Carbonology by Michael Kimber
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Carbonology by Michael Kimber

Michael Kimber
by voxelfox on 14 Mar 2021 for Rebelway FX Challenge

Carbonology is the culmination of three months of work for The Rookies | Rebelway FX Challenge. Within Carbonology's bioluminescent habitat a face-off is underway between a bionic cyborg and a ruinous hydralisk. As the battle rages various physical and chemical changes take place altering the surrounding environment.

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Update - 12 Apr 2021

This is the final destination for Carbonology. Over the past three months, we have been introduced to methodologies for working through VFX shots. We also witnessed the implementation of various workflows used to match visual styles.

Thank you to all who have been following the updates of Carbonology. Additional thanks need to be given to The Rookies and Rebelway for providing a platform for aspiring creatives, furthermore, to the sponsors who help motivate these projects. Lastly, to the people who have guided me through my formative years. I still have a long way to go and I will always have a long way to go. Despite it all, you have stuck with me through the tough times. The key has been patience and perseverance because each day provides the opportunity to become better than yesterday's best.


The following list is in reverse chronological order. It may be helpful when reviewing the sections of this entry:

Update 5 (28/03/2021) -Using the Houdini Python API and other approaches to optimize rendering and enhance visuals.

Update 4 (14/03/2021) -Integrating features into the ground correlating to the movement and energy of the hydralisk.

Update 3 (28/02/2021) -Assigning dynamic shaders to demonstrate the interlinked nature of the shot.

Update 2 (14/02/2021) -Defining a look for the environment/characters and establishing interable and directable FX elements.

Update 1 (24/01/2021) -Breaking down the project and developing ideas for FX elements.

Comments (1)

Update - 28 Mar 2021

In previous updates, we focused on developing a foundation for the shot. As we begin approaching the final deliverable we can begin to tweak the FX elements and extract the final product.

Alembic data facilitates the interchange of geometry assets. Its lightweight representation does not focus on storing complex dependency graphs but rather captures the “baked” results of geometry. The Rebelway Scene featured the inclusion of Alembic cameras and extracting the transform data was achieved using Houdini’s Python API.

The addition of this valuable data was fundamental for implementing visuals that resembled the anatomy of a nucleus. The dot product was used to compare the camera's look direction and the geometry’s surface normal. This made it possible to “look through” the geometry at render time.

Furthermore, the exo-sell which blanketed the cyborg was too dense and needed to be adaptively modified to enhance visuals. This was achieved by taking the camera's position and dissolving the voxels which sat within a threshold radius.

Update - 14 Mar 2021

As the shot was layered together the need for a connective substance started to become more pronounced. The goal was to use the ground plane to fill the blank space and intertwine the elements of the shot. Therefore, it needed its own set of dynamics to display connectedness pertaining to the theme “Carbonology”.

Modeling ecosystems required forethought of the interactions between organisms and their environment. In continuing to describe the chemical and physical factors influencing this ecosystem; the ground needed its own set of embedded dynamics.

Nodes and edges form the building blocks of networks and well-designed networks bear in mind effective communication and transport. Houdini users understand the necessity of building functional networks. In the same way, biological structures start at their roots and branch into a series of more complex capillaries. L-Systems and planned instancing techniques were used to create the branching structures.

Developing an RBD workflow with impact analysis was required to represent the electrical pulses of nerve cells. The Impact MicroSolver can be hard to dial in; additionally, the point data pulled from DOPs needs filtering. The goal was to create an interesting emittance attribute by extracting and varying DOP data such as velocity, impulse, and impact time.

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Update - 28 Feb 2021

In the last post, we looked at the custom shaders helping to facilitate the requirements of the shot. I had briefly discussed “some challenges,” when trying to match the cyborg to jellyfish references. We had also taken a look at the technical strategies for managing FX elements. This time we will dive a little deeper into the technical setups.

The original cyborg shader demonstrated a backface shading problem; in order to resolve this, an Is Front Face VOP condition was implemented. The adjustment made it possible to shade the cyborg to more accurately resemble the physical properties of jellyfish suspended in an equally dense medium. This tweak also reduced render times significantly and made the shader more feasible.

A technical approach was devised to add visual interest to the shield. This setup was inspired by optical distortion. ST Maps are screen space UVs that can be used to distort pixels. Within Nuke there is an ST Map node which performs the math operations required to move pixels around. By appending the required channels into the rendered plates from Houdini it became possible to simulate distortion effects.

Finally, In the last post, I showcased the R&D of the hydralisk shader. The shader has been consolidated into a neat package that can be applied to the model and sent off for rendering. The most notable change to the shader was a procedural hit marker which adds an emissive element to the belly of the hydralisk. This tweak helps to demonstrate the flow of energy between the cyborg and the hydralisk during the climax of the battle.

Update - 14 Feb 2021

With a plan in place and a good sense of direction, we can shift gears and begin developing the scene. In this post, we will take a look at the steps which were taken to align with the vision of the shot.

The scene required a facelift to help guide FX visuals towards the theme “Carbonology”. In nature, structures react according to chemical or physical stimuli. To highlight this behavior; FX, environment, and character shading needed to be addressed in a dynamic way.

Operations were performed on the assets to increase their flexibility. A library of attributes was appended to the geometry opening new doors for custom shading techniques. The shaders were built around a PBR backbone and utilized core VOP nodes to increase the fluidity of data permeating into the shader context from SOPs. This has allowed for the motivation of dynamic shader changes.

Furthermore, to accurately portray biological behaviors the FX elements required creative troubleshooting strategies to guide more predictable and directable results.

Update - 24 Jan 2021

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To the thinkers, the dreamers, the doers. Welcome!

What a privilege it is to present on the Rookies platform. This space is notoriously known for opening doors and providing opportunities that form the fibers of creativity and ingenuity. My curiosity continues to push me towards the boundaries of storytelling. An individual can go so far but together we can go further. I am looking forward to collaborating with you all.