Are photorealistic particle effects possible in Motion?
For some reason, pretty much all of the Motion particle tutorials I've ever seen have involved creating very cartoony or otherwise "not real objects" effects, whereas there are many AfterEffects tutorials about how to create photorealistic or "organic-looking" particle effects.
Is this because AE just comes with better particle tools, and it's much more difficult to do photorealistic/organic stuff with Motion?
For example, I'd love to know how to create something like the following with Motion 4. It looks like it could be a piece of shot footage of real metal particles floating in liquid. Can anyone point me to any appropriate tutorials? Or does that sort of thing require better particle tools than Motion can provide? I've tried translating some AE particle tutorials to Motion without much success.
The answer is easy - you just need to take time and put in the work ;-)
You could certainly easily get this look in Motion. Lots of layers of different particles systems at different depths, lots of filtering with glows, a layer or two for the simulated light source, etc.
And maybe also shoot your own dust layer to add to the mix - finely shredded toilet paper is a classic trick for this.
In fact you could probably do something a lot more convincing than this if you tried. I just don't buy the movement of some of those particle layers - they really give the game away.
Though I should add that you need to start from scratch and build your own particle systems - the presets that come with Motion won't give you anything like this effect.
Here's a very quick demo of what you can do in Motion creating your own particles from scratch:
For this very rough test I used the various Dust elements that you can find under Content in the Library.
Bring them all into your project.
Select one of them and hit E to make an emitter.
In the Emitter controls, set the Shape to Circle and the arrangement to Random Fill. Increase the radius till they cover the area you want.
Then simply play with your cell controls till you get a movement that you like. Make sure to add randomness wherever you can, in other words, with the birth rate, speed, angle, spin and scale.
Add Simulation behaviors to get the overall movement of your particles the way you want it. Use a negative gravity if you want them to fly upwards for instance. Vortex and Wind can help here too to get some interesting movement.
Make sure you use the Additive Blend option. It's worth changing the Opacity over Life so that the particles fade in as they are born and fade out as they die.
Then simply rinse and repeat. You can simply duplicate your first effort and change the particle cell image to one of the other dust elements. Use the Random Seed option to make sure it's generating a different random pattern.
The more layers of particles you can add, the better your shot will look. If your project starts to slow down too much simply export out a few of the layers (preferably as ProRes 4444 to maintain the transparency) and then re-import, remembering to disable the originals.
How good it ends up looking is going to be down to how much effort you spend on getting all the individual particle systems as good as you can get them and how many layers you can stack up before you run out of steam! Don't try to do too much with a single layer as the repetition of the patterns will give the game away.
Finally don't forget to add blur filters where necessary to increase the photorealism and take away some of the excessive sharpness of the particle cells.
That's a very short explanation of a long topic. Hope it's of some use. I'm sure there are detailed tutorials out there for this kind of thing - if not I'd be happy to make one for you.
And here's a slightly better example using the same techniques but with a little more refinement:
As Andy says you can do pretty much anything with particles in Motion - you can do some amazing things with cameras that look astonishingly 3D.
As I said, though, the presets are not any good for this kind of thing. In fact, the presets are generally pretty poor and don't really convey what Motion can do in terms of the photorealism of particles.
Here's a tutorial that takes you through some of the techniques used in the example above:
Pretty basic stuff but it might be of use to someone.
[Gareth Randall] "For some reason, pretty much all of the Motion particle tutorials I've ever seen have involved creating very cartoony or otherwise "not real objects" effects, whereas there are many AfterEffects tutorials about how to create photorealistic or "organic-looking" particle effects."
The tutorials I've done in Motion regarding particles and emitters are simplified because the concept of particle effects is not always an easy one for people to grasp.
Most of the AE tutorials I've seen fall into two categories: ones that are simplified to make the understanding of the concept easy, and ones that are just step by steps with nothing explained and mostly using plug-ins which may or may not be available to the viewer.
Of course you can make photo-realistic particle emitters in Motion. Motion has 3D cameras, lighting, shadows, depth of field. In addition you can use actual photos of elements to create your particles from.
If you want volumetric lighting, you're going to need plug-ins to help with that, but you need plug-ins for a lot of the really great effects that AE can do as well.
I'd say that the example you posted is really not photo-realistic. But Motion's particle system, as Simon and Andy mentioned, is capable of some amazing things - ironically the Presets do misrepresent the power of the Particle System inside Motion.
For feature level CG work you'd undoubtedly use Maya/Max/Nuke systems anyway, but for Motion Graphics type stuff, Motion is a beast.
I'd highly recommend Ripple Trainings Motion 5 series (I bought the set) as a great way to get a deep understanding of what Motion is capable off. All the videos are great, except for the Kinetic Typography one, which is surprisingly lame.
[Sandeep Sajeev] "I'd say that the example you posted is really not photo-realistic. "
I'd totally agree with that - looks quite flash but photorealism doesn't really come into it, in my view.
Motion particles are very easy to get good results with - with a minimum of learning about how they work. The way you get really good results is by experimenting liberally and really getting a feel for how all the parameters actually work.
As Sandeep rightly says, your not going to get feature film quality results - or rather you probably could, but you wouldn't get them terribly easily. For that you do need the high end platforms.
By all means do the tutorials, - but you're not going to get good at it until you put in the hours.
Motion graphics, huh? It's a real PITA that it actually takes work to get decent stuff made ;-)
[Sandeep Sajeev] "I'd say that the example you posted is really not photo-realistic"
I'm not going to get into an argument about that. What I *will* say is that it's an example of the sort of particle effect that there just don't seem to be *any* Motion tutorials about.
"I'd highly recommend Ripple Trainings Motion 5 series (I bought the set) as a great way to get a deep understanding of what Motion is capable of"
I learned Motion and Soundtrack Pro through Ripple Training videos, and I think they're great. But I do think the sections related to particles are somewhat lacking. Obviously it's a huge subject all of its own, and there doesn't seem to be a Motion tutorial package that really covers it in the depth you'll find for the likes of AfterEffects.
I was excited when I saw that there was a separate standalone Ripple tutorial devoted to Motion particles, but when I looked at the lessons covered, I decided not to buy it, because my particular interest (geddit?) is in the more photorealistic or subtle applications of particle systems rather than the more "cartoony" (for want of a better expression) examples given in the Ripple tutorials.
[Simon Ubsdell] "By all means do the tutorials, - but you're not going to get good at it until you put in the hours.
Motion graphics, huh? It's a real PITA that it actually takes work to get decent stuff made ;-)"
I realise that's a joke, but I think it's also a bit of an unfair comment, Simon. Yes, it does take work to get decent stuff made, and that work is informed by knowledge and experience. Very few of us are Andy Kramer-style geniuses whose brains are wired in the sort of way that lets us work out how to do amazing stuff from scratch - we need to gain knowledge from somebody else. Show us how to build the basic effect and we can then build on that and develop our skills. But when it comes to Motion, the tutorials that would allow us to learn the basic skills of creating those more realistic or "organic" particle effects just don't seem to be there.
Yes, you can just sit and play with the particle controls and see what happens, but that's more likely to end up just eating time than getting the results you want. A bit of guidance and direction, "if you want to achieve X sort of effect you need to think in terms of Y", works wonders.
Your examples above are great starting points, since I haven't seen any tutorials that cover building those sorts of particle effects. If you could expand them into a proper tutorial, that would be fantastic. And if you could then go on and demonstrate how you'd turn those dust particles into realistic shimmery metal particles that twist and turn and catch the light, that would be awesome :)
[Gareth Randall] "Very few of us are Andy Kramer-style geniuses whose brains are wired in the sort of way that lets us work out how to do amazing stuff from scratch - we need to gain knowledge from somebody else. Show us how to build the basic effect and we can then build on that and develop our skills. But when it comes to Motion, the tutorials that would allow us to learn the basic skills of creating those more realistic or "organic" particle effects just don't seem to be there."
If you're wondering why that is, it's because there just aren't as many Motion tutorials out there. AE has been around for 20 years. Motion's been around for less than 10. AE's user base is an order of magnitude larger than Motion and there are thousands of tutorials for it and hundreds of plug-ins available.
The specific effect you're going for is dependent upon 2 basic concepts: animation of particles, and 3D cameras and lighting.
The first is simple to produce. Your dust particles can be easily animated in a random fashion and there are plenty of tutorials that address how. You don't need to watch a tutorial on photorealistic particles to learn how to randomly animate them.
The "photo-realism" you're looking for is tied to understanding how lighting and cameras work in motion. You can set up spot, point, or directional lights and then use a camera with shallow depth of field to view your particles. If your particles are set up in 3D space then they'll travel in and out of the light and in and out of focus which lends to the realism you seem to be looking for.
There are tutorials out there that explain how a 3D camera works (I even have a couple), and ones that deal with lighting. You should be able to watch those and experiment. If I get time, I'll build a tutorial similar to what you're looking for, but if this is something you're trying to figure out now, that's what I'd suggest.
Sorry, didn't mean to offend you - it was meant as a gag ;-) Though I would say that often it does take a lot of "wasted" time before you can get really good results, especially with particles - and that applies to whatever app you're trying to do them in.
I'll leave it to Andy to explain a bit more how to do what you're asking since he's been kind enough to step in. His tutorials are excellent and very informative so I'm sure he can point you in the direction of making something pretty amazing.
Best of luck with it.
[Simon Ubsdell] "Sorry, didn't mean to offend you"
I wasn't really offended, but I did think "Aww, c'mon!" - many of us are here to learn, after all ;)
"Very few of us are Andy Kramer-style geniuses whose brains are wired in the sort of way that lets us work out how to do amazing stuff from scratch - we need to gain knowledge from somebody else. Show us how to build the basic effect and we can then build on that and develop our skills."
I don't think that's an unfair comment at all Gareth. You're asking how to make your work look good and the way to do that is the same way Andy Kramer, Andy Neil, Mark Spencer, Simon Ubsdell, Nick Campbell, and a whole host of others did it. They put a lot of time and effort into learning how to make their work look the way it does.
Andy Kramer's brain wasn't "wired' to be good at After Effects from birth. Mark Spencer wasn't born with a Motion design gene (future science may well prove me wrong but until it does, I'm sticking to my guns on this one.) They experimented, asked questions, learned from their mistakes, built upon their mistakes, experimented, experimented some more and and kept working until they came up with a workflow that worked well. I'm willing to bet that if you talked with any of the motion graphic "gurus" they'd tell you a similar experience.
I started in video around 2000 when there were next to no "proper" tutorials on how to create motion graphics. I had to spend a lot of time asking questions, playing with parameters and effects controls and making a lot of stuff that I didn't like before I started to create things that I enjoyed looking at. I'm still nowhere near where I'd like to be with my work. But I've improved dramatically and the time I have put in has helped me learn how I might approach building an effect or creating a look. I still ask questions and I almost always miss what I'm going for on the first try (and frequently the second, third and forth try as well) but I have a much better understanding of what works and what doesn't because of all of my previous efforts.
At the end of the day, Simon's words still hold true:
"You're not going to get good at it until you put in the hours." There is no path around trial and error that leads to mastery.
Now, if you simply are looking for a way to create an effect that looks good and you need it immediately, there are other avenues-perhaps faster ones to achieve what you're looking for. Commission someone to create it for you or just buy some pre-made photorealistic particles off the shelf. There may be plug-ins or applications that will create what you are looking for.
Good luck in your endeavors.
"Whether you think you can or can't, you're right."
[Chris Northcross] "I don't think that's an unfair comment at all Gareth. You're asking how to make your work look good"
I really don't want to start an argument, but I do feel that I'm being misrepresented here. I'm asking about approaches to making a certain style of effect, which I think is a different thing to simply "making my work look good". I'm not asking for an "instant nice" button. I want to understand the processes behind achieving organic-style particle effects.
"that is the same way Andy Kramer, Andy Neil, Mark Spencer, Simon Ubsdell, Nick Campbell, and a whole host of others did it. They put a lot of time and effort into learning how to make their work look the way it does"
But crucially, I doubt that all of them did it without any external guidance or tuition whatever. There will be plenty of incredibly talented motion graphics people out there who will have soaked up every tutorial and other piece of advice they could possibly find. And why not?
Yes, sometimes you *will* happen upon great effects by accident just by playing around with parameters, but other times you'll see something someone else is doing and say "Hey, that's great, how have you done that?" and you'll learn something that informs your own work.
After all, we don't all have unlimited time to just sit and play in the hope that we can create the effect we want, and there's no point re-inventing the wheel with every project. And I'd say that some people *do* have their heads wired in a way that allows them to see connections between seemingly disparate parameters or filters and use them to create certain effects that would otherwise seem difficult or impossible to achieve without special plug-ins.
[Gareth Randall] "But crucially, I doubt that all of them did it without any external guidance or tuition whatever."
Can't speak for others, but when I started playing around with Motion, there were NO tutorials at all on the internet, and few books. Most of what I know in Motion I got through experimentation with the different elements (because I have the personality type that wants to understand how things work so I try different things). The other "training" I had was from what I knew of AE, and AE tutorials. I did a lot of reverse engineering of AE tutorials, figuring out how to build effects with behaviors where AE was using keyframes, but learning a lot about lighting and camera moves directly from AE users (AE and Motion are similar when it comes to lights and cameras).
You're right, my sentence on whether the example was photorealistic or not, as phrased, was pretty pointless.
I don't know your skill level with Motion, but in case you're new to it, here's what I'd suggest to get started.
- Draw a small perfectly round circle on the canvas.
- make that into a Particle.
- select the Emitter in the Layers Palette/Timeline.
- go into the Emitter tab in the Inspector.
- Choose an Emission type.
- zero out all settings except for Birth and Initial number.
- Under Cell Control, from the Color drop down, choose Colorize over life.
- Pick a Color for the start and one for the end. Also click above the end Color swatch to add a black swatch - this defines the opacity at the end of each Particle's life. Adjust to taste - if you want them fully opaque at birth and completely out at death, then you'll have a white swatch above the start Color and a black swatch above the end Color. You can customise these and add more swatches for a custom progression as well.
- With this set, you can adjust the speed slider to see your particles move. Change the emitter type to see how the different emitters respond, all your settings will stay the same so you can see the differences clearly.
So that should get you started with Particles.
Now to get the referenced look this is how I'd approach it.
- I'd draw a small circle on the canvas, make it a particle, set my emitter to Circle and choose Random fill (this is pretty much the same as Simon's base).
- then I'd crank up the life, life randomness, scale, scale randomness, spin, spin randomness settings as well. I'd set the speed to be a slow number, and add some variance using the slider below.
- I'd choose Colorize over life, choose 2 different Colors, and adjust opacity over life from an off white at the start to a dark grey/elevated blacks at the end.
Then I would slip the layer/adjust the play range so I didn't get the initial emission and come in once there are a good number of particles on the screen.
This would be my foreground particle layer. I would then duplicate this a few times, making adjustments to scale on some layers, so I have smaller particles as well, and tweak the Color over life values for the different layers. I would also modify the other sliders I mentioned a couple of points up slightly. Just to add some variance to the comp.
- Then I would turn all these groups into 3D Groups by clicking the checkbox under Group in the Inspector. I would then add a new Camera, turn on 3D Overlays from the View drop down in the canvas, and go into Top View (from the drop down in the Upper left corner of the canvas)
Here I would stagger the groups in 3D space so I have actual depth between my foreground/mid ground and background particles.
I would then add a Point/Spotlight to the scene and adjust it's settings until I got a nice shimmery look in the areas I wanted. I would add more lights targeting specific areas if necessary. I might even animate the lights a bit.
For the various Particle Groups, I would also check the Face Camera/Look At checkbox (I'm not sure what it's called exactly, it's one of those 2 terms, I'm not sure which one is Motion's and which one is Smoke's). Not on all, just on some.
I would also add a Gravity behaviour to a couple of layers and tweak until I got something organic, and a Repel behaviour to a couple of others and again tweak until I got something nice and understated.
Then I would select my Camera, turn on Automatic Recording and animate a camera move. I would adjust the Near Plane/Far Plane settings and Depth of field to get the selective focus I wanted.
I'd probably also add a Light Rays filter to a Particle Group or two and turn it on (low values so it doesn't look like Rays) and off as my camera moved through/around the particles. I'd go for subtlety though, just to get some specularity and some diffusion on some of the particles.
Then I'd cycle through the Blend Modes, go into the Camera Editor and adjust the animation curves, tweak the gravity/repel behaviours until I got exactly what I wanted. Remember that all your Emitter settings like scale, life, spin etc can also be keyframed throughout.
Add some global Color correction right at the top, drop in a hint of film grain and you should have something very nice indeed.
Hope that helps get you going.
Also, like Simon says, turn on Additive Blend, it makes a significant difference.
I had to create filler for an iPhone in the background of a shot last week - with about 20 minutes left in the online, the client decided she wanted something else on the phone screen. So I popped into Motion and made this in about 5 minutes:
This was exported out as ProRes HQ for final comping in Smoke, so blur/grain etc hasn't been added. But I thought it might be helpful to show how specularity can be faked in Motion.
The basic set up is a mixture of Additive Blend, 3D lighting (Spots) and the Edges filter. All the layering etc in 3D space I mentioned in my post above was used as well, but it,s not as obvious in this example as the particles are larger and constantly deforming.
I started off by drawing a curved Bezier Path, without a Fill. Then I changed the Shape Type from Solid to Airbrush. This makes a nice fuzzy shape along the Path. Then I extended the Spacing, to break the shape down into Dabs, and crisscrossed the two swatches to basically invert the inside/outside of the stroke.
This then became my base particle emitter. I then added Vortex, Repel to a few duplicates to create the flow/overflow of the molecules.
It's all a bit lo-res, but that's only because it wasn't prominent at all in the scene, and needed to be knocked out quickly. It would have taken me a LOT longer to do something similar in Smoke and I would never have been able to get the organic molecular flow that using behaviours gave me. The UI stuff is also straight from the motion library, just thrown into the comp, scaled, CC'd and half toned. Just super fast and all playback was real-time!
With a bit more time and care, it could have been a lot better. So, anyway, that's my specularity trick inside Motion.
That's just a brilliant effect and your clear and simple description made it easy to recreate in a couple of minutes.
Such a great example of what you can do with clever compositing. Love the use of the edge filter to get that look! Extremely specular!
Of course another way to get a specular look for your particles is to use the Indent filter which can product some pretty amazingly photorealistic results with quite a bit of user control over the "lighting".
Yep, it gives you a softer look with lots more highlight control.
So many ways to do something, but there's no waiting around for stuff to render!
I also found that a minute amount of Dazzle (the least possible so as not to see the "star" effect) plus Glow gives a very natural looking shimmer effect. The Dazzle accentuates any changes in luminance in the particles and the Glow softens the resulting sparkles and makes them more "believable".
I think as you have shown, a lot of getting a great result depends on compositing trickery - of course you need to get your basic particles looking good but it's the extra treatment that you add which makes all the difference.
off topic - you're using a pen to drive Motion right? Have you been able to wrap your head around the insanity of the hand/brain work required to use Gestures?
I'm looking at the documentation now, and it seems ridiculous to me. Are you using them and/or do you know anyone who is?
[Sandeep Sajeev] "off topic - you're using a pen to drive Motion right? Have you been able to wrap your head around the insanity of the hand/brain work required to use Gestures?
I'm looking at the documentation now, and it seems ridiculous to me. Are you using them and/or do you know anyone who is?"
I'm afraid I've found it very hard to get friendly with Gestures - as you say it's a lot of rewiring of the brain and hands to get used to it, and I can't persuade myself that it a more efficient way of doing anything.
In the manual it says: "Note: The Paste command may be a bit tricky to master". In fact they're all tricky to master, and the Paste command is virtually impossible.
Perhaps the easiest way to create photo-realistic particle effects is to use libraries of organic particles, such as Particulas http://vegasaur.com/Particulas