July 13th, 2014

One of the great things about watching the FIFA World Cup is seeing the excited and passionate fans. In any sports ad, the crowd has a huge impact on the atmosphere in the stadium and the feeling of the film. Mill 2D Lead Artist Daniel Morris and 3D Supervisor Wyatt Savarese give their tips on how to capture and build a crowd that moves, jumps, cheers and forms the perfect audience for the action.

Many crowds and stadiums are built using a mixture of live action and CG. Shoot supervisors will join the film crew on set to capture the extras and the location details needed. Various tools help accurately map the environment while cameras are used to get live action footage and high-res stills. All of that is then brought back to The Mill VFX team to create an authentic crowd and stadium.

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Volkswagen 'Goolf!'

The Perfect Crowd: Passion, Pressure and Mexican Waves

A great crowd will have passion and character. From football to pro-tennis, people's actions and reactions will be hugely different and you need to know your fans to craft a convincing crowd.

For a crowd to have personality, their reactions should match exactly with what’s happening down on the pitch. They’ll cheer, get nervous and heighten the tension at just the right moments, or blend into the background, leaving the focus on the players. They might be celebrating, doing a Mexican wave, holding their breath nervously or ferociously waving flags before a goal is scored, or missed……. It’s all about balance.

A crowd will never go crazy for the whole length of the game. Nothing reads fake crowd like a constantly crazy crowd. If the athlete is about to score or has just scored, only then will the crowd erupt. Believe it or not empty seats are needed in every crowd too. Take the World Cup for example, even an event that big will have empty seats. No stadium is ever truly full.

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Mars 'Back Seat Manager'

Team Colours and Lighting Up the Scoreboard (and the Crowd)

A lot of fans will be wearing their team's colours but a crowd with only that colour palette will feel artificial. In reality, there will always be some random out of place colours. Whether live action, CG or mix of the two, if you fill the stands with a large natural selection of clothing and colours, you’ll have a real crowd!

When working with a group of extras, you need to avoid colour repetition. Getting them to change their tops or change positions is a good quick way to make things visually different. Things to wave and play with like horns, flags and big foam hands are great too.

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Delta 'Getaway to Football'

For CG, Massive is an amazing crowd simulation software. To get the best results, you should add as much variety as possible. For instance, even if lots of fans are wearing the same coloured top, you can layer their clothing with a jacket or tie a jumper around their waist. You can use all kinds of coloured hats and caps, even crazy wigs. Don’t forget about the fans with face paint, they can be even more extravagant. Make sure to accessorise: bags, backpacks, scarves, hats, you name it!

Good silhouettes are key and the lighting should be perfect. If you use HDRI (high dynamic range imaging) to capture all the lighting setups, you can use this information to realistically light the CG people and stadium. Camera flashes are always nice, but remember you cannot remove them, although you can add them later. Using a camera that can deal with rolling shutter is good for camera flashes. If you can, set up a black studio for flares and camera flashes. Crowds at night can look very cool too, especially if you add highlight kicks and camera flashes to the dark setting. Lastly, you can add atmosphere into the stands with elements like smoke, confetti and rain.

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Budweiser 'Celebrate as One'

Setting Up the Shots on Set

It's vital to capture all the elements on set that you'll need to build everything with later on. This includes as many extras on green screen as possible, all their different movements, any sections that will be in sharp focus or a close up that can't be done in CG, as well as the sideline or anything in the foreground. A strong buffer of all these live action plates on top of Massive always helps embed the CG better. 

The shots that focus on the players are the priority, so you have to work out a way to get your crowd plates without stopping the flow of the actual main shoot. While the first unit is at work on the main shots, you can go as a second unit to shoot crowds and get what you need. The best way to do this it to set up a  green screen somewhere out of shot. For the best results use three 5D cameras so you can shoot all three angles at once. This allows you to work fast and film the extras not currently being used against a green screen. This way you can add these small groups back into various shots.

Using live action plates in the foreground, you can fill out the space by building out the crowd in the background.

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Budweiser 'Black Out'

The most important thing to get is the upper body. In most stadiums, people are sitting and if they do stand up, there is a good chance the person in front will block their lower half. Specific crowd actions like fans walking up and down stairs, entering a row and sitting down, or leaving the stadium through an exit will make all the difference in creating a living and breathing stadium. Getting good shots of sideline people such photographers, press, coaches, subs, and security guards will bring a game to life.

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P&G 'Best Job'

The 2nd Half

Once you have everything you need, it's time to bring it all together to build and seamlessly blend the crowd and stadiums into the film. We'll dig into the 2nd half of the process next with more about 'Crafting the Perfect Crowd and Stadium' from Mill artists.

See more World Cup 2014 spots and read about how World Cup fever took over The Mill

For more amazing crowd and stadium work - or a spectacular half-time show - watch The Mill Crowd and Stadium Reel below.