SANTA MONICA, CA — The visual effects team at Timber (www.timber.net) transcends the cinematic experience in Cox Communications’ new spot and campaign entitled, Epic Battle. The ambitious spot places viewers right in the midst of an active battle, revealing that the addition of “extras,” both in battle scenes and through Cox services, is always an advantage.
To elevate the scale, ferocity and cinematic scope, Timber used crowd simulation software to take 100 extras and make them feel like 1,000.
Animated characters blended seamlessly with real ones, along with CG weaponry and digital fire effects, creating a larger-than-life world akin to Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings.
“In our business, we’re used to taking on live-action projects that have very little on screen at first, and our job is to make it feel like it’s large in scale,” shares Timber creative director/partner Jonah Hall. “Working with director Paul Middleditch was an exciting experience because he put together a shoot that was already big by any measure. Our job was to make it feel massive. That felt really good because we were starting out on a whole new level.”
To pull it off, the team at Timber relied on a mix of Houdini as its main software tool, Redshift for rendering and Nuke to complete the compositing. Then, it was all about planning the details.
“One of the biggest aspects of this project was creating the crowds and the warriors, running and battling,” says Hall.
According to Hall, the Lord of the Rings films were really the first to create innovative software tools to help make crowd simulation easier and faster.
“At this point, the technology to do something like that is within reach," he notes. "But it’s not just the technology. First you figure out, do we have a crowd simulation tool? Then, do we have a renderer that can handle it? You check off all the boxes. But then, you ask, 'How do we get the characters? What do we want them to look like? How many are we going to need?'
"I went to Vancouver with the production company while they were shooting and scanned the extras that were in warrior outfits. The scans gave me the model — the color, the picture, the feature and textures — and I sent them back to Timber where our character setup and digital effects supervisor handled it. The next phase would have been a really complicated rigging process, but we have a tool that basically ingests the model, attaches some animation cycles that are open source and within no time we had thousands of them running around. It really just boiled down to having smart people that knew how to get to where we needed to go, quickly.”