Tech Critiques: EmberGen, KeenTools & thinkingParticles 7


***This text initially appeared within the December ’21 situation of Animation Journal (No. 315)***

EmberGen Beta

Everyone knows that the heavy demand for VFX shouldn’t be slowing down anytime quickly — particularly for results like hearth, explosions, mud, filth hits, smoke and fog. These are components that historically have a heavy computation hit. There may be a whole lot of complicated math occurring, particularly if you get increasingly more photorealistic, as a result of all of that merely takes time. That is much more of an issue in real-time environments like video games, and I think we’ll be seeing them creep into digital manufacturing fairly quickly.

Final 12 months, JangaFX launched a product into the wild known as EmberGen. It was, and nonetheless is, in beta, however is actively being labored on with frequent builds and possibly essentially the most clear growth I’ve seen in any software program with absolutely visibility to the Trello board they’re utilizing to trace duties.

EmberGen is a real-time volumetric fluid simulator that permits the consumer to generate hearth, smoke, and so forth., and iterate the simulation in actual time (or close to actual time relying on the complexity) to shortly design appears from life like to magical. These can then be rendered out to picture sequences or flipbooks to be used in VFX or video games, or you may export out the volumes to VDB information.

The workflow is node-based, and any VFX artist coming from Houdini, Bifrost, thinkingParticles or tyFlow will really feel completely at house within the procedural methodology. The parameters like vorticity, temperature, turbulence, and so forth. will all be acquainted. One function that shouldn’t be in all different FX software program is the flexibility to simply create seamless loops — which is sort of superb.

Earlier variations of the beta had an interface that left loads to be desired. The mathematics underneath the hood is stable, however it simply wanted an intuitive interface. The builders listened (to the customers — to not me particularly) and introduced in a UX designer to kick the software program up a number of notches.

The excellent news is that the outputs are on par with most manufacturing software program. Picture renders assist RGBA, movement vectors, normals, masks, emissive, six-point lights, and so forth. You possibly can herald cameras out of your most popular DCC and render the weather. Or, the identical passes could be in a flipbook format for use on sprites — both in a comp or in your sport engine.

EmberGen comes with a plethora of presets to get you in your means: hearth, volcanos, house portals, tornados, torches, dry ice — you title it. There are tons to not solely act as a basis in your personal stuff, however a good way to deconstruct how the FX are made and start to develop new recipes the extra you perceive the way it works.

The software program is GPU accelerated, so ensure you have a pleasant video card. I’m watching a sim on my laptop computer (with an RTX 5000) that’s using 95% of the GPU and over 8MBs of my 16MB of RAM.

The price of a everlasting license is $199 which supplies you a 12 months of updates, whereas additional upkeep comes out to $149 per 12 months to proceed updates. So it’s kind of a subscription, however your software program doesn’t go away when you don’t proceed, it simply doesn’t get up to date. It’s not a foul value in any respect, and I’m all about supporting little guys. So, if in case you have a number of results to create, this looks like an ideal instrument for the toolbox.

Web site:

Value: First 12 months: $99.99 – $239.99




Since my final evaluation of KeenTools again in 2018, the event group hasn’t stopped making these instruments higher, and so they’ve continued so as to add helpful options utilizing the know-how they’ve already developed. The foundational instruments enable one to trace geometry, construct face geometry from scratch, monitor face geometry to footage, texture geometry and lock geo to a scene via GeoTracker, FaceBuilder, FaceTracker, TextureBuilder and the PinTool, respectively. All of this with out leaving the consolation of your Nuke interface.

Within the newest construct, 2021.3.2, the large addition is a set of three nodes for controlling mix shapes. By taking totally different meshes with the identical topology, one could make morph targets between the shapes. Within the case of a face, it may very well be the distinction between a impartial face and a smile. This can be fairly “3D 101” stuff, however that is all in Nuke reasonably than a devoted 3D program.

JoinBlendshapes does precisely that — it joins geometry for use within the mannequin deformation (impartial, smile, proper eyebrow up, left eyebrow up, blink, and so forth.) The node collects the identical topology fashions with their distinctive deformations, provides you a subject to call them, after which passes the data downstream to the second node within the suite, MixBlendshapes. This node offers sliders for every of the inputs so that you can animate and/or create new expressions.

You may say, “Nicely, that is all nicely and good, however I can try this in Maya.” And sure you may, however now you may take your blendshapes and feed them into the KeenTools GeoTracker and monitor your head to the individual within the footage. Additionally, when the director needs to change an expression or add a blink, then it may be accomplished in Nuke with out sending all of it the best way again up the chain to Maya and the animation division.

For human faces particularly (which FaceBuilder and FaceTracker is right for), you don’t must arrange your individual blendshapes.  The FACS (Facial Motion Coding System) node offers all the targets already. Hook up a MixBlendshapes node to the FACS node and you’ve got all of the controls for the face goal shapes. You possibly can even feed in information from the FaceTracker node to drive the FACS shapes.  And if that weren’t sufficient, you may remap the animation to a different face, even when the topology is totally different.

It doesn’t cease there: The KeenTools can be found for Nuke Indie as nicely. And: the KeenTools group has additionally ported FaceBuilder for Blender since I final checked out it. That is some critical stuff, individuals! Extremely highly effective, and as I mentioned within the final evaluation, additionally extremely sensible.

Web site:

Value: $399

thinkingParticles V7.0

thinkingParticles V7.0

Cebas’ thinkingParticles 7.0

Right here is one more highly effective piece of software program that I haven’t reviewed for a number of years: thinkingParticles. And maybe it is because Cebas does periodic drops of builds reasonably than an annual launch with all kinds of recent stuff that you simply’ve been needing for the reason that final massive launch.  This is identical with Adobe or Autodesk, the place they push out a brand new construct and say, “Have a look!” Nice for the customers, however not so good for reviewers like me who simply wish to showcase the large advances.

However the launch of thinkingParticles 7 warrants a nod as Cebas strikes from 6.x into the subsequent realm of procedural visible results — not all of it on the floor. The builders at Cebas have been spending time cleansing out the older, slower code, swapping out the reminiscence administration structure to ensure the software program is taking full benefit of the ever present multi-core workstations we now have right now. It’s this mandatory housekeeping that retains issues from not benefiting from the newest {hardware} tech.

The most important step ahead is the inclusion of the Movement MPM node, which permits for Materials Level Technique simulations. It is a calculation method to simulate solids, liquids, gases and continuum materials. And for TP7, this solver calculates granular components like snow and sand, stuff with cohesion that may break aside. Full management of the supplies is offered, and even additional management occurs if you make the most of the Movement Knowledge node, studying and manipulating the properties of the fabric. The Movement MPM clear up will even work along side different solvers in TP utilizing Movement Solver — like their SPH (smoothed-particle hydrodynamics) solver.

thinkingParticles 7.0 from cebas Visible Know-how Inc. on Vimeo.

The viewport show is now extra strong with the assistance of the newest GPU acceleration. Thousands and thousands of particles within the viewport give a way more correct illustration of the amount and density in comparison with the ultimate render. Oh, and by the best way, Cebas’ finalRender is bundled with TP, so you may additional benefit from the hybrid render that may do insanely sooner level renders via NanoVDB — a subset of OpenVDB that TP 7 has taken benefit of. Additionally notice that assist for OpenVDB acquired a efficiency increase and is multithreaded.

As well as, a Voronoi/Mobile helper has been included to offer management to the form and construction of fractures. And anybody who’s uninterested in taking a look at conventional Voronoi fractures is aware of simply how necessary it’s to have the ability to combine that up so the sample doesn’t reveal itself.

Fragmenter has acquired an overhaul, giving start to ShapeElement, which can break aside meshes into its components for correct destruction. Fragmenter remains to be out there, however ShapeElements is extra streamlined. After all, any time you may optimize your workflow, it’s a good factor — all these additional calculations can add up shortly.

Total, it is a highly effective and promising launch for a package deal that has been delivering high-end VFX for high-end studios for over a decade. When you want extra proof, simply watch the opening bridge collapse sequence in Closing Vacation spot 5 (#notsohumblebrag).

Web site:

Value: $55 (month-to-month price); $945 (annual price)

Todd Sheridan Perry is an award-winning VFX supervisor and digital artist whose credit embrace Black Panther, Avengers: Age of Ultron and The Christmas Chronicles. You possibly can attain him at


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