Wedge Study 3 – Headlight colour temperature

Headlight Colour

At some point in my car project, I am going to want to ‘turn on’ the headlights and create a volumetric look as though there are particles in the environment. So as I searched for a third attribute to test, I figured I would test subtle variances in the colour temperature of the light.

I checked ‘use color temperature’ in the Arnold settings for the spotlight and iterated up in increments of 100 degrees kelvin

5000 degrees Kelvin

5000 degrees Kelvin

5100 degrees Kelvin

5100 degrees Kelvin

5200 degrees Kelvin

5200 degrees Kelvin

5300 degrees Kelvin

5300 degrees Kelvin

5400 degrees Kelvin

5400 degrees Kelvin

5500 degrees Kelvin

5500 degrees Kelvin

5600 degrees Kelvin

5600 degrees Kelvin

5700 degrees Kelvin

5700 degrees Kelvin

5800 degrees Kelvin

5800 degrees Kelvin

5900 degrees Kelvin

5900 degrees Kelvin


What I have learned –

I tested the colour spectrum between slightly yellow light at 5000 through netral ‘daylight’ at 5500 and then through to a bluer light at 5900. I would depend on the manufacturer but I think I will just do what feels right for the scene. Now I have a great look up chart.




Wedge Study 2 – Car wheel rims

How ‘shiny’ do I want the wheel chrome to be? In my test render at maximum shininess, they seemed to be a distraction and drew too much attention to the eye.

I am not working for a car company and matching an established look, rather I am creating something that looks pleasing so its up to me to find the balance. I am testing the ‘roughness’ value on the specular properties starting at zero for maximum shine and going up in increments of .05 –

Specular roughness at 0

Specular roughness at 0

Specular roughness at 0.05

Specular roughness at 0.05

Specular roughness at 0.1

Specular roughness at 0.1

Specular roughness at 0.15

Specular roughness at 0.15

Specular roughness at 0.2

Specular roughness at 0.2

Specular roughness at 0.25

Specular roughness at 0.25

Specular roughness at 0.3

Specular roughness at 0.3

Specular roughness at 0.35

Specular roughness at 0.35

Specular roughness at 0.4

Specular roughness at 0.4

Specular roughness at 0.45

Specular roughness at 0.45


What I have learned – 
As the roughness value goes up, the wheels start to move into a flatter, more diffused plastic kind of look. The renderer mimics a surface the has some granular texture which diffuses the light rays and bounces them out at angles. I prefer the lower values and the more chrome like look but for my taste .15 is just enough to break up the harshness and aliased feel you get at 0.


Wedge Study 1 – Car windscreen

Below is wedge study for render attributes using the Arnold renderer – I decided to focus on car materials as this will help in look development for a car project I am doing. The car project will be rendered in a HDRI environment for integration with a live action plate but to make it easy to assess the shaders on their own merit, I have simulated studio lighting conditions –

Wedge study 1 – Windscreen glass
One of the materials that was challenging me a bit was the windscreen glass. To simulate different reflection and refraction properties at different grazing angles. Of particular importance is the ‘reflectance at normal’ value in the specular properties so I began changing the values by increments of 0.3 and saving swatches –

reflectance at normal set to 0

reflectance at normal set to 0

reflectance at normal set to 0.03

reflectance at normal set to 0.03

reflectance at normal set to 0.06

reflectance at normal set to 0.06

reflectance at normal set to 0.09

reflectance at normal set to 0.09

This one above is the one that feels about right to me.

reflectance at normal set to 0.12

reflectance at normal set to 0.12

reflectance at normal set to 0.15

reflectance at normal set to 0.15

reflectance at normal set to 0.18

reflectance at normal set to 0.18

reflectance at normal set to 0.21

reflectance at normal set to 0.21

reflectance at normal set to 0.24

reflectance at normal set to 0.24

reflectance at normal set to 0.27

reflectance at normal set to 0.27

What I have learned –
Given that there is a large overhead softbox light, the higher values look really burned out. However, if the value is too low, the glass is too transparent and looks fake.
A value of about .09 seems to look about right for my tastes. This may need to be reduced in a HDR environment where there are sharper things like tree branches reflecting but for now I will call that good.



Modern Ray-trace renderers

The goal of a modern physically accurate render engine is to calculate indirect light based on the direct illumination hitting surfaces in the scene.

Arnold’s solution to this is to use ‘Monte Carlo’ ray tracing. It renders the image by randomly tracing samples of possible light paths. Repeated sampling of a given pixel will eventually cause the average of the samples to converge on the correct solution, making it very faithful to reality.
‘Monte Carlo’ in a broader computational context, relates to algorithms for repeated random sampling to obtain numerical results. The gambling analogy is the reason it was named after the famous casino.

Arnold is referred to as an ‘unbiased’ renderer – it does not introduce any systematic error, or bias into the radiance approximation.

For performance increases, some renderers use irradiance caches and photon and light map storage to speed up rasterization. Instead, Arnold opts for the ‘brute force’ ray tracing method, recomputing the GI values for every single shaded point seperately and independently from other points. As explained by Eric Haines of ray tracing news ‘there’s only a single version of the model stored, not one for the rasterizer and one for the ray-tracer. This avoids mis-syncs and means that there is minimal pre-computation time. (Haines, E 2010)

This also simplifies the pipeline, infrastructure and user experience.

The philosophy behind this is perhaps best summed up in the Arnold user guide –

‘your time is more valuable than your computer’s time; why spend an extra 30 minutes working with photon mapping or final gather settings, even if it saves 30 minutes render time (and more often than not it doesn’t). That’s still 30 minutes not spent modeling, animating or lighting.’ (mtoa_user_guide.pdf , 2012)
A down-side of this path-tracing method is that it may not consider all possible paths, and subsequently may not consistently handle phenomena like caustics accurately.

As Marcos Fajardo, the chief architect of Arnold admits – ‘one of the only limitations of Arnold is that it does not really do caustics very well. We haven’t bothered to spend our resources optimizing on caustics.’ (Seymour, M 2012)

He goes on to say that in all his years developing for the film industry, accurate caustics is not something that has ever really been a demand from his clients. He also agrees that further optimization is needed with particularly interest in the areas of motion blur and instancing.


Seymour, M 2012

Haines, E 2010



Dynamics Week 15 (final) -Process Diary

Final UFO

I will treat this as a new and separate blog for the UFO dynamics process diary ‘after week 9 feedback’ so please see the week 9  entry for previous blog stuff.

Firstly, here is a summary of the teacher feedback from the week 9 blog itself –

Feedback – liked the movie documenting of experiments.
Action – cool, I will continue with these.
Feedback – good amount of reference gathered , more moving reference would be useful.
Action – Ok, will continue using this reference and address more specifically the movement of the particles.
Feedback – more detail in regard to problem solving and workflows/methods.
Action – sweet, I love talking about this stuff! Putting thought into the ‘how and why’ is one of my strong suits!

Now to the dynamics work.
First of all, here is a recap of what I submitted in week 9 –

As you will notice , I had separated the tractor beam into 3 segments to improve the communication of feedback.

I will talk about theses 3 segments, how they were initially created and the changes I have now made based on –
– the ‘client’ feedback
timing and distance changes made to brief (previz)
– other changes and embellishments based on my own improving skill-set.

Core Beam – 

At the week 9 review, I had created an outer cylindrical beam pulsing up and down rhythmically. I called it the ‘core beam’ as it was the main shape for the tractor.
The positive feedback was that it ‘turns on in a pleasing way’ and the color is ‘bang on’.
There was 2 points of negative feedback
1. The movement up and down looks weird and is not required.
2. It needs some variance in its makeup, it feels too consistent.

The essence of how the core was built was a poly cylinder –
I needed to modify the geo so that the tractor matched the new scene (the ship is now higher up in Y)
I had used a ramp mapped to the texture rate – ’emit from dark’.
Notice above that the ‘selected position’ is keyed – I needed to change the animation so that the particles just traveled downwards i.e no more ‘pulsing’ and then stop emitting just before the door closes –

Then for the ‘breakup/variance I used a similar but more advanced technique with a shading network introducing animated fractal textures and a simple expression –

which gave me this look of wispy splines creeping down the column – I find that this method of assessing the look of the particles at a texture level, before you generate particles is really helpful – you can see the changes on the fly and scrub the timeline to see how it animates. Then you have an idea of what will happen when you emit  – what kind of particle count you will need and how long they should live. With this kind of look, I knew that the lifespan should be very short, otherwise it would just be a mess.
I also decided to render this breakup separately from the main column so I can control the look in comp.

These 2 elements form the new and improved ‘Core Beam’ and it looks like this so far-

Fractal Circles

At the week 9 review, I had created a circular shaped disk that travels up and down the core beam to add another level of interest.
The positive feedback was that it looks ‘cool’. It ‘adds some movement to the beam which works.’
There was 2 points of ‘negative’ feedback (not that negative, just changes to work on) –
1. ‘It would work better if the fractal just went in one direction. So make it move from the top to the bottom and then die.’
2. A couple of creative suggestions –
a. It might be worth trying this, when the fractal particles hit the ground they turn into mist or some other cool effect. I suggest making it very subtle.

b. Also, it might be nice for the fractal particles to generate a fine layer of particles that sheer off from the core beam as it passes over the top. This could be used to create that dissipating/vapour look that appears in a lot of the reference.

This ‘fractal circle’ of particles will be comped over the existing core beam. It is created in a similar way, using a shading network that is animated to match the timing of the door opening/closing.
So firstly, I corrected the timing to match the new timing of the door. Then I changed the ramp keyframes so that the circles are never visible traveling in the upward direction. Instead they appear to die –


With regard to the creative suggestion of making them turn to mist as they disappear– I thought of a way to do this –
I decided to make the fractal circle particles emit their own secondary particles. I could control the emission rate to just emit at the death of the fractal circle – then these secondary particles sheer away driven by gravity and turbulence fields – they peel away from the main column and fall. I would need to give them just enough lifespan  and opacity PP to fade away as they fall.
This required lots of tweaking to get the right look, but in the end I think it works quite well.
In total, these ‘secondary fractal circles’ are formed 3 times at the base of the column and once more at the top of the column just before the door closes. If I have interpreted the feedback correctly then I think this is exactly what the ‘client’ is after –


I was pretty disappointed with what I had achieved with the tendrils in the week 9 submission. I knew what I wanted and what the client wanted but in all honesty I was a bit lost for how to make it happen.
The feedback was that “the tendril feels a too wavy. It feels like the movement is coming from the top, up in the hatch. The head of the tendril, which is the part that moves towards the mannequin, should be the part that leads and determines the movement. What lags behind is more like a trail. Basically the opposite of what you have now. I would like to see 2-3 tendrils that latch onto the mannequin”
This feedback actually made me realize why the movement was wrong – this is how it was created-
Above – original week 9 setup- I had created a spiral shaped nurbs curve. The emitter sat at the top, a sphere was connected to the curve via a motion path and the particles were goaled to the sphere.
You can actually see from this screen shot above what the problem was – the ‘fuzzy tail’ was leading the action which is wrong- the tail should more like a trail.
I tried swapping the action, i.e with the emmiter traveling down the curve. I parented the emitter to the sphere. I also tried adding more sweeps to the curve and deforming the curve with a lattice deformer to get some ‘tornado’ feel. While the theory of this was better, it didn’t really work well enough-
Above – failed solution to tendril issue.

I decided that it would be more manageable if I went with more of a geometry driven solution. This is the method I came up with. I was worried that I was over-complicating things but it actually didn’t take that long to set up-

The basis of this new set-up is
– a sculpted cylinder geo coming to a point at the tip.
– a joint system.
– spline IK added.
-smooth bind.
– clusters for manual animation.
– fixed position sine deformer to with animated wavelength, frequency and offset.
-emit from geo surface.

Once I had the first one setup, it was easy to dupe it and change the setting so that the 2 tendrils work in tandem.
This is what the revised ‘2 tendril’ component looks like in isolation –


Now that I have discussed a bit about how the tractor was created and the changes I made for the final, here is a bit about the workflow I adopted that worked well for me.

Using separate scenes for different simulations seemed to slow me down and I felt unorganized generally with this original method. So decided to have a crack at doing it all in one scene and that felt better for me. This here is the list of steps I used as I took each particular simulation from testing through to rendering-

build everything required for the test, playback in the timeline to get a feel for whether its working using very low particle counts.
group everything involved with that particle sim i.e curves, joints, deformers, emitters, particles, fields etc into a group with a specific name.
– nest  this group into another group one up in the heirarchy called ‘tractor FX’
– as things start to look right, increase the particle count until the movement is perfect
– start playing with render attributes, shaders and render settings, doing single frame renders improving the render look – colour, opacity, size of particles, motion blur etc.
– when things are looking perfect – cache the particle to disk and render a frame range of about 30-40 interesting frames
open the sequence in nuke, add it to the stack with an over merge node and see how it fits in
– go back to maya, change anything that needs tweaking and render all the frames for which this particle is involved.
– back to nuke – update the read node to include all the frames
– if happy, then delete the particle disk cache files (I have limited hard disk space), turn off ‘is dynamic’ and hit delete cache.
hide that group in the outliner so that it no longer gets in the way
move on to the next simulation and start from the top

This way of working was very productive for me, I am a control freak and like to be able to know exactly what is going on.
For safety, I did a lot of intermediate saves. I ended up at save number 23-
This snap shows how I organized the outliner

I thought it worth talking a bit about my render attributes and render settings for all the final renders.
I never thought I would end up using hardware instead of mental ray because I am a pretty big fan of MR usually.
What I liked about hardware is that it seemed to have a real ‘particly’ feel. In the testing I did with MR, everything looked just a little bit ‘cloudy’. Good for some things maybe but I preffered the look that hardware gave me. When I referenced it back to what I liked about Legend of the Guardians, it was this ‘hard’ look that suited what I was after.
I did a lot of testing for the final look but when I got it right, it meant that I could use virtually the same setting for all the particle sims. It was always multi-point and in fact, you could argue that I could have used one particle node and linked it to all of the emitters? The reason I didn’t was that I found myself tweaking things like ‘multi radius’ slightly differently for each one.

This was the ballpark setup for all of the particles –
– MultiPoint
– Depth Sort and Col Accum both on
-Multi-count of around 2
– point size – 1 or 2
– ramp for opacity PP – very low max values in the array mapper to keep the opacity really low overall. Somewhere between 0.3 and 0.05! This was crucial to the look – high opacities DESTROYED what I was trying to acheive!
– colour ramp on colour PP – from a light blue at birth to just slightly darker blue at death – again, darker death values really killed the effect!
Render settings
– for the actual render settings, number of samples at either 1 or 9 depending on the detail required versus speed that I needed.
– no motion blur – I would like to experiment with this more in the future. I don’t know if I was using the settings properly but when I used any motion blur it just looked too soft? Using slightly lower ‘mix’ settings in nuke and subtle nuke glows seemed to better help the look I was going for.

Other (non-tractor) FX –

Heat Plume – 

I made some poly planes to emit blobbies for use with the iDistort node in Nuke. I had them in three separate banks – lower, middle and top because the doors do not all open at the same time. This way I could stagger the emission of heat plumes to match up the timing. I just animated the emission rates to begin as each door opened.

Rag Doll

To the rag doll animated using dynamics, I applied a series of dynamic constraints to the separate pieces of geometry. My methodology basically went like this –
– for joints where a 90 degree rotation was required, i.e -the knee, apply a directional hinge constraint.
– for joints requiring a 360 rotation i.e the neck, apply a pin constraint.
– move the constraints pivot to the point of rotation.
– the key to not getting interpenetration problems was to skip the in-between joints- for instance – creating a constraint from the upper leg to the lower leg, skipping the knee.
– this caused the obvious problem that the knee would be ‘left behind’ when fields where applied.
– I solved this by parenting the knee to the upper leg in the heirarchy. Before doing this, I would move the geometries pivot point to the pivot of the parent so that they would rotate around the same axis point.
– same method for the rest of the ‘interconnecting’ joints like the neck, waist shoulder elbow and wrist.
– then to get the rag doll moving up towards the ship, I applied uniform fields in negative Y.
– to make the movement more ‘dynamic’. I only applied these uniform fields to the hands. One at magnitude 500 and the other at 1500. That way, the rest of the body would be ‘dragged’ with the arms leading the action.
– To add some more interest, I applied a vortex field to the chect to get a slight bit of oscilation.
– for the render, I created 4 directional lights all of varying intensities and shades of blue to create the reflecting light from the tractor.
– I had to scale down the blue saturation in the comp as it was too strong but at least it gave me something to work with for ‘integration’ into the scene.
– Since the camera was static rather than moving, I did not bother with holdout masks for disappearing into the ship, I chose to just make a roto shape in nuke. This would save me from re-rendering if the client changed the ships position –

Ground Fog –

I promised myself that as a last step, if I had time – I would try to create a ground fog effect using particle sprites smoke. I wanted to do this for a few reasons-
– it would give me a ‘canvas’ to bounce some blue light effects off in nuke when the tractor beam comes into play.
– I thought that the foreground of the shot looked a little dark and led the eye away from the ‘hero’ tractor beam. Blending/lightening/smoothing this area with some fog might help the composition.
– The first 300 frames are pretty boring with not that much to look at – some moving fog would add some action to this part of the shot.
– some fog might help to ‘unite’ all the elements in the scene – if the fog moves faster as the ship approaches then it could help feel the drag/displacement of air from the UFO?

How I did it?
I created one single cloud texture by painting a single stroke on a paint FX canvas with a cloud brush, saved this as an iff file.
Emit sprites from a poly plane just below the visible crop in the scene.
A variety of runtime and creation expressions to randomize the size, twist, opacity etc as follows –

runtime ex 

smokeParticleShape.spriteScaleYPP = smokeParticleShape.spriteScaleXPP = smokeParticleShape.spriteRampScalePP * smokeParticleShape.spriteRandScalePP;

smokeParticleShape.spriteTwistPP += smokeParticleShape.spriteRandTwistPP;

smokeParticleShape.opacityPP = smokeParticleShape.spriteOpacityRampPP * smokeParticleShape.spriteOpacityRandPP;

Creation ex –

smokeParticleShape.spriteRandScalePP = rand(4,16);

smokeParticleShape.spriteRandTwistPP = rand (-1,1);

smokeParticleShape.spriteOpacityRandPP = rand(.1,.4);

Then I found a point in the sim where there was a good amount of fog and set initial state so that they would already be in the scene at frame 1.
The the plane stops emitting and the fog gets shifted around with turbulance/ unifom fields as the UFO arrives/ leaves.
Here is a couple of seconds of what it looks like on its own-

I had to mix this way down in the comp as it was a bit distracting but I think it works. It also had some artifacts from the sprite shapes so I had to roto some blur nodes in to fix this –

Final Comp result –

Reflection –

I had fun on this project. It had so many elements that at some points it felt a little overwhelming. It forced me to adhere to my own naming conventions, think about workflow, testing and getting one thing right before moving on to the next.
As far as the end result, I still don’t think the tendrils match the vision I had in my mind but I am pretty happy with them. As far as everything else, I am wrapped. I was able to make the changes asked for and to work to someone else’s instruction/vision which is a good indicator of how the progress has come along.
Things I would do differently if I did it again?
– I would have persisted with mental ray further and see how I could change the look of the particles.
– I would investigate motion blur settings a bit more and see if they could have improved the feel.
– I would experiment more with ‘particles emitting’ particles a bit more to closer match my reference material with regard to ‘trail’ effects.
– I would try other solutions to integrate the tendrils with the rag-doll. To combine a solution that actually wraps the particles around the arm for instance.

Programming Assessment 2 – MEL Report

Script Overview –

My script is based around character animation, in particular to solve an annoying repetition issue I encountered in animation class.
When creating a walk cycle, it is vital that the movements are absolutely symmetrical i.e – any transformations made on the left hand side controllers are mirrored across to the right hand side and vise-versa.
To further complicate this process, the mirrored tranformations need to be ‘offset’ in time by the right amount of frames in the timeline. If the walk cycle 12 frames per step, then the corresponding position of the other foot would be 12 frames along in the timeline –
These snapshots explain what I mean –


I want the animator to use his/her time creatively, only roughing-in the movement of the controls to get the feel for the walk right. Then they would run the script which will make the sides match – to 3 decimal places.
They can then rest assured that everything is perfect. If they make further artistic tweaks, all they need to do is run the script again!

Top-down development  – Version 1

Here is the first draft list of the development steps before I had started building the script –

1. User input – how many frames is the walk cycle? Stored this number in a float variable.

2. Assign all the left controls to a string array.

3. Assign all the right controls to a string array.

4. User to decide which side is to be the master.

5. Copy the animation curve for each of the controllers attributes on the master side.

6. Paste the animation curves to the slave side, offset by the frame amount determined at step one. Ensure that the curve completely replaces what was there.

The reality of writing this script was that many problems were encountered along the way. So the final step list was vastly different this initial one and hopefully shows my greater understanding.

Top-down development  – Version 2

Here is a summary of the final steps required to produce the final working script-
This may not be the exact order that things were done, but it is a more intellectual way of ordering the tasks and is how it best makes sense to me – it is the way I would think about building my next complex script –

1. Decide what input need to comes from the user and design a ‘front End’ to manage the user input data.
2. Break all of the required commands into groups of function or ‘procs’ that will be executed according to this user input.
3. Proc 1 – ‘update attributes ‘ – assigns the user defined controls to a character set, searches the names of the controls to break them into two lists – right side and left side. Then deletes the character set once it has done its job.
4. Proc 2 – ‘enable master’ – activates the appropriate list according to the user’s selection of left or right side as the master side.
5. Proc 3 – ‘Offset anim’ – this is the heart and soul, the guts of the script. It needs to perform the following actions –
a/ Populate the offset variable – tell the script what time-frame the cycle is, based on the user input information.
b/ Copy all the animation curves from the master side.
c/ Pastes all the curves to the corresponding side.
d/ Slides the curve in time according the the offset value.
e/ If the attribute was selected as requiring ‘inverse value scaling’ – inverse scale the curve across the value axis so that the correct mirroring symmetry occurs.

Reflection of script development-

I won’t pretend that I am going to be the next lead developer at ILM but I think that my aim to be a great generalist will strongly benefit from the MEL skills I have gained from this subject.
Being a master of your tools defines the difference between a highly skilled CG artist and someone who just gets by on artistic ability alone.
It also help your skills in problem solving, encouraging the breaking down of complex problems into a series of smaller, less daunting tasks (2005).

I have achieved several things from this class –

– I have a great animation script that I will actually use
– I have the foundations to go on and explore not only MEL but also Python which will be extra helpful given my ambitions of learning NUKE to a high level.
– probably most important of all, it has removed the fear factor. As David Gould (2003)says in Complete maya programming (2003) – “For many, the mere mention of programming provokes fear and trepidation.”
This was definitely me, I used to avoid any tutorials/experiments that involved any degree of scripting- especially when it comes to rigging.
I now feel that I can go on and explore other peoples scripts, use them for my own workflows and learn from them.


Gould, D 2003, Complete Maya Programming, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco, CA

M Wilkins, C Kazmier 2005, MEL scripting for Maya Animators, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco, CA

Dynamics Week 9 -Process Diary


Quick Reference of do’s and don’ts – I like to summarize a written brief into my own shorthand. I know I will refer to it a million times so even if it saves a couple of minutes per read, it is worth it. Here is my ‘point form’ edit of the written brief –

UFO swoops into frame from behind the building
– Hovers above the grassed area
Tractor Beam lifts the Mannequin up off the ground into cargo bay.
Doors close- fly away
– may require the insertion of Leaves
– use other effects such as Heat Plume for realism
– Camera and animation approved – don’t change it!

Familiar enough to be recognized as a tractor.
Fresh concepts to build on this
Spirals – convey a sense of motion that is simply not a vertical one. Movement within movement, complexity of motion.
Variance -Variance in thickness of the main part of the beam. Not constant cone. I like the idea of a thicker outer/inner cone, but I will reserve judgment until I see it.
Grid  – Another concept that intrigues me is that of a grid that focuses its attention on the object that it is picking up.
Colour – Cool palette. Blues and greens are familiar, so that is the place to start. We may need to alter the colours as we go, depending on how the shot develops.


Now I have a quick reference, next is my more detailed notes from the verbal brief by the client (Chris) and how they relate to some of the reference imagery supplied –

ufo light
– its colour palatte,
– the ‘shards’ of light
– its volumetric nature
Dislikes –
– too light-foggy , wants more particle-look

– the ‘shadowing’
– the object is being pulled up
– the feeling of being lifted towards the light

Likes – the feeling of a ‘tendril’ like grip, (in fact ‘tendril’ is probably the most used word in the whole brief)

beam_525Likes – again, the tendril effect. This single tendril is good, but we would obviously need more of them. He seems to ‘kind of like’ the spirallish texture too – explore!

Screen shot_sm

Likes –
the disturbance/breakup on the streams.
Dislikes – the colour -too warm over to the left of shot.


Likes – the feeling that the tendrils are clinging on to the shoulders. The tendril motion should ‘undulate’ as it picks up the object.


Likes – this kind of motion trail effect. Kind of mix between ‘tendrils’ and ‘hairs’.


Likes – 
the wispy-ness of the tendrils


Likes – the particle-like tendrils and the light shaft


Likes – tendrils very close together- almost like hair


Likes – the spirals, but too geometrical. Would need to be more organic.

Other random notes from the brief
– Tendrils lift hands first, then the rest of the body follows. – tractor may have a ‘hot core of light’
– localized areas might be slightly warmer, then others more towards turquise
– likes the idea of spirals, but not mechanical or too geometrical – always more towards organic.
– this effect should not feel ‘whimsical’ it should always lean towards ‘manacing’.

Early thoughts –

I have some early thoughts about creation of the tractor beam. I am thinking that the particles should be built up in layers i.e – for each effect, I will use a separate particle node. This makes it easier to manipulate parts of the effect individually ‘locking things down’ when they look right and making it so that new fields introduced wont mess up parts that I am happy with. It will also make it more manageable to do any changes that come in after week 9.

Some early brainstorming notes about how to achieve the sorts of things that the client wants – don’t forget that spline curves can emit particles. Some twisty vertical curves might be useful to act as the tendrils.
Another idea is to use 2 torus’s top and bottom of the beam bouncing particles between each other, and using ‘blended weight’ goals to disturb the balance.
Texture emitters might also be helpful for emitting in clumping noisy patterns.


My own additional reference material

Too many tractor beams look the same and the shots Chris has supplied are hard to beat. One thing that sticks in my mind from the brief is to make it ‘particly’ – not like light beam effects. So many films that use particle effects seem to using rendering methods that hide the particles and end up looking more like light and smoke.

One film that comes to mind that shows particles in all their glory is ‘Rise of the Guardians’.

I begin to watch this movie very carefully to study just how they use particles with such magical effect.
I remember the extent to which particles are used in this film, even the point where the characters use particles as weapons! Here are some still I captured in my studies –

The opening sequence has Jack Frost interacting with ice and snow. I love the spirally patterns that are formed.
The client (Chris) wants to see the particles rather than just light fog. While this shot could have been done using just light effects, they back it up by using visible particle trails.


Most memorable of all the FX in ‘Guardians’ are the 3D sculptural elements formed from particle trails by the ‘Sandman’ character- like this one above.


I referenced this ‘ice crystals’ image above as an influence for traditional ‘light fog’ FX combined with particle ‘tendrils’.

jackFrost_crystalAlso the combination of effects and colours to acheive this silhouette of Jack.


Aside from the golden colour here, I like the way the tendrils interweave with the characters. This might be handy as reference when it comes to stage 2 and lifting the manaquin?

Now for the hero shots– in what would have to be a dream for any VFX artist, the good guys face off against the bad guys in what what could only be describes as a ‘Particle War!’

particleWar04Colours are used well – golden for the good particles and shades of blue to black for the bad particles!

particleWar01Menacing dark tendrils emitting purple glow sparks!

particleWar02Golden whip with glow spirals attached

particleWar05I like this reference for the motion blurred trails near the top

particleWar06Lightening like particle rods interact with puffy trails!toothFairy

The tooth fairy’s concoction. Too whimsical as far as the rainbow of colors but nice movement and shape.

More reference –

Heard on the grapevine that there was a new film to incorporate tractor beam effects so I tracked it down – the film is an offbeat comedy called ‘This is the end’.
Pretty uninspiring and mostly the typical light beam type effects but still some good reference for how the people are lifted up, especially their posture – heads tilted back and back arched- here are some screen shots –


Initial testing –

I started to play with various techniques with two specific things in mind-
– how do I make the particles move the way I want to
– how do I render the particles to look the way I way I want.
Lets just say over the course of a couple of days I ended up with about 30 different rendered image sequences. I put together a compilation video of a few of the initial results which will show the path my mind was following –


Refined results for week 9 submission

After much more testing I have arrived at point where I have 3 different particle renders that can be comped together for my first submission. They consist of –

‘core beam’ particles to form the outer shell of the beam. Made using a cylinder with ramp textures mapped to the surface. Then  the ramp points were animated and particles created using emit from texture.

‘fractal circles’ – to break up the main beam and create some more organic fractal patterns travelling up and down the beam.

a single tendril made by goaling particles to a sphere that has an attached motion path to a spiral curve.

Here is a video that shows each particle set on its own and the final with all 3 particle effects comped together


Reflection so far

I am happy with the initial look but want to get the clients opinion so far. I obviously need more tendrils and to refine the rendering style of the existing ones. I need to further explore some shading techniques and would like to incorporate some ‘cloudier’ materials.