Emerging FX Talent, Niall Horn, shares some amazing insights on his work with thinkingParticles



We are very excited to have with us today, Niall Horn from Great Ayton, United Kingdom, and Niall will share with everyone some of his FX RnD projects with thinkingParticles in this interview. cebas Visual Technology is also introducing the 'New Talent' Insights Interview on our Testimonial tab today.

NiallHorn -FXArtist- Summer 2015 Reel from NiallHornVFX on Vimeo.  Find the latest at vimeo.com/niallhorn



Cebas: Niall, let's start by introducing yourself!

Niall: My name is Niall Horn. I am from North Yorkshire, England (UK). I am currently 18 and I have been teaching myself FX since I was 12. When I was younger, around 6 or 7 years old, I watched ‘Shrek 2’ and then the 2006 version of ‘Poseidon’. Believe it or not those were the two movies that got me interested!

I am fully self taught, I've not been to any colleges or universities for VFX. I was in a normal UK College for a few months but then, a simply amazing job offer came from Platige Image/ Juice Studio and I left college. I work on ‘WarThunder Gamescom’ Trailer. Up until then, I'd been doing a lot of personal projects in my spare time, lots of FX RnD!

Since then, I have been freelancing under my own name as an FX Artist. I spend a lot of my own free time hard at creating FX Tools and Systems based on a variety of software, including setups for thinkingParticles and many personal TD Tools.

I also enjoy doing RnD that shows my talent in FX production / FX setups, rather than just as RnD. I push myself further in my free time. One of the RnD gig I did, was the ATAT Destruction Shot.

AT-AT Destruction FX Project from NiallHornVFX on Vimeo.

My main inspiration comes from the awesome work and FX Teams of places like Scanline, ILM but also smaller studios that are starting to pick up the more FX heavy pipelines like RealtimeUK and UNIT Image and Blur. Scanline has been a big inspiration due to their Max-based FX Pipeline, and amazing production work.

I love reading Siggraph papers and watching FX Showreels frame by frame as well ! Sad, I know ..(you just have to look behind the lens flares and motion blur and see how things were constructed!)

Cebas: would you say that the ‘Underwater NavalBase Destruction FX’ and the ‘ATAT Destruction’ were important projects for you? Can you tell us how you were involved? 

Niall: I got brought onto the UnderWater Naval Base Destruction project very early on in early 2015. The client had just finished the previs and I was the only artist hired for the whole FX sequence. I spent nearly two months, everyday on the Underwater FX RnD and Asset setup. From Destruction to Fluid sims! I did a lot of asset prep for the sims and even lighting, rendering, compositing as I did on this project.

However, I spent these two months or so doing the best stuff, that is the FX Sims ! I did lots of research into Underwater Explosions, watched lots of cool references, e.g. how underwater gas and bubble clouds look, and how buoyancy works on large objects. And, brushing up the asset pre-destruction and modeling the interior structures/interior details to be sim'd.

Underwater Naval Base Destruction- FX Reel from NiallHornVFX on Vimeo.

The ATAT Destruction, a freelance project, was created to help out an indie video gamer who wanted a cool FX Shot for their trailer, so I took the opportunity to push my ThinkingParticles Skills in a production shot. I worked on the ATAT Destruction all by myself since it was a personal project from the Modeling and Texturing to the FX.



Cebas: which were the cebas visual technologies used in your project and how did you use our software to achieve the desired effects?

Niall: I used ThinkingParticles 5 for the Destruction/RBD sims for these projects. 

Both projects needed realistic metal tearing. The Naval base was meant to be made mainly from steel. The AT-AT has more of a sheet metal look to it. As you know, Metal Tearing and Breaking can be a challenge, unlike concrete fragmentation where it just breaks. Particle fx showing actual bending and deforming before and after the metal fractures has to look real. I started working on a TP Tool (I'm calling it "MSnap"), which I add to my pre-fractured assets into various groups, depending on type of metal/object and if it bends, ..bends and breaks, ..or just deforms.

Voronoi Fracturing for metals is a no go! Metal does not break in a uniform way, it’s very random and very much dependent on the type of metal, and the type and size of the object colliding with it. So all my assets were pre-fractured manually. Lots of Manual Vertex and Element cutting! I do it in various levels, which gives greater control but takes longer. This creates very inaccurate collision shapes/convex hulls, so that’s why I used SC (ShapeCollison) for this. Firstly, it’s super stable and volume-based, therefore super efficient for dealing with geometry of this type.

Once these objects are done, depending on the type of metal, they will undergo procedural joint-ing. And then ‘break’ on various levels by either collision or velocity thresholds. I’ve also added Distance activation for more control. It’s not a typical joints setup, because in the case of the Naval base destruction, I had to do the base simulations and then, joint-ing the high resolution assets onto them and simulating the ‘breaking’ from the top for better control. TP allows me to do all this effects.

Deformation-wise, I used a mix of Skinned Particles and SC Deformation, and in the end it comes down to some manual deformation work, although for the most part its procedural in thinkingParticles.

For both projects I did some pre-destruction modeling, adding internal structures that are also sim'd in the same system so there is an internal skeleton that snaps while the metal hull tears. For the Naval base setups I also added wires and rebar type debris on the torn metal for more interior destruction detail. Again, all these are done procedurally with TP.

I passed Physics at school but not Maths :) but TP has made my Maths Knowledge for FX grow exponentially!

Cebas: what features in particular helped you achieve your goal(s) and did you find it easy to use? Was this your first time using cebas VT plug-ins?

Niall: this wasn't my first time using Thinking Particles, however these were the largest projects so far. As said previously, Shape Collision can deal with pretty much any Geometry while keeping the sims pretty stable. In my FX tasks up to now, I typically worked with assets that have lots of mesh errors, lack water tightness and have the error of touching vertex's etc. Most is corrected however due to SC's Volume based collisions so this alone saves a lot of hassles. My aim is always to keep the sims realistic and stable, but SC makes it a lot easier to find and deal with the technical side of FX. I've not used Bullet in production yet, but hope to do so soon.

Been able to build TD Tools and setups for anything particle-based is truly amazing. For personal projects, I can create a setup for a problem and use it for that project and then add it to my Library and use it on future projects. Destruction Systems are definitely something I setup a lot and to be able to develop them and use them on future shots is amazing. Volume Breakers integration is super, and I am loving the look of the Interior face displacement in 6.1. 

Cebas: can you give us a step-by-step breakdown of a typical shot/image?

Niall: In FX there is no typical shot, that’s why I love my job so much! 

MouseTrap Madness - FX RnD - ThinkingParticles from NiallHornVFX on Vimeo.

Cebas: please give us a few particular memorable experiences you have had while creating the special effects / animations with the cebas plug-ins.

Niall: definitely, being able to setup these systems, run the actual production FX TP sims and then while waiting on them, to be able to work on personal TP Setups while waiting on the caches! Multi-task, saves time! TP is extremely optimized in most areas and it’s great to be able to have multiple TP Scenes open with ease.

The fact that you’re able to create FX Tools whether it be RBD, Fume FX Emission Setups, Cool Rule Based particle RnD Setups, just makes my work amazingly good fun!

Cebas: how did cebas software integrate into your production pipeline? How straightforward was it?

Niall: Fume and TP are my main tools in 3dsMax right now and they work together super well. In my freelance projects, I've used FumeFX and TP together pretty much everytime, not all the time do I use TP for the emission, but when it’s based on the actual system, TP is great for emitting Fume sims, driving velocities etc. Being able to use Procedural Rule based particles for Fluid (FumeFX) emission is something I've never been able to do before.

V-Ray is my main renderer and TP works with V-Ray really well.

The Export options are great, with Export Op, Cache Record, and then the option to buy/use XMesh and Alembic is so awesome!

Cebas: what was the most fun or rewarding part of this project for you?

Niall: the Phase when I'm doing the setups and I see the iterations getting better and better, also the RnD phase is super fun and again very iterative. Seeing the Final shots is very rewarding, but also watching your Playblasts afterwards, when making breakdowns which is nice to do, to show all your high detail RBDs that are now hidden in Fire, Smoke and Motion Blur is thrilling!

Cebas: in your view, what is your wish for cebas software to achieve that is not currently doing for you?

Niall: I'd say better integration for V-Ray especially with instancing, the way cebas’ finalRender has. Maybe a big wish but I'd love some kind of procedural skinning in TP for Particle Skinning to geometry. It takes a lot of the Proceduralism out when exporting/baking out and then skinning, also its gets really problematic when dealing with multiple sets of particles to be skinned to high res or proxy geometry.

Cebas: are you able to tell us what projects can we expect from you in the future?

Niall: I'm not really sure yet!

Cebas: Thank you so much Niall for sharing your insights with cebas and our user communities! Keep up the good work!