Golaem Crowd in Review

May 28, 2012 10:49 pm

Tags: 3D, Autodesk, Golaem Crowd, Maya

Golaem Crowd is a crowd creation tool for Autodesk Maya, and it manages everything from making, animating and simulating a crowd, to rendering. Based on my experience, the software allows anyone to make a complete crowd simulation quickly, but its workflow can be really tricky.

Making a crowd with Golaem Crowd relies a lot on Maya’s internal particle system. When you use Golaem Crowd’s population tool to make the crowd, one of the first steps is to create and connect a Maya particle system to the Golaem Crowd crowd node (this is done with one of the software’s tools, so you don’t need to manually create those connections). Each member of the crowd can be considered an instance of a model or group of models, although this comparison is very limiting because each crowd member is an independent entity (in both behavior and appearance, if you wish). The advantage of using Maya particles is that you can animate your crowd using standard Maya particle tools, like fields.

Crowds need a “navmesh” (navigation mesh) to know where characters can and cannot go. For example, if your scene is a park with trees, rocks, and a river, you want your characters to remain on the ground, and walk around obstacles, not through them, and this is where the navmesh comes in. Basically, a navmesh is a continuous geometry that defines walkable ground, slopes, obstacles, and such, and it’s used by the crowd members to know if there’s any kind of obstacle that they need to avoid, when walking towards their goal.

Golaem Crowd easily allows you to use your own characters for your simulations. You can export a skeleton for preview purposes when simulating the crowd, and also the full character for rendering. As I said before, each character can be visually independent, and you do that using the character export window. Imagine you have a soldier, and you want the different soldiers to wield different weapons or pieces of armor. You can export all those assets and then use the rendering rules to let the software know how many of those solders should use a sword, for example, or a spear, or an axe.

You can also export different animations that will be performed by your characters, based on predefined behaviors. You can preview those behaviors in Maya using the skeleton I mentioned. You can turn the bones into thick cylinders so the characters are easier to visualize. You can’t, however, preview such animations (or the entire crowd simulation) using the exported characters (or even proxy characters). I can understand previewing the full resolution meshes can cause performance drops when simulating hundreds or thousands of characters, but this feature should be available to make it easy to preview smaller crowds.

Rendering the crowd is the only step that is not done inside Maya. You need to export your simulation in a format compatible with the Mentalray or Renderman renderers. The Golaem Crowd documentation includes a section on how to render those files, but that’s something I didn’t try myself because I don’t own a Mentalray or Renderman standalone renderer (and I am not familiar enough with those standalone render engines either).

Using Golaem Crowd can be very tricky, in part because the workflow is very strict, and you need to backtrack and manually connect things if you forgot something (for example, creating a navmesh after the entire crowd particle system is created requires that you manually connect the navmesh to the other nodes). But, also because video tutorials found on the website tend to skip many steps, so you’re wondering what else they did to reach the point you’re watching on the video. Luckily, you can also contact tech support to get your questions answered. Another thing is that you need to work in centimeters, so people used to working in other units need to get used to this as well.

Golaem Crowd is a powerful crowd simulation software, and, once you understand its workflow, it can be very straightforward. Using Maya particles as part of the simulation can help a lot when it comes to moving the crowd characters, and best of all, you’re not limited to how your characters actually look. To me, not being able to preview your characters inside Maya is a limitation, but not entirely vital. However, a way to render out your crowd without having to make Mentalray or Renderman batch render files manually would be a very welcome addition, especially if you’re like me and expect to render your scenes with the simple “Batch Render” command in Maya.

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Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields. You can follow him on Twitter, and if you want to see what he's up to you can visit his blog.




May 29, 2012

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