Stock Media update – new VFX asset pack (and other big news!)

Yes, it’s ‘zero gravity’ pyro – dangling below a black backing, recorded from the ground with a mirror used to reflect the effect between the hanging-from-ceiling setup and the camera itself.

So, I’ve basically shot a batch of zero-G pyro elements, seen above, in a low-budget, smaller-scale form of the same methods used for classic Hollywood miniature effects like the Alderaan/Death Star explosions in ‘Star Wars’ or the destruction of Krypton in ‘Superman’ or any number of things gone boom in space, regardless of how illogical space fireballs actually are from a real-world physics standpoint.

Some such effects, like the Genesis explosion at the end of ‘Star Trek: Wrath of Khan’, are way bigger and shot at ludicrously high framerates. But the same core principles apply! They may have had a three-story hangar with a giant black coating on the ceiling, and multiple layers of thick reinforced industrial plate glass and metal between the camera and the explosion above it (instead of the obviously simpler option of a mirror and a telephoto lens so the camera can zoom into the mirror view from a safe distance) and yeah, they shot at something close to a thousand FPS… but still. This stuff’s only 60, 90 or 120 fps, which is about as good as you can do with a sub-$100 camera and the aim of 4k video. The 60fps is actual 4k, 90-120fps often is 2.7k or 1080p but upscaled with the best available AI solvers at the best possible quality settings. So not all the effects got shot 4k initially but they all look plausible at such a resolution.

The recording also got followed up with a bit of masking and digital compositing work, to remove reflections of the effects onto the [somewhat glossy, coated in fire retardant liquids] paper backdrops, basically everything was soaked in fire suppressing compounds, except for the incendiary material itself that needed to ignite. And of course plenty of safety fuse was set so I could get the hell back before the explosions actually occurred, holding the struck match in one hand, fire extinguishing canister in the other [to spray the space down and put it all out a few seconds after the explosion has happened.]

Mask [n95] worn at all times, high level of ventilation and open to the outdoors, so smoke wouldn’t just hang there but could dissipate well. I did this on days with moderate wind too so that helped.

Basically there was all of that plus gloves, glasses, fireproof blankets, every basic precaution as usual… but this stuff’s still super hazardous and not recommended even if all materials used and all actions taken with the fireworks were legal. Anything with fire is a safety risk. And I’m not going to do this anymore, I think. I had a roster of 40-odd clips I intended to capture and I stopped after less than half that.

Those bright blue sparks? That’s a tiny pinch of magnesium powder. And other additives like titanium, iron, cobalt, or copper can likewise affect color of sparks, as seen in a typical outdoor fireworks display or an unusually colored explosion like the Borg cube [green explosion] miniature effect in ‘Star Trek: First Contact’.

Yeah, I am something of a miniature and practical effects geek. I had a massive ‘Cinefex’ collection back in the day. I was making my own indie videos densely packed with VFX shots and I wanted to know everything related to that, from the practical effects to costumes, set design, makeup/prosthetics, prop assembly, various types of digital 3d animation, high-speed miniature effects, and of course compositing methods to blend all the different visual elements [real, mini or digital] together as needed in some way that looked halfway plausible.

But this is almost surely my last asset pack to use real-world effects of this particular type. Partly because of the risk involved, sure – but also the lack of control of the final effect, and the reality that digital methods are getting to the point of looking almost completely real, if done right.

I’ll be pivoting to digital pyro animation for the remaining effects in this pack. That’s not to say boring looking – there’s a tendency with CG pyro for it too be too perfect, too smoothly shaped, too ‘gas focused’ in the smoke and fire. I’m going to try a few things that may add realism to my future digital effects, as follows:

  1. Use a set of real-world flickering sparks (as a video component layered randomly onto spark particles, which can then be rendered in a way that makes at least that aspect look totally real as it drifts and falls around in the shot. Because I rarely ever see sparks done photorealistically digitally, they usually look like bright glowing dots which is what an animator often chooses because it’s easy -but it looks artificial. Give the sparks a bit of random misshapenness and flicker and use actual randomized video sprites and it can look better.
  2. Sparks and fire that are rendered with a highly realistic shader. The sparks should illuminate volumes of smoke. So should fire. It should all be realistic and messy and chaotic and *Real* looking.
  3. Debris to break up the explosion often, and fly around and physics interact accurately with the gas sim. So the pyro can be more hazardous, and less like ‘gas cloud’ because in real life the gas billowy explosions are rarely the way these things actually happen. There’s usually a thing that explodes, with chunks and bits of it tossed around. My ‘things’ will vary in scale and materials – photogrammetry based 3d scans of actual debris chunks that look photoreal. And they’ll be affected by the gam sim and affect it as well in a way that’s integrated, and there’ll also be smaller physics-sim ‘granular’ particles – sand, grit, dirt, etc. Tiny bits of mess and small pebbles and splinters of wood and larger debris chunks… all intended to be mixed together and to lend credibility and messiness to the whole visual element.
  4. I’ll be using a top-of-the-line desktop my dad got me. It’s sort of expensive but not as much as it seems like it’d be – we got a good deal on it. It’s rendering stuff about 25x as fast as the prior system I had, it has 128GB of RAM and four GPUs in an array and a bunch of blazing fast processors. All my 50+ TB of hard drive storage has already been connected to this new machine. Including a new SSD I plan to acquire soon for software installs. Like the new USB3 hubs, new cables and so on… lots of fresh electronic setups involved. It’s a sprawling mass of electronics crammed into and around a desk. So basically the fact that this machine is a powerful beast of a computer, will make it capable of rendering massive, highly detailed pyro-simulation setups. And integrating cloth/soft body dynamics, rigid objects, granular physics, particle fields and forces, the volumetric gaseous and fire sims, and liquids too – all together, all interacting with each other, all at a very high level of detail. It’ll be amazing, I think.

So where is all this amazing, explosive VFX awesomeness? The real pyro shoot is currently in the newest asset pack I launched on Itch.IO (here) and you can find at least 160 more [earlier] smoke, fire, water, debris, sparks, explosions, etc, clips and elements in previous packs as well if you haven’t gotten those yet.

The new pack is going to be updated every so often with new digital effects. I hope it is a massive success.

Of course, the itch profile I’ve got there is not just VFX video clips. There are also a TON of texture maps (thousands, literally thousands) seamless and photography-based PBR stuff – and a WHOLE LOT of 3d models of various useful things like landscape/outdoor details (trees, fallen branches, wildflowers, grasses, rocks, ferns, etc) and indoor stuff [furnishings and details for 3d indoor settings] and outdoor but urban items (fire hydrants, telephone poles, mailboxes, benches and picnic tables, and other street or park details]

My 3d assets – there are over 150 of them so far, and should be 300+ by end of 2022. They each come in .FBX and .OBJ format, UV-mapped with an associated texture (or multiple textures) and they look fairly real even if they’re usually super-efficient game-ready stuff with modest polycounts and efficient texture mapping (I could imagine even mobile games using these here and there without too much impact on performance).

And finally – of course – I have indie games in development, and my Etsy shop which has printing services and papercraft model designs and original handmade artworks on canvas and much more. I’m really excited about how this is all going.

I do hope it takes off, because I definitely want to shake things up in the world by making a ton of additional creative, low-priced collections and games and other cool things, and I want to make an impact with what I earn, not just pile up cash for myself like a boringly selfish jerk.

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