mentioned before, demonstrating the ability to handle modifications in domains beyond just Golaem simulations can be highly appreciated!
I believe it's a good idea to showcase simulations using customized assets.
Unfortunately, I don't have a magic recipe because it all depends on the specific needs of projects at the time of recruitment.
However, the classic advice applies to crowd TDs as well. Instead of including all of your work, focus on showcasing your best and most relevant work that demonstrates your capabilities for the position you're aiming for.
It's better to have a short and effective demoreel than something that shows too much.

Anything else you would like to share?
I am excited to see the evolution of crowd simulation in the years to come. The increasingly powerful tools provide more flexibility and freedom in what we can create. I eagerly anticipate the introduction of AI to further enhance these tools! The future will bring improved motion capture with AI, animations generated based on behavioral indications, and characters that can be dressed in ways other than random rules!