VFX Dynamics: Research and Development

During our second semester of second year, one of our subjects is Visual Effects or VFX for short. In this subject we will be learning about particle systems within Maya and how to create them using simulations to manipulate the particles into looking “realistic”. As well as basic particle simulations we will be looking at how to change the particles into objects such as planes, debris etc. to generate large numbers of objects we can control using the dynamic fields.

For this subject, our assessment is to generate a tractor beam for a short sci-fi animation that has been given to us to use.  This assessment will also be crossed over with the Compositing and Data Capturing subject for film and 3D asset integration later on.

The pipeline or structure I have decided to follow is:

  • Research and look development (R’n’D)
    • Find and add to the source images provided.
    • Color swatches
    • Video references
    • Storyboard Concepts
    • Researching of different methods
  • Finding dynamic simulations for the “ragdoll”
    • Write a draft of the process
    • Final blog post
  • Experimental dynamic solutions
  • Self critique
  • Incorporating VFX elements into the final scene
  • Feedback
  • Suggested improvements
  • Final simulation, rendered with alpha channel ready for Nuke

This pipeline is not set in concrete and can be adjusted if outcomes change. Below as per suggested in the blog title, this is my research and look development for the project.

Here is the source images provided as initial reference:

images images-3 images-8 light-twirl-aurora-borealis_1920x1080_148-hd Northern-lights-1 Portal_2_Tractor_Beam Screen shot 2013-08-11 at 5.40.59 PM Unknown x63_aurora_borealis_by_halonacc

What is liked about these images, which needs to be kept in mind for the initial conceptional stage, are the “non-threatening” feel to the images which also have an “outside the square” feeling. The aim of this task is to make the audience feel as though they want to see the animation again. This is conveyed with the used of the light blues (which is highly recommended for the color palette) which are coupled with a slight use of complimentary colors. The flowing forms, however static, convey a sense of movement with what could be considered as different particle effects.

Thoughts that need to be taken into consideration whilst planning:

  • An outer cone effect to the tractor beam
  • Variance in the outer cone effect that moves and changes over time e.g a fog effect
  • Keeping a curiosity feel
  • That the tractor beam has a sense of volume
  • Main light source comes from above
  • The possibility of tendrils or wispy trails
  • High detail within the beam will mean a high particle count

Here are some tractor beams that have already been done which incorporate the above mentioned criteria:

beam_525 ufo light ku-medium Tractor_beam

Below is my collection of color swatches, I found and complied from Adobe Kuler. The brief stated that the tractor beam needed to feel “non-threatening” , pale blue is the desired color choice.
Respecting that blue is the main color, I added some other color palettes which also consisted of complimentary and contrasting colors. The reason I did this was to try and add some subtle interest to the color choices, there is one color palette in particular that probably doesn’t fit the criteria which is the complimentary blues and the stark orange/gold contrast on the right.

Otherwise I feel if the “gold” is used sparingly it will add a subtle interest to the rest of the tractor beam. Also the slightly warmer tones from the purples help to take a bit of the “cold” feeling away from the blues and the green palettes are to see if there can be a similar result reached with another cool color. I am not so attracted to the green palettes though so the exploration with them might end here.


The helpful thing about using Adobe Kuler to find these color swatches is that they provide the color values for RGB, so when I use the color mixer in Maya, I can know that I will end up with the exact values here in my color swatch mood board.

As per the brief, we were asked to find more research be it “still image” or video. Anything we might find helpful as well as help clarify decisions that were made.

When I first read/listened to the brief I immediately thought of the northern lights or aurora borealis. This natural phenomenon has always intrigued me, “why does it happen?”, the “snake like” calm wave motion it makes as it moves across the sky invoke a calm feeling but also one of curiousity, the gradients of colors and opacity as it fades back into nothing, the variance of cloud and streak effects which are both possible particle effects within Mayas Dynamic System and the use of the cooler color palette. So I felt this was a great place to start my own research and thought process.

_59f1265e783f68dbb60f109300b-post _e26f0fe94428b742679eb423482-post3_800edc_e5d_8ddb9e11d_c3621-post3ec65e0a76c3b0777040e2d95feaacb34c0900_bb22d_07c4e551_dbdd85-postDaylight NightlightNight Mystic - Kiruna, Sweden9b0960b5f_8de0_3_e69d66dc600-post9f70f1eeb0e1007e809ebaa278d4b12958d1e_c812028b3e_b7_9cc_724f-post60fe5f3b25e9ba6ba8ed63d8d1406947549edf104c6d6d824d83eb220399debe5706337871f9f1970d6dfafdd9e2ec81a7aa4c7ccd18745b9f22a96e767bd287a230628327e11532faa3b9d626512992b863ff7041_6e340b4e1_0940d3c-post - Copybv000068Powerd4d03d826619f44c17365_c0e90e-postdd9567fa72c8504c614ecec5bfb1369cpicc-6e24kw9f9-239013-530-353picc-8jikk9d7z-244296-500-330

This image below with Bambi, is one I found during my daily image search though Piccsy (http://piccsy.com/). The owner of the image is unknown to me as this is a mass image sharing site.
What I liked about this image is the variance in the cones appearance. I wouldn’t say this is my favourite image when it comes to more reference, due to the “threatening” feel within the picture which is not the feel wanted for the assessment.
However I do like that the cone shape consists of a vertical streak effect which could be an interesting alternative. There is also an overlapping of effects closer to the opening of the UFO which I like, but again the lightning effect makes the overall feel, threatening.


Here I like the stark beam effect, just as a curiosity to explore but however doesn’t match the brief. I also enjoy how the model is looking up in a semi curious pose, which is reference for the mannequin.


These columns are an interesting idea for an alternative in terms of shape as well as interesting effect ideas.

3f543af81e0e1cdcc33957ceeee76d70The inside of this glacier give a natural (with a touch of photoshop enhancement) gradient of blues from a very saturated pale blue to a mid less saturated blue. Also the ripple effect within the ice walls makes for some interesting shapes.


A bit more outside the box with this one, but falling snow. Even though in both images the snow is enhanced by a bokeh effect. I have added these images as a thought for how the overlay particle effect could interact within the scene. The gentle falling motion of the snow, smaller particles that maybe of a contrasting color or a more saturated, lighter blue. To pull this effect off I think it will need to be used subtly with the particles possibly having a shorter life span with a possible gradient on the opacity per particle, making sure there is some variance in the lifespan so that the particles don’t all die at once giving it a more natural and gentle effect. _dd8045b8cf61277e9d81d73d02c-post9e5887f0451075df6f975022b31_-post

What I like about this next image is the fluid/flow of the cylinder shape created by the water, as I will explain further down, that this could be used as a a shape for the base or the top of the cone shape.


This image here is one from the concept art for world of warcraft’s Mists of Pandaria. What I like about this image is the blue hues and the soft flowing particle effects, which are something I would like to incorporate into my simulation.DSC04191a

Also from Mists of Pandaria, this image is more for the stylised smoke forms which could be interesting as an overlaying pattern.

Another image which includes the smaller falling particle effect, to reiterate the comment made earlier, I think this images shows the “right” amount of particles for a subtle effect. Also in the background there is a concept on the right hand side with the planter of water, this is similar to the water splash image. I think it might be cool to explore the idea of having a tractor beam that connects in the middle or appears to connect in the middle, I feel this can help with the feeling of curiosity and non threatening as a more gentle and welcoming motion instead of a “threatening” gesture if the tractor beam is to come from directly above. DSC04193a

By now I think you have realised I really like world of warcraft… This image is a concept from the Wrath of the Lich king expansion. I like the cold blues here, since the expansion has a lot to do with snow and ice. Even though the image is somewhat threatening, I like the feel of the particle effect portrayed in this image the “misty/smokey” falling feeling.


Again from Wrath of the Lich King. I like the streak effect from the falling particles.

Here is some concept work from the game darksiders, it’s not so much the content of this picture it is more the flow and smoke like action being conveyed.DSC04204a DSC04205a

This image is way too violent for the purpose of this assessment, how ever I like that this shows how a little bit of aqua or green to the gradient might be an interesting yet subtle change.


I liked with this how some of the forms are happening in this image, especially the form on the top left. I wouldn’t make it so abrupt. DSC04210a

This is just an off beat thought with there being a secondary light at the base underneath the mannequin. I think adding the glyph’s would be too much, however I do like the idea of that as a possibility.DSC04213a

Just another example of the flowy wisps and “snow like” particles, I  also noticed when looking at this concept art, that the middle of the device can also be perceived as the opening of the iris within the UFO.

Some more examples of if the particles were to rise from beneath. DSC04215a DSC04216aDSC04218a

Here I like the eerie softness of the white to blue gradient.


An example of soft contrasting colors and how they could work in a non threatening way.DSC04220a

Some ideas for particle effect simulations.

Another image which uses contrasting colors effectively.DSC04223a

Back to the World of Warcraft concept art. I felt this image uses overlapping effects, effectively and in a peaceful way with the swirling motions in the force field.DSC04228a

This image here is more for the swirling form on the right hand side of the image, I feel it has a nice flow and shape to it.DSC04232a

A nice gentle light from above is shown within this image which I feel gives a nice “not too saturated” feel to the light coming from above. A lot of the images after this are repeating what has been said previously, so I will let the images talk for themselves and same something when I think is needed.DSC04234aDSC04235a DSC04236aDSC04241aDSC04242aDSC04245aDSC04246aDSC04247aDSC04249aDSC04250 DSC04252DSC04254DSC04256DSC04259DSC04261DSC04263DSC04264DSC04265DSC04268DSC04270DSC04278DSC04281DSC04284DSC04286DSC04287DSC04289DSC04293aGlow-worm-cave-new-zealand neon-visions-lenz--large-msg-13842052651picc-b6yqht262-226881-530-354

I felt this image was a good reference for the UFO exhausts. It shows some nice effects here with the heat waves and color variation within the exhaust itself.

As I mentioned earlier in the blog post, I liked the forms of tornadoes for the shape of the tractor beam. I realise the violence of the tornado isn’t exactly what is wanted for this assessment, but the cone shape I feel is appropriate and the way a tornado forms. The task with this is to portray it in such a way that the viewer will not recognise it as a tornado, otherwise the “non threatening” feel will be lost. 0e89cb071540c075_2ddb77bd1d6-post

I am playing with the idea that I would like some particles to emit from the wooden man himself as he gets lifted up to the UFO. I feel this will help bring a sense of awe to the animation as well as the wooden man being lifted in such a way like he is reclining in a chair and the particles are helping to carry him gently to the UFO, as if the other worldings are as curious of us.4_78be0d6e19f7d7_3b_554fdbd_-postf3_d56c27d63b2dbc1b553e7ec9f-post

Below are some video examples of both real life and 3D dynamic simulations which I feel have some relevance to particle movements and general feel that could work with this assessment.

The flow of particles in this video has a nice fluid motion, however I feel this is a little too fast paced for something to feel non threatening in terms of speed for the tractor beam.

Phosphoros – Totale Shot Breakdown from Francesco Faranna on Vimeo.

I found this pretty cool the lighting effects the lasers made on the individual blades of grass. Making some pretty cool ideas for how particles can react.

Emerald Laser Lawn from Dan Corson on Vimeo.

With this video example it’s more the beginning I am interested in. When the world starts to split, that’s not really what I am looking at but more so where you see the Aurora and a little bit of the particle effects from the world splitting before it becomes too chaotic.

Duality (Showreel Intro) from Daniel Danielsson on Vimeo.

A little too chaotic in terms of what has been asked for in this assessment. I decided to include this video because of some little characteristics within the particle simulations that could be some cool reference.

Núcleo de una luz from Bleed VFX Studio on Vimeo.

An interesting use of light and sound in an instillation. I like the childs laughter or whichever is controlling the lights down the bottom of the installation.

SOUNDSCOPE / Experience Simulation / Experiment 01 from Elyne Legarnisson on Vimeo.

An elegant light installation, a little too “clunky” and fast in terms of what I am looking for in my research, but I feel it has some relevance in terms of patterns and something outside of the box.

FLYLIGHT by Studio DRIFT at Moscow residence from Studio DRIFT on Vimeo.

Now this I found pretty cool. It is a particle and light simulation.
I like how this shows how different particle systems can react to each other within a close space and I get a sense of curiosity when I watch it.

Ambiguous Topology with simulation part (Processing + Kinect + Max/MSP) from P&A LAB on Vimeo.

Another interactive light simulation. This one is a little dark for the purpose of this assessment however there are some nice examples of strobe lights with smoke machine effects which make that nice clouded light look.

EPILOG (Excerpts) from schnellebuntebilder on Vimeo.

So this concludes what I have found as inspiration on top of what was given to us during the briefing. I could keep going but I think it’s time to stop and move on to the concept stage before some experimental particle simulations.


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