The return of Andy Byrne!
FX effects upcoming big movie 2015 (watch for it). FX for game Destiny cinematics, Star Trek into Darkness, After Earth, Life of PI; TV : Sleepy Hollow, Constantine and many more….

BSD_TV_VFX_REEL from Andy Byrne on Vimeo.


Cebas is thrill to have Andy Byrne, our flow guy, give us his testimonial and insights into production with thinkingParticles fx:

dandy Andy

I’ve been in Los Angeles for the last 8 years. I feel like I’ve worked for about every company you could think of, or that you’d want to work for. Eventually, I developed enough contacts to go out on my own, and I went for it. I am now completely independent. So, currently my days are very busy, working remotely for numerous companies on projects ranging from Sleepy Hollow, Constantine to Feature Films. Origins, Crafty Apes, CHE, MOE, Atomic Fiction are all the companies I work for, from time to time. Working independently like this puts you, the artist, back in control of your workflow. You don’t have to go to meetings about what software is the best, or deal with people’s ego, or have someone ultimately sabotaging the project for you. When a company has the confidence in outsourcing work to you, it says “they trust you to get the job done” and this mindset is beneficial for both client and artist. I have direct contact with the client and get instant feedback. I’m loving it and it’s going really well. It gets rid of all the fat that can sometimes gets in your way at studios. In my eyes, it is and should be the future of the industry. “Lean and Mean” I believe is the term. :)

Cebas: Andy, you have done a long list of acclaimed movie FX for Hollywood as can be seen on Which were the ones you would best described as giving you the best FX with thinkingParticles inclusive?

Definitely Star Trek. In my opinion, it was a huge wake up call for me and got me back to my roots. Before I started on Star Trek, I was at Rhythm and Hues, Sony and Digital Domain purely using Houdini. When I moved to L.A., there was this mentality that you had to work at a bigger company to be a good effects artist or to be taken seriously. It’s what I thought I wanted and needed to do. After a couple of years working for the bigger companies, I realized that you are given a lot less responsibility as an artist than if you were at a smaller place. I’m pushing one button along with groups of up to a 100 other fx artists and not really learning anything nor growing as an artist. There’s definitely a place for that kind of manpower, but it’s just not for me. Plus, I knew what I was capable of in thinkingParticles/3ds Max from my years at CafeFX, Asylum and Digital Dimension. I still remember the day the thinkingParticle 5 feature video came out. I was at my desk making a playblast in Houdini for the 400th time of something I could have done in thinkingParticles in a day! To be forced into using only one package of software is super frustrating as an artist.

I decided to leave the more relaxed artist life of Rythm and Hues and dive into the trenches at Pixomondo. Talk about a night and day difference. Star Trek in the end was done by, I believe three of us full time for the heavy destruction shots, sometimes bouncing to a 4 or 5 team, when someone else could help out with some Fume stuff here and there. Overall, Star Trek was a complete nightmare because of the hours we pulled to get it done, but when you look at the FX alone that were actually done by 3-5 of us! It’s pretty impressive and I’m extremely proud of it. I still can’t believe we got it done. The team at Pixomondo during that show was top notch. I’ve always thought about what it could have been if we have had even more time! Three solid FX artists using the right tools vs. 100’s of FX artists learning a tool and a pipeline completely unique to it’s studio proved to be the way to go.

Cebas: which were the shots on a favorite FX movie you worked on, that you felt a gush of ‘wow’, because you discover fx by thinkingParticles had translated well onto the big screen and exceeded your expectation?

I’d have to stay with Star Trek on this one as well. Real Steel at Digital Domain was definitely the most fun, but not necessarily the most challenging. Star Trek required some really cool destruction that I was put in charge of for the bulk of the show. The idea was that the Klingon ship was struck and is crashing into these stone structures creating all sorts of chaos. I think most of us liked an earlier version of the animation, but that’s always the client’s decision. I think I was up to over 100 versions on this particular shot! Battle: Los Angeles was a lot of fun too.

Cebas: could you give us some insight on how you created those FX with thinkingParticles?

Looking at these I wish we had the new features of thinkingParticles 6.0 back then!

I went through many tests and different methods to make it as clean as possible. I knew there was going to be tons of layers, so I tried to keep each layer as simple as I could. The client really wanted the feel of tension and buckling of the metal in the Star Trek Klingon crash scene. To create that look, I went through trying joints and all sorts of triggers to turn them on and off at certain points, but that proved to be too labor-intensive for the deadlines we were under. In the end, another awesome thinkingParticles’ artist and a buddy of mine, Attila, showed me a clever way of creating “fake joints” or a sort of glue system with the good ol’ Shape Collision solver in tP. That brought it to the next level..


Basically, you create primitives where you want joints that are parented and intersecting to your animated Geo and have them ‘die’ at just the right time and it creates these popping or buckling behaviors! Really cool setup and super fast. I still use that setup today. In the end, I had a setup that could load in any new version of animation (which was daily) and run my setup in a couple minutes to show the supervisors and client. If I had to do this effect again today though, I’d definitely use the new “Procedural Joints” method, a powerful new feature that came with thinkingParticles 6.

Cebas: what was the most difficult FX to date and how did you solve it?

Some of the toughest shots I had to do were for the “Destiny” game trailer at Prologue Films in Venice, last summer. This was another project where everyone was burnt out, and I ended up being the only FX artist left. I survived! I had about 50 shots to do all by myself that all revolved around water interaction, bubbles, kelp etc. Before I got there, there were failed attempts using Realflow, Houdini and Naiad. When I first look at a shot, I like to first think of the easiest way to do it and then, build on it to make it better. I try not to do a fluid simulation if I didn’t have to. Houdini is fantastic at water, but it can be a huge chore if you don’t have a pipeline setup around it at whatever studio you’re at. Using Realflow or Houdini for these shots was way overkill.

So for the character’s interaction with the water, I ended up doing a condition where the characters touch the surface. Then, I spawned particles coming off the characters with the right amount of noise to make it look like fluids. After that.. Mesh it! done! It was a lot of p-searches and gradients of radius to get the right look, but for a one man FX team, it worked out incredibly! Again, if only we had thinkingParticles 6 FLOW tools back then! Life would be easier!

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

Most places I’ve worked that has 3ds Max in-house is actually a Maya house. To me it makes sense. There’s still some really old methods of doing things in Max that drives me insane. So I actually prefer a company that uses Maya for everything else , except the FX.

I think most people nowadays realize that 3ds Max/thinkingParticles
/Fume/Krakatoa is a powerful combination for FX. With Alembic
integrated now as well as Xmesh , there’s just no reason to use ONLY one software package. It has truly opened up doors and given artists more freedom to use the right tool to get the job done. Companies that don’t realize this, really should.

Cebas: what is your wishlist for cebas software that it's not currently doing for you?

Do I dare say it? I would love to see Thinking Particles in Maya. There I said it!! Other than that, I don’t have many requests. I’m loving the powerful new features in Thinking Particles 6 as well as the price point (especially since going independent) I think subscription-based software is key. I wouldn’t mind seeing an interface change. I know that’s way easier said than done, but it might keep things fresh.

Cebas: what new projects can we expect from you in the future (if you're able to tell us).

I’m using thinkingParticles 6 quite heavily on the TV show Sleepy Hollow as well as some Constantine episodes, Black Sails among others. I’ve done a few commercials here and there, some work on the movie Pitch Perfect, some little things, but I do have some very exciting thinkingParticles work for a big feature film that comes out soon this year. I can’t really say what it is yet - top secret - but there will be some vfx breakdowns for sure!

Cebas: what advice would you give an aspiring artist? 

I would tell them to really dive into their work and believe in what they’re doing. There is still tons of work out there. Companies value artists that say they’re going to get something done, and follow through. Also, if you want to get into FX, learn EVERYTHING. Bounce between packages to see what works well and not so well in others. Don’t just learn how to do rigid bodies or fire. Learn how to do cloth, water, fire, smoke, sparks, destruction. Make yourself valuable and kill it!


Thank you Andy! for giving us all those valuable insights that can only come with experience at fx production. It's been wonderful talking to you.