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.

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.


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 : 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.

Screenshot 2018-05-13 21.44.09

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.


Colourboard : Stream

For referencing and a colour tile, I compiled a collection of images or paintings of Streams and Rivers that we felt suited the aesthetic we wanted to create in our Environment.


Specifically, the green and grey mossy colours that come through on the hard earth or rock in most of the images, suits for a good contrast against the warm oranges and yellows of the meadow.