Massive has for the last few years delivered great new features each year at SIGGRAPH and shipped fairly soon afterwards. We caught up with founder Stephen Regelous and test drove some of the new features.

Master & slaves: 20,000 agents killing each other in realtime on 1 PC!

As fxguide covered on the last Hobbit film, Weta Digital, independently of Massive, created a realtime gaint army simulator called Army Manager, which was used for on-set playback of crowd elements. Inspired by this, the team at Massive Software explored a way to extended the normal Massive to run tens of thousands of agents in realtime. The solution is a system of Masters and Slaves, with the slaves having less intelligence and effectively following the lead of their Masters. Thus now in Massive 8.0 it's possible to run simulations containing up to say 20,000 agents at 24 fps on a single PC. This is a huge leap in performance of more than 200 times.This is a real simulation and not just playing back a prerecorded simulation. The system still uses Agents, programmed much as before and does not revert to say using just particles.  To make it work fully you need a fairly serious graphics card such as a NVIDIA Quadro K6000 or Titan X graphics card. But the performance scales on other cards such as the K5000.  With this, previs crowd shots can be easily created in realtime, and virtual cinematography is much easier as full battles are live and on a system that could easily be taken on set or to a motion capture space. The CG elements can include full, high-quality agent crowd elements that are fully indicative.

Program like a compositor! (node-based brain programming)

With the introduction of the new Parts feature, anyone can build brains in minutes. Artists can rapidly assemble agent brains by simply graphically editing pre-made graphical nodal 'parts'. Each of these Massive 'parts' are entirely customizable without any coding, avoiding the pitfalls of the black box approach of some other crowd systems. Massive artists can easily program brains by just dropping nodes and seeing the results immediately. The Parts feature allows for libraries of agent parts which can be reused and shared across multiple agents, and can be updated and maintained independently of the agents. This is beneficial to both newer Massive artists and more experienced artists working with asset management systems inside large studios.

Moving between sim and animation

Massive is now available for 3DS Max, "We know that3DS Max users like to work within the Max environment so we are giving them what they've been asking for: a complete Massive plugin for 3DS Max," revealed CEO Stephen Regelous. "Some may recall an earlier announcement for upcoming 3DS Max support, and while the project was temporarily shelved we are now moving ahead with Massive for Max." The new plugin allows Max users to easily and conveniently create, simulate and render scenes of many thousands of characters and see the Massive agents in the scene just like any other 3DS Max objects. V-Ray from Chaos Group is fully integrated, with Massive agents rendered along with the other objects in the scene. The plugin is expected to be released along with Massive 8.0.

In 2013 Massive introduced Massive for Maya, which is now used around the world for setting up, running, lighting and rendering Massive simulations, all inside Maya. Now in Massive for Maya 8.0 the team has added the Massive editor window that allows for editing every aspect of agent bodies. Change any piece of geometry or texture map, adjust shader parameters, adjust rigid body dynamics settings, and add variation.

One great less-discussed use of Massive is the ease of being able to add animation to an agent and blend between the sim and custom say blendshape animation and back again.

Getting walked all over

Massive agents have always been good at adapting to terrain, and Massive 8.0 has introduced the ability for agents to walk over other agents, as if they were terrain. This is particularly useful when there are a lot of dead bodies in the scene. This can be done now but it is much more complex. Currently one needs to kill an agent, run a simulation for the fall onto the terrain and then once you are fairly sure your agent has stopped moving convert them into some other geo. If you do this too late other agents will kick and move the dead as part of the rigid body simulation, and if you do not do it fast enough, other agents will simply walk through the dead, or kindly walk around them and avoid them. With the new death option the fallen become terrain allowing the victors to immediately walk all over them in a far more (brutal) and realistic way.

Lanes, terrains and traffic

In addition to armies and crowds, many companies have used Massive for traffic. Key to traffic is the idea of lanes. Following on from the film San Andreas it is now possible to have the lanes parented to the geo or terrain. Both the agents and the lanes can be parented to the terrain. This means that adaptive geo or adaptive terrain will lead to both the agents and the lanes they are following working correctly and thus producing much more realistic 'edge' case simulations. Previously when a sequence of geo files were used as terrain the simulation could fail at several levels. Now in Massive 8.0 the program interpolates between geo files on every step of the simulation - resulting in more stable rigid body dynamics and with the agent and lane parenting your cars or crowds react correctly. 

RenderMan RIS

In addition to this, traffic has been improved so it now only has collision avoidance - which traditionally results in breaking, from the actual traffic ahead in each car's lane. Before, traffic on the other side of the road, especially on corners, could be mis-read as requiring breaking. Now cars only break for traffic going their way along the lanes. It also means you can have intelligent lane changes for even more realistic traffic.

Massive has always been designed to work well with RIB files and RenderMan. Last year Pixar extended RenderMan to include other integrators such as RIS. Massive now supports the RIS with a completely new renderer integration for PRMan 19 and onwards, taking full advantage of the new RIS rendering technology.

Massive 8.0 will be released soon, and is just entering Beta testing now.

For more on this crowd sim tech, check out our Massive online training in with senior Massive artist Geoff Tobin.

Thanks so much for reading our article.

We've been a free service since 1999 and now rely on the generous contributions of readers like you. If you'd like to help support our work, please join the hundreds of others and become an fxinsider member.