Friday, September 10, 2021 - 14:47

Kangjoo Kang followed his passion for crowds since he was at university. Now a crowd artist at eNgine Visual Wave, he has worked on various epic productions in the best Korean studios. He shares his story with us today.

How did you become a crowd artist?
I majored in CG at the university. My brother, who was studying with me, showed me a video: it was "World War Z". I first learned about crowd simulation thanks to the scenes in this movie. It really stroke me, that's how I started studying about crowds.
At that time, I knew nothing about crowds or crowds software. I had a hard time getting to know the crowd software Miarmy, installed it, and used it. I had no access to a render farm as a student, so I worked all night installing Miarmy on all computers in the school lecture room in order to build a render farm.

I made a lot of efforts to be a Crowd artist. The most memorable moment was when I thought: "Ah! I'll be the agent!". So I played a passerby in a movie and had to follow the instructions of the director. This experience helped me understand how a crowd should move. What I felt at that time was that if I controlled the movement of the crowd well, I could make a small number of people look like a very large crowd.

I started working as a Crowd Artist at Dexter Studio. I was lucky because my team leader at that time gave me a lot of time to work on R&D, so I was able to do as much as I wanted. I was also writing my master thesis, comparing three different crowd software so I was able to do a more detailed analysis. What I focused on was the speed of work, ease of modification, and the quality of the simulation itself.

That's when I studied Golaem in details, and discovered the Golaem Layout tool, which I thought was a powerful tool to get the job done in a time a constant updates because it was enabling to perform modifications after simulation.

Could you share a few projects you have worked on?
I am more suited to crowd work that expresses creativity such as jumping and swimming than to human-type crowds. It's a very attractive task to control characters movements and their interactions.

I put that kind of work in the first scene of my showreel. It was a very interesting and memorable project where fish attacked an individual.

After Dexter, I moved to Digital Idea where, among other productions, I worked with Golaem on the movie "Vanguard". On one of the tasks we had to do, the FX team was saturated and the animation team was not able to work with a large number of objects.
I think Golaem's Physics function is one of the really good features so I thought: "What if you use the Physics function to perform rigid simulation, remove the cache, and make additional corrections with the layout tool?". I worked on that hypothesis, and the results were very surprising.

Given your experience in crowds, which trends have you seen emerge over time, and how do you see the future for crowds?
The location of the crowd in a shot keeps evolving: the crowd used to be behind main characters and play an auxiliary role, however now it is getting closer to the main character.

I think one of the reasons is because higher quality animation sources are available. Crowd software are also getting lighter and lighter and their simulations can be exported to a variety of platforms, including Unity, Unreal Engine, and Houdini.

I think that if crowd simulation has only been used in the past and present to make movies, it will be widely used in the future in the game industry and in research that many others need. :)

How did the Covid crisis affect film production and the way you are going to work with crowds?
The Covid situation seems to have made the role of crowds more important.
It seems that there will be more opportunities to add CG crowds to a scene because now we cannot have many people on set.

I hope that Covid disappears soon, but it has become an ironic situation in which there are more opportunities for crowd work.

Would you recommend CG artists to get in crowds? How? Which skills should they develop?
Of course! It provides artists with work efficiency and includes workflow in many domains, including animation, FX, Simulation, etc.
I am still continuously studying various fields: animation, motion capture, and script... A Crowd TDs should know almost every part of 3D.
If you want to gain a general experience, I think a good way to do it is to work on Crowd Simulation.

One thing I felet while writing my bachelor's thesis on Crowd Simulation was that I felt the program was not so important, and the most important thing was my own feelings. If the picture I want to express is clear, then I can use any program for expressing the picture.
So when I recommend Crowds, I suggest you analyze how the crowd works and think about how it works, rather than how you use the program!

Would you have some advice for people wanting to create a demoreel in order to be hired as crowd td?
Crowd TD demoreels should not be just large numbers and huge shots, but also high-quality work on crowd movements and interactions.
I think it increases the probability of employment.

Indeed, recently the trend of crowd work has been to continuously come closer and closer to the camera, and even a small number of characters can be handled to the crowd department. I think detailed expression is the most important even if the number is relatively small.

Anything else you would like to share?
My motto in crowd work is 'Continuous Hypothesis and Proof'. Crowd TDs constantly form hypotheses, prove them, and work on them.

I think Golaem was the best way to realize my idea. My dream is not to be satisfied with my current position, but to work harder and become a Crowd TD model for many people. I hope we can share a lot of information and enjoy working on crowds.

Monday, June 21, 2021 - 16:32

Junghyun Joo astonished us posting snippets of his crowd work on his LinkedIn account. We were really surprised by the great variety of shots and quality of his works so we wanted to know more. Today he shares his story with us.

How did you become a crowd artist?
I originally entered the video industry as a 3D animator. My first company was a small animation studio, and of course I didn't have access to crowds back then. It was after moving to a second VFX company that I met Golaem. However, the first crowd tool I encountered was Miarmy, which I started using for R&D, not for production. The reason is that Miarmy was the trend at that time, and the senior artist I was working with was a Miarmy user. I studied on my own with tutorials and with the help of that senior artist for a while, but after I was able to handle some of the functions, I felt some discomfort. The biggest inconvenience was that I had to check the look of my crowds with a box-shaped character rather than with the actual model, and also the non-intuitive behavior settings. Then, I was curious about what a different tool would be like, and I came across with Golaem. When I first saw Golaem, my thoughts were that it was fairly intuitive and that the final look of my crowds could be checked fairly easily. For this reason, I decided to use Golaem as my main tool. This was my beginning as a Crowd Artist. Since then, I have switched companies twice and have used Miarmy, Golaem, and Massive, and now I am using Golaem as my main tool. It's something I'm comfortable with, and I like the fact that it is quite straightforward to send the crowds in Katana and Unreal.

Could you share a few projects you have worked on?
I only worked in Korea, so there are not many works that are known worldwide, just one Netflix drama: Sweet Home. My beginning as a fully-fledged Crowd Artist is the Korean movie Ansiseong, which was the war movie with the most crowd scenes in any Korean movie. And after that, I participated in the Chinese movie Shanghai Fortress, the Korean drama My Country, the Korean movie Seobok, and the Netflix drama Sweet Home, and I am working on 5 projects that are still unreleased. I can't say that I have participated in many works, but I was able to gain a lot of experience as a Crowd Artist. Starting with ordinary citizens, I worked on various creatures living in the land, sea, and air, such as soldiers, zombies, cockroaches, mices, crows, and fishes.

Given your experience in crowds, which trends have you seen emerge over time, and how do you see the future for crowds?
If crowds used to be a job so technically difficult and expansive that it was only used for one or two shots in a movie, now it is a universal technique that frequently appears in TV dramas. In addition, in the past, it mainly consisted in wide shots, but these days, we encounter more and more close-up shots.

I think that in the past, the director was focused on 'Is this possible?', beyond the limits of technology, but now it has expanded to 'Please express it this way'. Since crowds have to express large-scale scenes that cannot be filmed in real life, it is starting to become a solution to various scenarios. Therefore, I think the proportion and demand in crowds will continue to increase in the future.

As a result, I think the value of Crowd Artists will go up even more. After the revolution of the movie The Lord of the Rings, crowd tools also made a leap forward, and it seems that there will be many easier and more functional programs in the future. Could Golaem also become an axis of the future? Think about it.

How did the COVID crisis affect film production and the way you are going to work with crowds?
Due to the impact of the COVID, people are spending more time at home. Naturally, the watch time over TV or OTT has increased and as a result VFX companies have so many jobs that they are booming (although the film industry has fewer jobs). Our company is also working mainly on Netflix works.
OTT works that are coming out these days doesn't seem to be inferior to the quality of movies. People these days want something fresher and cooler. There are various elements of the drama that match their expectations, and I think that crowd scenes make it even more special. As I said earlier, crowds are already becoming a trend. It's like there isn't a project I'm working on that doesn't include a crowd scene.

Would you recommend CG artists to get in crowds? How? Which skills should they develop?
I would highly recommend getting in crowds to other CG artists. Most of the crowd work involves large-scale scenes. Because of that, every shot is really cool, and that makes me happy. However, in reality, it is rare to have a separate crowd team except for a large-scale studio. So, perhaps because of the closeness of work, there are many cases where animators also serve as crowd artists.

If you want to do crowds but don't have a seat, I recommend starting your career as an animator like me. It is important for crowd artists to master crowd tools, but it is even better if they have the animation skills to create the motions they need. It may be my personal opinion, but I think that to be a good crowd artist you have to learn animation. Because animation is the basis of crowds.  Whether it's motion capture or animation, you need to develop the ability to see the right action for the situation. 

Personally, I think crowds are made up of animations, placements, and entity quantities. In other words, it is the realm of the senses. Technological things can be covered with learning, but I think the ability to see the right look will naturally develop through animation. This results in richer and more realistic crowds.

Last but not least, being able to create simple tools with scripting also helps a lot.

Anything else you would like to share?
A good crowd scene emerges from disorder in order. To put it simply, I think it can be said about balance and variation. When you understand this, I think you'll be a real crowd artist making great shots.

Friday, May 14, 2021 - 16:40

Dan Warom is a CG Supervisor with a long experience as Crowd TD. He has work in some of the best studios where he implemented crowd pipelines allowing him and his teams to create tons of crowd shots with an incredible productivity. Today, he shares his story and experience with us.

How did you become a crowd artist?
While I’d studied animation, I actually got my start in features as an FX TD. I was working at a company called Asylum when I was asked whether I had any Massive knowledge as that was the next project available to me. I figured how hard could it be so I replied “I’ll give it a shot!”, a paycheck is a paycheck.  So I guess I got into crowds because of cold hard cash!  As it happened, after my first Massive project, the main crowd TD left and it was just me and very much a trial by fire to get more skilled.  From that point on I was able to merge my animation training along with my FXTD experience to become a better crowd TD. Some 14 years later and here we are!

Could you share a few projects you have worked on? (if not mentioned in previous question)
There have been a few for sure, I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with some great teams on some fantastic projects but the few that stand out to me are; 300 : Rise of An Empire, simply because this was my first supervisory role where I was able to help build the crowd pipeline my way.  World War Z because well, Zombies and experiencing a completely new way of approaching crowds through MPC’s ALICE. Kung Pu Panda 2 was an incredible opportunity to develop agents that had far more complexity than previous builds so they could be both procedural or “keyframed” in Massive. Finally I’d have to say that last years Run The Jewels music video was a genuinely fun project to be involved in, from concept through to execution with Golaem crowds playing a fundamental role in the aesthetic.

Given your experience in crowds, which trends have you seen emerge over time, and how do you see the future for crowds?
Well I’ll always have a soft spot for Massive, it truly is an incredible piece of software that achieved so much and its sad that over the years its userbase has dwindled to a trickle. But that has very much been born out of a re-evaluation of what crowd tools need to accommodate in our industry. We need less standalone software, less black boxes, more extendability and better cross renderer support, something that almost all the big crowd tools now have. USD has taken flight and its brilliant to see Golaem and others support that natively now, meaning our pipelines can be a little more nimble in how we organize and render our simulation data.  I think we’ll of course see far more ML influence on crowd simulation, motion capture cleanup and retargeting and even just data capture itself, some of the work that Ubisoft has been doing in this space has yielded incredible results. 

How did the Covid crisis affect film production and the way you are going to work with crowds?
I think there was a initial global impact of all production going on hold.  We saw a lot of studio’s explore new avenues for crowds in the realtime and broadcast space which yielded a variety of results.  I think as a discipline in realtime there’s still some work to do which is why ultimately those results were only used sparingly but it was exciting to see how the realtime crowd solutions developed.  Now we’re seeing more productions go live and with social distancing and rules to protect talent, there is a renewed interest in effective, photoreal crowd solutions in all areas of our industry.  Fortunately with a wealth of training materials and tools to choose from, being a crowd td is a pretty exciting role to be in these days!

Would you recommend CG artists to get in crowds? How? Which skills should they develop?
Its really a question of whether you aim to be X artist with crowd skills or a crowd TD since they’re both very different disciplines.  In my experience, a great crowd td is a generalist who has a robust set of skills in all cg disciplines from modelling to comp.  There’s optimisations at every step of the process that you’ll need to get the best looking crowds in the most efficient manner. Even with renderers being as fast as they are, you still need to have optimized crowd assets to get the best iterative results.  At the very least, you need to have a base understanding of animation, motion capture and ultimately crowd tools.  Animation and motion capture because you need motion to drive your characters and the crowd tools to complete the simulation.  Tertiary skills like rigid body simulation for ragdolls, cloth simulation and complex navigational logic will come with experience but most software contains initial tools to get you started.  Familiarise yourself with Motion Editing, you can save a lot of simulation time by creating the vignettes you need manually rather than trying to chain actions together in crowd tools.  Crowds for simulation, always – I learned that the hard way with a restaurant full of talking animals.

Would you have some advice for people wanting to create a demoreel in order to be hired as crowd td?
First of all, remember the whole reason to have a demo reel is to showcase your best work. Not all your work.  So keep it brief and containing your best shots.  There’s a bunch of typical biped crowd scenario’s you can pick from, the classic army face off, the army charge, stadiums, city life or flocking.  If your doing large scenes, make sure to include some ground level camera’s, you want to showcase individual behavior as well as large group behavior, these are crowds of “things” after all.  If you’re a generalist, it might be good to include some turntables of crowd characters you have been involved in developing, whether that be one step of the asset pipeline to all of it.  Research tools offered by TD’s or schools like CAVE Academy, they have lookdev templates that will enhance the look of your asset turntables, a Macbeth chart and shiny balls go a long way.  Run turntables of interesting motion clips you have created and show them in context with a crowd simulation. For the more technically oriented you can take your cues from rigging showreels, if you have developed some cool looking logic that reads better in viewport w/ paths and navigation visible, then show it, a showreel breakdown can provide context to this stuff. Finally, something I’ve done for a while now is put a brief description either of role or work done at the bottom of frame, it helps people understand what your contribution was.

Learn more

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Thursday, April 29, 2021 - 11:01

Loganathan Perumal is a Senior FX artist, with a crowd flavor. He is among the first users of Golaem in production, having done some shots with Golaem 2, back in 2012! Today, he shares his experience about being a Crowd Artist and the evolution of crowds in VFX & Animation. 

How did you become a crowd artist?
It was a long journey from computer faculty to graphic designer to crowd artist. First, I worked for Technicolor A&G as a FX artist. I had the opportunity to work on swarming bots crowds for a Marvel Super Heroes 4D film for Madame Tussauds, London. It was my first crowd work using Maya particle instancer. I found it fascinating to use Maya particles and control the crowd cycles and movement using expression. Most of my work was related to particle based FX as well as technical support like workflow, setups, scripts, and render troubleshooting in Maya. Then, I got to work on the fireflies crowds for the Legends of Oz - 3d animation movie within Prana Studios. Later, Sachin Shrestha, our Technology Head suggested to try Golaem. I was so excited when I discovered Golaem relied on the Maya particle system. We used Golaem 2 in the Underdogs movie to create stadium crowds. In Prana studios, I also had the opportunity to work across all the departments from Modeling to Lighting & Rendering in order to set the Golaem crowd workflow.

Could you share a few projects you have worked on?
GOT S5E9 Dragon Arena, King Kong - Skull Island RIDE for Universal, The Boss Baby, Baahubali-2, Thor Ragnarok, Commercials : Nissan Nivara, NIKE-Dream Further, Facebook Oculus-2...

Given your experience in crowds, which trends have you seen emerge over time, and how do you see the future for crowds?
I think, crowd will be unstoppable elements for vfx & 3d animation movies. With the current hardware support and crowd software available on the market, crowds elements become affordable and production friendly to any small scale studios too. We are likely to have an industry standard crowd cache output with USD, which can be used in the different crowd packages and for rendering the crowd. Also real time crowd simulation for VFX movies are becoming a thing.

AI could have more impact on solving complex crowd simulation, understanding environment better, not just only for ground adaption & obstacles but also detecting the environment properties and how to react to it, better interaction with other crowd agents and main fx elements. Also maybe it would be able to generate the FX data within crowd simulation for example volumetric.

How did the Covid crisis affect film production and the way you are going to work with crowds?
Initially, we had some down time for a few months when global lockdown happened and shooting stopped due to Covid. But now, it is back to the same amount of work that we are usually getting on commercials. On the other side, the work has increased a lot for film & episodic. There are way more job opportunities for crowd artists now.

Would you recommend CG artists to get in crowds? How? Which skills should they develop?
Yes! Most of the studios are having crowd TDs to do the whole setup. Starting as a shot artist to know how to populate the crowds & simulate on the software will be a good way to get into crowds and will help them to understand the full crowd workflow. Later, they can learn more on the crowd software by preparing the crowd setups. Having additional skills like Character Effects (cloth & hair), Rigging, Mocap, or Lookdev would be an advantage and make the profile stronger for all things related to crowd render, tools development & scripting.

Would you have some advice for people wanting to create a demoreel in order to be hired as crowd td?
I think, for beginners, have one or two shots which are really good, rendered and comped. Playblasts would also be good to show your skills on the software. Have more RnD shots showing how you achieved the different crowd behaviors, but present it the best way, with explanation of what you did. If you have technical background, showing tools you created to automate the crowd work, adding cloth simulation on crowds and crowds with fx interactions would be good too.

Anything else you would like to share?
When I was working on GOT5 with Golaem 3, we didn't have Golaem Layout Tool yet, no Apex cloth simulation yet and nCloth simulation was too expensive. I still remember the days, how we did the project with the insane idea of using Maya blendshapes for cloth simulation on the locomotion crowds of 12 noble & slaves characters. It is really great to see the development of the Golaem Plugin now. Please keep going. By the way, as a crowd artist, I enjoy working with multiple crowd softwares but Golaem is my favourite one. Happy to see the number of people interested to learn Golaem plugin through the Golaem Academy. I really appreciate the Golaem team for taking the initiative to grow more crowd artist.

Want to follow Loganathan's steps and become a Crowd Artist?
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Wednesday, April 7, 2021 - 18:26

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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