Invictus: A Virtual World Game
Turns out that the virtual crowd work that CIS Vancouver did for Changeling was just a tune up for the latest Clint Eastwood film, Invictus. The stirring drama about Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) galvanizing a racially divided South Africa through rugby in '95 when he first became president required a virtual crowd game changer by CIS.
"On Changeling, which we did with CIS Vancouver, we did some synthetic crowds, but it wasn't used with the same magnitude that was demanded for on Invictus," suggests Michael Owens, overall visual effects supervisor and long-time Eastwood collaborator. "We went from stage three to stage 20, but it was a good pivot point to handling the demands of the rugby crowd scenes. So, this latest film was both a leap in quality and volume. Technique wise, things have to be reinvented because we'll never get down the road using standard techniques. And CIS jumped on board to do that and pulled it off because it was quite a rework of how you get through that process. And so far the audience response has been that they are unaware that we were there, which is exactly what I was hoping we would see.
"Early on, in reading the script, Clint and Rob Lorenz, producer, asked me how I wanted to do this and, to me, it was super obvious that the only way to get it done was to really approach it in a heavy manner like a virtual world game. You get the players on the grass and everything else is replaced. You give the people their environment so they can feel like they're doing what they're doing and then you wind up replacing it all. I'm sure this was the largest rotoscoped movie of all time."
The only speed bump along the way, according to Owens, was the volume, which escalated into more shots than they had planned in addition to some blood and guts stuff CIS created to lend more authenticity. "They look like warriors and just needed a little help to do that."
To pull this off, CIS realized that the CG people would be viewed closer to camera. As a result, one of the early discussions was how to bring those people to life and make them a part of the emotion going on in the matches. "So we knew that we had to tighten up our character processes, pretty much across the board," explains Geoffrey Hancock, visual effects supervisor for CIS Vancouver. "I had come out of [Changeling] wanting to change the way we did all of our motion capture and this was a good opportunity to rethink that. And that's one of the things I'm most proud of: the people we've created are believable in a screen space that I think is really appealing to filmmakers because you can use it in a broader sense, as opposed to just backgrounds, especially at the volume we were doing with 30,000 people in one venue in one frame at a time all the way up to one person covering a third of the screen height.