CGSociety :: Case Study
12 October 2012, by Paul Hellard
Lumiere is an animation design and production studio, specializing in 2D, 3D, fluid simulation and motion graphics. Lumiere clients include: Crown paint, Strongbow, Listerine, Maxfactor, Wella, Nivea and Samsung. The type of fluids Lumiere works on range from company logos and idents, splashing mouthwash, exploding paint to gory blood FX.
Duncan Burch, Technical Director at Lumiere, originally started out in the CG world as a lighter and render support artist using mental ray. Always interested in realistic effects and the behaviour of light, cloth and fluids, it was natural that using Realflow would be the next logical step towards creating convincing fluids.
“We first started out creating fluids for various TV shows, idents and blood FX,” explains Burch. “The more we used Realflow, the more we realised what was achievable. It opened up a whole new way of thinking when it came to simulations. We hadn’t really worked on anything like this before, but we loved what Realflow could do. We were very excited about its future and the kind of shots that we could create.”
“In the early days of Realflow it was more of a struggle to get highly detailed, controllable fluids to work correctly. However, Next Limit has improved Realflow considerably,” states Burch. “Presently, working in Realflow is a dream; we work with it almost everyday. It is incredibly stable, meaning you can spend more time being creative with fluids and not having to worry if what you are doing might cause an unfortunate crash.”
“We also work in a fairly flexible manner,” explains Burch. “If an entire job is produced in house, we will create all the fluids, meaning we have full control over the look, lighting and rendering, which can be a great help when designing workflow etc. However, in some instances, when we team up with other animation studios, we may be hired to just create the fluids, which are then passed back for lighting and rendering elsewhere.”
For instance, Jellyfish Pictures approached Lumiere to help create fluid interactions for their epic undertaking of BBC’s Planet Dinosaur. This involved taking Jellyfish’s point cache data from SoftImage into Realflow, creating the various water interactions within RealFlow, then sending back both particle and mesh data to Jellyfish. This could then be added to their render scenes for the start of shading and lighting. Whilst the artists were working on the look, the simulations were updated back at Lumiere and they could easily update Jellyfish with new simulation data.
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A slightly different workflow was used at the beginning of this year when WindMill Lane approached Lumiere to help them create the exploding fluids required for Strongbow’s latest commercial – Golden Explosion.
Windmill Lane created a basic 3D animatic, blocking out the scene and camera. Lumiere was responsible for simulating the fluids in Realflow and producing the photoreal shading and rendering of the fluids in Maxwell Render. The renders were then passed back to Windmill Lane for compositing in Flame.
“Working this way meant that Lumiere could take into account the look of the fluids whilst simulating. For example, sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly how to mesh a fluid, its thickness etc, unless correct shaders and lighting have been added. The fluids required for Strongbow were probably the most detailed we have ever created. The final simulation was made up of multiple particles layers, each adding a slightly different required property and look. Fluids were needed for the really fine spray that shoots off in all directions and others for the more gloopier stuff in the middle. As well as separate simulations for the arrows impact, and the trails the arrow leaves behind as it continues its journey. Rendering was a big task in itself too. There was a huge amount of information that needed to be collated and rendered all at HD. We used NextLimit’s RFRK to mesh the particles at render time.
This allowed us to not be locked into meshes. With the renderkit, we could mesh at rendertime, which allowed us to modify settings until the exact look was achieved. If we had of created meshes as well, I think our servers would have filled up very quickly!
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“Our latest job, Crown Paint, saw us team up with Production Company Partizan, “ explains Duncan. This was a great project to work on, lots of exploding fluids, dripping paint, photorealistic shaders and lighting, perfect for our team at Lumiere. The entire pipeline was created here at Lumiere, from modelling, fluids to rendering and compositing. This allowed us to have full control over our approach to the pipeline, so we could simulate hi-res fluids and see the results very quickly back in the comp, with realistic lighting and shaders.“
The Lumiere pipeline involves taking proxy geometry from 3D into Realflow, simulating fluid particles, usually at low-res to begin with. These are then sent back to SoftImage as a particle sequence, which are then meshed at rendertime using Next Limit’s Realflow Renderkit (RFRK) with their render, Maxwell Render. The RFRK is an amazing tool; it cuts out the tedious process of meshing the particles. The RFRK allows this to be done on the fly at rendertime, so an artist doesn’t even need to know that the process really exists. It works with mental Ray and Maxwell Render and for this project, Maxwell Render was the way to go. Gorgeous, high quality renders, flicker free, no lengthy photon or FG maps to setup. The interactive renderer (FIRE) allowed Lumiere to move around our fluid meshes in realtime (with full lighting and shaders applied) so they could pick the best camera angles.
The latest RFRK plugin for SoftImage had a great new feature that allowed the Lumiere crew to layer up the fluid particles and mesh them together, so different Realflow scenes could be combined together at rendertime for one seamless fluid mesh. They took this further and used the offset in time option; this allowed them to blend completely different fluid setups into one main mass of paint. For example, when the word QUIRKY melts and swirls around into a vortex, this is made up of many different fluid simulations, with varying different particle counts and fluid properties. Yet these could easily be brought together, mixed and meshed out as one at render time.
Next Limit’s plugins have allowed Lumiere to streamline the process from Realflow, meshing and rendering (Maxwell Render) in such a smooth seamless manor that an artist can sit down with a Director/Client and show them incredibly quickly simulated fluid particles and then control the shaders and lighting in realtime with in SoftImage, using Maxwell Render’s FIRE plugin. Clients found it very insightful to see how we worked and could also pick the colours they were really after, cutting out lots of back and forth time.