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Rebelway FX Challenge - The Depths
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Rebelway FX Challenge - The Depths

Erhardian Teguh Siswadi
by erhardians on 7 Mar 2021 for Rebelway FX Challenge

Rebelway FX Challenge entry by Erhardian Siswadi. The idea is to have the scene underwater. Rocks, Lava, Steam, Sand and more are planned to be involved.

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Update - 15 Apr 2021

Final Entry

Well, I guess this is my final entry. I am surprisingly happy with it, but if I had more time I would change/mess with a few things. First off, I would definitely render with more samples at a higher resolution. For FX specifically though, I would've tried actually doing some vellum grains for the sand on top of the ground (which I did try, but did not plan well enough for it because it was an afterthought and I didn't have time to re-plan everything for sand). I would've also loved to complete testing with  "lava cooling" and changing textures and such as time goes. I did set up a "hot" attribute which also influences the viscosity attribute of the FLIP but I did not have time to use it blend the cool and hot materials of the lava. 

But most importantly, I'd love to complete the whole sequence too! Adding the "protection effect" and the "energy attack effects" in the rest of the sequence would've been super fun! But I knew I wouldn't be able to make all of that super nice and have a consistent level of quality with the time I had (starting late and all that).

Final Updates from previous pass

I added a light behind the Monster to give it more rim lighting on both characters. I also extended the roar distortion area to fill more of the screen and and gave it some color shift/chromatic aberration to enhance the roar some more. I changed the light of the cyborg to be blue/cyan-ish instead of orange to visually show that the cyborg and the monster are on opposing sides. Other than that, there are some minor grading changes.

Thanks Good Luck to All Competitors!

This has been a very interesting journey and I somewhat appreciate that I started late because the constraints made me think of quick and efficient (although not the most accurate) tricks that saves me a bunch of time and still sell the effect fairly well. I have definitely learned a bunch especially when having to work on this project after work hours and on weekends; it was tiring, but it's worth it. Thanks to Rebelway, SideFX, Puget Systems, The Rookies, Wacom, and GridMarkets for making this competition possible, and Good luck to all my fellow competitors!

Also, if you already looked at all my updates and breakdowns below, I really appreciate it! Some of 'em took quite a bit of time to write down and put up.

If you're interested in some of my other works, please visit my website:

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Update - 5 Apr 2021

Bunch of Comp Tricks

So I think I'm at a point where the compositing is decent, so here's the comp/render update. Please keep in mind I'm not a compositor, so this might not be the nicest or most efficient one out there, but I tried :)

These first images are: Beauty, Emission, Volume Lighting, Volume FX Passes, and Compositing all that together (plus some glows here and there). Mostly just color grading, glow, and using the ZDepth to fake volumes. It is quite noisy, but it gets better.

Next are gonna be some distortion passes. There are Heat distortion, Roar distortion and Bubbles. The images are Bubble Normal AOV, Bubble Distortion, Bubble Reflections, Roar Custom AOV, and Roar Distortion respectively.

For the Hydra's roar, I decided to add some distortion to visually sell the effect that it's roaring. To do that I rendered a custom AOV of animated geometry which had red and green (-1 to 1) values that determine the direction and the intensity of the distortion. This is the same for the heat distortion.

For the bubbles I decided to do distortion because if I had rendered it in with refraction and stuff, it would have taken far too long; It also doesn't look bad and sells the effect pretty well. To distort for the bubbles, I used a Camera Normal AOV to render the spheres and used those values to distort the image. However, I had to add in the Reflection pass of the spheres and also brightened them a bit to make it look more convincing.

Last but not least, the floaty particles. The images below are Particles Pass, Particles merged, and Final Color Grade respectively. It's not that complicated fortunately; just had to add a bunch of DOF blur to the particles using the ZDepth pass, graded it a bit and merged over the previous image. After that, I did some color grading and a bit more glow to get the final result.

A bit of sidenote

I realize that Arvid Schneider, a VFX Artist/Youtuber working for ILM did this Rebelway FX challenge also, and did his scene underwater; it is amazing! (here's the link). However, I just want to clarify, that I am not trying or have tried to copy his work or techniques. I started this journey in late Febuary/early March and had the idea to do a scene underwater without knowing that Arvid would make one as well. I just knew that Arvid made one when I first saw his work pop up in my social media feed about 1-2 weeks ago, which at that point I was already finishing up my effects and prepping for lighting/render. So yeah, I just wanted to clarify in hopes that I won't get disqualified because of this coincidence :)

Update - 3 Apr 2021

All of the FX Passes (Pretty much)

So it has been quite a bit since the last update, but I think the majority of the FX are probably final. Here is what it looks like.

Things still in Progress

Even though time is getting extremely slim, I still have some things to complete: The rest of the bubbles, Heat distortion, Roar distortion, Rendering, and Compositing. Thankfully, I already did tests with compositing and rendering at this point, so I hope final compositing won't be such a pain :)

FX Breakdown:

Rigid Body Procedural Animation

So I started off by isolating an area of the ground where the claws would hit which I then fractured. The fractured pieces however, didn't go into an RBD sim, but I decided that I would do some procedural animation instead just so that there's more control in those specific areas. Through some SOP operations and VEX coding, I managed to get the pieces moving the way I wanted them to. Here's what that looked like:

Rigid Body Simulation

After completing just that "claw" section of the ground, I fractured the rest of the ground and got the necessary constraints and piped them into an RBD sim. There's not any amazing tricks behind this step, just that there has to be quite a lot of Drag and Drag Spin because it had to seem like it's underwater. Here's what all of the RBD effects look like:

Dust and Debris

An RBD effect like this would not be fully complete without some dust and debris. Those were spawned from the inside faces of the RBDs based on their acceleration not velocity because I find the section of the ground early in the shot that cracks but don't fly off don't have enough velocity to spawn particles but when I change the velocity threshold to compensate for that, the other pieces are spawning way too much. Fortunately, there was just enough acceleration for the pieces in the beginning to spawn particles and it was not too much that the rest of the pieces will continuously spawn particles.

The dust are pretty much plain old particles that inherited the RBD's velocity (+ extra random small velocity to break up the substeps look) and a good amount of drag, again because, underwater. The Debris pieces are RBD pieces spawned from the big RBD pieces (Matt Estella's CG wiki taught me an efficient way to do that; thanks Matt!) Those pieces are piped into an RBD sim to get better collisions rather than using good ol' POP sim and instancing the debris geometry after the fact. 

Here's what all that looked like:

Lava Stuff

Now for some FLIP action. Again, I think there's nothing really fancy about this. The setup is basically a tub of FLIP particles under the ground (with an actual tub collision geometry around it), and the Ground RBD and Hydra geometry turned VDB as colliders. Since it's lava, it had to be viscous, but since it's also underwater, the lava would cool quicker and become even more viscous as time goes so I increased the viscosity attribute starting from when it gets "exposed" above ground and as the frame number increases. I also turned up the velocity attribute of the Hydra during some parts of the animation because I wanted to get a stronger reaction from the FLIP sim. And once again, we shan't forget to add Drag. Here's what that looked like (with viscosity visualized):

Pyro Steam

The most RAM consuming part of the process... pyro (smoke technically, but I used the pyro solver). So my vision is that as the Hydra breaks ground, this extra hot lava gets exposed, and the water around it will instantaneously turn into steam. I was not sure how to do that, but it turns out, that steam (and other gasses) look pretty much like a pyro smoke (based on this reference).

The simulation is basically a sparse pyro with initially a smaller source, in the first breach, and it changes to a bigger source for the second, bigger breach. I intentionally made the temperature higher because having high temp will push the smoke up faster due to buoyancy and stuff. Then there are the two micro-solvers I used, Dissipate and Disturb. Other than that, it's Hydra and Ground as collision, however, no drag or damp this time because it is supposed to rise fairly quickly.

Dust Pyro

To complete the look for the dust and make it a good amount nicer, I added some pyro to give it a sense of very fine dust vs the particle sim which looks more like sand/dirt. I used the particle simulation from earlier as a source for this sparse pyro sim. The setup is very similar to the steam pyro sim, but the difference is this one need some kind of drag. Instead of using gas damp, I used a gas VOP to multiply the velocity volume by 0.75 for every substep. Here's what that looked like along with the RBDs.

Floaty bits

So I actually did not consider this portion until I searched up "underwater vfx" on Youtube and found Underwater the movie VFX breakdown by MPC. In the breakdowns, I saw that the had a bunch of floaty particles in frame, but it was out of focus most of the time and gave it that volume-y murky feel that added to the underwater vibes. So I had to do it. Points are scattered in a volume and given a random Normal attribute. Then a the character animation was used to advect the particles around it. Advection from the Steam and Dust simulations were also added. On top of that there's a bit of ambient force moving the particles around so it's not just stationary when there's nothing happening around it. You can see the particles in the All of the FX Passes (Pretty much) video in the beginning. It's way too small and will only look like noise from the wide "breakdown" camera.


Now it wouldn't really be an underwater shot without some bubbles right? So here are some bubbles. I'm planning to split that in different sections. At this point in time, the one that's pretty much completed is the bubbles from the roar.

It's particles spawned from the mouth and spheres are spawned and sizes based on pscale. The unique thing about this is that I had the particles' velocity direction influenced by curves I made. Why? because if it was just simply going straight at the cyborg, there's a good chance it will cover too much of the Hydra's face. So as an effort to control the simulation I had some of it go forward and then curving to the sides (as if due to turbulence and drag) based on the curve, and the rest going in a straighter direction (as one would expect).

Update - 16 Mar 2021

Hey! it's the 2nd Pass

Now with the correct aspect ratio! I added some sand grains, lava, and pyro "underwater steam" on top of the RBD effect. Also did some texturing on the ground geometry. I've also started on some floaty particle bits, but it's still very much in progress. Oh and also I've started to put stuff together in Solaris so I can use Karma. Fingers Crossed!

Update - 7 Mar 2021

Hello dear viewer,

 My name is Erhardian or Hardi for short, and the idea I have for this is that the whole scene is happening underwater. Monster bursts out of the ground, breaks that up, and it just so happens that underneath the ground is a pool of lava, so there's room for some FLIP fun. The heat from the lava boils the water into steam that rises towards the distant surface. There are still definitely some unknown challenges in this idea that need some more research and testing, but I think it's achievable. Though I'm kind of late into the contest, I decided to join just to have some fun. If anything, this'll be a great exploratory exercise. Wish me luck! and Good luck to the other contestants!

First Pass of Rigid Body Effects.

This is the first pass of the RBD effect. It's a mix of simulation and procedural animation just to give some artistic control in some areas. It might look slow, but that's intentional because my idea is to have the whole scene happen underwater. 

Next is probably to add some debris, then we'll deal with the Lava.