Sergey Movchan, Channel One Russia, shares his 3D VFX insights with Cebas Visual Technology.

Thank you Sergey for sharing your experience with cebas Visual Technology. We have seen your creatives for some time and you have been very active, and still is, at the forefront of 3d / FX work as well as coaching new talents in using thinkingParticles, amongst other popular VFX software, so it would be nice to get an exclusive from you in this interview with regards to your creative work with cebas software.

Demoreel from rman197 on Vimeo

Hi, my name is Sergey Movchan (also known as ‘rman197’ on Vimeo). I’m from Omsk (Siberia). I graduated from the Omsk State Technical University as a radio engineer. But since I have always been attracted to computer graphics and vfx, I moved to Moscow in 2000 and got a job on TV as a 3d designer. My first passion was rendering. I was in love with renderers and I’ve been using many of them (Renderman, V-Ray, Mantra, Maxwell, Octane, Arnold) but now this passion is gone and I decided to push myself into particles/simulations area.


Cebas: Sergey, how do you say ‘hi’ in Russian language?

Our first interview question will be based on your demo reel (which is absolutely creative..congratulations!), we see you do a lot of FX work for commercial videos as well as the TV industry? Tell us about your current company, your role and mission in FX technology.

Sergey: “Hi” in Russian :) is “PrivEt”.

I’ve been working as a 3d generalist at the postproduction department of Channel One Russia (the main TV channel in Russia) since 2003. My main speciality is shading/lighting/rendering and particles/simulations. Our department was created to work on the VFX in movies but unfortunately there are not so many movie projects over the last years. So we are now mostly involved in broadcasting IDs for big cultural events like ‘Eurovision’ or the ‘Olympic Games’.

About my role in the company… Hmm,… doing my job well as far as possible and to find some good moments even if sometimes the work can be boring. Here, we also practice something called ‘indirect supervising’. You are given a job to do and nobody looks over your shoulder so you have that freedom - use whatever tools, methods or software you can bring together. By “job”, I mean a full cycle from writing the script or storyboard to final image sequence. In other words, we all here like a one-man band. It’s typical for a small team especially on TV production.

Cebas: Russian FX industry is something new to our knowledge, is it as big an industry as is the case of the Hollywood industry in the US, or is it a new frontier in Russia that 3d artists are now exploring and developing? Do you have a lot of art colleges teaching 3d/FX?

Sergey: Russian FX industry isn’t so big as it is in the US or Europe. It’s young and wild! There is too much chaos in the industry as is the case in many other businesses in Russia. And there are a lot of random and incompetent people in the industry.

Nowadays, there are a lot more 3d/FX colleges in Moscow. They provide a pretty decent level of knowledge as far as I know. It’s a pity that they were non-existent at the time when I decided to start doing computer graphics.

Cebas: when did you first started teaching thinking particles? Will you be combining your art career in production with coaching new talents? Are you now a full time trainer?

Sergey: I began to study Thinking Particles about two years ago when I decided to leave rendering and focus on particles. We have a 3ds Max based pipeline at the studio so choice was obvious. I’m not a professional Thinking Particles trainer and it’s more like a hobby. At the moment, my Vimeo channel is my only training channel. I do enjoying teaching people and to share my knowledge and my tools.

Cebas: with your incredible skills in FX, with thinking Particles as well, what area of work have you used thinkingParticles, besides the film industry, did you find good avenues for creative work in the commercial/advertising field?

Sergey: I think Thinking Particles is the perfect choice for fx work on broadcast and commercial because these areas is characterized by short production time, and with Thinking Particles, I can achieve results very fast and build an artist-friendly Technical Director tool with the necessary controls. Here are a couple of examples: I collaborated with a few very talented guys from LOOP and they asked me once to build a random size ‘boxes generator’ for their Bloomberg pitches. Boxes form some kind of fractal array structure. I manage to build the Thinking Particles Voxelize blackbox in approximately one day (and usually you don't have much time for doing a pitch).

Here is the result !

Another time the LOOP folks needed a tool to create some kind branching bundles forming a logo. So, I created the TP Bundles blackbox (also in one day) for them. Here is the result: they’ve asked me not to mention the name of the client but you can guess.

Probably I’ll rebuild this tool for Thinking Particles 6.0, the latest release, someday - with the new spline operators, I can bet you that it will shine!

Cebas: you use a lot of VRay and Fume as well, comparing the FX you have created with the different FX software, could you give some insights as to the comparative advantages of these software in terms of particle-creation, eco-systems, sand, fire and fume, destruction, fluid, motion, etc visual effects - do they offer you much the same effects capability or your experience tells you they each have their virtues?

Sergey: I’m using V-Ray and Fume because we have a 3ds Max-based pipeline at the studio and they are good, solid tools to do a job. I’m using Thinking Particles because I really like its architecture and it can resolve required tasks really fast. For example TP has an amazing Shape Collision (SC) rbd engine. It's so stable, it forgives everything - errors in mesh, interpenetrations, it's almost free from instantaneous explosions. And most important thing - its friction model gives you very smooth, very viscous rbd simulation (in most cases you don’t even need any form of joints because the friction does the work for them).

For example, rbd in Houdini which is bullet-based where great effort has to be made to avoid wobbling and quivering in simulation by building complex glue networks, and digging deep inside the solver. I do not want to say anything bad about Houdini - now it’s standard in VFX industry but to achieve a decent result you must spend a lot more time (Houdini learning curve is quite long but this is compensated for higher functionality). Any software will have its pros and cons. In the end, it all depends on the individual. If somebody can do the great shading/lighting/rendering, rbd and particle simulations etc.... you name it - the fx artist can do it in any software, it’s just a tool. But the idea is to enable art creativity where the tool expands and does not limit your artistry and imagination. I think TP allows for this.

Cebas: how do you/ art director decide on using thinkingParticles for one of your project as main FX software?

Sergey: We have enough freedom to choose tools or software. It’s up to the 3d artist. Eventually our supervisors don’t care how we do it. We all are a one-man-band here including supervising so I’m supervising myself even if I have a supervisor above me. Sounds like chaos, I know :) So how I decide to use Thinking Particles? I’m a TP oriented guy so if I can’t do the job with TP I prefer not to do it at all. We have a couple of Houdini guys here - they can do what they want :)

Cebas: is it simple and easy for FX artists in your region to acquire thinkingParticles? Were there any barriers to acquiring, using or updating of the software?

Sergey: no problem at all. At least for now - who know where all those sanctions against Russia will lead us in the future. There are a bunch of local resellers or we can buy software online.

Cebas: was the above your all time favourite project? Give us some great insights into your few top favourite FX projects (with videos) that you were most satisfied with (where thinkingParticles were involved)... and some insights from your experience working with it, as to how you had approached the project from concept to actual visual display.

Sergey: Probably my favorite (and quite a challenging) project with Thinking Particles is Cris Cab "Loves Me Not" music video. We had less than a month for all post production. At the beginning of the project I was given animation and look references (1,2). I built a blackbox called TP Kinetic, spending a couple of days for core functionality and a couple more to polish it. It uses maps to set elements height (lightbulbs in my case) - procedural maps or image sequences. Sounds simple enough but there is a tricky part - when you need to form an object which is completely away from any basic surface like this image still: 

 In order to do that, I had to divide a whole array of elements into a checkerboard pattern. “Black” elements form bottom surface of the object, “white” at the top surface. Two different displacement maps are being used in this case:

Cris Cab "Loves Me Not" for studio, Aggressive.

Sergey's RnD tutorial for the thinkingParticle's kinetic for "Loves Me Not", created for the commercial production studio,

 A huge amount of geometry as shown in some shots so I did a couple of LOD (levels of details) for the lightbulb shapes and switched between them, depending on the distance from the camera. Also I used culling geometry object which cuts off particles outside the camera frustum. XMesh was used to cache particles. Animated procedural maps (usually, a Composite map with some animated Noises) dramatically slows down Thinking Particles’ performance, so I had set proxy representation of the particle system - simple plane with Displace modifier. I used this proxy plane to adjust map animation. Lightbulb on/off animation was done by animating vertex color channel inside TP (fortunately XMesh supports animated vertex color).


Cebas: from your experience, how well did cebas software integrate into your production process? Were there a lot of hiccups?

Sergey: I use only Thinking Particles from Cebas products and therefore it has integrated well into my production pipeline because it’s 3ds Max based. Probably there might be some issues with the transfer of particles between different 3d packages (I mean particles with shapes, “naked” particles is possible to transfer via krakatoa .prt) - it’s unknown territory for me.

Cebas: tell us what is your WISH LIST for cebas software that it's not currently doing for you?

Sergey: actually I’m dreaming about TP for Maya. From my perspective, it looks like Autodesk has bet on Maya but in terms of particle system, what is on Maya is dated. Probably they are going to merge particles into the new Bifrost platform - I don’t know. But at the moment maya particles are total nightmare for the artist.

Thinking Particles performance and multi-threading is the key. It could be nice to have a better performance for some operators. Especially geometry and texture lookups (SurfacePosition, TexmapColor). Now everybody is focused on bullet but please don’t forget about old good SC perfomance.

Cebas: last but not least, fill in for your followers, some insights into your next project(s)? Also, where can followers go to see your creative FX?

Sergey: stay tuned on my Vimeo channel (rman197) and you will know. Probably there will be more destruction tests and tutorials - I like to break things.

Thank you Sergey for your time and effort in doing this Testimonial for cebas! We look forward to continued engagement with your FX work and thinkingParticles.

See more of Sergey's tutorials @
(in Russian)