Senior Thesis - "Embers" - Week 1

Updated: Jan 7

Welcome to the beginning of my final VFX project at Savannah College of Art and Design. The goal of this project is to further my castability of FX by exploring two areas of Houdini that I'm only part familiar with, Pyro and POPs.

My thesis is being guided by my amazing mentor, Krzysztof. I've very glad to have his knowledge and critique for this project as I will be exploring some uncharted territory with the FX.

I will be heading into the feature side of the VFX industry post-graduation so I do want this to also be cinematic in camera movement and look development. Some strategies I have for achieving this goal are tracking of existing plates (royalty-free) instead of hand-animating cameras and including camera effects in the compositing stage (thank you to my compositer friends beforehand).

I will be responsible for all aspects (barring any run-ins on at the lighting and compositing stage) with environment models from Quixel. I will be modeling the trees using the new SideFX labs Tree Generator tools made by Ryan Gold and integrating simple motion for realism. The kettle will be modeled by me as well.

Environment Task List:

- Simple Kettle Model for FX usage

- Simple layout of firewood and pit rocks for FX usage

- Model ground using height-fields/volumes

- Model trees using Tree Generator Tools with simple motion integration

- Modify quixel textures for color coherence

- Convert all textures and hdrs to EXRs for ACES workflow

- Texture kettle, trees and ground

- Scatter assets

- ... there may be more to come, but FX are first priority

Layout Initial Iteration of Firepit (1.4.21) - Renders from RfH 23.5 using Houdini 18.5:

Occlusion Integrator

Path Tracer Integrator utilizing ACEScg colorspace (simple envlight)

Layout Iteration 1 of Firepit (1.6.21):

Occlusion Integrator (displays only half of wood assets)

In terms of look development and FX behavior, I'm going for photorealism with stylized behavior. The best way I can describe this is that the "kettle fire" in the scene is a "character" rather than effect added into a scene. I don't mean that the fire will look like a character, but rather behave like one. The stylized of the pyro movement will be further with density and shading stylization, and the integration of ember particulate that will also behave in a very designed way.

I have decided to base my motion and behavior design off the patterns of bird and insect wings loops, along with motion trails of animals that swim. That was inspired from a scene in Disney's Moana (show below) where Moana's grandmother as a stingray swims under her boat as a means to encourage and guide Moana. It is a very powerful moment in the film and the effect is designed very beautifully using various particle and volume techniques to give the stingray elegance and an ancestral wisdom feel.

Moana, courtesy of Walt Disney Animation Studios

FX Task List:

- Pyro - Kettle Fire

- Pyro - Smoke for the Kettle Fire (separate)

- Pyro - Steam from the Kettle

- SOPs - Burn maps

- POPs - Ember Particulate (multiple layers likely)

- POPs - soft ash effect on rocks

Video Reference (courtesy of Kelly Lacy on Pexels) :

Shallow Focus of Flames

Flame of Burning Firewood

Flame of Burning Firewood (Flame Closeup)

Flame Shapes

Increased Smoke

Full Forrest Scene

Initial Camera and Layout Flipbook:

password: embers

I will be utilizing Pixar's Renderman in Houdini for this project. Daily updates will consist of low-quality renders and high texture resolution flipbooks due to RfH not being on the farm. Normally to avoid local rendering I would default to mantra, but I decided against as I'm not satisfied with mantra volume renders especially for the render time it requires. The renders will utilize an ACES color workflow.

I will also be utilizing a USD workflow in Houdini with LOPs. It will be highly beneficial for me for layout (using physics), organization, and continuing to learn USD as it is highly used in industry. With using LOPs, I can also take advantage of Renderman's viewport rendering.


10 weeks (Winter Quarter):

- FX RnD completed by end of week 2

- All guts of FX are completed by week 10

- Camera and Layout is 90% completed by week 10

- Environment modeling is 60% completed by week 10

- Texturing is 50% completed by week 10

- Environment Lighting is primitive by week 10

- FX Lighting is 50% completed by week 10

- Simple Compositing is set up by week 10

10 weeks (Spring Quarter):

- Polishing of FX is completed by week 5

- Camera and Layout is completed by week 5

- Texturing is 60% completed by week 5

- Environment Lighting is 50% completed by week 5

- FX Lighting is 90% completed by week 5

- Compositing with camera effects is set up by week 7

- All aspects at 100% by midpoint of week 9 to leave a week and a half for final rendering.

- All final renders received and composited by end of week 10. (Hooray!)

19 weeks to go! Sit tight, there's lots to do!