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Method Utilizes Massive & Vicon for Zack Snyder-Directed Miller Lite Spot

Massive Software and Vicon House of Moves contributed to the work of Method Studios on the new Miller Lite spot, BREAK FROM THE CROWD, helmed by 300 director Zack Snyder.

In the commercial, a 60-foot tall giant made up of hundreds of people clustered together stomps through a cityscape before people begin jumping off, disbanding to go their own way as independent-minded Miller Lite drinkers. While portions of the spot were shot practically, only eight live actors were filmed on set, while the giant is made up of anywhere from 1,200-1,500 individual people (real, digital and dummies) depending on the shot.

For such complex visual effects productions, CG artists in the know have shortened production turnaround times using the combined power of Academy Award-winning tools from Massive Software and Vicon. For this project, realtime performance motion capture was completed at Vicon House of Moves in Los Angeles; Massive, the artificial intelligence-driven animation system was selected to drive the many hundreds of individual characters.

The spot required ingenuity and preplanning on behalf of the Method team. After extensive preparation and pre-visualization, Method devised a four-step approach to building the giant with a mix of live action and CG in the most believable way possible. This approached involved:

1. Completing realtime motion capture representing the CG giant's movement;2. Applying that motion data onto the giant's CG character rig built using Maya nCloth to create additional rippling movement on the agent to emulate approximate movement of the humans applied onto it;3. Pumping coordinates off of the giant character rig and into Massive to map and drive individual Massive agents;4. Motion capturing performances to apply to massive agents designed to represent the 1,200-1,500 individuals that form the towering giant.

This approach covered a bulk of the animation required, and was supplemented with layered keyframed animation in conjunction with motion capture animation for fine-tuning select shots.

Method completed all of the motion capture for the spot at Vicon House of Moves (HOM). Capture of a female and male performer was completed on HOM's 80 X 45 foot main stage outfitted with 55 of the latest Vicon MX-F40 cameras. "One of the most difficult challenges with CG humans is conveying a sense of weight, and you get that right out of the gate with motion capture, " explained Gil Baron, Method CG supervisor. "We've done a lot of projects with House of Moves and the studio produces really clean, high quality realtime motion data. Using House of Moves realtime pre-visualization during the motion capture sessions was critical for creative to sign off on shots as they were captured. Another huge advantage is its Diva View system that allows me to review same-day shoot sequences online, remotely in realtime, and scrub through selects to pick our final shots."

Method, an early adopter of Massive, called on freelance Massive artist Phil Hartmann and in-house lead 3D artist James LeBloch to create a MoCap Massive-Maya pipeline to streamline the complex process.

LeBloch developed an internal pipeline to map the motion capture data onto a roughly modeled and skinned object in Maya. The object was a rigged character that had the same volume as the giant, so the Method team could interactively move the MoCap data around in Maya to preview and finesse animations of the giant in different sequences. Then a second layer of animation was created using Maya nCloth to add a sense of scale and smoothness to the giant's motion. Method software developer Hai Nguyen then wrote software to allow the team to output this second layer of animation to Massive and use it as a data set to drive the individual characters that make up the giant.

Hartmann was tasked with building the Massive agents' "digital brains" consisting of a variety of individual movements designed to cycle and react to virtual environments that drive AI-driven autonomous characters or objects in a scene. He built agents to represent CG men and women clinging onto each other as part of the giant, each reacting both to the movement of the giant, and to each other. Over the course of the spot, the complex agents leap onto the giant, hang onto it and move and react based on the giant's movement. They also interact with each other as they cluster within the structure, and finally step and jump off of the giant as the whole thing disintegrates.

"This spot could not have been realized in the given timeframe without Massive," admitted Hartmann. "Massive is the only package that allows you to blend motion capture data with dynamics on a scale of several hundred characters with the performance demanded of commercial production timelines. We were able to render simulations with 700+ characters plus dynamics at less than 10 seconds per frame."

Since all of the agents were based on the same topology, Method could mash them up via a modular system with various bodies and heads to simplify the creation of large numbers of characters that all looked different from each other.

Method's team had two months to complete this project, and R&D was occurring simultaneous to production. VFX director Alex Frisch, vfx producer Lisa Houck and vfx shoot supervisor Kathy Siegal were on-set during the motion capture and live-action shoot ensuring that the movement, timing, scale and lighting of the live-action plates matched the work of the CG team.

Method also helped design a 30-foot rig on a huge system to hold performers for the live-action shoot on stage and on location in Venice Beach, California. 3D artist Seong Joon Lee completed the keyframe animation that was used to fine-tune the digital characters that jump off of the giant, developing a system to get animation back and forth from kinematics in Maya to dynamics in Massive.

Finally, 2D artists Alex Frisch, Alex Kolasinski and Jake Montgomery completed final assembly of the spot -- most scenes with 15-20 layers in Autodesk Flame.

New Zealand-based Massive Software (www.massivesoftware.com) is the leading creator of artificial intelligence-based 3D animation systems. Massive was founded when Stephen Regelous programmed a unique piece of software for director Peter Jackson to make creation of complicated visual effects scenes involving hundreds of thousands of digital characters a practical reality. Regelous garnered a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2004.

Vicon House of Moves (www.moves.com) provides professional motion capture services, animation services, stock 3D animation and realtime pre-visualization and custom 3D animation tools for the entertainment industry. With expertise dating back to 1985 and credits ranging from SPIDER-MAN 3 to TITANIC, Vicon House of Moves has completed hundreds of animation projects, including feature films, games, television commercials, broadcast television series,music videos and on-line character animation/content for the Web. The world's largest motion capture studio, House of Moves was acquired by leading motion capture developer Vicon in 2004.

Academy Award-winning Vicon is the largest supplier of precision motion tracking systems, serving customers and CG animation applications in film, visual effects, computer games and broadcast television, as well as engineering and life science industries. Vicon operates in four offices worldwide, including its Los Angeles-based entertainment headquarters, a 26,000 square-foot facility equipped with three performance capture stages for Vicon's service company House of Moves as well as 200 Vicon MX-F40 cameras.

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