2009 SPARTACUS Blood and Sand

Spartacus series was shot entirely on greenscreen stages with no real-world exteriors. I was charged with delivering the Arena environment. The arena itself was a complex asset with waving cloth and multiple pass renders, but the crowds which filled it were the real challenge.

Groups of 50 actors were shot from 15 camera angles (5 horizontal, 3 vertical) under 3 different lighting directions performing 6 different actions, with position and costume changes between each setup. Takes were selected and 250 frame sections were isolated. Then the task of roto cleanup, keying and plate prep was undertaken for 45,000 frames – a terabyte of footage!

Initially, to even preview a rough setup of a shot took almost a full day, so the first plugin written for 3DCGI’s Virtual Studio software was a crowd tile manager. Using an optimized version of the arena, Virtual Studio populated the seating with the appropriate crowd sequence based on camera angle and light direction, let you choose the behaviour the shot required, and slip the timing of each crowd tile to suit. After tweaking the result in real time, I’d output an HD quicktime for feedback. The time to first version was now less than 10 minutes! Approved layout information was then exported to AfterFx for polish using the 48 bit plates.

This accelerated workflow allowed us to deliver multiple complex HD shot layers to DigiPost for final compositing within a TV turnaround schedule.

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