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A Massive Undertaking
Probably the biggest challenge facing Weta was the huge battle scenes they would have to depict in order to do justice to the book. In particular, The Return of the King ends with a climactic battle pitting the forces of good against evil.

“There are literally hundreds of thousands of people fighting and screaming and dying throughout the books. And we knew that we were going to have to achieve large scale battles,” said Labrie.
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To tackle the problem, Stephen Regelous, crowd supervisor, began work four years ago on a program called Massive.

“Massive is a tool for the creation of artificial ecologies. The way that it generally works is that you build agents that are able to communicate with their environment, basically using sight and sound analogs, and they choose motion capture cycles based on what it is they are trying to achieve — all based on the brains that have been built inside the tool,” explained Labrie.

Developed on Irix, and now ported to Linux, Regelous controls the source code for Massive. Weta has a site license in perpetuity, but eventually, Regelous plans to take Massive to market.

Regelous explained that each creature is actually an artificial intelligence. Each one can see and hear what is around him and will respond to his environment, and other creatures in the area. Each creature is programmed with a range of behaviors which draw from a huge database of motion capture data. Atlanta-based Giant Studios’ proprietary motion capture system was used for the huge database of motions that were needed to drive Massive. A motion blending engine within Massive is used to merge motions together.

Labrie reported that the largest battle scene will involve close to 100,000 creatures on the field.

“This was a much better way of getting crowd behavior. What we get is realistic behavior from individuals, and when you put them all together, the way they interact looks realistic,” explained Regelous. “Using Massive, we get guys who rush into battle, actually clash and take each other out in the hundreds of thousands. And what we are seeing is pretty realistic looking battle action, which I don’t think we would have achieved if we had taken a particle approach. So building the system up from the ground is what we needed to be able to do to tackle those problems.

“There are tons and tons of shots of armies going into battle,” said Regelous. “And we can have as many of each type of guy as we want… So far we’ve done simulations of up to 14,000 guys. We can run about 5,000-8,000 on one processor.”

In addition, Massive agents are able to respond to their terrain, walking differently when they are going uphill, than when they go down, for example.

“What we’re doing is blending different motion capture cycles and adjusting the angles, all from the brain,” said Regelous. “And this is something that we can use, not just for terrain, but for aiming weapons, and grabbing objects. We can manipulate motion capture to get much more intelligent behaviors.”

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