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Future film: Crowd Simulation

MPC give us a sneak preview behind their doors. In his first public interview we hear from Adam Davis, Head of Crowd Simulation and Motion Capture.
It’s probably best described as mass animation. So whenever we have large-scale armies or big schools of fish or flocks of birds or herds of mammoth or even waves of zombies and things like that, that’s the kind of work that we traditionally do. At a basic level, we’re essentially taking a whole bunch of animations of a creature’s motion.
We’re then replicating that many hundreds slash or thousands of times. And what we’re doing then is we’re adding little bits of behaviour to these guys so that they understand that, OK, when I reach this point here, I maybe have to change my animation clips so I start waving or if I’m a hit with a boulder or something, I have to fall over. It’s a lot easier than it used to be nowadays. There are off-the-shelf packages that offer training packages. There’s such things as Golaem and Miarmy. I think even Massive now has like training courses which are traditional software packages have been used for crowd in the past.
The main thing that you generally look for in crowd TDs is good logic and reasoning, and then definitely a good understanding of computer graphics at quite a technical level, so algebra, programming, that kind of stuff. Some of the stuff that we did lately on World War Z is probably some of the more challenging stuff we had. We did a lot of stuff, I mean, kind of like this shot over here, like really, really in your face hero stuff, which for us is– it doesn’t come around that often. Generally we’re the guys looking after the small things in the background. But on this one, we were like full-screen, in your face. And then there’s a few examples of that stuff.
I mean, we had a whole range of different challenges on that one, from the pyramids through to zombies crashing into each other. Probably in terms of interesting-wise, probably some of the work that we actually ended up doing on Fantastic Four, just due to its complexity. So something that not traditionally we would ever even really have thought about doing in crowd would be trees and things. And that was a request that came in. They were like, OK, do you think you guys can do anything with this? And we had a bit of sit-down and a think. It’s kind of like, um, possibly. So in the end, it panned out pretty well.
But yeah, I think that one was most enjoyable in a way. Very last minute, bit of a change, and something completely off the wall from anything we’d ever done before.

MPC is a global creative studio famed for crafting spectacular visual experiences in any space, on any screen.

They have been one of the global leaders in VFX for over 25 years (and counting), with industry-leading facilities in London, Vancouver, Montréal, Los Angeles, New York, Amsterdam, Paris, Bangalore, Shanghai and Mexico City. Some of their most famous projects include blockbuster movies such as Godzilla, the Harry Potter franchise, X-Men, Prometheus and Life of Pi, and famous advertising campaigns for brands such as Samsung, Coca Cola, Sony, Three Mobile and Channel 4.

As demand for VFX spectacles grow, MPC must keep innovating, and that’s what the Crowd Simulation department led by Adam Davis does.

In this video, Adam describes what a Crowd TD (technical director) does, and how you get into ‘Crowd Sim’ in the first place. Adam points out that this kind of software is now “off the shelf” and so freely available, rather than the property of just the big companies. You may also have noticed that it works using AI or Artificial Intelligence that allows some individual behaviours or actions to be dialled in to the crowds, thus making the masses more believable, with the appearance of individual behaviours.

It’s said that one of the hardest things to do in small low budget films is get lots of actors, and therefore think about big scenes. Well, later in this course we’ll be showing you how you can use guerrilla style VFX to make your own crowds without specialist software. We might not be able to do MPC quality digital crowd simulation, but we will be showing you a low-budget, simple technique for creating crowds later!

Often large crowds in movies denote battles or some kind of chaos. Can you think of any scenario where you could use crowds which weren’t about violence and panic? As Adam says Crowd Sim needn’t be about people- anything could be made into a crowd, a swarm, a flock or a herd. What kind of crowds might you like to see in a movie? Are there any circumstances where you’d need a multiple of something for your plans? The technology is no good without ideas, so let’s hear some ideas in the Comments below!

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Visual Effects for Guerrilla Filmmakers

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