Now it seems that holding a mass gathering to film a crowd scene is a thing of the past. So if your story needs a large crowd, what can you do? Certainly some well-established visual effects solutions already exist.

Using motion capture to capture real people and appropriate crowd reactions

Simon Hughes, creative director at Union VFX based in London, who has worked on a number of projects that require a crowd, says that “it is possible to create a credibly complete CG crowd using one system. The system is already configured. This can be improved by using existing panels from different types of projects to accommodate theaters, concerts, and more. ”

However, Hughes noted, manufacturers likely still want the flexibility to create their own custom crowds, which, he added, certainly remains an option. “We can safely film new elements of the crowd by filming individual participants or slightly larger groups socially in costumes on a green screen to create something unique. The same individual or small group can be captured multiple times in different clothing to create variety.

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Adds Hughes, “Motion capture can also be used to capture appropriate crowd reactions that will contribute to the bottom line. This will allow us to safely use real people to create large scenes and get great results.”

How the crowds made with new CG VFX approach

An example of where Union VFX used this approach is a general shot of Churchill’s funeral in Whitehall that the studio created for The Crown in the opening episode of season 3.

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The resulting individual crowd elements

Union VFX began the process by taking live-action shots of Whitehall shot at the same angle as the original archival footage of the funeral. Crowd VFX is needed due to unprecedented voter turnout; More than 300,000 mourners lined the streets of London.

The VFX technique used to create crowds despite time of lockdown

1. Union VFX created the crowd using individual ‘sprites’ taken from multiple angles – the individuals composing these sprites were filmed spread out on large green screens spaced one by one, two meters apart – delivered using the particle system in Nuke.

2. Sprites are grouped by angle, assigned to particles in areas, then randomized and placed on the sidewalk to create the shape of the crowd. Then individuals and soldiers were deployed along the front.

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Crowd placement begins

3. Union VFX also added people inside buildings to look through windows, smoke, add crowd elements, and do sky scrolling work to add texture to the iconic event, national symbol.

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Reference Sources:

  1. Animation World Network: https://www.awn.com/
  2. Cartoon Brew – Technology: https://www.cartoonbrew.com/tech
  3. Befores & Afters – Visual effects and animation journalist: https://beforesandafters.com/
  4. Bloomberg News: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/
  5. Insider: https://www.insider.com/