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Alter Ego Leads the Pack with Golaem Crowd

Alter Ego VFX team leverages Golaem Crowd for ‘Bicycles,’ featuring real and CG rider-less bikes traveling across Canada. 

Alter Ego director Mark Zibert and Innocean Worldwide Canada recently completed a commercial for Cycling Canada, “Bicycles,” featuring real and CG rider-less bikes on mountain roads and other venues across Canada. The AlterEgo team tapped Golaem Crowd to create a custom bicycle rig for the epic spot, which illustrates cycling sports in various environments to help inspire viewers to hop on their bikes.

Avid cyclists within the agency's, client's and Alter Ego’s staff provided their detailed knowledge on cycling, bicycles and riding techniques to make the spot look as real as possible. Every shot had two takes, a hero reference pass with bike and rider and a close match without them. The editor kept two synchronized edits going, developing the feel with the bike/rider shots and using the biker-less edit to guarantee clean shots for CG. At the end, half of the shots (25) where slated for CG, a third for paint and a few hybrids of CG/paint-outs. Whenever possible the bikes were shot without rider, using props to facilitate the paint out job, but it was seldom the case.

The spot ends with a few peloton shots with 100+ bikes, which triggered the need for a crowd solution in order to easily iterate on the animation and handle the rendering. It is a rather unusual usage for crowd systems, which are more accustomed to simulate humans than the things they are riding. However, Gareth Stevenson, an experienced Golaem Crowd user, had built together with the Golaem team a bicycle rig enabling to get wheel traction and ground contact. (Stevenson used the rig in a yet-unreleased feature film and presented the setup in his course on fxphd.)

Sebastian Bilbao, who recently joined Alter Ego to lead the CG department's growth explains: “Golaem Crowd was offering a plug-and-play bicycle solution, fully integrated into Maya and V-Ray; not only that but the fact that their demo team was in town and available to meet with: we were sold. Golaem's support team and Gareth helped us through the fast learning curve, putting us up to speed and helping us derive template scenes for our crowd shots.”

“Along with classic crowd functionality and asset diversification, Golaem provided us with flawless wheel traction and wheel ground contact,” continues Eileen Peng, the CG artist in charge of the crowd shots. “We explored several methods to obtain the most reliable motion library possible; from object tracking to motion capture solutions and traditional keyframing. We ended up using mostly keyframed motions because the ‘real’ motions had nuances that looked unrealistic without the rider, go figure. Once we had the Golaem templates integrated with our tracked layout and camera scenes, we could cruise through the shots iterating countless versions without any problems nor glitches.”

Shots were rendered with Chaos Group V-Ray, using V-Ray RT to refine the light rigs, and getting fast renders on the farm: ~5min at 3-4K with 100+ bikes with motion blur.

The workflow was smooth enough that Alter Ego’s team ended up using Golaem Crowd for a mini-crowd in one of the underpass-tunnel shots which had enough bikes to take advantage of the iteration speed Golaem Crowd provides. All in all, the four crowd shots in the spot were in production for about four weeks, about a week each, scattered through a two month period.

“Crowds are now fun and easy,” Bilbao says. “Having used older crowd systems, Golaem Crowd proved to be much more user friendly without the steep learning curve. We are now pitching non-peded living forms: snakes and worms!”

“Both the client and agency aimed for an epic spot and gave us lots of creative freedom to meet this challenge,” adds VFX supervisor Andres Kirejew. “It was a super fun project to work on. We are very proud of all the shots, even if the aerial long shot with a large peloton going up mountain curves stands out the best. We are glad that the slick workflow prevented us from losing any sleep on this project!”

Source: Golaem SA

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network, Jennifer Wolfe has worked in the Media & Entertainment industry as a writer and PR professional since 2003.