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.

Effects : Lightning, Grass & Water

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

Lightning

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.

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/maya/learn-explore/caas/CloudHelp/cloudhelp/2016/ENU/Maya/files/GUID-A1910FA4-6EF9-4D47-91D9-EB0681446946-htm.html

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.


Grass

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.

meadowscene_exmple

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.

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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

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.

WaterNewTest

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

WaterNewTest2

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.

Screenshot 2018-05-14 15.37.57

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.

Rabbit_UW_Test_10

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.

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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.