March 24, 2008

CIS Vancouver and Massive Create Digital Extras in Vantage Point

Auckland, New Zealand - Massive's artificial intelligence-driven 3D animation software was used by CIS Vancouver (formerly Rainmaker Visual Effects) to fill a political rally with crowds of digital protesters, spectators, secret servicemen, security guards, and dignitaries for pivotal sequences in Columbia Pictures' hit film Vantage Point.
"A majority of the extras in these shots were digitally created in Massive, and I was surprised at how much control we had over the motion choreography and equally impressed with how far we could push the brains. It truly is like AI, because despite a loosely defined set of parameters, the characters take on minds of their own, reacting to both audio and visual cues in thescene," says digital visual effects supervisor Geoffrey Hancock.
"The sequence was shot with about 300 extras, but they were too thinly dispersed when viewed from certain angles--so in one instance we had to insert Massive digital extras shoulder-to-shoulder with live actors, at about one-third screen height, very close to camera," Hancock continues.
Directed by Pete Travis, written by Barry L. Levy, and produced by Neal H.Moritz, Vantage Point focuses on eight strangers with eight different points of view who try to unlock the one truth behind an assassination attempt on the president of the United States. 
Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and KentTaylor (Mathew Fox) are two Secret Service agents assigned to protect President Ashton (William Hurt) at a landmark summit on the global war on terror. When President Ashton is shot moments after his arrival in Spain, chaos ensues and disparate lives collide in the hunt for the assassin. In the crowd is Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker), an American tourist who think she's captured the shooter on his camcorder while videotaping the event for his kids back home. Also there, relaying the historic event to millions of TV viewers across the globe, is American TV news producer Rex Brooks (Sigourney Weaver). As they and others reveal their stories, the pieces of the puzzle will fall into place­ and it will become apparent that shocking motivations lurk just beneath the surface. When the political rally sequence starts, the characters are cheering, clapping, and waving flags, until a gunshot goes off and pandemonium ensues.
The digital characters required complex collision detection to avoid both building obstructions and one another. CIS Vancouver and sister facility CIS London were tapped as the lead visual effects vendor on the film, and as part of their task completed the challenging sequence that entailed adding between 6,000-to-12,000 digital extras into the event where the shooting takes place. The scene is repeated throughout the film, viewed from various different vantage points. The Massive team at CIS Vancouver worked with four different "brains" that were custom-built based off of movements recorded in a two-day motion capture session and combined with built-in motions from Massive's "AmbientMan" agent to drive the digital characters.
As a reference to help define the crowd motion in the sequence, CIS Vancouver artists also used Massive to render out a simulation from the viewpoint of a digital extra. Since Massive agents react to both sound and vision, the render illustrated the choices the digital character was being faced with in carving out a motion path, and what the agent was hearing and seeing from where it stood. 
This was the most complex Massive project taken on at CIS Vancouver; the facility previously used Massive for stadium sequences in Blades of Glory. The team built all models using Autodesk Maya and Pixologic Z-Brush and used Nvidia's mental ray for rendering. Motion capture was completed on a VICON system. A team of two Massive specialists spent three months building the Massive brains, and several CG artists implemented them into the sequences.