Niall Horn VFX's Blog- Making Of My Work & RnD

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Eruption- FX Personal Project

Hi Guys

I've not had time to write up my latest shots like I used to do, I am sooo busy right now! This might be my last personal project for the next few months! Anyway this ones been a blast to work on ;)

The shot time was around 1.5 Months in my spare time (IE aswell as ohter projects) I originally had the idea to do this Personal Project to futher my TP RBD Skills, but also to do a Large Scale FX Shot since i'd been doing Rain Setups for a month and wanted to do some actual FX Production aswell as setups! Inspiration came from the Wrath Of The Titans Kronos Seqeunce from MPC, But also from a lot of Scanlines work with TP and Flowline in Pompeii, Scanline did some pretty cool shots aswell as MR X. This is more of a Mountain/Volcano Top Explosion rather than a Pyroclastic eruption, Also the Dreamworks MegaMind Mountain Explosion Shots served as good reference/inspiration.  I wanted this look because it means more RBD Detail, lots of nice opportunities for Dust and Debris and lots of details. My Main Real Life Ref was Quarry Blasting videos where miners use explosives to blow up quarry's to extract Limestone and simillar materials, The Actual Destruction of the tearing quarry is something I really wanted to re create in my shot. Also There are some cases where mountain tops have been blown up when Sattelite Arrays are put on top, and these videos served as great reference aswell. For this shot I pretty much did everything apart from the Sky and Volcano Textures!

Eruption - Personal FX Project and Breakdowns

Thanks for looking, I will try to go into more detail when I get time! I've halted my Summer FX Project aswell due to working, It will become my Now to End Of 2015 Project !

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

MouseTrap Madness FX RnD

Hi Guys, so this has been a little fun FX RnD Project I did while waiting on another projects sims and renders. Inspired by the MPC "Kerry Low Low" Mouse TVC where MPC created a room of mouse traps in a chain reaction using there inhouse RBD Tool PAPI . I wanted to re create it with Thinking Particles in a near 100% Procedural Setup.

The system is fully procedural apart from the Mouse trap itself. Using ShapeCollison rather than Bullet here, The birth rate/birth objects of the traps is fully scaleable. The Activation is diffrent in two systems,firstly I used distance to activate the mouse traps from an animated helper this then passed a rule that lets the system calculate via a PPassAB the distance from the active traps to the non acitve and define the Chain Reaction Range to activate. The second system which is more of a replication of the MPC PAPI System is using an Activator to collide with the traps and then using velocity and collision rules to define the traps that get hit by another thus activating them. The traps jump in the air from inital velocity and then once that velocity reaches a certain threshold it stops spinning and gravity pulls it down. Theres also a BombForce in one of them! I also set up a version where the activators can be proxy objects rather than Particle spheres! So in production could add a Mouse proxy from animation in, define the traps area/birth and you'd be away !
Sim time for maybe 2 mins for 300 frames. There are a few self collisons so probs increase frame sampling. I rendred in V-Ray with some Subtle DOF via ZDepth.

MoseTrap Madness FX RnD

I have another RnD Project near completion before I move onto my "Big Summer FX Project" !!

Thanks for Looking ! 

Friday, 26 June 2015

RealFlow 2015- Alpha Tests

Hi Guys, Not had time to put some info on yet about the Boot FX work, but I will when I get time, in the meanwhile here is some of my latest 

Using a lot of the new Volume/Collison calculation methods in RealFlow, aswell as Caronte + Hybrido (Rigid and soft bodies interaction with Hybrido/FLIP). And some more small production style shots. Also doing RnD to get big spray splashes with the Splash and Mist Solvers.

RealFlow 2015 is coming soon, more info visit

I've just started on new projects so am gonna be super busy over summer doing lots of FX !

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Haix Boots- Fluid FX Work

All Final Images ©Haix
All Working/FX Images ©Niall Horn VFX

Hi Guys,

I got asked to work on these 3 shots for a new Haix Boot Commercial to be shown at am event in just under 4 weeks from the start date. I was responsible for all the FX, Lighting & Rendering and Slap/PreComps.

Haix Boots- Fluids FX RnD Reel

MORE INFO- Coming when I get time to write it up !

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Making Of Space Pyramid Rise

Just a quick post, this is a bit dated, but I recorded a Making Of for one of my Biggest Fluid Sim shots, for Next Limit (The Developers of RealFlow). It shows my workflow for the project from 3DS Max, to RealFlow and Back to Max with V-Ray,Krakatoa and Frost. And Even the Compositing. You can view it on the link below. My voice sounds a bit weird I admit, kinda mix of North Yorkshire and North East England Accent!!

Blog Writeup, From January (2015)

Making Of Space Pyramid Rise FX Shot

THANKS & Enjoy ! - Niall

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

AT-AT Destruction FX Project

All Content © Niall Horn VFX
(Unless Otherwise Stated)

Hi Guys!

I've been working on this on some nights and weekends of the past month or so. It started as a project to create a shot for an Indie StarWars Game to help out on there trailer, but I decided to turn it into a personal FX project. Note all the NHVFX/Niall Horn VFX Watermarks are due to me not wanting to get sued by Lucasfilm/Disney, therefore showing there is no affiliation!

Inspired by Empire I wanted to do an ATAT Destruction shot to look as cinematic as possible. The Miniatures from Empire (StarWars The Empire Strikes Back) served as some reference but this was all about showing the scale of how big an ATAT is and the scale of destruction that would occur. I had quite a few different ideas of how I wanted to blow it up! The Initial idea for the shot was to have progressive explosions gradually destroying it, but in the end I decided to go for an epic short shot with Main burst explosions and then secondary explosions as the fire quickly spreads. There some really nice examples of Alien Ships (Stingers i think?) in Battleship Exploding done by ILM and ScanlineVFX. Theres lots of really nice metal/hull tearing detail that then gets covered by Smoke, Debris and Lens Flares + Glow and Motion Blur, once they get into Comp ! I really like looking for all those details that are in there, thats something I wanted for this shot!

I did a very basic annotation of the explosions, trails and firey debris I was aiming for the shot, can't really say I was ever artistic drawing wise!! The Destruction here was just basic blocking.

Annotation Of What I wanted for the FX Sims

Shot Setup/Blocking-

I really wanted to have the camera look up at the AT-AT to show its scale and then becuase I hate static cameras I had the camera push in a little bit, I am not really a layout artist but this was the idea for my shot, gives nice movement and maintains scale. This way there was always going to be fully visible destruction as that was one of the main aims for this shot.

The AT-AT Asset was from Sci-Fi 3D.Com However I cleaned it up and modelled an interior metal structure inside the hull. Both the Hull (Metal) Tearing and the interior Strucutres bending and snapping required me to clean up the asset. I dont think i've ever worked on a project where the assets are fully clean, and sometimes even proxies need cleaning up! The only animation here is the head falling down, there was/is no rig on this asset and thats not really my cup of tea, I also wanted to diffrenaite from the classic Walker Falls down on its knees you see alot.

Basic Procedural Shaders for the ATAT VRay Mtls (Diff,Ref,Refl,Bump)

FX #1- AT-AT Destruction-

A lot of time was spent on this part of the shot, setting up a Hull/Metal Tearing/Bending Setup and Workflow in ThinkingParticles and some PFlow. All the hull was manually pre fragged, no Voronoi fractures, metal breaks completely irregular and is repentant on what strength it is. Also metal bends before it tears so I setup a TP Rig that joins the fragments together and tests them for velocity to break the joints, thats pretty simple, the complex part is the deformation on them, I could of used SC Deformation which is built into TP, however this would not of been affected by if the joints break or not, as it is a a completely different value and its per group. So Alot of SC Friction was used get a kinda bending look to the fragments, and post sim once the Sim was baked out to geometry I defined a group of hero fragments and ran fractal noise through them to turn on (Modifier Based) once they were hit by the impact and blown apart. Right now I am looking to push my TP Setup so these hero frags can be proxy based and I can use skinned particles to get true deformation, however this gets complex when your dealing with 1000s of fragments. I am working on RnD for this aswell as a similar project where I need to do Metal Tearing so this RnD will be continued for a while. The Internal Structure snapping was done a similar way. These were both sim'd togther and the final sim only took around 30 mins to cache and export. I used TPs own Export Operator.

Interior Detail WIP^ 
 "Hull Destruction System" In Full Swing! ^
Final TP Sims Running Together (Hull & Interior Structure)

 TP Sims WIPs

The Bomb force was done to be procedual, my inital idea was just to use spherical force and then test for distance to create the falloff (Blast Radius) however this was not very controallble, So I defined the blast area by using an animated spheres (Theres two bombs/Explosions that destroy the hull) and used that to drive the velocity of the blast.

Early Test of my Bomb System- You might need to hire a translator to read the annotations!!

The Debris was done in PFlow, mainly because I would use this to drive the Fume Sims, These were born via the speed of the main TP Sims, and multiple instances of the fragments. These were then Cached out and locked in the Final Destruction Files.

TP Main RBD Sims & PFlow Debris

FX #2- Explosions,Trails and Firey Debris-

I then moved onto the Fume FX part process of the shot, which was great fun. The Main Explosions needed to be big in Scale to sell the scale of the ATAT. All the sims I did were made for this shot and not from my growing FX Asset Library. The two biggest sims are the Side Explosions, I was wanted the fireballs to be very thick fire trails that shoot out and then expand into a fireball. I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy and saw some sims that look like this in the end battle, with the FX done my MPC, so they served as good reference. These were Emitter via PFlow. Only Fuel and Temp, Smoke was created by Temp in the grids.

These were nice, because once the fire expanded and rose due to the Temp, they left nice Smoke Tendrils.

There was then two big blasts on the top, Recently I have been messing with using Velocity Particles to drive The Velocity of sources rather than emitting the voxels via particles. Its becoming quite a used technique now for getting nice turbulence and bursting looks to explosion fluid sims. 

FX Slap Comp With Fume Explosions 

A big part of the Explosions were the smoke trails, these were done via PFlow/Particle Srcs, there were 3 Smoke Trails.

 Smoke Trails Sim WIP

I created a PFlow System that fires bursts of particles out all over the fragments if they pass a certain velocity IE when the frags explode. Then these particles are locked on and again and again test velocity and if they pass, they emit fire. This is how the fire on the remaining hull and fiery debris was done. I'm not posting a screenshot of the system due to it been a mess.

PFlow Fire Spread System,Firey Debris and Sims WIP

Lighting and Rendering was done using V-Ray, all the shaders apart from the Hull, are procedural textures, Lighting was done using a HDRi plus basic 3 point lighting on the AT-AT, I used Empire Strikes Back as my main lighting reference, as they were miniatures the AT-ATs looked quite flat, so thats the look I went for. The Environment was very simple, using a blend shader to get variation of Ice and snow via a fractal.

Compositing was done in After Effects, I used JAE Tools RealGlow on this Project, its a plugin for AE which creates a much more realistic Glow then AE's Standard Glow. The Falloff is much more realistic and was vitial to the look for the fire I was going for. 

JAE Tools RealGlow In Use- Test Render of A Fume Sim

All the Haze was done in comp. Ideally I wanted to keep contrast in there to show I was not hiding behind haze and mist, but for a shot set in snow, its kinda needed! 

Final Comp WIP

I made some breakdown renders to show the actual destruction detail which is hidden in the final shot by all the fire and smoke!

I'm very happy with how this FX project turned out, I really pushed my TP Skills to not only build a Metal Tearing System aswell as cool Fire and Explosion emission setups, but also be able to put these into this shot. The shot was completed over a month-ish on my nights/weekends after work.

AT-AT Destruction FX Project and Breakdown

I have an RnD Collection for an FX Gig i've been working on for the past month or so, but I can't show that till mid June. Also I am contiuning to push my FX TD Skills, I also am going back to bursh up on my Maya skills, I used Maya back in the day (2008-11ish) when I was first learning 3D, my work sucked but I learnt the fundamentals, I now might need Maya knowledge for a future job, so need to brush up. I am very interested in using Maya Fluids with Arnold. Aswell as BiFrost. 

Thanks For Looking and Reading!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Underwater Naval Base Destruction FX Work

All Images © Niall Horn

So this is a look at the FX work/RnD I did for what was supposed to be a 10 shot sequence with me as the lead FX TD! However the project got scrapped 3 days before my turnover due to budget problems on there end. As Stressful as this was I already am on a new gig and have all this fun FX RnD to show. I worked on the FX Setups/RnD from Mid March to 21st April. I also did all the Lighting/Rendering/Comping You See. The Idea for the project is an Underwater Naval Base That has epic destruction in 10 shots. I was brought on very early after the previs stage, and stayed on until the cancellation of the sequence. I've worked with someone who was in a similar situation as this, and he was not allowed to show any of his RnD, so still happy I can show my work on my reel!

Making Of-

My First part of production was reference, I knew I'd be alone doing all the FX (And Finishing) due to the budget and I wanted to try and bring a high budget/feature look in the FX to these shots. This was not a generalist project, I had to get high end FX setups and RnD done in a very short amount of time. Reference Wise I was looking mainly at MPC's work in GI-Joe Rise Of Cobra with the epic Naval Base Destruction. MPC Did lots of work with Flowline (Scanlines Fluid Sim Tool) to simulate Underwater Pressue in an Explosion, aswell as Destruction. Other good refernces were Scanlines Iron Man 3 underwater Shots (And there breakdown) and Pixomondo's work on Journey 2 (Underwater Submarine Escape Sequence). I studied these shots frame by frame I wrote nearly 10,000 Notes aswell as looking at US Navy underwater Explosion Studies. In the end it comes down to how much time did I have (Not much) to make the FX looks Physically Accurate vs Cinematically Epic. And that is what I love about FX !

The Naval Base Asset was based on a central building with 6 "Arm" Buildings most of the RBD FX RnD was based on these guy''s destructions! The Asset was sent un-named and in 10'000s of objects so I spent nearly a week just prepping the asset for destruction even having to re-UV some of the parts. Aswell as correct touching vertices. I hate Modelling/Model prep and usally dont have to do it, but in this case I did. 

Doing underwater destruction is hard, not only are underwater physics very different but everything that has velocity underwater creates bubbles, meaning the creation of Various Bubble systems/Tools was needed, aswell a highres Hero Bubble Fluid Sims. The Main System was one made for the static geometry (IE non RBD Sim'd) This was using PFlow to create random debris instances the fall and some rise using random values through Split Amount operators. These Debris they get checked for speed/vel and when they pass a defined threshold they spawn bubbles, as the debris sinks they bubbles rise and delete out of frame. There is also random "Dumb" Bubbles that fill up the scene. More on the Hero bubble sims later. Becuse I was using VRAY I worked on a fully Alembic Proxy Pipeline for rendering all the Bubbles,Instances and Meshed Bubble Clouds. I ended up with some hefty 10's Millions Poly Bubble Clouds per FX Asset however these were rendered as proxies in just minutes thanks to VRay 3. I also did some RealFlow Gas Globes RnD, however these were not used sadly as we went for a more firbeall look rather than shockwave explosion.

Mix Of Bubble Methods, From Instances to Fluid Sims.

RealFlow SPH and Hybrido Gas Globes RnD- Faking Velocity (SPH Has Pressure Settings!)

RBD- As stated above the main RBD work was on Blowing up 6 Command/"Arm" Buildings, There was no room for faking these, I wanted full destruction. Not only are these supposed to be huge, but there also made from steel, breaking/tearing metal is hard to look right. For the pre fragging it was a lot of Manual Work, IE Manually chopping/cutting the geo, There was an Inital pre frag stage to define invidual objects, these were then split into Hero Objects and Non Hero Objects. Some of the fracturing was done using a custom Voronoi  method to get rid of that Voronoi look. I also modelled basic internal destruction elements like bent wires and pipes.

Command Building C's Pre Frag Stage (In Sections)

My Tool For Destruction Was Thinking Particles (TP) right now there is no other tool that can handle geometry with not so great mesh in large quantities so well, while maintaing accurate collision detection aswell as iterative speed. The Shape Collision Solver although old now is still  one of  my favourite solvers for RBDs out there and I think i'll be using it for a while! Also with TP I could work procedurally when needed aswell as setup custom constrain systems via procedural joints. I made a two pretty big TP Setups where using a Bomb Force that defines its radius with a raster of particles I could position it anywhere in the scene and have it affect the fragments. From this joints were created and broken depending on the force, plus lots of friction. The Gas Tanks Destruction were also Sim'd in TP I did plan to do these via mParticles however TP was better. All the TP sims were exported through TP (No Budget For XMesh) and from there I manually added deformation to the hero parts and more debris were added as instances through PFlow. 

Gas Tanks Destruction Sims
                                                                       TP Base Sim (Using Lowres Parts)^

The RBD Side was a lot of work and a lot of fun. The Helicarrier Destruction In Cap America 2 served as good reference for how metal hulls break, aswell as my favourite ever film Battleship! The Systems/Workflows I made here will be used in my Epic Summer Personal Project I keep going on about!

 Command Building D RBDs (WIP)
Shot FX Layout with RBD Sims (WIP)
Command Building B Destruction + Debris WIP

The Non Hero Destructions were keyframed using modifiers to fake the deformation as they fall. The Main RBD Sims were then used in my Bubbles Systems to Spawn bubbles. The two hero command buildings use there own Fume Sims that uses smoke with temperature thats then advected, meshed using Frost to create bubble clouds.

Fume+Frost+PFlow- Bubble Emission Sims (Command Building A)

TP and PFlow Working together! TP Main RBD Sim, PFlow Debris and Fume/Bubble Emission.

Underwater Explosions-

This is where the main FX Assets were created. Using FumeFX and PFlow as the main tools here. I needed a good way to fake pressure aswell as keep the explosions looking epic. The pressure was faked by using keyframed values and forces to get the explosions to Expand/Explode then Implode as they would underwater this implosion pressure lasts barely 3 frames which then is turned off quickly causing the nice looking underwater swirling look, and then neg gravity so they rise up. This meant that i setup around 12 different explosion grids using this method to populate the shots. I didn't have the luxury of a pressure solver/mixing liquid and gas sims to get proper underwater explosions. However due to the time and buget the focus was on cinematiclly epic rather than physically accurate.

A Selection Of the Best sims!

The Next stage is all underwater explosions create Bubble Clouds which refract the smoke. These explosions I went with were more fireball like than gas cloud/shockwave. All the explosions were made as FX Assets theres, the hero sims all were meshed using FumeFollow/Smoke and Frost to there own alembic caches, so an Artist could add these (Or me in the end!) to any scene. The what were to be background explosions/ population grids, these were not frost meshed, they each had there own PF System using FumeFollow and instancing bubble geometries.To make things easier I setup a system where I could open one of the scenes sim it and merge it into my main FX Scenes very quickly, and then quickly load the alembic proxie bubbles in.

Most of the explosions were simple srcs driven by velocity IE No particle voxel emission, becuase for one it makes nicer emissions for this case, also I can let the velocity particles live longer and actually drive the motion of the src's emission. You get much nicer bursting explosions than with particle emission. However it takes longer to setup, and is not very controllable and you cant have velocity particles driving the sims all the time as it'd be impossible to calcluate how the velocity is been advected aswell as how much does Fume influence this into the sims. So in some cases I might use a mix of Particle emission and fire some velocity particles into the grids to mix up the emission a bit. Some of the sims have smoke trails (This would be not realistic underwater, as smoke trails are burning debris in most cases which the water would either extinguish or slow down due the the pressure, however smoke/firey trails look awesome) and these were emitted via particles.

Command Building B Main Explosion Sim (4 Emitters)


Due to the sad cancellation of the sequence, I knew i'd be making an FX Reel of all my work and wanted to render a shot with some of my favourite FX Setups/Assets in. I like to do finishing on shots You kinda have to know how to finish into nice shots when your from a smaller studio background which is good because I can do FX projects and do the Light,RenderComp myself I know my skills are a heavy WIP, but with the ability to showcase my FX in a shot I think really helped show the work I put into this project. Would of been nice to have a lighting department here, but I am looking around and theres only me sat here!! I knew I was started a new project next week so did not have time for enviro fog and proper caustics and proper underwater lighting, so I did most of it in comp just showcase the FX in a finished shot. With VRay is really quick to be able to put Materials/simple shader setups on for iterative dailies, gives more of a clear example of how the FX Sims/Renders will be used and will look.

Lighting/Rendering of the "FX Showcase Shot" !

Overall I really enjoyed the work I did for this project, has defiantly been my biggest yet, sad that the sequence got cancelled but that was out of my hands. I learnt a lot on this project and have some great FX Setups for future use. I really enjoyed the underwater FX Side! Right now I am on a new project smaller scale, but have some more RealFlow 2015 RnD in the works aswell as prepping for my summer VFX Personal Project in my free time which will be lots of FX with full shot finsihing I am amining to do a really super ambitious (And Probably stupid) personal FX project! I am also working on a StarWars Game doing an FX Shot! (Dont worry its not confidential!)

So Just big thanks for reading, supporting my work. 2015s brought some awesome projects so far, I hope to get more awesome projects soon! Thanks- Niall

Underwater Naval Base Destruction FX Reel