Method Creates VFX for 300 Director’s Beer Spot

Having brought Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300, to the big screen, director Zack Snyder took some time to sell some spuds and brought vfx house Method along for the ride. For the new Miller Lite spot ‘Break From the Crowd,’ Method employed Massive software and shot motion-capture data at Vicon House of Moves in Los Angeles to create a 60-foot tall giant made up of hundreds of people.

In the commercial, the cluster giant made up of as many as 1500 individuals stomps through a cityscape before people begin jumping off, disbanding to go their own way as independent-minded Miller Lite drinkers. While portions of the spot were shot practically, only eight live actors were filmed on set. The rest of the people were created in Massive, an artificial intelligence-driven animation system first designed to fill out the massive battle sequences in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring.

After extensive preparation and pre-visualization, Method says it devised a

four-step approach to building the giant with a mix of live action and CG in

the most believable way possible. This approached involved completing real-time motion capture representing the CG giant’s movement, applying that motion data to the giant’s CG character rig built using Maya nCloth, importing coordinates of the giant character rig into Massive to map and drive individual Massive ‘agents,’ and applying motion-capture performances to massive agents designed to represent the 1200-1500 individuals that form the towering giant.

This approach was supplemented with layered key-framed animation in conjunction with motion-capture animation for fine-tuning select shots. Capture of a female and male performer was completed on House of Move’s 80×45-foot main stage outfitted with 55 of the latest VICON MX-F40 cameras.

‘One of the most difficult challenges with CG humans is conveying a sense of weight, and you get that right out of the gate with motion capture,’ explains Method CG supervisor Gil Baron. ‘We’ve done a lot of projects with House of Moves and the studio produces really clean, high-quality real-time motion data. Another huge advantage is its Diva View system that allows me to review same-day shoot sequences online, remotely in real-time, and scrub through selects to pick our final shots.’

Method called on freelance Massive artist Phil Hartmann and in-house lead

3D artist James LeBloch to create a mo-cap-Massive-Maya pipeline to streamline the complex process. LeBloch developed an internal pipeline to map the motion capture data onto the roughly modeled and skinned giant in Maya. The Method team then moved the mo-cap data around in Maya to preview and finesse animations of the giant in different sequences before a second layer of animation was created using Maya nCloth to add a sense of scale and smoothness to the giant’s motion. Method software developer Hai Nguyen then wrote software to allow the team to output this second layer of animation to Massive and use it as a data set to drive the individual characters that make up the giant.

Method’s team had two months to complete the project, with R&D occurring simultaneous to production. Vfx director Alex Frisch, vfx producer Lisa Houck and vfx shoot supervisor Kathy Siegal were on-set during the motion-capture and live action shoot ensuring that the movement, timing, scale and lighting of the live action plates matched the work of the CG team. Method helped design a 30-foot rig on a huge system to hold performers for the live-action shoot both on stage and on location in Venice Beach, Calif. 3D Artist Seong Joon Lee completed the keyframe animation that was used to fine-tune the digital characters that jump off of the giant, developing a system to get animation back and forth from kinematics in Maya to dynamics in Massive. Finally, 2D Artists Alex Frisch, Alex Kolasinski and Jake Montgomery completed final assembly of the spot, in which most scenes involve 15-20 layers composited in Autodesk Flame.