Effects : Lightning, Grass & Water

The primary 3 effects through the short film are the lightning, the grass (and other plants) and the water.


The Lightning went through several iterations before settling on the final version, however most of them ended up looking  clunky or throwing off the lighting in the scene.

Ironically, the simplest execution ended up working the best, with the standard Maya lightning effect working very well.

The lightning had to be animated across the scene, to follow the wolf’s position and timed to create the right aesthetic.

With the exposure settings, timing and a basic locator rig that let me drive keys along so that the lightning stretched and ‘vibrated’ more the larger distance it moved.


This tutorial was helpful for understanding all the features and parts of the lightning tool that I could utilize, and how to sculpt the effect I wanted.

This was how the lightning looked when comped into the scene – I would have ideally liked to be able to spend a little bit more time thinning it out and making it more defined, possibly even adding hard outlines to it, but there were other parts that needed addressed with higher priority.


Like I’d mentioned previously, I had made efforts to construct the grass out of Xgen, however it wasnt until recently, that I realized that combining the paint effects tool with polyscatter would achieve the same result with greater ease and effect.


As can be seen here, the Xgen based scenes ran very intensive and didn’t produce an ideal result, especially as any animation they would have needed to be manually implemented.

However, with paint effects, I could create something quickly and simply that was animated by default and resembled the kind of painterly grass we wanted.

By creating multiple different ‘scales’ of the same grass type, I could scatter it over multiple surfaces without creating obvious gaps and maintaining the ‘structural’ functionality of the scenes.

Something that Xgen failed to do, as it often caused crashes due to the intensity it functioned at.


Polyscatter allowed me to instance the grass I made along any environment surface, though it’s downside was that as the instances didn’t generate their own effects, but rather pulled from the parent, they wouldn’t interact with any other geometry in the scene.

This meant that for any shots where the rabbit needed to run through grass, the grass immediately around him had to be removed and manually painted in with collision effects.

As can be seen in this scene, Polyscatter could also be used to add things like thorns across the brambles or to quickly spread clusters of rocks across the ground, all I had to do was import geometry I created and adjust the settings to find a result I wanted.

This was the tutorial I used to learn about the settings and options available to me when creating the grass.

Like in the above video, many of the scenes had multiple sets of instances, that slowed them down immensely, so it was important to use some of them sparingly, and be carefully about the amount of detail we included in the environment.

Not just for the purposes of maintaining scene fidelity, but also to ensure the aesthetic we wanted remained intact.


Water was one of the trickier parts to grasp, and we had many options available, each with their own pro’s and cons to deal with.

Initially, I attempted some bifrost pieces of water to see how they would look, however I found it was too finicky and produced results that were too photo-real for our purposes.


When at a lower setting, like above, Bifrost tended to generate an almost plastic appearance, regardless of lighting adjustments.


This improved the more detail you began to add. however at this stage it was too much like an ocean to be rendered effectively in something like the stream.WaterNewTest3

This would be great for the ocean, but it took a while to achieve and was very finnicky about how it rendered out.

However, I found that the best result could be achieved using Maya’s built in 2D water texture.

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Adjusting velocity and ripple speed let me create a single preset that I could scale through a scene to have the water increase in intensity and height, that way it didn’t need manually adjusted between shots.


The water here had a much more painterly aesthetic that I really liked, and fit well with the rest of the Short, it was also incredibly easy to manage once it was set up – though like mentioned before, it’s pacing was sometimes hard to wrangle.

By placing the water texture on a transparent plane, with another layer on a very mild ramp shader behind it, I could manipulate the appearance of depth.


In the example of the log ocean above – the water layer is highlighted and was set up with a high level of catclark subdivison to generate a nice deformation, whilst the layer below had a displacement map and a ramp shader to give the appearance of terrain under the water, and to back cast a nicer effect onto the water surface.

This was ramped down for scenes where the water needed to be calmer, like the stream or scene 11.


Environment : Hill to the Log Ocean.

The Log Ocean scene was a combination of one of the easiest and most frustrating scenes to make.

In terms of layout, it was incredibly simplistic, a slight hill leading down to a fallen log stretching across a wide ocean.

However, the process of creating an ocean of the appropriate scale proved intensive, and slowed down the process of tweaking and adjusting immensely.


The log ocean was constructed with two states, one in the midst of a storm and the other with a calmer sea.

The calmer sea was lighted with pale greys and a slight tint of yellow to provide highlights and contrasts for the characters.


Compared to the hill leading down to it and the early parts of the ocean, which I lit using intense reds and assembled to give a vivid skyline and clear lines of action, I found that actually creating the scene raised complex issues surrounding how to light it.

Primarily though, the skysphere gave a red tint that then needed some forced shadows from directional lighting and an ambient yellow light to help highlight it.


Here you can see a finished shot from the above environment, with a brown light being used to cast the highlights to create a more visceral effect.

This is probably one of my favorite shots, and the one I feel the lighting works best in.


The above shot shows another aspect of lighting this scene that had to shift between shots, as a brighter set of lights was needed for the shots that framed the rabbit against the sky, to ensure that the red tones didn’t blend too heavily.

The ocean itself was primarily the result of two layered ocean shaders using the 2D Water displacement texture in maya, set to generate a simple but effective sequence of waves and ripples.

The Log that stretched across it, both in the shot where it splinters and when it’s static, was an extended version of the tree I had modeled prior, with a light rig allowing the splinters to be moved in relation to the trunk itself.

Environment : Snakelair & Snake Run

Most of the second sequence is occupied by the chase of the Rabbit from the Snake through a brambled lair and tunnel, intended to create a feeling of claustrophobia.


This was the initial background and lighting, missing the brambles and dead grass that would be eventually added.


You can see in this shot, the design choice to create claustrophobia relied heavily on dark black and red lighting, though in order to enhance this, the floor and grass were made into pale tan and brown colours, with yellow grass to generate more definition.

When it came to creating the exit, it was important to make sure the corridor was both long enough, and positioned in such a way as to allow the camera to glide through the scene without impacting into geometry.

This paralleled interestingly with the requirement to make the space feel closed and collapsed.

The environment often had to be adjusted between shots to better frame the characters and improve the sense of motion in the scenes.

I also added a soft area light that drifted just in front of the characters in this scene to help them pop out from the dark backdrop more easily.


Environment : Stream V.2

The stream environment was basically a replication of Stream version 1, but with a wider deeper river, a darker ground and grass texture and a deeper blue tint to the lighting.


The water in the stream had to be much more ferocious than the scene before, though I had issues with the speed of it at points, as it seemed to tie velocity and speed to the depth of the waves, which meant I had to juggle the averages between the two.

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The scene had many piecemeal and hidden components,  and was initially designed to actually stretch during the shots.

This was later scrapped, and so many of those additions went unused.


Environment : Stream V.1

The Short film required two different stream settings established, one with a low meandering creek and another with a wide spread rising ocean.

For  the short meandering stream, we had to form it to create horizon lines along the camera shots  whilst also making sure that the backdrops appeared pseudo-two dimensional.


This early version of the Stream had a simple flat-water texture with modeled reeds with constructed lattice – however it didn’t offer  enough variety in the scene – and  as it’s one of the primary and most long-sitting shots it needed something more developed.


A couple of lighting tests eventually led to the right feel, creating a sense of a warm summer afternoon.


The other side of the stream had an exaggerated hill-top with a  lone tree, which  would be covered in dandelions and a lighter tinged grass layer.


Most scenes are rendered out on high contrast layers as tifs, because they tend to actually appear faded on screen, when in Maya itself or the arnold renderview they look like the above .png.

The Reeds and other small features around the room are paint effects converted to polygons.

This tutorial was useful for figuring out how to go about creating some interesting and simple.

Forcing the perspective on the left hand side to create the illusion of a larger environment is just part of the features we used to piece together the landscape we wanted.


Environment: Meadow

The First area you see in the film is a simple meadow, though it had went through several stages.


You can see a fairly close to finished version here, with an early version lighting set up.


This version of the scene had a fairly basic lighting set-up, with the skysphere providing most of the lighting and a  set of directional lights casting tonal shadows.

I also added an area light to cast a yellow tint across the ground, and a disc light to emulate the bright sun beams.


This particular version didn’t have quite the light intensity we needed and rendered out too dark, so I bumped up some of the directional exposure.


This worked much better, though as you can see the light didn’t cast as strong a shadow set as I wanted, so like can be seen in the Gif at the top, the characters had highlight put just behind them  to cast a soft rim light onto them.




Referencing & Rendering : Testing

Having modeled and rigged most of what we needed at this point, I moved on to begin doing grass, fur and render tests and adding in the completed models to the camera scenes Anna had set up.

Grass would be created using Xgen, and this early stage was mostly learning how to use the program. I’ll go further into depth on the specifics of what I discovered in a later dedicated post.

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Setting the references up was easy enough, but playing around with the grass took a while to get the right settings, and even then, my laptop physically can’t actually render the entire scene.

However, the grass does look something like this. (I hope, I have no actual way of seeing if this translates well onto a larger scale.)


A couple other grass and fur tests involved playing around with density and noise and the colour of the grass. The dark grass worked well  for a deep saturated grass that would appear when it was raining, but not really for a bright sunny morning.


The slightly yellowing dead grass would work well for transitioning into the nightmarish scape of the later scenes.

Modelling : Trees and Shrubs

For the environment, we wanted our trees in the background to still cast a shadow and have a semblance of physicality in the environment.

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> Far  Hill Cherry Blossom Tree.

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> This uprooted Tree is the only fully 3D one, as it has a sequence of animation in which it is spinning.

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This is the first of a handful of trees that we used to populate the rest of the space in the environment background.

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We then applied textures and image planes of the leaves Anna had drawn to these models and referenced them into the scene.

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Next up, some smaller pieces of shrubbery that would fill the underbrush around the trees.

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