Need a crowd for your film but don’t have enough extras? Fake it!

Hello everyone.

I thought today I’d do a little tutorial on how to use VFX to add crowds or in this case audiences to your scenes.

For The Great Spielron we had certain shots whereby The Great Spielron is performing on stage.  Although a lot of the shots we kept tight to avoid having to show an audience. We did feel that for some shots, especially the establishing shot needed some sort of audience.

Now because of the nature of these shorts there is really no time to plan out shots beforehand. All I knew was that I was going to have to somehow make the hall we were using look full to the brim with an audience.

There are three ways I could think of off the top of my head that could achieve this.

The first was to get around 40 extras to fill the front rows of the hall.  This wasn’t going to be possible due to the fact we’d had three days to find all the actors and with such a short deadline there was no way we could get everyone together in time. Plus it’s set in the 1920’s so to find enough costumes would of been a nightmare.

Another option would be to use a computer generated crowd. There’s a few pieces of software that can do this very well but they cost a lot of money and also take some time to learn.  Plus you still have to animate your crowd and render them which also takes up valuable time.

So the third option and one that I was a little skeptical about was to shoot the few people we did have against green screen.

This was the option we went with.

So lets have a look at the original plate without any of the crowd.

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And here is the finished shot

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Now we only had about five people to act as crowd, this actually included our main actor as well, we just put some different clothes on him.  Because the atmosphere is so dim I knew we could get away with a lot.

I took a number of different shots, each time with two actors sitting next to each other like this.

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We would get them to perform certain actions like laughing, clapping or talking to each other. Then we would get the next group to sit there.

We also shot some from the front as I knew I needed some close ups of the audience laughing or talking to each other.

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I then took the different shots I had into a program called After Effects. This program allows me to take out the green background, very similar to rotoscoping which I talked about here https://22dayslater.com/2014/01/11/behind-the-scenes-of-episode-2-part-3/

So once I’d cut them out they looked like this

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It was then simply a case of shrinking them down and positioning them somewhere on the screen where it looked like they were sitting in front of the stage.

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But as you can see they still look a little like cardboard cutouts.  So now I had to add some colour correction which involved darkening them down to fit more with their surroundings.

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The next step was to add the other crowd members. In total I only had 5 people.  We were also very short on time as we were doing this on the last day and still had to shoot two scenes. All this in one evening!!!

So I quickly got them to swap about and change hats, things that would just break up the silhouettes bit.

Once I’d duplicated all of the characters I had something that looked a little like this. Although this is pre-colour treatment.

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So the final element was to add it all together.  I also added some atmospheric effects like subtle smoke to blend the two elements together.

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It’s surprising what you can get away with when using this technique. It’s used a lot in films to fill the background with people.  Even in the latest blockbusters like Star Trek Into The Darkness and the latest Avenger film.

It gets slightly more complicated if it’s a moving shot but if the crowd are far enough away you can get away with shooting the crowd using a static camera and overlay them onto the moving camera. For example an army running in the distance over hills. If you have excess to motion control cameras then you can replicate the camera movement exactly but that’s out of reach for most of us.

So next time you need a few extras give this technique a go.

Till next time!

Peter

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