In a new SeaWorld commercial, a young girl’s finger reaches toward the screen and, breaking the fourth wall, skims the liquid surface as beautiful ink-in-water effects ripple. The viewer is suddenly brought into a magical oceanic world where dolphins dance, elaborately costumed performers fly and birds sweep across the screen. Each of their motions are met with a flurry of colorful inky swirls, created by Los Angeles’ Fusion CI Studios using Prime Focus Software’s high-volume particle renderer, Krakatoa.
Fusion CI Studios, specializing exclusively in dynamics-driven VFX and fluid simulations, typically collaborates with other digital effects studios offering the services of a remote, advanced visual effects group doing R&D, look-development and/or visual effects. For the SeaWorld commercial, Santa Monica’s Ntropic reached out to Fusion CI Studios to handle the spot’s numerous fluid effects, including developing the look for the ink-type trails behind the characters.
Integral to the creation of the spot’s fluid effects was Krakatoa, Prime Focus’ production-proven volumetric particle rendering, manipulation and management toolkit that creates believable natural phenomena like dust, smoke, silt, ocean surface foam, plasma and even solid objects. Krakatoa integrates with Particle Flow, the built-in Event-Driven Particle System in Autodesk 3ds Max, and provides data exchange capabilities for sharing particles with other 3D and simulation applications.
Fusion CI Studios set up a straightforward Autodesk 3ds Max, FumeFX and Krakatoa pipeline, first creating FumeFX simulations around the animated dolphins, performers and birds, in which the FumeFX fluid interacted with each individual’s movements. Ink effects also streamed off selected parts of the characters’ geometry. For larger characters, Fusion CI Studios built rough FumeFX grids, but for smaller ones such as the birds, finer grids were used. For a number of characters, Fusion CI Studios also supplemented the object emission with fluid emission from RealFlow particles and Thinking Particles. After developing fluid behavior settings for turbulence, viscosity and dissipation, Fusion CI Studios’ artists generated fluid sims using Autodesk 3ds Max’s Pflow in combination with Krakatoa to automatically generate numerous versions of Krakatoa particle sets until the right level of detail and cloud density were achieved. Krakatoa was then used to render the particle sets.
The challenges in the SeaWorld spot’s production were intense. Shares Mark Stasiuk, Fusion’s Co-Founder and VFX Supervisor, “We had the huge task of doing a significant number of elaborate fluid elements over a commercial production timeframe, and making them look good at HD quality. When creating CG fluids that are moving non-turbulently, you have a lot more leeway with short timeframes because the level of fluid detail is relatively low. This isn’t the case for turbulent, volumetrically rendered fluid like ink in water or smoke. For these cases, it requires detail to sell the scale and level of turbulence - it’s literally the detail in the fluid that makes it realistic. If we tried to get the right detail level out of the pure fluid sim, whether using Maya fluids or FumeFX, we would have been in big trouble with sim times. Krakatoa allowed us to run fast fluid sims and then very quickly accumulate the detail as a post process and then render it very quickly. It took the job from very tough to straightforward!”
In addition to Krakatoa, Fusion CI Studios’ toolkit included Prime Focus Software’s render queue management software Deadline, which was used to distribute the generation of Krakatoa particle sets. Since completing the SeaWorld project, Fusion CI Studios has wrapped two other commercial projects using Krakatoa to render massive numbers of render-intensive water elements.