Wondertouch particleIllusion 3.0 Helps Recreate Historic Battle Scenes, Environmental Particle Effects
March 20, 2007

Wondertouch particleIllusion 3.0 Helps Recreate Historic Battle Scenes, Environmental Particle Effects

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Wondertouch, a developer of particle effects creation software tools, has revealed that Mechanism Digital, a New York City-based facility specializing in 3D animation, visual effects, and broadcast design, relied on particleIllusion 3.0 for an innovative project. The studio employed Wondertouch's particleIllusion 3.0 particle effects application to create realistic particle effects, such as fire, smoke, dust, and sparks, on "Last Stand of the 300," a recent special airing on The History Channel.
Mechanism has been using particleIllusion since 2001, and has used the software on "Engineering an Empire" and "Inside the Volcano," two other recent The History Channel programs.
"Last Stand of the 300" focuses on the Battle of Thermopylae during the Greco-Persian War in 480 B.C. The battle saw 300 Spartans teamed with a few thousand Greek warriors fighting a million-man Persian Army to a standstill. For seven days, the small, but valiant army defied impossible odds.
Mechanism Digital generated a 3D background that includes shots of Greece, Athens, Marathon, and the Battle of Thermopylae, together with live-action compositing for a strikingly realistic recreation. The two-hour special, directed by David Padrusch, is a Limulus Production for The History Channel.   
According to Lucien Harriot, Mechanism Digital founder and visual effects supervisor, particleIllusion takes its place in the production pipeline, alongside 20 PC workstations running Autodesk Maya 3D, as well as eyeon Fusion and Adobe After Effects for visual effects and compositing.   
"Within the 3D environment, recreating and refining natural-looking particle effects, such as smoke, fire, and dust, requires a considerable amount of research and development, as well as time-consuming set-ups, experimentation, and modifications," says Harriot. "Overall, because particleIllusion 3.0 is a 2D tool, it offers a real-time creative process. We find using particleIllusion much faster than creating effects from scratch. It speeds up the process, and speed is absolutely critical when working under the intense deadline pressure typical of TV shows," he explains.   
Harriot points out that in order to present the original topography of Thermopylae as accurately as possible and to recreate the combat experience, Mechanism shot people on greenscreen and placed them into various CG environments, such as the Pass of Thermopylae, Athens, water, and more.   
"We used particleIllusion for long-distance shots of smoke, sparks, and fire in the camps and during battle scenes, and to create dust impressions kicking up from the feet of marching soldiers. After creating a 3D background, we also used the software to depict hundreds of arrows being shot by archers, which took us five minutes to create versus a 3D approach which would have taken at least half the day."   
For "Engineering an Empire," a series of 12 one-hour episodesilluminating some of history's most impressive engineering feats, Mechanism Digital used particleIllusion to portray how steam traveled through one of the first steam engines and the pouring and smelting of molten metals in the production of cannons. Mechanism also used the software on "Inside the Volcano," a two-hour special that aired last December, to create smoke, lava flows, fire, exploding rocks, and other fiery effects to enhance the computer-generated volcanic activity.   
Mechanism Digital also relies on wondertouch Pro Emitters for particleIllusion 3.0 to expand its library of effects. "Everyone wants to be able to push a button, plug it in, and just go. We load the ProEmitters libraries, find what we're looking for, and quickly make the necessary adjustments," adds Harriot.