It has been told time and again that it is the little things that will help make an event more acceptable to your audience. To that effect, applications like Blender have come equipped with many simulations, material settings, and nodes to create things like smoke, fog, and lighting that audiences can find acceptable for a scene or event in a story. Sometimes though, these effects require resources that are above what the general hobbyist can put together.
But that rarely stops the audience from asking for "a little extra."
One such requirement for "a little something extra" occurred when we were making a short reel called "The Surprise Attack." The animated demo was intended to be short, depicting just one "awesome" moment in time in a larger concept. Specifically, the moment depicts an event of unexpected danger when a seemingly normal helicopter flies into view of a lone human person only for the said vehicle to shift and change into a metallic monster that literally takes on weight and falls out of the sky, landing on a rooftop helipad and acting generally menacing.
The reel looked fine but a little extra something was missing.
"There should be dust. When it comes down. That's a lot of weight so it would be nice for dust to get kicked up from the floor." said one member of my test audience.
I agreed of course with the assessment. It made sense. The artist in me definitely felt the same about that single piece of action. But it was no sooner than I had agreed to add dust, that I began assessing how tricky it could be to simulate it.
Traditionally, Blender comes equipped with things like Volumetrics and Particle simulations. I had seen a few clouds and fog done to good effect with these systems. But in almost all cases the render times were very significant. As a novice with only mid-range equipment and no render farm, doing it this way was out of the question.
But I really wanted that cloud of dust. I already knew some members of the potential audience would notice the need for it and I didn't want to disappoint. I alos knew that if I could somehow solve this concern, the same method could be used to derive other similar effects in future projects.
Having ruled out using Volumetrics or Particles, I decided the dust would have to be done with some good old-fashioned Texture Projection. This was something I had seen used for explosions and smoke in old video games from quite a few years ago, but getting it right was still kind of tricky. I was trying to pass off a cardboard cut-out for what had to appear as an effect with volume.
To achieve the effect I used some old clouds texture maps I had made in my stok and UV mapped it to a set of curved sub-surfed meshes that were modeled to appear like waves with their mid sections slightly protruding outwards.
The mesh shape appears below.
And the materials settings appear below.
Once I was convinced that the dust had the right "look" all that remained was to animate the mesh
by keyframing Location, Rotation, and Scale so that the dust clouds started in very small size, grew larger and fanned out in a nice way for the camera.
Finally, we tweaked the Dust cloud's Alpha setting so that the cloud starts out totally invisible, becomes opaque, and then dissipates bak into nothingness as the mesh fans out.
The final effect, though not spectacular, performed to a satisfactory level with my test audience and appears to have escaped criticism, at least for the time being as I write this. The impact to render times with this effect was alos negligible. This same method can be used for other similar "background effects" such as animated fog, smoke, gun fire, cigarette smoke, and to a certain extent it can even make do for halos on lamps and light fixtures on a set by using the right material.
Don’t forget, it’s not always about how complex your visual effect was to make, many times it’s just down to what your audience is going to actually see.
“The Surprise Attack” is available from
Rapidshare (for Sony PSP):
by Giancarlo Ng