Fire : Learning to Burn

In the plan for our short, the wolf was originally going to be comprised entirely of smoke and electricity, however after looking into how to do that, we quickly decided to simply have it emit some smoke and flame.

It took several attempts before we realized that this was an unfeasible goal to add in the time we had, especially as a team of two with a wide spread of work to do.

The tests initially started simple, adding some smoke and flame to the eyes of the characters to make them appear more threatening.

After a lengthy series of tests and practices, I eventually figured out how to graft the smoke to the geometry of the characters so that it moved with them.

This however, created a different problem.

Wolf_Smoke_Test.gif

In shots where the wolf moved, the smoke effect came off blocky and thick, rather than the whispy aesthetic I was going for. When static, it worked fine, aside from a few glitches.

Rendering the successful ones also sometimes created this problem.
woof_goes_poof.gif

This mainly occured with Zync, and was supposedly due to issues with caching the particle effect history, however no matter what tutorials I followed and attempts I made to correct this, I could not get Zync to render the particles properly and without issue.

WolfOnSmoke.jpeg

This was what the above images looked like when static, and as you can see, despite all 3 having identical sky-boxes and light set ups, the results could not be more different when rendered through Zync or a different computer.

This inconsistency then drove me towards Paint Effects, and attempting to create the fire and smoke using that.

Needless to say, it had mixed results.

WolfFluidTest.png

Generally, the paint effects looked good, but didn’t necessarily fit the aesthetic of the film – and as they rendered fully 2D, without existing transparency – it was hard to get a visualisation pre-composition of how it might look.

Image converted using ifftoany

As it stood, it’s impossible to tell how this would look in the scene – however the results were more shocking when comped together.

comped.png

Whilst certain terrifying, and very close to the aesthetic we wanted – the wolf seemed to lose all definition as to what it was when we covered it in flame.

Additionally, the sheer amount of compositing that would need done for this, the hawk and the snake proved to be quite excessive.

Given these factors, we decided to keep the smoke and flame effects to a minimum, using them sparsely to accentuate danger through after effects.

This tutorial was interesting, and in an ideal world, we’d have liked our film to feature effects like this on the characters. – However, as you can see, even creating a simple static effect took time – and replicating this through dozens of shots on a moving creature proved… troublesome at best.

This was the idea of how we could go about doing the shot in which the wolf disintegrates into smoke, using a combination of render layers and effects to have it disappear.

As can be seen here, most of the smoke effects we ended up using were simple ambient pieces, with the occasional piece of particle effects around the eyes and mouth, like shown at the beginning of this post.

Rendering : A Breakdown

The process of rendering the short film was a drawn out, difficult and often troublesome process, that seemed at times to rely more on luck than any effort of planning.

PLAN SHEET_01

As Anna finished the animation in shots, I took them, set up the environment scene references and textures – and began the process of lighting and test rendering.

Most test renders turned out something like this however, until eventually I hit the jackpot.

Generally the animation process took some time, which afforded me the opportunity to work more on lighting and set up.

As can be seen in the plan below, some scenes required a constant shifting of assets and the occasionally keyed set of lighting. This was particularly prevalent in the shots with lightning, which had to not only be created, but rendered on a separate layer whilst still having it’s accompanying lights timed to work in tandem with it.

PLAN SHEET_02

Zync was a blessing and a curse when it came to this, we had to use multiple accounts, amassing approximately £3000 worth of rendering, if this had been something we paid for out of pocket, this film would never have gotten completed. Fortunately, utilizing the free trials available to us and rendering layers on efficient settings, we were able to cut down dramatically the cost and time needed to render.

zync

Shots frequently errored out during the rendering process, or came back with problems that seemed to be temperamental in the fixing. Often, simply closing and opening a scene and re-starting the render fixed it, or simply hiding a cube somewhere in the scene.

This has convinced me that Cloud Renderers, while vital, clearly have some anger issues.

GrassonHIll_Test1

Renders often came out like this, with the light not casting as defined shadows or appearing too dark, whilst this could be corrected in post, it was much easier to compensate for it directly through lighting.

This meant having some layers ‘overlit’ whilst others had to be underlit. This is mostly down to how Zync dealt with the colour output management.

Most of the testing was sporadic frames or short play-outs of how the lighting moved in the scenes.

Generally it worked out without problems once we got it set up, though occasionally we had some issues.

  • Floating Geometry
  • Non-rendering environment pieces
  • No loaded Animation

Generally, these were all easily fixed using alembic caching and baking the animation before exporting.

Most rendered shots needed minor colour correction, basically ensuring they all had similar tones and palettes per scene.

You can see in this pre-correction set of renders, that each character, whilst rendered with the same set of lights, came out with clear outlines and slight pops.

The Wolf had to be rendered brighter, with a purple texture to allow him to be more easily comped and have the effects that drift with him added.


In addition to the Zync system of rendering, we also set up a number of Mac’s rendering independently, and thanks to  the referencing system established, this went by fairly quickly, as a scene could be loaded instantly on any mac, with the render setting presets imported directly.

However, the Mac rendered out noticeably lighter than Zync with the same settings, which resulted in an interesting battle when it came to color correction.

 

Environment: Meadow

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

firstscene

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

meadowscene_exmple

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.

Meadow01_RenderTest

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.

Meadow01_RenderTestFxDLight

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.