An Infinite Voyage

An Infinite Voyage – a short visual effects video I created inspired by the Grand Tour missions of Voyager 1 & 2.  About 8 months, I had to purchase my own copy of After Effects, having always had it paid for by my previous company.   The cost of the software meant I also lost access to any particle systems, so I had to learn how to use AE’s native plugins.

I created An Infinite Voyager to demonstrate (to myself as much as anyone)  what is possible using After Effects and its native/included plugins:

I cheated a little, because I used Element 3D from Video Copilot for the Voyager probe.  I find it’s much, much easier to use than Cinema4D and renders in a way I prefer.

Something worth noting though, is that I had real problems trying to render out Saturn’s rings using After Effects.  Originally they were a 2D layer in AE, but something to do with their size in AE space or their size on screen prevented the comp from rendering.   I had the same problem when I switched to Element 3D.  It was only when I rebuilt Saturn again(!) in Cinema4D Lite that I was able to get any render out of the rings.

Tutorials

I’ve previously written about how you can get the look of the Nolan / Interstellar Blackhole using Cinema4D.  You can view that tutorial here

If you’re interested in recreating the Galaxy at the end of the video, I’ve published a tutorial on how to achieve that at CreativeCow.net

 

 

 

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August 8, 2016 · 11:17 am

Interstellar’s black hole recreated in Cinema4D

It took me a while to see Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.  There’d been so much hype and it doesn’t help my outlook when non-sci-fi fans tell me how great a movie is and how clever.  That sort of thing tends to put me off.

That said, when I finally watched it, I enjoyed the movie.  It’s not my in my ‘top ten’ or anything, but there’s some impressive visual effects.  Not least the Black Hole, Gargantua.

Gargantua - great effect, terrible name

Gargantua – great effect, terrible name

Reportedly, the depiction of the Black Hole has been praised in by the scientific community.  The visual effects team worked with Physicist Kip Thorne to get the look as accurate as possible while still being comprehensible to movie audiences.  It’s even led to a paper being published.

Before seeing Interstellar, I’d been asked to depict a Black Hole and it’s actually really hard to create something audiences can recognise and go “yup, that’s a Black Hole”.  The script involved doesn’t have a line pointing out that we’re looking at a singularity (sorry, needed a break from the B-word).  Thanks to Interstellar though, we now have a go-to image.

The tutorial – (based in C4D r14)

After playing around, I discovered it’s actually quite a simple set up for Cinema4D (and probably all other 3D packages)

Step 1
First, create a sphere. I set my radius to 300 cm.
Step 2
Create a disc, set the centre of the disc to the same as the sphere.

  • Set the radius of that to 1000 cm.
  • Orientation to -Y.

Step 3

Create a torus with the following settings:

  • Ring radius: 653 cm (this was by eye)
  • Pipe radius: 355 cm
  • Orientation: +Z
Torus

What your stage should look like by Step 3

What your stage should look like by Step 3

Step 4 – the event horizon material

For the event horizon (your sphere), create a material and uncheck everything.

just black

The event horizon’s material – the sphere

Step 5 – the torus/distortion material
For the torus, we want to create a reflective material, but I found with playing around, that the Transparency channel with Refraction settings gave me a better look and more control than the Reflection channel. If you alter the Refraction value, between 0.25 and 1, you can alter the size of the outline of the vertical disc.

The material settings for the torus

The material settings for the torus

Step 6 – The accretion disc
I initially tried to do this using the Noise settings, but found whatever I did it was too perfect.   Back the drawing board, and I found this spiral galaxy image using a Google Image search with a filter for non-commercial reuse with modification.  (Side note: this is a really handy search filter if you’re putting your work in the public domain).I found this image opposite.I modified it slightly  to centre the image and make sure the spiral arms were all the way out to the edge of a circle, in order for the spiral to be equally strong on all sides.Next – create a material in C4D.In Luminance > texture, choose Layer.  Add the spiral image as an image.   Set the white point settings down to about 0.06.  This should make it really bright:
big spiralluminance_brightness
Step 6b
Back on the layer level, add a Hue / Saturation / Lightness from the Effects… dropdown to allow you to recolour the image.I added the spiral to the Bump channel, but I can’t tell if it’s having an effect.
luminance
Step 6c

In the Alpha channel, create a layer.  Add the spiral again, and play with the white point and black point, to create a strong-ish matte.

alpha_spiral
Step 6d

Up one level and add a circular gradient with a smooth transition between the white and black.  This is to soften any edges of the alpha to avoid a hard cut-off in the render.

gradient
Step 6e

Set the transfer mode of the gradient to multiply and you should get the desired look.Some versions of the Nolan Hole add a glow, but I find it’s hard to control and you don’t get the effect on the reflection/refraction elements. I think it’s better to do that post-rendering.

alpha
Step 7
Add the black material to the sphere, the transparent material to the torus and the accretion material to the disc.
stage
Step 7
I added a Compositing tag to the sphere (right-click on the Sphere in the object browser, and go to Cinema 4D Tags > Compositing).   I turned off almost everything except seen by camera and seen by transparency.  This was to prevent the sphere reflecting in the torus which it was doing from certain angles.
compositing
Step 8
And…you’re done.   Render away.   You can add a rotation to the accretion disc, which create a lovely movement in the reflected bits.   Some angles work better than others, but this should at least get you started.

nolan_hole1

nolan_hole

I’ve tried it with a starfield, but it reflects in the torus, and I notice that in the movie, they generally have the more realistic looking black sky, which is how a conventional camera would see it.  So for my preference, I haven’t included one, but it’s a personal choice.

Obviously, you can spend A LOT of time adding additional details.  I’ll probably add some more accretion disc layers, but this gives the basic look.

Download

Just in case I’ve missed something out, or you’re in a rush, you can download the file here:

Mediafire download

 I would ask you credit ShiveringCactus in some way and I’ve virus checked the file, so cannot take any responsibility if it screws up your system – always do your own checks.

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ShowPlayer

We’ve just finished a run of Scrooge The Musical with Beaconsfield Operatic Society.   We produced visual effects for Marley’s ghost as well as plenty of other shots, as you can see in the highlight reel:

I did face a problem in the best way to send these videos to the projector.   in the past, I’ve made a DVD, but it’s quite clunky and time consuming.  Plus any changes needed mean making a new disc.

An alternative is to use third-party software to make a playlist, but then it becomes a case of finding the right product.   One that doesn’t have ads, annoying sounds or lacks customisation.

So, I came up with a third option.  I wrote an Adobe AIR app to play the videos and images for me.

The interface for ShowPlayer

The interface for ShowPlayer

I tried to incorporate all the elements I’d need to in one screen while the second screen (the projector) displays the videos or images.

Features

  • The app plays Mp4, JPG and PNG files.
  • Videos play with time remaining displayed and can be set to loop.
  • There’s a BIG stop button which is easy to find.
  • It’s a full screen app, so I also show the current time.
  • The display resolution can be set manually, so if you’ve prepared HD videos but use a smaller resolution projector, they resize.
  • You can leave yourself messages / reminders

If you’d like to try it out for yourself, feel free to download it here:

Mediafire download

Unzip the file and run the showplayer.air file.   I’ve included a README.txt file with instructions on how to compile the playlist and where to place the video folder.

It worked really well for me and meant I was able to make changes pretty quickly.   It’s set up for the resolutions on my laptop and projector, but you can change these in the playlist.txt file.

Once installed, all you need to do is copy the showplayer_content folder to your C: drive and place any videos in there (along with the playlist file)

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Making a Twister in Cinema4D and After Effects

Ever since I started playing around with visual effects, there’s been two FX I’ve been trying to do.  A T-Rex and a Twister.

So far, I still can’t get near doing a convincing T-Rex, but over the years, I’ve tried various different twisters.  The school production this year is going to be Wizard of Oz, so it gave me the excuse to revisit it.  I’m sure in a year or two I’ll revisit this effect again and improve on it but for right now, I’m quite pleased with myself.

The Twister is created using Cinema4D’s Thinking Particles.  A standard emitter, but with a Move On Spline interaction which sticks the particles to a simple bezier spline.

Pyrocluster

Age Settings for Pyrocluster – The colour’s alpha settings fade the base and top out

The look of the particles is a pyrocluster torus.Age settings control the size and I used the alpha settings on the Color twirl down to fade the particles as the vortex was a little strong.

After a lot of fiddling to get the particles to rotate, I “cheated” and used keyframed rotation:

  • On the shape section, click the Use Auto Rotation checkbox.
  •  Keyframe the third rotation value.
  • The the C4D timeline window, set the keyframes to linear
  • Set to the function Track After to Continue.  This will keep increasing the rotation value at the same rate.
  • Finally, in the TP emitter, go down to the spin settings and add a nominal value to the spin.  Without this step, Auto Rotation didn’t work for me.

Spline Movement

The points on the spline can be animated by creating a Null Object for each point.  Add an Xpresso tag to the spline and open the editor.  The set up is easier to show than describe:

Xpresso settings

Point can be found by right-clicking on the Xpresso desktop, then New Node > Xpresso > General > Point

Finishing touches

When woking in Cinema4D,  I’m always really tempted to do the whole thing in the program, because in theory you can control every aspect of the environment.  But then I remember something I read recently by Andrew Kramer where he talked about getting something to look right is often better and quicker than getting something to be right.  I think Andrew was probably talking about particle simulation but his reasoning applies to environments as well.  I’ve include the C4D only environment in the video to hopefully demonstrate the limitations of one program and what can be achieved when using resources to do what they are best at.

Before I brought the twister into After Effects, I was quite pleased with my efforts, then an hour in AE and what I achieved was so much better.

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Colour Matching

Colour grading, colour correction (color to our friends across the pond) is a big buzzword right now in the post-production industry.  2012’s NAB featured a lot of new colour grading products – article link. Colour grading/correction is a covers two separate elements:

  1. Matching individual shots to each other
  2. Improving individual shots to highlight the actors, minimise distracting elements and generally give video a mor filmic look

There’s lot of tutorials covering the latter, but very few which deal with the former.  I think that’s because professional camera operators and cinematographers take the time and care to do this in-camera.  Unfortunately home and semi-pro camcorders do not have all the settings needed to do this properly at the time of shooting.   Everyone’s heard of white balancing, but that only takes you so far.

I found this tutorial on Color Grading by Barend Onneweer at Creative Cow a while ago which takes a maths-based approach.  The only issue with this tutorial is the time it takes to manually calculate the colour values.  So, I’ve taken Barend’s principal and used After Effects Expressions to process it automatically.  You can download this as an FFX Preset here.

Colour Matching Interface

To use:

  • Apply the preset to the video (or adjustment layer), make sure the Levels fx is turned off.
  • Follow Barend’s tutorial by selecting a neutral grey point (seen in all shots)
  • Turn on the LevelsColour matching sequence

The sequence above is from my friend Jeff Smith’s new web series, Stella B and the Busted League.  Unfortunately the camera reset itself in-between set-ups and white balance was lost.  He contacted me to ask if there was anything I could do.This is the first time I’ve actually tried colour matching and was really impressed by the results.  The preset made this quick and easy to apply, although you do need a neutral gray in each shot.  It’s possible to do this without, but it is less automated.

To address this, I suggest using a reference card, similar to this one I developed for Virtual Sets in Cinema 4D.  (I’m working on a full tutorial about that).

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We Will Rock You: Flash/Seven Seas of Rhye

We’re in pre-production for this year’s school musical, We Will Rock You.  The school had a large, 5m stereoscopic 3D screen which we’ve used for the past few productions.  And with WWRY we’re getting a chance to increase the amount we’ll be using it.

We’re not only providing 3D FX for the production though – as the projectors will be on the whole time, we’ll also be adding a number of 2D “virtual sets”.

This is the first completed example of one such set:

Flash Booths - WWRY

Some imagination has to be used here.  We started with a photo to sort out scaling and placement.   That photo was imported into Cinema4D where we cut out the screen and then modelled the “booths” behind it.

It’s for the scene where Khashoggi is torturing the prisoners.  On command, each one in turn is electrocuted to “Flash, AHA!”.

Flash - WWRY render view

This is the view we’ll actually render out.   We’ll be playing the whole production through Stereoscopic Player which has playlist capability, so the electricity bursts will be made as separate videos and stacked, to be cued manually.

A daft little extra feature I’ve added is the generator in the background.  I’ve set it up so that its spinning “generates” the electricity when it gets to a certain speed.

It’s all done using simple Xpresso:

C4D User data

C4D User data

Xpresso set up

Xpresso set up. Visibility tags on the lightning bolts turn them on and off

The settings for the range mapper

The settings for the range mapper. Once the generator turns beyond 90 degrees, the spline jumps the output to 100%. After 990 degrees, the output drops back to 0%

And finally , the settings for each of the formula nodes

And finally , the settings for each of the formula nodes

I downloaded the lightning bolt file years ago and have used it a few times.  You can find it here.

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Pontiac (C4D)

Time to break the ice and actually post some of our Cinema 4D work.

It’s based on the Pontiac Firebird (1967 ish) – I’ll freely admit I haven’t been too dead set on perfect accuracy or detail, as it’s not really ‘for’ anything other than the practice.  Not least because my previous attempt at modelling a car looked like this:


So… yeah.  I think this one has turned out better.  Ahem.

It’s still a WIP in theory (aren’t all models?) but I think I’m done with it for now.

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