View Full Version : FXWars! Roswell 1947: Garrick Campsey, Freeform entry

02 February 2012, 09:03 PM
I have a break from projects for a few months and I'm really excited about this FxWars Challenge. With my entry, I'm going to try and present every step of the process that I will be using to arrive at the final product, from the initial concept to the delivered video. My hope is that someone might use this thread as a resource for how to get started planning and making their own videos. This is not targeted at studios, where a pipeline/workflow/process is probably already in place. Instead, this is targeted to the hobbyist who wants to do 'their own thing', but isn't quite sure how to go about that. And I'm still learning as well, so processes that I present may not suit your particular tastes - feel free to experiment and figure out what works for you.

Without further introduction, let's get into it.

Step 1. Figure out the general story.
This is incredibly important. If you don't figure out the general story beforehand, then you may find yourself modifying the story later on - and that will affect the deadline in a variety of ways. A good, simple base is what you need here. Here's mine:
A UFO appears over Roswell. Corsairs (airplanes of the time period) dogfight with the UFO. The UFO shoots one of the Corsairs down. Another Corsair shoots down the UFO. The UFO crash lands in the desert.

Step 2. Refine the general story into storyboards.
Take the general idea and really think about how you want to tell the story to the audience. Break down the general story into shots. It is important that each shot supports the general story and moves it along. This usually takes me the longest, because the storyboard will dictate everything in the shot. It's a blueprint of what you will be building, so the blueprint should contain all the necessary information (what is seen in the shot? how do these elements move? what sounds are heard? what dialogue is there? etc). This step helps to define what it is you will need to do (models, rigs, animations, cameras, lights, fx, sounds, edit) and also gives you an idea of the total amount of work. To meet a deadline as one person, you may need to refine the storyboards until there is a manageable amount of work.
For example, I created 29 shots based on the general story, and then trimmed the total shots down to 18. I found 11 shots, that I really put effort into creating, could be condensed into the other 18 shots with minor changes. That's less work for me, while still telling the story. I reviewed the storyboards about 10 times, polishing text and ideas as I went.

Here is my storyboard ( (.pdf format).

A quick note about this particular storyboard: it contains no 'actors', only the backgrounds. I made it this way so that the movements of the actors would be decided in a step lovingly titled 'animation'. Once the storyboards were ready, I could begin creating/collecting the assets.
I'll be presenting the 3d assets in my next post, along with Step 3.

02 February 2012, 01:17 AM
Step 3. Collect Assets
This step involves modeling, unwrapping, rigging, and texturing the actors in your storyboard. You may also want to do some tests to see what the actors will look like against a shot's background, so experiment with lighting and compositing early.
I spent yesterday and today putting together the corsairs. I'd like the video to have a WW2 / 1947 film style feel, so I looked up some WW2 videos on youtube, saved them to my computer, opened them up in after effects, then duplicated their color grading and grain.
Here's what I ended up with:

The 3 Corsairs are identified as Alpha08, Delta10, and Bravo16.
I'm working on collecting the UFO & audio samples now, then I'll move onto setting up some of the shots and putting together a rough cut to see how the shots play together.

02 February 2012, 12:51 PM
wish you a good luck TheGrak
and looking forward for the final result
go go

02 February 2012, 05:27 PM
Step 3. Collecting Assets (continued)
This post is about the football field sized UFO model provided by Roberto. I got an error while trying to import this provided .obj model into 3ds max 2012. Here is how I worked around that error, in case someone else runs into the same error:

Upon trying to import the football sized UFO, I get the error message "error meshName=shapeName when importing OBJ".
A little google searching came across this:
(Which informs us that this error has to do with definitions in the .obj file).

So I searched through the .obj file, and around line 150,586 there is a definition in the obj file that reads:

usemtl LIGHT-White
s 1
l 35040//5975 35041//205
l 35042//5974 35043//202

The 'l' command may not be recognized if 3ds max 2012 is importing the obj file, or the 'l' command may be invalid because it is defining a 1 and/or 2 point polys. I'm not sure, but...
Deleting these lines allowed me to import the obj into 3ds max 2012.
I cross-referenced the 'l' definition with the wiki for wavefront objs (, and the 'l' definition isn't mentioned there (so either it's new, or specific to a lightwave obj export). I'm thinking that the 'l' may refer to a 'light' definition, but I don't have enough experience with .obj files to be 100% sure. Anyway, I got it imported.

Here it is:

Next up I'll be unwrapping the UFO (material IDs to polygroups in zBrush) and texturing it (Photoshop CS5.5).

@ SHRIF: Thanks man! I'm having alot of fun participating in this challenge. I wish everyone good luck! :)

02 February 2012, 02:11 AM
Here's the first composite I did of the UFO:

Then I rendered a test shot of a corsair chasing the ufo:

^ The color changed a little bit, and I added some lens distortion and chromatic aberration.
Here's the clip:

Now I'm going to focus on building a library of sound fx, and putting together the first edit of all the shots. I'll also need to do some tests to see how the tracer bullets will look, along with a test of the ufo crashing. I'll need to plan a recording session with some friends (for the pilot's voices), and I think I'm also going to add a better establishing shot of the desert to the beginning of the video.

03 March 2012, 05:42 PM
Shot 1 has been completed, and I took some time to work on the composite a bit. I'm much happier with these comps, but now I'm facing a decision: should the video be in black and white, or color? If I'm going to stay true to the time period, then it would probably be in black and white. But, it becomes difficult to follow the action in the video because everything kinda gets jumbled together - the color helps to separate the actors a bit. Anyways, here are composite shots and viewport captures showing how the rigging was setup:

And I'm also happy to announce that Kyle King will be helping animate the planes and ufos.
More to come soon, stay tuned! :)

03 March 2012, 09:55 PM
Awesome work so far!! I'm really looking forward to how this turns out!

If it were me, I would keep it in color. B&W would keep the time period but color will just make your effects and everything easier to see. The color version reminds me of that Jude Law movie (just done correctly) Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

I would also add some different color to the top of the UFO if possible because it ends up looking too uniform with the simple colors it has now. The bottom of it looks amazing so it's just the top that concerns me. I don't know if it's just me but when I think of a UFO, I picture it spinning and I can't tell that yours is because of the top.

I hope that I was helpful in any way and good luck to you in this challenge! I hope to enter into a future challenge pretty soon. :D

03 March 2012, 09:22 PM
Here are shots 1 and 4 (right-click > view image for 1280x720 resolution):

I noticed was that the clouds have no parallax in the shots. I'm going to need to cut out some clouds and move them across the composites relative to the motion of the background to create that sense of depth.

Shot 4 above features gunfire from alpha8. This gunfire is based on a tutorial by tyson ibele in this book ( Go check out his game Zombox (, it's looking pretty awesome.

@neon2480: Thanks! Good idea - I'm going to keep it in color. It does kinda remind of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I would of liked to add more textures to the ufo, but I'm probably going to keep the ufo the way it is. I've been planning how to blow up a plane and a ufo, then crash them into the desert and... it's gonna take some time to do it right.

03 March 2012, 03:01 AM
Here's shot 5. The ufo hits alpha8 with a death ray. It's missing smoke and explosion passes, will add those later.

Lots of work to do! :)

03 March 2012, 04:17 AM
The video is slowly starting to take shape:

You can watch the first edit of shots 1 - 6 here:

It's missing a lot of gunfire and explosion passes, and audio. More coming soon.

03 March 2012, 03:33 PM
That looks great! You nailed the colograding!

I think the lens schmutz is a bit too much and even if the saucer it is a vehicle from outer space, it would tear apart doing maneuvers like that.
When you adress the parallax issue with the clouds, this will be a great entry. Looking forward to it.

03 March 2012, 04:33 PM
Here's some screenshots of the alien Ben Allen has been working on. I'd tell you what the alien's role in the video is - but I don't want to ruin the suprise! :)

@Abednego: thanks! We're reworking the UFO animations right now, trying to refine the motion of the ufo to be more realistic, but still extra-terrestrial. I'll probably tone down the lens dirt in the final composites. And we're still working on a simple, fast way to do realistic clouds. I have one tool written called 'CloudGen' that creates clouds from a library of bitmaps, but it's not good enough for this video. I'm researching various methods of how to create clouds, including the method used to create the clouds for the video Paths of Hate (if I could freakin understand it! :O ).

03 March 2012, 05:11 AM
Hand-painted the UFO blast tonite in Photoshop:

So much planned. Thought about adding those air jets on the sides of the plane wings and ufo. What are those things called?

03 March 2012, 11:50 AM
Very nice work!

The air jets are called Contrails.

03 March 2012, 07:35 AM
good work mate ;)

03 March 2012, 07:05 PM
@ragupasta: thanks! I was wondering what contrails were called. Very interesting stuff.

@FlorinMocanu: thanks! I'm really liking your entry. The UFO spin you posted up looks really awesome. We should work on a project together sometime! :)

Here's a little update that might give some suprises away, but I'm just so excited about this project that I wanted to share it (UFO base mesh by Roberto, landscape base mesh by Me, and additional modeling by Ben Allen):

A crash site? Yup :)
It's not the final version, just a preview of whats coming.
I've got lots to rerender, update, sync, and polish. Stay tuned!

03 March 2012, 08:14 PM
This is the most ridiculously inspiring thread I've read in a long time. Makes me wish I could have been a part of your team! Maybe next FXWars :thumbsup:

Seriously amazing work! Can't wait for the next update.

03 March 2012, 01:40 PM
@corncake: thanks! do you do soundFX? we really need someone to do soundFX for this video. I have built a small library of sounds, but I have to dedicate my time to other areas until the edit is close to being done. If you do sound, or know anyone who does sound and is available to work on this video, please send me a message and join our team! :)

Here are updates to the alien from Ben:

And I'm working on rendering and comping 7 new shots from Kyle < he's an animation machine!!! :)

03 March 2012, 10:48 PM
2 new shots composited!

AND 3 composites of the alien:

5 more shots to render, then onto blowing up the UFO. :)

03 March 2012, 11:09 PM
I have to say, I'm super excited to see your final sequence. As others have already said, this thread is very inspiring, the standard is really high! Look forward to seeing more soon!

03 March 2012, 08:24 PM
Here's a comp of another shot, the edit is going to redefine each shots number, so I don't really know what number this shot is right now. I'm calling it 4-3. Anyway:

Working on getting to the UFO explosion. 3 more shots to render and comp before that happens. Crash site detail work is proceeding, and soon the alien will be rigged (with biped) and animated. Then onto...

@nickmarshallvfx: thanks man! i'm always inspired by the work of dneg! :)

03 March 2012, 02:55 AM
More progress on the crash site:

Completed Kyle's new shots, have a new edit. Working on adding clouds and parallax into all the shots. Figured out how to do the contrails. Also need to add in a few gunfire/muzzle flash passes. Then onto destroying the ufo and plane - both sims are similar so I'm grouping them together. Hopefully I can reuse a particle system setup or some settings.

03 March 2012, 05:17 AM
After many hours, here is a new edit (but it is not done and is missing many different types of passes):

Here is video link:

Enjoy! :)

03 March 2012, 01:39 PM
Your work looks very good. This is why I like FXWARS - quality is always top. Great job.

03 March 2012, 03:24 PM
This is bloody brilliant! I love your color grading and animations! The camera shake when the planes fly by really quickly works for me! Even without sound you have that 'swoosh' feeling! Really really good! Cameras, movement, composition: everything is just perfect!
Though I have to agree with Abednego ( the dirt on the lense is a bit too exaggerated. Maybe that is what you want, but then it needs to be a different one on every camera (or at least, everyone that is clearly not the same as another one. so if you film out of the cockpit the dirt obviously needs to be the same every time you look through that camera, but has to be different if you look thorugh the camera following one of the planes.)
And I'm missing a hole in the side of the plane when the wing gets shot off ;) but thats mere detail ^^.

03 March 2012, 12:21 AM
@Wirginia: thanks! I like your entry (vimeo link ( The cracking of the ground is good. My thoughts: the shot could use more levels of detail in the debris, and also a bit more variation in shape. A smoke pass and dust pass would work really great in that shot too, they would create a lot of depth as the air pushes the particles towards the camera (I was considering a similar shot). With some motion blur, depth of field, animation on the camera, and a good lighting setup - I think your entry is a winner. :)

@Holzi: thanks! I agree, I think I'm going to use different lens dirt images for each shot. And I need to destrukt the side of the plane too. Good eye! :)

Update: I have been super busy the last week and now I have some time to work on the other shots, so I hope to blast out some new images and videos over the weekend! I think I'm going to design a quick movie poster..

03 March 2012, 01:59 AM
One idea:

Now onto actually finishing it! :)

03 March 2012, 02:46 PM
I'm eager to see the final result. Looks really promising, so far.
Only thing I don't like that much is the lens dirt. It's too much, kinda distracts from what's going on in the actual image.

03 March 2012, 02:30 PM
Thanks for advice and words of motivation. I wish I can win, but with such great competition and little time left I will be happy if I can keep up and finish this on time :)

I will crack the ground again as I modelled new road, definitely will add more detail and more interesting shapes.

03 March 2012, 08:21 PM
Had a weekend delay since Garrick's mother board crapped out on him.

Thanks for all the kind words, we are still very excited to finish the competition and hope everyone enjoys the work. More crits are always welcome!

03 March 2012, 09:32 PM
Kyle's right, my motherboard burned up late Friday night (sparks and smoke plume from the 24 pin connection to the mobo).

As of today, UPS has informed me that my new motherboard is waiting on my doorstep, so I'll rebuild the box tonite and see if it works. Here's hopin! :)

03 March 2012, 07:46 PM
Are you going to animate ground, when the UFO crashes? Or you'll just fake it somehow?

04 April 2012, 09:57 AM
I've been working very hard to meet the deadline, here's some progress (I got my computer working):

Thats the ufo after it's been hit. Still working on the fire pass.
Here's a test of a sand pass I was working on:

And a top view:

Much more to do :)

04 April 2012, 02:52 PM
Heads up:

The dateline is APRIL 9...Who needs more time? (

04 April 2012, 05:52 PM
All the shots are composited, now I'm just polishing each one. Some of the shots are missing gunfire and muzzle flashes, and some other shots are missing additional smoke and atmospheric passes. I've got a big todo list with everything left, which I think can be completed by Monday (Feb. 16th).

Here's all the shots in order:

I changed the lens dirt textures for every shot and worked on the color a little more.

04 April 2012, 08:47 PM
And here is the final video with a making of:

I learned a lot of stuff from this challenge. Here is a short rant:

This was a chance for me to do some editing, and the workflow I developed allowed me to quickly see what a shot would look like in the edit. For the air shots, Kyle or I would begin with a max scene consisting of the 3 corsairs and the Ufo rigged and textured, then animate them according to the storyboard or with a new idea we had. For the ground shots, I would start with a max file containing the alien with rigging, ufo, and crash site model. Once we were happy with an animation, I would render a viewport capture to a DV .avi file. That meant I didn't need to render a beauty pass, or a low res, to see how the shot would work within the edit, which facilitated revisions considerably.

Rendering was only done after a shot was known to work within the edit, and the rendering setup was saved to a preset and paired to a vray sun lighting setup (the lighting setup was developed when I was texturing the corsairs and ufo). Then I would merge the lighting setup into the animated file, and load the vray preset. From there I would tweak the motion blur and sampling settings to further accelerate the rendering of a scene. All shots were rendered in passes, starting with the actor's passes, the background pass, then the fire/smoke sim passes, and foreground cloud passes.

FumeFx Sims
I learned how to do wavelet turbulence halfway through this video, so some of the fume fx smoke sims were using spacing that ate up a lot of memory and took forever to sim. Once I learned how to get more detail, I could use less memory and raise the spacing amount. What I found invaluable was a script written by Allan McKay which would render a directory of max files, and another script that laid the foundations for quickly simulating fumefx containers thru maxscript. I combined these into a script that batch sims and renders a folder of max files, assuming they are already setup to work. That allowed me to setup several sims, test them, and then batch them overnight, and composite in the morning. I think this setup could be further accelerated by pairing it with an after effects script that would add the correct effects (automated compositing) because I found myself doing the same repetitive task of copying and pasting effects over and over again.

Quickly Compositing
The test shot I posted earlier was really important in establishing the color space/grading. I used the test shot composite as a master file, meaning I would open the test shot file and save it as the next shot I was working on, then switch out the footage, then tweak the background levels. This made it really quick to put a shot together, and often times I found myself compositing the pass that was also rendering (usually a cloud pass, a background pass, or a smoke pass).

The Soundtrack
I realized a little too late that I wasn't going to be able to record the audio and get the samples I needed to make each shot sound great. I wanted to focus on the edit as well, so I decided to go with a song. I recently started listening to dubstep, and then heard skrillex and thought that editing to his beats would be a fun and interesting challenge. I tried to get the video to accentuate the changes in the song (such as when the ufo gets hit, or when the ufo hits the ground). Cutting on the beats to the song worked for me. I also cut the song up a little bit, condensing it to work with the shots.

Working around the storyboards
Throughout this challenge, Kyle and I both explored different ways of animating the shots - changing the camera, plane, or ufo animation to work with the edit better. Some shots were not used, while the cutting together of other shots necessitated still more shots to be animated (for continuity). The addition of the alien and the crash site meant that some shots from the original storyboard would have to be cut to make the workload manageable.

Personally, I am happy with the end result, but here are a number of things I think I could of done better:
1. I did not spend a great deal of time rigging the alien (15 minutes), so it's ability to be deformed was limited. I would of liked to rig the face with full controls, but instead just rigged the body, neck, and head. This meant I couldn't deform the lips as I had originally intended, and such an animation really would of made the shot where the alien dies a lot better. I justified this simple rigging by focusing more time on the explosion simulations. In the future, I will probably use a custom script to rig the face faster (stretchy bones ( threw a few errors and I didn't want to dedicate time to fixing one of my first scripts in the middle of a crunch).
2. I resorted to using fog atomospheric effects to fake falling sand and smoke at the end of the video. I tried creating some sand in fumefx, but the grid was ridiculously big (over 5000 units in a single direction) and the simulation was too coarse and quickly ate up my 16gbs. Not to mention the fume fx data was easily taking up 200+ Gb on disk. I'm sure it can be done using fumefx, I just didn't have the knowledge to do it properly at that time. I think this particular type of simulation/rendering would of been handled quite well by Krakatoa too.

Scripts and Plugins Used
I wrote a few simple scripts to help automate some tasks and speed things up, but nothing too complex.
- Some of the foreground clouds were created by a script called cloudGen that randomly combines flat images of clouds together (in order to form a new cloud image). These billboard clouds were used in the foreground with lots of motion blur to create a sense of depth.
- I've already talked about the sim and render script based on Allan McKay's scripts.
- RockGenerator ( was used to create the desert rocks.
- A particle system baking script was used to prepare debris for fume fx sims.
- CameraMan ( was used to add camera shake to some shots. Other camera shake was done using 'the Wiggler' in After Effects.

I think that's about it. :) Good luck to all the participants!

04 April 2012, 02:48 AM
Fantastic! It was a lot of fun working with you and Kyle King on this project. I am proud to say that I had a part in it (albeit a small part).

04 April 2012, 08:14 AM
Great Animation!! The look and feel is brilliant.


04 April 2012, 03:42 PM
Brilliant work guys! I'm impressed how well you managed production of such big, complex project in very short time. Thanks for your regular updates, description at the end and making of -I can learn a lot from that.

I like the style, consistency through all shots. I think you did great job with clouds - very clever.

I really liked that shot of crash side rendered from top and I miss it in final animation.

Choice of music was a surprise for me - but I like it and I think it fits very well.

I'm not sure what would help to add details with so huge FumeFX sims... I would try more turbulence (looks like there is plenty vorticity); emit fluid from particles and possibly break big containers down to many smaller containers overlapping a bit - for faster sims. If that will not work, then only big processor farm can help ;)

Again - amazing work!

04 April 2012, 12:15 AM
Thanks everyone, it was a fun challenge.
I'm looking forward to the next one! :)

Here's a link to the video without a soundtrack (

04 April 2012, 09:03 AM
Super work. Lots of action and great effects.

04 April 2012, 10:33 AM
good work, i follow with interesting.....


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