TRIMESTER 3

'THE MIRROR' SHORT FILM CONCEPT

In the final trimester I want to continue developing my skills as a 3D generalist and Houdini artist by focussing on creating a short, abstract film which combines live action footage from the green screen studio with CG environments and assets made in Houdini.

I want to avoid creating anything with too linear a storyline, so that I can use the time to experiment and learn Houdini. I came up with a simple synopsis to guide me, and decided to explore themes of growth, decay and destruction.

Synopsis: A woman is transported to a strange, dark space where she encounters various visions that reflect the cracks of her own subconscious; haunting reflections in a mirror of a version of herself she doesn't recognise, images of her great idols collapsing, a lurking presense that is eating at her world.

 

Stylistic reference for editing and narrative:

VISUAL REFERENCES

Some visual references for how I imagined the "empty space". At first I thought of the dark empty space in Under The Skin, and the location that these scenes inspired in Stanger Things. I also thought of the grand chamber in Force Awakens, where we first see General Snoke as a giant hologram. I love the way the volumetric lighting and stone walls create an 'ancient' feeling.




 

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TWENTY MINUTE TUTORIAL: MELTING GEOMETRY

Doing some R&D for different Houdini FX, learning about FLIP Fluids and Pryo Spread:



 

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HOUDINI LIGHTING & FRACTURING PRACTICE

Creating some compositions, experimenting with light and glass fracturing:



 

MIRROR DESIGN CONCEPTS

I used the AI software Midjourney to create some concepts for what my mirror model and the space could look. I found the results were very interesting and inspiring.
 

LEARNING DISINTEGRATION FX (FOR THE MIRROR PROJECT)

As well as using this trimester to advance my knowledge and skill with RBD destruction, I wanted to push my FX knowledge and incorporate some disintegration effects which could marry with the destruction.

I felt the disintegration effect would be good for portraying the character's "transformation" from the real world into the dark space, and reflects the destructive nature of whatever force brought her there.

I found an in depth tutorial for disintegration on CG Circuit: Disintegration Effect I (cgcircuit.com)

My first rendered test applying disintegration to a chair model:

LEARNING GROWTH FX (FOR THE MIRROR PROJECT)

Inspired by the Pyro Growth Solver method of creating the melting simulation, I thought a cool reveal for the protagonist's "alter ego" in the mirror would be to have the glass part of the mirror appear, spreading in from the sides of the frame like the melting area of the statue spread across the surface.

I followed this tutorial as it also used this method to spread ice over the surface of the rhino geometry. I also loved the effect of hanging icicles, and making the dark environment the character is transported to feel cold is a great way to create tension.

I felt I could use the same technique on a piece of flat geometry - with different texturing - to get the look of the mirror glass. I created the simulation and tested it first on a cube:

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I then used a 1920 x 1080 screenshot from Stranger Things as a projected UV on the spreading simulation:

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I discovered the image being compressed to fit the 3 x 5 grid. I changed the grid to be 19.2 x 10.8 and used a 1920 x 1080 image sequence I had rendered for my whale film as a test:

There were no issues with UV stretching this time. I realised I would need to export the final mirror UV as the same dimensions as my geometry to avoid this issue. E.g for a 10 x 15 grid I would need a 1000 x 1500 pixel image sequence.

FIRST ANIMATIC

I put together an animatic using some pre-vis, a temporary model I had started for the mirror, and some clips from other films as reference for my actor. This process helped me figure out an edit style and sound design.

NEW VISUAL REFERENCE (MIRROR PROJECT)

This was suggested by my tutor as inspiration for my project. It reminds me of a lot of other opening titles in films, and I find it interesting how this is the same effect repeated with different setups, which is something I would like to do with the destruction and decay FX.

STORYBOARDS UPDATE (MIRROR PROJECT)

I turned my animatic into storyboards to use as guidance for the shoot in the Green Screen Studio, I threw in some other ideas for VFX shots that perhaps wouldn't fit the story but something I could work on at a later date:

MIRROR MODEL

For my initial mirror I was inspired by the coiling copper mirror at my parent's home. I liked the rams head look of the two coils in the reference on the left, and so I had the idea to create a ram-like skull as the main feature on the top of the mirror.

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I created some coiling looking shapes to sit behind the main frame. As I was now planning to incorporate a rams skull, I wanted to give the mirror a nature theme, so I modelled some leaves in Maya that I was planning to scatter along the surface of the wire/vine shapes.

However, watching Stranger Things and being inspired by the moving UV of Vecna's skin, making it feel alive and other worldy, I began trying to animate the coiling wires to have them appear from behind the frame, to create the sense of something sinister going on in the background behind this mirror.

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I did another pass on the model, scattering my leaf models along the top and corners of the frame, with some ornate bumps. I experimented with different textures for the coiling wires, and found that using a bark texture helped steer the model back towards the nature theme and make the coiling wires feel more like old roots or branches.

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LOOK DEV - PICTURE FRAME DISINTEGRATION SCENE

After attempting to build a fully CG room with walls, skirting boards and a standing lamp and chair, I decided to portray the 'transformation' of this woman moving to a dark environment in a more metaphorical sense; by showing a painting of a house that disintegrates. I love the idea of the painting hovering in an empty space, but lit as if it was in a gallery, as if there is something very particular about this house.

I feel that this will edit together with the shot I have of my actor waking up to show her transition, and to create the feeling of a destructive presence that shares the space with her.

I decided to break this scene down into 3 shots:

1. A close-up of a painting that starts to disintegrate.
2 Wide revealing the painting hovering in an empty space.
3. Close-up on the skull at the top of the frame.


 

These stills are from my first pass at modelling the frame and creating the scene:

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I added a stone floor and some dust particles to give the space more atmosphere. I then added in the "horned skull" I created for the mirror. I felt that incorporating it over the different scenes would give the "dangerous presence" that haunts the character a face, and will tie the scenes together.

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I recieved feeback that the "square" look makes it feel modern. I would prefer to create something with an older feel, so I made another update, adding more curves and ornate work, going for a theme of nature and growth with swirls, plant and vine shapes.

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Rendered still of the final picture frame model with disintegration FX:

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STILLS FROM THE SHOOT IN THE STUDIO (MIRROR PROJECT)

 

LOOK DEV - STATUE DESTRUCTION SHOT (MIRROR PROJECT)

Trying different lighting and destruction setups for the statue shot. These tests were done using the Voronoi Fracture method, turning the statue into a volume to source the points for the cracks. Fast processing but not a lot of variety with rubble shape and size.

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I switched to the RBD Material Fracture method, using L-System's to create small dense point clouds on three sections of the statue. I used bounding box groups to de-active some areas of the RBD, and inverted the gravity. I wanted to have sections of the statue break off and drift upward, while the rest remains in place.

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Further lighting and fracturing tests:

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Fracture simulation flipbook:

GROUND DESTRUCTION (FOR A CLASSMATE'S PROJECT)

Collaboration with my classmate, Haowen Wang, creating destruction FX in Houdini for his final project, which will be rendered out of Unreal Engine.

Storyboard concept from Haowen:

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Following on from the work I did last trimester, I did some further research into how rigid bodies and destruction can be controlled in Houdini. This video was recommended by my VFX mentor, and I found it very insightful.
 

I did some research into Houdini to Unreal workflows. I discovered a scale difference of 1 to 100, meaning that everything created in Houdini must be scaled up x100 when imported into Unreal as FBX or alembic cache.

My first rendered simulation imported into Haowen's Unreal Engine project:

IMPROVEMENTS: STATUE DESTRUCTION SHOT (MIRROR PROJECT)

I found that my Houdini project was becoming incredibly slow, so I started again using a different method of fracturing without the use of a DOP network. This way there is less processing by Houdini going between networks.

A slap comp from one of my earlier stills showed me some differences in lighting on my actor and the statue: 

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I rebuilt the lighting to make them better match:

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I then rebuilt the fracture simulation:

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COMPOSITING TEST: CREATING THE SPACE

I wanted to create some sense of atmosphere rather than having a completely black space in most of the shots. I was taking inspiration from the smoke-like effect in the concepts I had got from Midjourney, and wanted to incporporate some haze or atmospherics of my own.

I landed on this result by experimenting with blurring different old photographs and using them as backgrounds:

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For me it creates the feeling that the character - although clearly lying on a floor - seems to be suspended in an infinite dark space that stretches above and below her. I tried reflecting the smokey haze background to make it look as if the floor was reflecting it as well, but the results were not as good as this.