Particle Flow
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 11 (November 2003)

Particle Flow

By Douglas King

Previously provided through a subscription service for registered users, Discreet's Particle Flow extension has been incorporated into the newest version of its powerful 3ds max software. (For a full review of Discreet's 3ds max 6, see the December issue.) Particle Flow invokes a flowchart-style work flow for creating complex and powerful dynamic particle systems within 3D animations.

Particle Flow enables animators to create complex particle systems, add events, and route results wherever they wish. Using a schematic approach to particle system design, animators are able to design particle systems with complete ease and control. And Particle Flow is integrated tightly into 3ds max as a core component, blending with internal forces, deflectors, materials, MAXScript, and rendering solutions.

The Particle View window provides real-time feedback as users design particle systems.

After installation, I accessed the Particle Flow system by selecting Particle Systems from the drop-down list in the Create\Geometry rollout. I dragged the cursor within my scene to create the Particle Flow icon, just as I would any other particle system, and placed the icon exactly where I needed it.

Once a Particle Flow icon was created in my scene, I then opened the Particle View window, which is what truly separates Particle Flow from similar products. Clicking on the button in the modifier panel of Particle Flow or pressing the "6" key opens the Particle View window. The window is divided into four sections. The first section, the event display, contains the particle diagram or the flowchart of the particle system. Next, the Depot houses all the available operators used in creating and setting up the dynamics of the particle system. Running along the right-hand side of the window is the Param-eters panel, which looks exactly like the Parameters Modifier panel in the 3ds max interface. Located beneath Parameters, a small Operator Description panel offers text descriptions of the selected operators. Most are self-explanatory as to their function, but some might require a brief read in the online reference manual.

Creating and modifying within Particle Flow could not be easier. The Particle View window opens with a default event in place. The entry consists of a global event followed by a birth event, containing a Birth operator and several other operators to define the system's initial properties. I was able to modify and delete elements to suit my needs. I could add other operators to this first event or create new events simply by dragging and dropping the operators of choice from a preloaded library of 39 options.

Two types of events exist in the Particle Flow: global and local. Any operators placed in the global event will affect the entire particle system, whereas an operator placed in a local event will affect only a certain defined group of particles. This trait is what makes the Particle Flow system so powerful. Users now have the flexibility to set up events to use different space warps in varying amounts at different times without having to create multiple versions of the same space warp.

The program also allows for real-time modification playback. Users can play an animation and continue to modify the parameters while they watch in real time the effect the changes are making. The program's ability to cache the results of the scene help make this possible. It also allows for real-time scrubbing of the timeline in both directions. This caching can be stored in the scene file and saved.

Particle Flow can be used for any type of effect that requires particle animation. Because animators are using a schematic to design the system, it is easier to visualize and set up the modifiers to accomplish the desired effect quickly. By using the schematic approach to design, they are able to visually edit every parameter in the context of the overall effect, and they can do all this with the playback running in real time to see the changes.

Once users have an understanding of what each operator does, and how to route events, they will be flying as fast as their particles in setting up elaborate effects.

As with most things in max, Particle Flow is completely extensible through Discreet's comprehensive SDK. Users can develop their own operators and tests, and build custom modules that can be integrated into the environment. An endless range of functionality can be added to this already powerful system.

Professionals who work with particle effects will be doing themselves a disservice by not having Particle Flow.

Douglas King, a contributing editor based in Dallas, Texas, is currently developing animated projects for his company, Day III Productions.


Price: Included in Discreet 3ds max 6
Minimum System Requirements: 3ds max 5.1 or higher, 800mb hard disk space