Not only are extras expensive, but in the age of COVID orchestrating larger crowd shots becomes a logistical nightmare. On-set production assistants need to remove masks between takes, keep track of which mask belongs to which extra, and return them whenever there’s a break in shooting. It’s no wonder that people have started looking to digital crowd agents, even for modest budgets.
In the past, the cost of crowd simulation VFX made it impractical for anything short of a blockbuster like Lord of the Rings. But now there are affordable ways to create digital actors for even lean indie productions. The secret is managing expectations as to what your digital people can get up to and still look believable. Cheering in a stadium, running, walking, yes. Kung Fu action in close combat? Not so much.
By far the easiest and most affordable entry into crowd simulation is Anima by AXYZ Design. They offer a free version of the software licensed for commercial use (with a 4 second maximum shot length). Unlike high-end packages like Massive which require you to build complex fuzzy-logic decision trees using nodes, Anima provides a simple drag-and-drop approach to crowd building.
Anima is mostly used for arch viz (architectural visualization), but its crowds stand up just as well for live action cinematography. As long as the crowds are set up to be behind live-action actors and not too close to camera, they can look extremely believable.
To get you started down the road to digital doppelgängers, Moviola has released the Anima Survival Guide. It’ll get you up and running with the software in under 30 minutes. We plan to add clear how-to tutorials in the coming months showing the process for taking these crowd simulations and compositing them believably into live action footage. Stay tuned for those.
So head over to moviola.com and get started building your very own army of digital people, thanks to Anima.