Framestore Offers Pepsi Ultimate Crowd Control

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Framestore has just completed VFX work on a star-studded Pepsi ad that sees San Sebastian's beach play host to a massive party. Framestore's team of 20 VFX artists - spanning crowd specialists, Nuke compositors, roto artists, animators and technical directors - worked across the production for four months in order to deliver the commercial's complex requirements.

Hosted by DJ Calvin Harris, party-goers include world class footballers such as Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Lionel Messi, Fernando Torres and Jack Wilshere - who play a game of football above the crowd whilst supported by thousands of party-goers.

Explaining the process, Framestore said that it created “a new proprietary crowd system in order to fulfil the commercial's massive scale. The system, developed by Diarmid Harrison-Murray and Martin Aufinger, was built in Houdini using mo-cap data captured at Framestore's in-house motion capture facility. It allows a more efficient shot turnaround and gives the artist greater control over the crowd’s behaviour and look, down to details such as outfit, hairstyle, props and more. Using Houdini's native renderer, Mantra, allowed artists to set up agents quicker and use more complex lighting techniques on parts of the crowd whilst still being able to render thousands of background people within the same setup.”

According to Framestore, its new crowd system allows shots to be laid out quickly using an instancing approach, without having to simulate each agent separately. This meant VFX artists could show the director many iterations of the crowd layout in a relatively short amount of time.

“Once the rough layout is approved, it is then possible to split off parts of the crowd that require bespoke behaviours,” says Framestore, “adding more layers of sophistication, in this case taking it to a level of detail where hands could dynamically grab footballers' feet and even hold flashing camera phones. This custom-built system became invaluable for creating realistic looking scenes.”

By merging the ability to layout a crowd quickly with a technique that enabled pinpointing of individual sections for bespoke animation, the end results looked authentic but were created with an efficiency that gave more time to focus on improving parts of shots, thus freeing the team from waiting for time consuming simulations.

Due to the limited availability of the hero footballers, the live action elements were spread across three shoots in three different countries, supervised by Chris Redding. Most of the live action crowd elements, body doubles, Calvin Harris and his DJ stage were shot over six days in Romania. The hero players, with the exception of Messi, were shot at Shepperton Studios in England, with Messi being filmed later in Barcelona.

In order to achieve the best result in matching live action elements and CG crowd, the animation team roto-animated the footballers' performances to be able to relight them in 3D. This approach also provided the freedom to create more dramatic lighting effects and make sure the heroes of the commercial stood out from the supporting crowd.

Complex stuff – but the client was happy. In the words of David Foulds, PepsiCo International's Vice President Advertising: "To say that we are delighted with the final product would be an understatement." The agency was CLM BBDO, the producer France Monnet, the production company Rattling Stick, director Steve Cope, producer Kate Taylor, VFX Framestore
and Telecine Dave Ludlam.