Remember the epic battle on the Frozen Lake in season 7 of Game of Thrones? Remember rapier-wielding Jon Snow and the Brotherhood playing cut and thrust against a gigantic army of White Walkers? Well, guess what: These multitudinous legions of gaunt wights only came to life by the magic of computer graphics. Save a few dozen actors, there wasn't any on-set shooting with hordes of real-flesh extras. It was all special visual effects. Behind the scene, the digital wizardry was made possible by Golaem Crowd , an innovative tool built by the eponymous company Golaem , a spin-off of Inria, France's institute for computer science. Over the last 10 years, the software has become a staple worldwide for 300-some top-notch VFX and animation studios catering to the TV and motion picture industry. Next April, the Golaem people will fly from Rennes, Brittany, France, to Las Vegas and pick up a Technology and Engineering Emmy Award bestowed for their significant impact on the television industry.
150 television production
“Through this Award, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences acknowledges the fact that we propose cost-effective quality solutions capable of rapidly populating environments in television films and series, says Golaem co-founder and former Inria scientist Stéphane Donikian . Television happens to have more limited budgets than cinema. Our software enables to build virtual crowds within these financial limitations. It has been used in about 150 TV productions so far. ” In addition to Game of Thrones, Golaem's portfolio comprises series such as The Walking Dead, the Japanese manga One Piece and a slew of blockbusters such as Marvel's Black Panther, Thor, Spiderman and Pirates of the Caribbean, to name but a few. “We were also involved in stop motion animated films such as Early Man. Our software populated the scenes featuring large numbers of characters, which could not have been done through classic stop motion techniques or would have been cost prohibitive. ” Lastly, a part of the portfolio addresses video game cinematics, advertising filming and architecture rendering. “All in all, we make 93% of our business abroad, a hefty chunk of it coming from North America ".
Pre-configured but customizable tools
Compare to other solutions, this software “relies on a different philosophy. Our competitors build ‘brains’, i.e. autonomous characters to whom they associate a certain number of parameters. They launch the simulation, check the results and undertake the required modifications. It takes a while to reach the desired result. It's fine for big projects for which studios agree to allocate a significant amount of time. In contrast, our approach consists in providing a certain number of pre-configured but customizable tools enabling VFX artists to assemble components and achieve simple shots very rapidly. This modular and adaptable solution addresses the whole scope from simple to complex shots ―the latter, of course, requiring more time. In addition, instead of delving into hair and cloth simulation for instance, we much prefer to leverage third party solutions. Our software is interoperable with our client's usual tools, Yeti, Xgen or nCloth for example. ”
Our clients can model individual as well as collective behaviors
co-founder of Golaem
The software also taps into Artificial Intelligence to provide key functionalities. “Our clients can model individual as well as collective behaviors. They can model specific tasks such as displacement in an environment, obstacle avoidance, so on and so forth. The tool has its own visual programming language, which enables to describe the behaviors and visualize all the active elements in the hierarchy of behaviors. ” Beside flagship Golaem Crowd whose prime purpose is to generate animation through simulation, customers can also acquire ―in bundle or standalone― Golaem Layout. This second tool serves two purposes. One is simulation retake. “The VFX artists can immediately answer change requests from supervisor or director. They can edit the scene without having to restart the simulation from scratch, thus accelerating the iterative creative process. This software is also the only one on the market that enables to retake simulations built by tools from other software vendors.” Secondly, it enables to layout new scenes and quickly populate them by tapping into an animated character database, manipulate and customize these characters, and visualize the animation. “It goes faster than using a Golaem Crowd process for simple scenes. ”
Plugin Unreal Engine
Although the company hasn't set foot on the video game market per se, it is about to release a plugin for the Unreal Engine. “It is more specifically meant to address the needs of the motion picture industry in terms of real-time rendering. Productions are interested in using Unreal Engine instead of resorting to render farms and their time-expensive computations. There will be a lot of travel involved in 2019 as we plan to visit the studios and show them this new product as well as the V7 version of other products. ”