Low poly clones: the easiest way to fill a shot where you need lots of characters, but don't want to spend forever animating. 3D max has a handy object called the 'mesher' (seen here to the left) This does exactly what you'd expect it to do: it creates a copy of any object you pick in your scene, matching any animation frame by frame. The time offset value lets you adjust the timing of the clone, so that the copy isn't doing identical motions as the master.
A couple things to keep in mind when using this:
- Your model has to be one mesh, if you have separate objects for the hands (like I do) or for prop objects (like the shield and billy club the SWAT guys above are using) then they need to be welded to your model, and the proper vertex weights assigned in the 'skin' modifier so you can animate the model properly.
- Your clones are all going to share the same motion as the master. To add variation to the models, you have to animate a 'lead in' time 5-10 seconds (or more) depending on the length of your shot, and set the time offsets so that it's not too obvious that you are cloning the motions
- I'll typically have 3-4 master characters, and 6-8 clones off them with random time offsets, then scatter those clones around (color coordinated) so that no two clones from the same master are standing side by side
- It can become a pain to choreograph all your clones if they are doing much more than standing around, I have yet to try this with an actual action scene where characters are fighting each other, for example.
- You should vary the height of the clones by 97-103 % to add further variation.
- Not to mention, slight variations in materials between characters: assign slightly different skin color / clothing color / variations in procedural texture 'seeds'