View Full Version : FXWars! FLAMETHROWER !: Garrick Campsey, Freeform Entry

07 July 2010, 07:58 PM
I'm entering into this challenge with a short I'd like to do.
It's live action with 3d added in, so there will be matchmoves along with still camera shots and pans.
The only character of the video will be a wheeled robot with a connected flamethrower, shooting lots of fire and burning stuff. I also want to work on editing, so I want to try and show the robot being built. The fx focus is on the flamethrower simulations, as I intend the video to build up to a firey crescendo.
Character animation isn't my best skill, so I chose a 'hero' that has a limited range of motion. I hope this will allow me to focus more on the rendering and compositing. I also want to record a new song for this short, so there may be a soundtrack to the fireballs, along with the mandatory foley sounds.
For a first step, I'm storyboarding out ideas for shots with a focus on foreground and background separation. I'm mostly trying to determine shots where the hero is in the foreground and the live action movement is in the background (so I can shortcut in compositing and not have to mask footage over a rendering).

Here's some technical stuff:
I'm going to be rendering mostly with MentalRay, relying on the Arch and Design materials as a basis. I'd also like to develop experience rendering to the 32bit .EXR image format, as I've heard that 32bit allows a greater degree of control when compositing.
Footage will be shot on a Canon 7D w/ 50mm f1.8 lens, EFS 18-55mm f3.5 lens, and a 0.2x opteka fisheye adaptor. The fisheye adaptor added to the EFS @ 18mm allows me to capture a full 180 degree image on the 1.6 crop sensor. With bracketing, I can create an HDRI, and if I point the camera straight up, I can create an HDRI of the sky - then apply that to a skydome inside of 3dmax. That should reproduce the ambient lighting well enough. If I do this for every shot, this method should allow me to quickly light shots. From there I will extend the lighting with main, fill, rim, bounce, etc... depending on how I want the robot to look.

I'm still defining the pipeline and methods for how this short will be produced, as the 30 day deadline mostly dictates whats possible and with what techniques. The pipeline so far is: 3dsMax9, After Effects, Adobe Audition, and Photoshop. I'll start posting model images and storyboards soon-ish.

Any feedback, questions, comments, advice, wild ideas, or critiques welcome! :)

07 July 2010, 12:00 PM
Sounds interesting so far. Good luck :)

07 July 2010, 05:15 PM
Yeah man sounds like fun idea looking forward to it.


07 July 2010, 06:49 PM
I"m excited about it. Good luck :thumbsup:

07 July 2010, 07:09 PM
Here's the first of many updates!
I've put together a 360 .gif of the robot so far.

The robot is being designed with the functionality of a military vietnam-era flamethrower in mind. There are two canisters on the main body, one for liquid fuel and one for compressed gas. The compressed gas flows to the pressure gauges, which regulate the amount of gas entering the liquid fuel, which is then pushed into the tall nozzle on top. Finally, a spark plug is placed into the nozzle for an electronic ignition. The spark plug is powered by a battery pack underneath the main body. The whole robot is controlled remotely through radio frequencies, thus the antenna and receiver on the back of the bot. Underneath the antenna is the main computer used to control the pressure gauges, the electronic fuel ignition system, the electronic fuel release system, and the electronic motor. The electronic motor is linked through a gear system and belt to the back wheels. This is extended to the front wheels through two additional belts. There is a webcam on top of the main flamethrower nozzle, added in for the remote user's viewing pleasure. The wheels, right now, are designed after skateboards wheels - so they are hard polyurethane with ball bearings inside them, held in place by a hex nut. The shock absorbers above the wheels are based on consumer car shocks, simplified for my purposes.

I've still got the hoses and wires to build, along with lots of details like knobs, dials, levers.

Designer & Josh - Thanks guys! I'm going to try and shoot some footage this weekend as a test, so hopefully we should be able to see some matchmoves by Monday!

07 July 2010, 01:01 PM
Nice model!

07 July 2010, 03:32 PM
Yeah nice model and cool idea.


07 July 2010, 07:44 PM
I spent some time yesterday developing the HDRI and light capturing methods, here is the result of my explorations:
video link:

I shot a 180 degree bracketed view of the sky, then applied that to a skydome as an HDRI inside of 3dsMax using Mental Ray. That captured the light and reflections coming from the sky, but not from the environment and ground. I also had trouble getting the reflections to render properly due to the lack of a ground plane and surrounding environment data. Put to the test, this method failed at the type of CG integration that I am aiming for, which is good - cause I was going to shoot every shot like this. Now I know that I'll need to develop my approach a little bit more. I'm going to shoot some tests today and tomorrow with some additional ideas on how to capture the light information to be rebuilt as HDRIs in 3d. This test did succeed in allowing me to render to the 32 bit EXR format.

Designer and Josh - Thanks guys! I can't wait to start burning stuff :)

07 July 2010, 01:48 PM
Nice work buddy :thumbsup:
very good tracking , modeling and lighting
keep going ...

07 July 2010, 12:45 AM
Here's the first flamethrower simulation, using a particle system in 3ds max linked to FumeFx.
video link:

hmsabry - thanks man!

More coming soon! :)

07 July 2010, 08:35 AM
COOL!!! eagerly waiting for the finished stuff.......:bounce:

07 July 2010, 09:19 PM
Here is the 2nd attempt at the flamethrower effect:

video link:

For this test, I wanted to focus on getting the velocity of the liquid to be more realistic, along with the volume of the flame. While I'm not aiming for an exact simulation, it needs to be rooted in reality. You'll notice I added in a bit of a flame puff at the beginning of the simulation. I think this helps to add some visual interest, and it could be assumed that the initial liquid being ejected might not have the same velocity as the liquid following it due to use or age. None of the reference footage I'm using has this little flame puff, so it's not "accurate" - but it looks cool. :p

I see a lot of folks using 3dsMax and FumeFx for this challenge. I hope we (Max and FumeFX users) can share some tips, tricks, and techniques - so I've included a .GIF showing the breakdown of the particle system used for this video. I've color coded the individual particle systems and set out the forces that I'm using. Here ya go:

The initial particle stream is broken into two, one red and one light blue/green. These two streams have a high initial velocity with gravity applied. Once the particles reach a certain age on these two streams, they are transferred to the 'blooming' phase, with each stream having a unique age test value. The purple and blue particles are in the 'blooming' phase, essentially spreading out away from the two initial streams creating more volume for the overall stream. The blue and purple particles also have turbulence and drag forces applied to them. Finally, the red and blue/green streams interact with the ground, linked using a uDeflector. As the particles hit the ground, they are transferred into the 'sticking' phase, represented by the green particles. The green particles have drag, turbulence, and gravity applied, and live for a short period of time. Their function is to represent the unburned fuel attaching itself to the ground. The forces are applied to the particles in interesting ways as well, as the source value of the forces are all the same, but the unique multiplier value is different on each particle system.

I hope to see some tips, tricks, and techniques from other Maxers! :)

07 July 2010, 09:48 PM
I'm really liking the way your flames look when extreme movement is being applied, ie. when it shoots down and then back up, the feathering\fanning looks really nice.

good luck.

07 July 2010, 10:20 PM
Really nice work so far!

07 July 2010, 06:51 AM
Lighting and Compositing update

I finally got some lighting I'm (kinda) happy with. This uses no HDRI, I just shot reference footage of a grey matte sphere and rebuilt the lighting using Vray, rendering to Exr format. The gamma correction stuff is still a little suprising as I keep getting differences between the Vray VFB displays and what After Effects displays.

This is a test shot for the building montage. There's a lot of shots that I'm going to be shooting tomorrow, along with tons of texturing, modeling, and building of the animation rig. Most of the production starts now. :)

I'm hoping the 50mm (x1.6 = 80mm) lens to chrome sphere will be the best route for capturing HDRIs when necessary with my current setup. The 18mm to .2x fisheye adaptor creates a lens around 3.6mm, but the blurring and loss in image quality might be a deal breaker. I'm blurring the HDRI when applied, so maybe not... The reference footage of the grey sphere is really helping, as it gives me something to grade against when setting up the lighting. I need to add more lights to the shot above to really match the lighting. I only had about an hour to play about, before going to watch Toy Story 3 - which was awesome! ..With this lighting, I was mainly aiming to match both the shadows position and color on the 3d objects when compared to the real objects nearby. The clouds also moved around a bit, so I tried to match the decrease in ambient light by animating the gamma of the 3d pass.

I'd love to get some feedback from compositors on how they would integrate these 3d objects better, as I've only applied some levels and fast blur. I know textures will add alot, along with reflections, etc... What would your thoughts be on chromatic aberration, grain matching, and other compositing things ?

07 July 2010, 04:12 AM
if u match the levels, ie each channels according to your bg and the blur level of ur footage, ur 50% compositing work is is grains, which is also should be matched according to RGB channels.:thumbsup:

07 July 2010, 05:41 AM
Worked on the bot more today. All footage shot, edit locked down - done this weekend. All shots numbered and ordered, each in their own directory with 1920x1080 png sequence plates. Starting on the tracking next weekend. Got the hoses arranged, and had to solve a design issue I caused for myself by introducing an 'alternator' into the lower chassis area. In three of the pics below, the belt is running right through the alternator. I solved this problem by raising the belts higher with additional gears.

Here dem' storyboard thing is:

Unfortunately, most of the drawn frames are vastly different then the shot frames.

07 July 2010, 05:26 AM
worked on textures for the cylinders and materials for a bit today.

07 July 2010, 08:41 AM
Great work so far! Really looking forward to see the final short.

07 July 2010, 07:52 PM
More modeling and texturing done on the bot.

Here is the model being developed:

I've also recently become aware of ways with which to increase the dynamic range of the Canon 7D (via picture styles), so I am considering re-shooting a lot of footage (superflat!). I've got around 14 shots to add 3d to, within 20 days, with additional fire sims. I think if I re-shoot the footage to share the same lighting conditions, then I can develop one light rig and share it across scenes. :)

07 July 2010, 07:58 PM
I love the model. Really great, itīs simple and super charming. :thumbsup:
Itīs almost sweet if I wasnīt aware that itīs a dead bringing flamethrower drone made for burning human beings. :D

07 July 2010, 08:28 PM
and here is a rendered test of:
- ground fire
- object fire (oil drum)
- refined flamethrower sim x2

I think those are the 3 basic sims I'll need for all the shots. My workflow is to develop them as separate files, then reference them into the scene and develop them more to fit what's needed. This way I can reuse something that I know already works, instead of building the effect from scratch every time. Then when it's time to render, I can remove everything else but the fire sim and render it as it's own pass, knowing it already 'fits' in the shot. I'm hoping I have time to separate the fire and smoke passes for compositing, as the smoke is coming in very dark and that's crushing all the detail. I want to pull way back on the opacity then stack smoke passes later on, if the rendering budget allows it.

07 July 2010, 09:10 PM
nice model,lighting,shading,...alot of detailes! i like also the flames

good luck

07 July 2010, 01:09 AM
Hey, thanks guys! :)

Here's a lighting and compositing update:

I'm using a light grey sphere, a dark black sphere, a chrome sphere, and a tall cylinder to determine the black and white levels, shadow color, shadow direction, light position, light color, and light intensity. Since these are still camera shots, I'm just matching the camera based on lens info (80mm lens (50mmx1.6sensor)). Then I'm using the edges of the table and wall as guides for narrowing down where the camera position is. The lighting is relatively simple to fake in 3d, as the only light source is a single point light, and the bounce light is inheriting the color from the wood on the walls. I took a wide angle picture of the interior of the shed and plugged it into the environment's reflection map. This is good enough for what I'm trying to achieve, although the reflections in the chrome sphere are not technically accurate. The objects that are to be placed on the table will have blurry reflections to compensate. I've been able to re-use the lighting setup from shot1 up to shot5, a big timesaver. The 2nd half of the short occurs outside - so I may be able to shoot several camera moves, 1 HDRI, and some grey sphere reference footage - and be done with shooting. We'll see.

I'm going to have some depth of field issues to deal with, due to the camera's lens being stopped down to f/1.8 through all the shots above. I wonder, if I render a Zdepth pass as an .EXR, can I use the gamma control in the levels effect to alter the mid-point of the depth map, effectively animating the depth of field in after effects? Cause that would save me some time, instead of animating the blurs per object.

Man I love this stuff :D

07 July 2010, 02:08 AM
Finished up the model, textures, and animation rig.
Here's a quick animation test:

And here's the very simple animation rig side by side with the finished model in Max.
The completed model and animation rig is 84,051 polys with two levels of subdivision occurring at render time, so 1,344,816 polys in total*.
*That math isn't right because the animation rig isn't being subdivided. The model itself is actually 83,699 polys, becoming 1,339,184 polys + 352 polys (animation rig) for a real total of 1,339,536.
I think. :shrug: Anyway, who cares?

I've setup the animation rig with controls for each wheel, each gear set, each gauge's dial, the spout, the radio tray, and the mysterious CPU box "handle" (that turns the bot on). There's also a COM helper controlling everything at the top of the hierarchy.

Onto animatin' and editin'! :)

07 July 2010, 04:41 PM
I love the amount of organization in your posts. Definitely would like to see your composites in motion. I'm hesitant to comment on your flame thrower since I know your still doing tests, but I think you could benefit from cutting down on the amount of emitters, since your fuel is just one stream. I do think your heading in the right direction with all this and am looking forward to seeing these elements being brought together.

Good Stuff!

07 July 2010, 04:30 AM
Here is shot 1, basically done, @ 1280x720 fps/29.97.

Myzlo - Thanks man! I was actually contemplating increasing the amount of particles to increase the detail in the simulation, as I have yet to crash Max on my machine with particles going to fumeFx. However, I have run out of memory doing the sim, so one trade for another.

07 July 2010, 04:01 AM
Hey man everything is coming along nicely!


07 July 2010, 06:52 AM
Here's the first 6-7 shots:

Stabilized image 1's footage to the bolts on the table. Matching the defocus was painful the first time around. Built geometry behind the gauges in the 3rd image above to catch the shadows right. Still doesn't look accurate. Tracked my hand in image 4, then linked the wheel. Image 5 is still a heavy WIP, so the compositing is a bit ugly right now. The shot list is at 27 shots now, I wonder if it can be done in 12 days? The last 9 shots share the same lighting conditions, so, possibly.
I should really learn how to enter these challenges with realistic goals :D

07 July 2010, 10:12 PM
Today I did some tests to become familiar with camera projection, specifically projecting shot footage onto match moved geometry.

Here is the result of that (successful) test:

The above video shows the raw footage, the tracked footage, and then a chrome sphere moving around in the scene showing accurate reflections. There is no environment map loaded in, so the background is black, and contrasts with the texture on the ground. I will load in an HDRI for the reflection and environment map later on. Using this technique + HDRIs, I should be able to reproduce reflections faster and more accurately than rebuilding an approximation of the scene by hand. I will probably incorporate this idea into all the shots, as it's super easy and really helps the object fit in the scene better.

Just goes to show the magic that can happen when you press F1 and start exploring. :)

07 July 2010, 08:06 PM
here is shot9's composite. I've re-sized it from 1280x720 to a 700 width for this thread.

This shot is part of the building montage, which extends from shot 9 to shot 15. I did this so I only had to match the light and rebuild 1 environment, then re-use the setup for 6 shots.

A neat little compositing trick (hack) I picked up: shoot the footage at ISO 100 (noise free), then when adding the 3d pass, blur the 3d pass to match the background plate, slightly sharpen it, then apply an adjustment layer above both the 3d pass and background plate, then sharpen and add grain to the adjustment layer.

I'm interested to see how other people composite the fire passes, because so far all the fire I'm putting together looks really, really CG. I may need to shoot some fire reference and grade the composites to match. Oh well, it's a learning experience! :)

07 July 2010, 08:37 PM
It's looking pretty good!
Do you think you can post an image of the fire? I might be able to help you. :)

Keep it up!

07 July 2010, 09:12 PM
NahuelL - I'll post some fire composites this weekend, and I'd love your input.
My main concern is dealing with the light as it interacts with the flame. From the reference footage, I see the fire is virtually unaffected by the environment lighting conditions, as the fire generates light itself. However, this observation doesn't translate well when putting the fire passes over the background plates. Even blurring, sharpening, and adding grain won't marry the passes together to my liking. The simulated smoke accepts the light and casts proper shadows, but the intensity of the fire makes it seem unrealistic. At the same time I have a tendency to over-analyze composites to death, so I'm really going to need to shoot some reference of fire (with similar lighting conditions to the footage), and use that to judge the accuracy of the composite.
What's your approach to compositing fire?

07 July 2010, 09:27 PM
The simulated smoke accepts the light and casts proper shadows, but the intensity of the fire makes it seem unrealistic.

Do you mean that there is too much multiple scattering? You can also lower the fire opacity in fume. I always render the fire as less intense as possible without having overbrightened parts on it. Then you can intensify the fire to match the footage in comp. Also don't forget to add motion blur, it will make a really big difference!
Another thing you can do is, add a big glow (not intense) when the fire stars that covers the whole camera FOV.

Hope that helps!

07 July 2010, 09:46 PM
Do you mean that there is too much multiple scattering? You can also lower the fire opacity in fume. I always render the fire as less intense as possible without having overbrightened parts on it. Then you can intensify the fire to match the footage in comp. Also don't forget to add motion blur, it will make a really big difference!
Another thing you can do is, add a big glow (not intense) when the fire stars that covers the whole camera FOV.

NahuelL - Really good points!
I've been rendering the fire passes with a reduced opacity, then stacking them up in the composite with the blending mode set to screen. I hadn't considered adding a large glow when the flame starts, I will definitely do that now. I think my problem is really my eyes always telling me "this composite looks wrong", when it's probably just fine.

I'll post some fire composites soon, and we can rip them apart. In fact, I invite anyone to rip my composites apart - I'd love the input and it will make my work better. I've got a thick skin! :)

08 August 2010, 03:33 AM

I've edited the short down to 20 shots, all of them with 3d added in. I've also started editing the short to the song, which unfortunately was not the tune I had in my head for the video originally, but this song works much better than the other and in a different way than I had intended.

For the fire, I decided that realism was going to be too costly and dangerous to do correctly, so I went in the opposite direction and just tried to make something that looked cool. I may take this idea much further and go completely overboard with the glows. So far, I'm rendering the fire separate from the smoke, then layering the passes using 'screen' and 'add' blending modes. Some passes get blurred a lot, some a little, then everything gets sharpened and grain added in.

Each shot is separated into its own folder, developed inside that folder using reference files (bot with rig, object fire sim, ground fire particle sim, flamethrower particle sim, outside lighting setup, inside lighting setup, and the spheres). The camera is matched (moving and still), the ground and surrounding objects modeled, then the background plate is projected over the environment objects, and finally the lighting conditions are rebuilt in 3d. The animation (if any) is developed, and a test rendering is done (single frame, usually first or last), then brought into the composite to begin revision. After the composite and 3d agree on the lighting and other things, passes are rendered. I do it this way because I only get one shot on most of these rendering passes, so I need to know they fit well in the composite before I press the render button for the sequence. The passes are combined as they come in, then each shot is rendered out and saved into it's folder. All the rendered shots are then edited to the audio and color graded in a final step.

I hope to help out on the live action challenge, so I kind of thought that I could use this short as a testing ground for what I could do. I think I can provide decent, tracked footage from a Canon7D at 1080p, 23.976 fps, in a Cineform YUV 4:2:2 10 bit avi format, shot superflat with a prime lens. I may need to get new some new glass, and I may need to get the lenses 'aligned' or 'calibrated'.
I'm a little new to the 'optical quality' game. :)

08 August 2010, 04:00 AM
20 shots! :eek: Wow man you're really going the whole way with this....looking forward to seeing some more video updates!

08 August 2010, 04:15 AM
Yeah, 20 shots that is a lot! Looking forward to seeing the final comp. Robot looks very nice comped in.


08 August 2010, 09:08 PM
This is a follow up post to my last one where I mentioned 'calibrating' the lens on the camera. After more research, I believe that the camera I am shooting with suffers from some focusing issues (I'm not sure if it's back-focusing or front-focusing). These are not severe focusing issues, but I believe calibrating the lens to the camera will increase the sharpness of the image that is captured.
Here are a few links I found explaining this process:
I plan on calibrating my lens and camera this weekend and possibly shooting additional shots for the short. Since the pipeline and workflow is well established, I may be able to add more shots by the new Monday deadline.

Tyson - I'm really only doing around 5-6 distinctly unique shots, then turning those into the 20 for the short. A lot of the shots share the same lighting conditions, so I'm recycling as much as I can and never starting from scratch. By the way, your 'RoboBall' tutorial was my introduction to animating and compositing, so many thanks for sharing that man!

Josh - Thanks man! I'm pretty happy with the bot in the composite. It's not necessarily matching the RGB channels, or adding grain that really makes it fit in the shot. I've found matching the lighting conditions in 3d is much more important, and then matching the 3d pass' black and white levels in the composite. Prior to this short, I had placed more importance on matching the RGB channels individually using Mark Christiansen's technique described in this book:

Animation/video updates coming soon! :)

08 August 2010, 05:13 PM
Here's an animation test with the flame bot character:

I added more controls into the animation rig and played around with the 'personality' of the character a little bit. Also, here are more stills from the short:

I've got a few more shots planned for this weekend that I hope I can finish up in time. If not, no big deal. I've learned a lot from this short and I can't wait to jump into another one! :)

*Follow up to camera calibration: did not increase the sharpness of the captured image, but did align the focus to be more accurate.

08 August 2010, 10:55 PM
Very nice rendering and grading! Looks realistic. I hope you can finish your entry the way you planned it.

08 August 2010, 10:58 PM
Ok, so here is the finished short:

And here is the making of:

And here is an approximate breakdown of my hours spent on the project:

And here is a sweet image with all the good shots:

And here is a geeky rant:
The song was recorded beforehand and was not created for this short, not as I originally intended.
I had a lot of fun creating the bot POV shot, and the HUD/reticule thing that searches around. That was actually just a photograph that was animated to simulate the bots motion with little video clips overlaid on top. I think there were about 90 little 'point trackers' in that composite alone, total layers around 110. The story in the short reminds me a bit of Frankenstein, which was unintentional. From this short, I have further refined my process for adding 3d to footage in a somewhat realistic way. I also ran into technical problems that I was unable to resolve to a realistic accuracy, so there are some scaling issues with the bots size and changing of the camera lens mm. Lens distortion was not accounted for, and I really wish I had more time to animate the character and get a feel for how he might behave. However, I did begin this short with an emphasis on compositing and rendering, specifically stating that character animation wasn't going to be a big part of it. Oh well, I'm probably an animator at heart! :)

I've really enjoyed watching everyone's progress! Good luck everybody!

08 August 2010, 01:28 AM
Nice work. The robot is freaking cool!


08 August 2010, 01:32 AM
Awesome job man...looks like a lot of work went into it, and the result is great!!

08 August 2010, 05:17 AM
Josh - thanks man! Can't wait to see your entry!
Tyson - it's been a honor competing with you! You make me want to spend a lot more time animating and building compelling quality shots. Between you and Kiel and Kyle, I think I got 3 good guys I can always look to for inspiration! :)

08 August 2010, 05:24 AM
Tyson - it's been a honor competing with you! You make me want to spend a lot more time animating and building compelling quality shots. Between you and Kiel and Kyle, I think I got 3 good guys I can always look to for inspiration! :)

Thanks bro :) I'm actually a bit disappointed that Kiel didn't enter this one since his team's entry for the last one was what inspired me to get my but in gear and give this one a try.

09 September 2010, 11:29 AM
Just an FYI

The next challenge will go live in ONE Week. (
I do hope you will join us.


09 September 2010, 04:24 AM
I do hope you will join us on our next challenge:

CgTalk:FXWars! Dambusters! - Challenge:31 (

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