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Thursday, 09 July 2009 01:00

Easy FX Using particleIllusion

Written by  David Hurd
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I first saw Wondertouch’s particleIllusion demonstrated a few years ago at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. It struck me as a very simple way to add some serious-looking effects to my projects. And, as it turns out, I was right. Wondertouch actually makes four products that...

I first saw Wondertouch’s particleIllusion demonstrated a few years ago at the NAB Show in Las Vegas. It struck me as a very simple way to add some serious-looking effects to my projects. And, as it turns out, I was right. Wondertouch actually makes four products that you should know about: particleIllusion SE (the low-cost version), particleIllusion 3.0 (the full-blown version), an Emitter package to use in Motion, and a Pro Emitter package of 335 emitters. The company also licenses their emitters, so you may have seen some of their FX in the Autodesk Combustion package.

I tested the Wondertouch products on my Mac dual quad-core machine, along with an ATTO card connected to a Seagate SAS RAID, an AJA card and my TVLogic HD monitor. And I used the Motion found in my FCP Studio 2 package.

particleIllusion is a stand-alone application that allows you to quickly and easily create amazing effects, like explosions, smoke, fire, sparkles, etc., so when I wanted to add an explosion to the side of a building, I downloaded particleIllusion 3.0, and followed these five easy steps:

Step 1: Load the Background

Since I needed to use the shot of the building for reference, I loaded it into particleIllusion by double-clicking the empty-layer thumbnail, and selecting my building movie.

Step 2: Select the Effect

Next, I selected the particle emitters (the effects) that I wanted to use from the dozens of libraries that are included with particleIllusion 3.0. Since there are over 2,500 emitters to choose from, I previewed them first by clicking on them in the library window, and watching each animated emitter (effect) in the preview window. When I found one I liked, I just clicked on the “Stage” window to add the emitter to my project.

Step 3: Adjust the Emitter Position

Since the effect would be placed on the Stage window in my project at the point where I clicked my mouse, I clicked three times to add three explosions to the side of my building. A problem was that they were not in position, and they all went off at once.

By using the “Undo” feature, I placed the first explosion, and then clicked a bit further down the timeline for each subsequent explosion. That fixed my timing problem. Then, I easily tweaked the position of my explosions by dragging them to their exact positions in the Stage window.

In addition, I could have used keyframes to adjust my explosions to move over time. I could have even used my mouse to “draw” their movements as they played in the Stage window. (I actually did that in a later project when I made fireworks explosions in the sky form into the shape of a heart.)

Step 4: Adjust the Emitter Parameters

Now that I had my basic explosion in place, I wanted to tweak the effect. I wanted the particles to move a little slower, and for each explosion to be a different size. This was easy. There are dozens of simple parameters (depending on the complexity of the emitter) for you to adjust in this way, and you can make more extreme changes by opening the emitter properties dialogue. Here, you can make changes to the particle colors, and even the image used for the particles.

I perfected my project by playing the timeline and watching the changes in the Stage window, all without having to wait for a re-render. I just hit the spacebar to play my project (usually in near real time), and kept tweaking until I was happy.

Step 5: Render

I found that since particleIllusion used OpenGL for real-time (or near real-time) previews of effects, and ultra-fast rendering, my render times were always in frames per second, not seconds or minutes per frame.

Saving the output as a movie or image sequence was just a matter of hitting the “Save Output” button and selecting an output format. Since I had loaded background footage of the building for reference, I had to turn off the background layer to avoid having the render included in the background with my explosions. I also work in DVCPRO HD, so I used the alpha option, and just overlaid the explosions over my building footage in FCP, which kept my options for color correction open for both my building and the FX layers.

The final product looked good, and I was surprised by how easy it was to create such a nice effect.

I also found that particleIllusion is an amazing source for artistic elements in motion graphic work. Since particleIllusion particles have the ability to grab colors from background footage, I got many different types of effects that typically require other types of applications, filters or plug-ins –– FX like water ripples, blurs, artistic brushstrokes or mosaics, and even the ability to “disintegrate” people and objects.

A cool thing about Wondertouch is that they add a new free effects library that you can download every month. There are currently over 2,500 particle emitters (effects) available, including explosions, fire, smoke, fog, waterfalls, sparks, sparkles, fireworks, rain, snow, puddle splashes, motion-graphics backgrounds, magic effects, space warps, abstract lights, lava, flocks of birds, geometric shapes, aurora, bubbles, waves, rainbows and light beams. With all those emitters, you can easily add a lot of production value to your projects.

I next tried out the Emitters for Motion package. The particle engine in Motion is only about as powerful as the older particleIllusion SE, so I was really impressed with my results. In FCP, I sent a wild Post Holes clip of a crazy guy with a chainsaw to Motion, and tracked some sparks to the tip of the blade. When I brought it back into FCP, it was flawless. The whole procedure took me two minutes.

I’m so glad I got to test-drive particleIllusion. I found it to be an easy and cost-effective way to add FX magic that will kick my projects up to the next level.

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