Massive Software was tapped by Rhythm & Hues to create lifelike CG animals for Universal's EVAN ALMIGHTY. These included large establishing shots of hundreds of animals paired two-by-two as described in the biblical story of Noah's Ark.
The movie features a number of shots that set the scale in terms of the quantity of animals that are wrangled to board the ark. These shots were captured with several real animals on set, but not nearly as many as would be required in the final image sequences. Mark Welser, Massive supervisor at Rhythm & Hues (R&H) oversaw the creation of thousands of creatures, each milling about with behaviors appropriate to its respective species.
"We were able to populate scenes both in and outside of the ark, and fill in terrain with animals that are indistinguishable from hero characters and live animals shot on bluescreen," explained Welser. "Massive has terrain adaptation and the ability to command navigation so that we could steer the creatures where we needed them to go, and deliver the diversity of actions for the various types of species we needed to create."
Two hundred and sixty-nine different types of unique animals were built into the Massive library set up for this project. Everything ranging from rabbits, badgers and skunks to elephants and giraffes were animated in Massive.
"The tricky part of this assignment was that we needed large numbers of animals to move about randomly, coupled with having to place a number of those animals matched in slightly varied pairs of two male and female as told in the biblical story and as specified by the director. So we had to limit some of the randomness in character placement in order to get animals paired up with others that had similar geometry, and Massive offers the built-in flexibility to handle these types of complex parameters."
Rhythm & Hues had a team of two artists to complete the Massive shots in just over five months. They built 24 agents and applied the agents to groupings of anywhere from 2-to-53 different types of animals based on similarities in their overall geometry and movement. Some shots featured up to 3,800 animals as individually driven Massive agents. These shots ranged from placement of a handful of creatures in the background to shots that were entirely populated by Massive animals, with several of them appearing very close to the camera.
In addition to having 269 different types of animals, Rhythm & Hues had to represent male and female versions of each, which entailed scale offsets, texture variations and other physical differentiators such as antlers. The scale offsets, texture variations, antlers and such were also needed to distinguish the animal varieties within the 24 agent groups. Because of this, the team also relied on Massive's ability to add procedural animation on top of an agent to maximize the variations they could get from each of the 24 agent performances, considering they had to represent 269 pairs of unique animals.
While the Rhythm & Hues team had five months to complete these shots, it was accommodating test screenings early on. As a result, the team had to be able to put animals into shots quickly so that even before agents were completed, they had to be prepared to assemble shots. Massive was ideal for this production scenario, because the team could easily build a working locomotion agent and then come in at a later date and replace it with a more polished, more sophisticated version of the agent after the fact. "A huge benefit with Massive is the flexibility of being able to swap in new agents for old ones, and also the openness of the application in terms of being able to text edit CDL files and call sheets," said Welser.
"Massive is very tightly integrated into our pipeline, and we've used it on many projects for everything from building and populating crowds to snakes, soldiers, firing shots and more. Massive offers the flexibility to tackle seemingly impossible shots with high levels of control, yet still delivers the real-world random behaviors the software is known for. There's no other way we could have gotten these shots done in the given timeframe and at the quality level without Massive," Welser concluded.
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.