Spotlights - Discovery Channel
Darkside Animation, a UK based SFX studio, was comissioned to recreate an animated sequence for a High Definition special called Volcano Fire and Ice, a Co-production between Mentorn and The Discovery Channel.
About the project
The show consisted of some 60 visual effects shots that varied from exploding volcanoes and pyroclastic flows to info graphics showing the dispersal of ash across the planet. The program required a team of 6 artists working for several months.
Andrew Bishop did most of the pyroclastic work,
which in turn went to Simon Percy to do the forest and terrain.
One of the shot required a pyroclastic cloud to rush down a valley. Originally Darkside was to use live action plates but, considering the time it would have taken to prepare useable matte passes, the team would have been off deadline. So Darkside decided to create a digital landscape with Vue 5 Infinite and to use LightWave to integrate digital smoke in the footage.
Construction of the scene in Vue
Simon Percy, animator at Darkside Animation, sculpted the terrain using both standard and procedural terrains, and started to layer up the scene.
"It was a fun way to work creating the valleys and low lying terrain," said Simon Percy.
The mounts were textured using procedural and image maps blended together in various ways but mainly dependent on slope variation.
Using these terrains, Simon applied a standard Ecosystem and then added new trees to the system and balanced scale and persistence across the whole scene. Additional trees were added grouped together and hand planted to fit the cinematography of the shot.
"Vue's Ecosystem is stunning. It is very robust and easy to set up. Creating and sculpting the terrain was also very straight forward," said Simon Percy.
Finally a lighting rig and atmospherics were constructed using fog and haze levels to add to the sense of scale. Individual polygons were grouped and placed around the scene to add levels of low lying fog patches.
Once the scene was finalized, Darkside stripped back all of the foliage and rocks and then converted the procedural terrains to standard meshes and exported the scene and objects as a Ligthwave scene. Once in Lightwave, the team ensured that the elements lined up using a previz render of the background. Andy Bishop was in charge of recreating the motion of the pyroclastic flow.
He created it using Particle FX and a low res version of the Vue meshes as collision objects, so that the particles interacted with the terrain. In Vue 5 Infinite, each frame was rendered out with multiple passes including Z-depth, colour and individual layers of trees to have flexibility in the composite. The team also created a matte pass for the Pyroclastic cloud to make it integrate with the environment.
The final composite was created in Digital Fusion where all the layers were blended together and colour corrected.
Some history about Darkside
Darkside's history stems back 15 years, when the original team of Andrew Bishop, Simon Coombs and Simon Percy set up Premier Visions animation division, during this time they worked on films such as James Bond Goldeneye and low budget movies such as Grim (Peakviewing Transatlantic). This was then bought by amg and became amgFX, this new much larger company worked on numerous TV movies as well as major theatrical releases such as Lost In Space. The team eventually took over Film Factory and merged them into the Hive at VTR.
Simon Percy then instigated the setting up of the current company Darkside Animation, which has since had two major spin off companies Darkside Films and Darkside @ Molinare. This company has worked on major films such as The Wedding Date and The Marksman, along with major BBC dramas such as Powers.
Why Darkside Animation Prefers Vue 5 Infinite:
"It was a happy accident really we had the program in for evaluation when we came to the conclusion that we didn't have the time to use the live action plates for the show. We had the tools in Vue Infinite to be able to solve our landscape creation problems.
It's an awesome software! So much detail can be created in just a few mouse clicks and then altered quickly. You can't help but smile with so much power at your disposal!"
Check out Darkside Animation's web pages and portfolio here.
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