For Verizon's new intentionally-ridiculous "A Better Network" campaign, BUCK was called upon to envision a massive running horde of mindless consumers, all trying to squeeze through a small door of metaphorical network bandwidth.
The piece called for a very controlled lightness to offset the sheer dark horror of being trampled by an ocean of moronic drones. I was called upon as the Technical Director to devise a solution for animating all these hundreds of characters, as they fought their way through the squishy pile of their peers to the door beyond.
After testing out several different systems for crowd animation, including Golaem Crowd, Houdini crowds, and Miarmy, we settled on Golaem Crowd for Maya. Golaem proved to have the best workflow in general, as well as the tightest integration with our current animation, lighting, and rendering pipeline.
Crowd systems are not well suited for carefully controlled interactions, and none of them had the capabilities to provide the squishy soft-body interactions that we needed to achieve for the close-up shots. In order to get the characters initially stuck in the doorway and make them feel all gooey and squishy, I called upon my most trusted FX ally: Houdini, for some juicy FEM action.
The characters were animated to run straight through the wall by our team of rockstar character animators. The character animation was then transferred, via a custom process, to FEM tetrahedral solid geometry. This allowed us to preserve the beautiful hand animation done by our character team, and combine it with the organic tissue deformations and collisions from the simulation.
The animation from the simulated tetrahedral solid geometry was transferred back to the original meshes, and then returned via Alembic to it's original Maya home, for lighting and rendering with V-Ray. Additional hand-animated characters that didn't require simulations were then added to the scene to further fill-out the running horde.
For the wider shot with the huge churning pile of wriggling bodies, we asked the nice folks at Golaem if we could test out a new feature they had been working on. They provided us with a beta version of their crowd plugin, with the ability to combine standard crowd animations with ragdoll physics simulation. This was exactly what our project called for to make the characters feel alive.