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More Thinkbox goodness – Krakatoa, Stoke and Frost

Last time we’ve spoke about Deadline. Now it’s time to show you some other cool things from Thinkbox.

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Krakatoa is one the main guns in our arsenal. It’s indispensable in the creation of many effects we do daily – whitewater, energy, disintegrations, all that fun stuff. It might look slightly daunting to the newcomer, like jumping headfirst into a maelstrom (another thing we’re making with Krakatoa, btw) of spinners, buttons and wires. But it’s carrying the signs of maturity and production proven design – all the exceptions, nooks and crannies are covered, and you can follow your clients’ most outlandish desires.

Two things make Krakatoa stand out – performance and flexibility. Our effects routinely have hundreds of millions of particles per element and we need to iterate on these at least daily or multiple times a day. Here performance translates directly into productivity and Krakatoa easily renders as many particles as we feed it. And the other side of the coin – flexibility, is well polished too. Krakatoa’s Magmaflow particle manipulation tools are a lifesaver and a cornerstone of our work. Denser whitewater near some specific object? Snap particles who unpleasantly go inside an object to its surface? Erode a particle volume from a certain direction, over time, modulated by a texture? And I’m just listing stuff from last week!

And let’s not forget how important role Krakatoa’s  open PRT format plays – making it the perfect middleware between the different particle systems we use. Whether you need to interface between Thinking Particles and PFlow, or to external apps like Realflow, Naiad, Maya, Houdini – everything can use PRTs, and we can use much more complex pipelines than we would have otherwise.

 

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What Krakatoa gives us for particles, Stoke does for fields – lets us shape them in detail, reliably and quickly. On top of that, it’s a field based particle system too – you’ll be surprised how often that’s a better solution than using a general system like PFlow or Thinking Particles. Recollecting form last year, we’ve used it in almost every job we did.

Basically what happens is that you think briefly about an effect, and if it’s better to approach from a field perspective – you design a field in Stoke, and run parallel partitions of particles through it. Or just create a custom spacewarp for any other particle system or FumeFX. Need a steam ship’s smokestack to start blowing over only after it reaches a certain height? A custom vortex, that slides over some geometry? No problem. Going the particles route – only a few minutes of Stoke action, over 10 machines on the farm, is producing the 100 mln particles we use as a ground rule on detailed effects. Often we combine custom fields created from geometry, textures, FumeFX simulations or turbulences, to create additional detail layers.

Thinkbox have decided to fold their Genome product into Stoke too, pushing the proven Magma tools into geometry manipulation too. This is gonna compete with the builtin MCG, but it does have some additional benefits, like communicating with PRT particles. This is very useful and we get to use it surprisingly often – stitching simulated liquid ocean surface to surrounding ocean geometry, identifying wave crests to use for whitewater emission, conforming meshed particles to other pieces of geometry are some of the use cases we’ve had lately.

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Our main use case for Frost is for liquid meshing. Again, performance and flexibility is crucial. Frost itself is famously fast, but coupling it with Krakatoa’s Magma is the key to maximizing it’s potential. With big water simulations, we can easily cut out an area of interest using Magma, then refine the mesh, material and lighting settings with VRay RT as ActiveShade. Then the isolation can be disabled at render time.

And speaking of materials – Magma enables us to send any data channel from the particles to Frost, which we often use to blend materials. In big water sims, it’s very useful to get the ‘droplet’ channel or the high velocities, to define a custom UV mapping channel, that is then automatically passed to the Frost mesh and can be used in blending between clear and foamy materials.

Another important use case we often encounter is debris in big rigid body simulations – piles of gravel, flakes and all kinds of gunk. It makes a lot of sense to use simple geometry like cubes for simulation, partition it, and then let Frost take care of assigning meshes to it. With Magma we can even assign more detailed shapes to particles near the camera. To speed up rendering we can  delete everything outside the view that we don’t need. It’s easy to create interesting variations in size, shape and material on the fly, without recaching…

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XMesh has become our main inhouse geometry caching tool. It’s very robust and integrates well with Deadline, Thinking Particles and everything else we might need. The loaders are free, so it’s easy to send to clients and it’s more reliable than some supposedly industry standard solutions, – cough – Alembic -cough, which often has difficulties in complex scenarios, like caching destruction rigid body simulations, which don’t maintain a consistent vertex count. XMesh deals with these complications gracefully, producing correct motion blur, preserving all data channels and seamlessly working across platforms. You can easily send stuff to a client or another department who’s using Maya or even Nuke. XMesh is coming for more apps, which will open even more interop opportunities.

Support

In the all too real world we do find ourselves living in, there’s always plenty of complications, sometimes even problems! Who’d have guessed 🙂 So it’s great to have somebody listening on the other side when that happens. I’m delighted to say Thinkbox have some of the most responsive, to the point, effective support we’ve had to use. And you don’t get an anonymous beast handler on the other side, but one of the devs – zero drag. They are very responsive on the forums, emails and even private messages, when need be. There is а personal touch and true-to-goodness CG enthusiasts camaraderie there. Very often our ideas are being listened to and end up as features. Warms my heart!

Recap

With such a great array of solutions, it’s quite unsurprising that Thinkbox is one of our key relationships. Being thankful for all they have enabled us to do so far – can’t wait to see what’s around the corner. The surprises have been quite good so far!

 

 

Hristo Velev, co-founder and FX lead, Bottleship VFX

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