Interviewing Nicolas Chaverou about Golaem

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016 by Nadine Obst

 

RebusFarm is happy to announce that support for Golaem 5 is about to get real. And right on time we took the chance to talk to Nicolas Chaverou, Product Manager at Golaem about their latest invention in crowd simulation. 

Tell us something about you and your work at Golaem, please.

My name is Nicolas Chaverou and I´m the Product Manager at Golaem. My job is to ensure that Golaem customers get things done easy and on time. I´m visiting studios and chatting with artists on a regular basis to learn more about their production needs, get feedback on our tool or even give advices on the best way to get their shots done. When at the Golaem office, I ensure that artists´ feedback influences our products by explaining their experiences to our developers and making sure that we have the most efficient workflow.

How did it all start? What was the original idea behind Golaem?

It all started during a Siggraph exhibition 6 years ago. We talked to a renowned VFX studio and they were telling us how difficult it was for them to handle stadium crowds because they did not have any in-house specialists and the existing software back then were too difficult to use and to learn. We were a team of animation and AI specialists and our previous jobs precisely involved making populated 3D worlds and describing characters behaviours understandable to non-specialists. We thought that we could do something for them and started working together. In May 2011 we then released the first version of Golaem. 

However, our vision has always been that a procedural animation tool like Golaem could be used not only for backgrounds (like a stadium), but also for mid-grounds (like a city street), or even foreground. Our first customer used Golaem to populate airports for a TV Show. We discovered that they were using it even for placing and animating only 4 people in the middle of a shot. They were confirming our vision, but we still had many things to do before it became real. Year after year we improved Golaem and added features to make Golaem characters more realistic. We are only getting close to our vision with Golaem 5!

Can you tell us more about Golaem 5. What is special about it? How easy can I place a crowd into my 3D scene? Are there any limits?

Golaem helps artists populate 3D worlds very efficiently, from one to hundred of thousands of characters, from ArchViz projects to the most famous TV Shows, Feature Films or Game Cinematics. The main cases where Golaem is used are populating stadiums, city streets and creating battles. However, our notion of "character" is very large. It can be of course humans, but also animals (horses, spiders, birds, fishes...) bikes or even trees, tents, rocks...

Golaem lets artists place these characters, make them navigate around the environment and animate them without repetitive and manual work. All they have to do is to provide a library of character props as well as a few motions (or use the ones provided by our Character Pack). Then they can control their characters very easily by dragging and dropping built-in customizable behaviours. For example, you can quickly get your characters to walk around a city by just dragging and dropping 3 behaviours: go to (find a random target and go there), navigation (avoid other people and obstacles), and locomotion (determining the best blend of motions to match the character direction). 

The strength of Golaem is that it enables to introduce variations at every step. For example, it will randomize props to create as many unique characters as possible, or mix motions so that even if performing the same behaviour, every character is animated slightly differently.

But what makes Golaem 5 special is the introduction of the Layout Tool. It gives a lot of freedom to artists because it lets them build a quick simulation and tweak it to get exactly what they want. They can literally select a guy and change his clothes or slow him down or even edit his trajectory. This is kind of word-processing for scene population software. With typewriters, even if only one character on your page was wrong, you had to retype everything. With word-processing software, like with Layout Tool, you can always easily modify what you have done to have a perfect result. 

Actually, this tool is so powerful that since we launched it, many users have reported creating a library of simulations with just one character and creating a full scene by duplicating these characters and modifying them using the Layout Tool. This is a whole new workflow which will make populating 3D scenes even more accessible to anyone. To use the Layout Tool, you really only need to know the basics of Maya, nothing more. 

Which software & renderers does Golaem support? Are you planning more for the future?

Golaem´s main platform is Autodesk Maya. Because often when dealing with many characters (> 5000), you cannot just generate all polygons in your Maya scene and render like this because the scene would be way too heavy. It would take ages to load/save and the viewport would not be interactive any more. 

So Golaem has its own display to generate the character´s geometry on-the-fly both at previz and render time. This way the scene stays really light and easy to work with. It also means that, for example, if sending your files to RebusFarm for rendering it would be very quick. You would not send a scene with millions of polygons, but just a Maya scene with a Golaem Proxy object, a template character and a Golaem simulation cache file which stores the position of characters and animation curves so that Golaem can regenerate everything in renderer´s memory. 

We created procedural rendering plugins for the main renderers on the market. We have plugins for Arnold, Guerilla, Mental Ray, Renderman, V-Ray and 3Delight. Of course, if your renderer is not supported you can go the slower way and export full geometry via FBX or Alembic files. For some renderers we have extra-integration in other platforms. For example, we worked with Chaos Group to create a bridge to 3dsMax and Vray. This is what Blur used in the Halo Wars 2 cinematic they released at E3.

This is kind of a scoop, but we are working with the RedShift team to add a RedShift plugin. We are also working on a new Renderer/Platform couple, but I cannot disclose it now. 

I read a lot about the behaviour editor, can you go a bit more into detail about this tool?

The Behavior Editor is the heart of Golaem. This is where you can describe what your characters will do. Maybe you read a lot about it because this is something unique about Golaem. Before Golaem, crowd simulation software had a bad reputation because people using them needed programming skills. 

The Golaem Behavior Editor is a node-based canvas where you can drag and drop built-in behaviors to play motions, reach a target, keep a formation, animate clothes, control some bones with a curve and so on. You can assemble these behaviors together to create a sequence (go there, then say hello), conditions (if you are near another enemy, attack), loops, etc.

So tell us the big secret: Who uses Golaem?

Everyone! Golaem is used for commercials, TV Shows, feature films & game cinematic. So the range of our users goes from a single freelancer taking a one month rental to work on a commercial to teams at top studios like Framestore, Milk VFX or Blur working several months on a movie or a game cinematic. 

Starting from 650 Euro for a monthly rental, Golaem is the most affordable population system you will find on the market (both in terms of money and time needed for training). But we also have options for studios relying intensively on Golaem, like the site license, which is very popular among animation studios working on series or TV Shows. We also offer a 30-days free trial for everyone and a non-commercial version for students. 

Are there any special productions Golaem had been used for you can talk about?

Well, the one I would like to talk about is the "Halo Wars 2" cinematic made by Blur but unfortunately I cannot do it yet. These guys are testing every option in our tool and are doing incredible things with it. You can get a glimpse by watching the trailer that was released at E3.

So because it is summer, let´s talk about "The Program", a Lance Armstrong biopic, directed by Stephen Frears. VFX have been done by Union VFX, a studio in the UK. They populated the roads of the "Tour de France" with spectators: mountain roads, house roofs, balconies and even Paris Champs Elysées. But the best part is, as they couldn´t hire 200 extra to ride the french mountains like pro, most of the riders and bikes are done with Golaem. On some shots the whole pack is made with Golaem and even at the foreground very close to the camera. It may not be the most well known productions Golaem has been used for, but to me it is the one which best represents Golaem philosophy: easily create an ambiance in your shots whatever it is you have to animate. Golaem has also been used for many TV Shows: Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Falling Skies,...

You also have a user gallery on your website, can you tell us more about that? What kind of work do you post there?

We love to follow what our users are doing. We are really involved with them, whether at the beginning of the production to help them think about the best way they can get their shots done, or during production as technical support. However, they always surprise us, doing something new in a shot or using Golaem for something we had never thought it could be used for. 

This is also a way for studios to get more crowd jobs. As I said before, there are not many trained artists who can quickly populate a 3D world, and not many studios with crowd experience. So by showing our users´ work we are also helping people with production needs to find the right studio. We also have an artist profile page where we feature the best Golaem artists. We know that several studios use it for recruitment and several students found a Crowd TD job, thanks to being featured on this page. 

This is the part of my job I love the best: Helping good people get together and perform great work. 

Anything else you´d like to mention?

We are very excited to work with you guys and we can´t wait to see what our users will do with the extra horsepower they can get from RebusFarm! 


 

Siggraph 2016 - Render the Possibilities

Wednesday, July 20st, 2016 by Nadine Obst

 

The 43rd International Conference and Exhibition on Computer Graphics & Interactive Techniques takes place 24-28 July 2016 in Anaheim, Carlifornia. This year´s motto chosen by SIGGRAPH, "Render the Possibilities", is a perfect match and we´re very happy to be a part of this great event! 

We´re looking forward to meet you at our booth No. 370 !


 

An interview with Boris Sverlow about his short movie Gerontophobia

Monday, July 4th, 2016 by Nadine Obst

Boris Sverlow has been creating art ever since he was able to hold a pen. Born in 1986 in Antwerp, he didn´t think he would become an animator when he made his first drawings. But then, in kindergarten, he saw his first animation movie and a staring turtle named just like him, left a deeper impression on little Boris. Finally, when his father borrowed a Video Hi8 camera from a friend he started to work on his first clay animations: "The camera could be set to frame by frame recording and capture the images directly onto the tape. Because editing software didn´t exist back then, everything was by nature a one take." Then much later near the end of secondary school, Boris started with simple flip-book animations and continues: "Inspired by the magic of movement I made an animation for my final exam project the following year and eventually this led me to explore animation in higher education."

During his Masters at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent he worked as a trainee for "Walking the Dog", one of the biggest animation studios in Belgium. There he animated and composed a historical documentary series called "Kongo". As not much footage existed, their job was to create animations for the lacking parts: "After Effects was my main tool back then and it was here that my knowledge of this program expanded. Later on I used it extensively for my graduation project." He told us that this project, "Shattered Past" was basically a one man job except for the music by Jeroen De Brauwer. Afterwards he also animated a one hour movie for a theatre company in collaboration with the Red Star Line Museum: "And at the same time I finished a one minute short about peace for the commemoration of the first world war which was aired on national television and shown at Cannes Film Festival." 

Boris mentioned that he´s also a great fan of non-digital art but he believes digital software allowes much more freedom to alter and remove elements continously: "You might still argue about the authenticity of digital art, but I don´t tend to choose between one or the other. I think it´s more a question of weighing pros and cons and to follow your own personal artistic goal." Boris loves to create his reality out of a collage of single images. His latest movie Gerontophobia really proofs the complexity of this process: "I used a combination of animation, green screen acting and diverse film techniques. The environment consists of a collage of moving images and digital manipulation. The same applies to the sound score: the foley and sound design were also created digitally and broken up with images of dialogue, just like in silent movies." Boris added: "It was important for the film to remove the digital feeling and add some roughness by applying multiple filters and textures." 

Gerontophobia is a retro Sci-Fi movie which shows an illusion of eternal youth. A gloomy, apocalyptic, yet beautiful short film pointing out a major issue in nowadays society: "Whilst being young stands for perfection, vitality and unlimited possibilities, being old stands for decay. The fear of aging only reveals itself when you compare yourself to others. The inner self will always feel young!" The movie is set during an alternate period of Interbellum, a perfect stage for the story to unfold in. This period is fueled by enormously positive ideas and grandiose architecture. For the film Boris mainly used Adobe After Effects and Cinema 4D for composing and creation and Adobe Premiere Pro for the editing. 

Creativity is a back and forth movement of being able to change elements of your image in realtime: "For our production there could not have been anything better than RebusFarm offering an online system for rendering. It allowed me to work with freelancers abroad without having a central workspace, create complex scenes and render them very fast. Before the use of RebusFarm we tried hooking up computers and use team-rendering in Cinema 4D but for such a long render it wasn´t flawless. The bottleneck, as we soon found out, became the rendering and RebusFarm took that bottleneck away."

We also asked Boris to give an advice to someone wanting to start a career in digital art and he replied: "Every film project takes a long time to develop, so at best you want those years to be worth it. Find something that makes you want to keep going. I personally could say that I approach every film as if it was my first and at the same time I approach it as if it was my last. It allows me to stay true to myself and still be surprised by my own creations. At the same time I keep in mind the caducity of it all, because you can never be sure if you might be able to make a next movie."

Many thanks to Boris for this eye-opening movie and interview!

We support MOAS with 500 post-rescue-sets

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016 by Nadine Obst

RebusFarm decided to support MOAS - Migrant Offshore Aid Station with donating 500 post-rescue-sets.

MOAS launched its third Central Mediterranean mission on the 8th of June 2016 with a fleet of two search and rescue vessels, four rescue launches and two humanitarian drones. The operation includes access to two on-board clinics, a professional and experienced search and rescue crew, including rescue swimmers and a team of medics. 

In its first two weeks of this operation the Migrant Offshore Aid Station rescued over 2,000 men, women and children in distress at sea bringing the total number of people saved and assisted to over 16,000. Once on board all beneficiaries receive post rescue assistance, medical treatment and supplies like dry clothes, rations and water. 

RebusFarm has donated 500 post-rescue-packs including food, water, dry clothes and a blanket to MOAS´mission in the Central Mediterranean. 

MOAS´Matthias Dentler says: "MOAS is a 100% privately funded charity and relies on the support of private donations like this one to keep operations afloat. This latest donation from RebusFarm helps enormously and their ongoing support gives the team motivation. We thank them for their contribution and hope it inspires others to act."

MOAS Twitter Page

MOAS YouTube Channel

MH Tutorials Interview

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016 by Nadine Obst

We´d like to introduce to you Mike Hermes, creator of the very useful YouTube channel and blog MHTutorials. Whether you are looking for videos on 3D modeling, rigging, lighting, or texturing and animation, you´ll find here. Mike took the time and gave us a interview on his passion of making videos. 

Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time. So, let´s go way back. Where were you born and raised? What was young Mike like? Where are you now? What sparked your interest in digital art and what inspired you?

Well, we will have to go back more than fifty years. I was born in Holland but at the very early age of two years my parents decided to pick things up and move our entire family to Canada. Being so young I had no recollection of Holland and in my mind I was Canadian. I didn´t speak Dutch either and had no idea what a "Holland" was. In the late 60´s and 70´s I would watch "The Roadrunner" on TV, "The Jetsons", "The Flintstones" and of course "Sylvester and Tweety". So it is fair to say that my love for animation started at an early age.

I have always been a bit of a dreamer and due to my parents moving house over 18 times before I reached the age of 18 you could say that I didn´t have a lot of friends. So I would spend my youth sitting in my room drawing on a piece of paper. Anything from spaceships (child of the 60´s) to vehicles or buildings. For some reason I was never into drawing characters but always trying to figure out how things were built mechanically.

In my early 20´s (now living in Holland again) computers started to become popular and I jumped in with a vengeance. Now keep in mind that this was in the early 80´s so the capabilities of hardware and software were limited. I decided to choose a different route and did not end up in modeling or animation at first. I got trained in mechanical engineering and computers and ended up spending most of my adult life in the procurement and logistics in the IT industry. 

But during all these years I have always kept my love for drawing. Now what really triggered me to get into the digital side of things was John Lasseter. Now for those of you who don´t know who he is (I can´t imagine), he´s the driving force behind what is now known as Disney´s Pixar. In an era where animation was done traditionally he decided to start using computers. A bold decision that hurt his career more than once. He has always been my great example and he is the reason why I got into digital modeling and animation in the first place. For me he is the real deal and a true pioneer. 

For me a computer is nothing else but a new brush or pencil and as computers and software became more powerful, more opportunities started to pop up to do cooler and better things. 

What are some of the projects you have worked on?

As I make the majority of my money as a business consultant I am free to work on whatever modeling or animation project I feel like (no financial pressure) and this has led to some interesting projects. 

As few examples: 

  • I have modeled for commercials
  • I have created models and scenes for kids TV shows 
  • I have created models for manufacturers of miniature toys
  • I have created models used for medical purposes
  • And obviously I create tutorials, my main passion! 

What tools do you use? Any preferred software?

Yes, I have a preference for Autodesk Maya but I also use ZBrush, Photoshop, Keyshot, Blender, Marmoset, 3DCoat etc. etc. 

How did all start making tutorials?

Well, I found that there are a lot of young (and not so young like me) people out there that would love to learn how to model or animate in 3D but simply do not have the opportunity to do so. They either can not afford college or private tuition or they simply live in a country where training is not available. Now Autodesk Maya can be downloaded for free as a student version so if you have a PC and an internet connection you are ready to go. That is why I decided to invest the majority of my time into free modeling and animation tutorials. My videos are free and they always will be! I love it when someone starts to follow my videos and a year later I receive an e-mail that they landed their first job at a studio. When things like that happen I smile all day long. 

What´s special on your website/channel? We really like the section "Tutorial requests". Can you tell us more about that?

It is hard for me to compare my channel with that of others but I always try to bring things back to basic. Once you understand the method you can start to create anything you want. I cover a wide variety of topics from modeling to FX and from animation to lighting and rendering. And as for the tutorial requests: Well, that is the coolest part of all! Interaction with my viewers and subscribers. I help them where I can, however I can. Seeing their skills grow is my reward. So for me it is not just about putting videos out there. 

Is there something you are currently working on or are exited about starting?

Well, yes there is. In the last few months I received several e-mails from high school teachers asking me whether they can use my videos in their classroom. They are now even putting videos requests. And again, helping others to grow their skillset is what I love. 

What would be your main advice to someone who wants to start a career in digital art?

That´s a tough one...The first question you should ask yourself is "Why? Why do I want to do this?" If you want to go out and make a living doing this it is very hard. Not everybody will be hired by Pixar or Dreamworks. There is a lot of financial uncertainty and you never know where your next paycheck will come from. My first advice would be diversity. Create 3D logo´s for small companies, do modeling for websites and so on. Anything that will help you to develop your skills and bring in a paycheck. And my second advice would be "Get out there". Nobody will hire you if they don´t know you. Use any method you can think of to promote your work. If people can´t find you they won´t hire you. 

Anything else you´d like to say or add?

To all you aspiring artists out there, never give up and ask yourself every day "What can I do better?" I know for a fact that I am far from being the best modeler or animator out there. But that is not the point. The point is whether there are people out there that are interested in what you are doing. Every artist will doubt his or her skills or ability but that is normal. That will be the fuel to drive your progress.

 

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