image courtesy of StrobFX [ #ChaosGroup #PhoenixFD ] (This article was originally published on InCG magazine , check out their face...
image courtesy of StrobFX
(This article was originally published on InCG magazine, check out their facebook group for more information)
Please could you tell us about yourself, how you got involved in this industry and your role in Chaos Group Phoenix FD?
I was into classical drawing during high school and picked up programming a year before university so that I could make a PC strategy game and bring my ideas to life. I worked in game development for 5 years and was experimenting with racing vehicle simulations and artificial intelligence. I'm in love with simulations and complex systems, so I thought I was in heaven when I came to ChaosGroup. I was working mostly on the fire/smoke simulator for about 3 years and for the past year or so, I've been the lead of Phoenix FD development.
Svetlin Nikolov, Lead Phoenix FD developer
What benefits could users get by using Phoenix FD?
The most important benefit is that we are trying all the time to make Phoenix more handy in every aspect. You get fire, smoke and liquids all at once inside Max and Maya, and I hope we've made it simple and intuitive enough to get started quickly and get good results in a very short time. We're trying to push forward simultaneously all aspects of Phoenix and make it both easy to pick up for anyone who has never dealt with fluids and simulations before, and also to have a more complex layer behind that, where you can go advanced if you wish. And we've also got insanely fast shaders for both fire/smoke and foam/splash.
Can new users learn Phoenix FD through the help of any sort, or particular video tutorials? Could you please share with us?
Sure! We've gathered all the more important videos and written some tutorials, tips and tricks as well as example scenes which can be found on our documentation site: https://docs.chaosgroup.com/display/PHX3MAX/Resources+and+Tutorials. As we speak, we're working on improving the documentation with more pictures and video examples and we'll be adding more videos and written step-by-step tutorials as well. We need to make it as easy as possible to pick Phoenix up and start doing great effects with it right away.
image courtesy of Matt Griffey
There are many small special effect studios in Taiwan. What attractive features does Phoenix FD have for these people?
We've got many tools that can make the process very fast and easy, so you can start quickly and iterate faster in a short period of time. We've got a GPU accelerated real-time preview of the fire and smoke simulations right inside the viewport that you can use to adjust your shaders in real time; and we're working constantly to make the preview as fast and lightweight as possible. We recently added several helpers that you can use to art direct the fluids and make them follow splines, get attracted or repelled by geometry objects, work with oceans and waves easily right in the viewport. In version 3.0 we finally added cheaper simulation licenses that you can use to run simulations through Backburner or Deadline without the need for a full Phoenix license for each machine you have. This way you can easily submit several scenes to simulate at once or you can have copies of the same scene with differing parameters simulated simultaneously so you can then compare and pick the best one. Also, in version 3.0 we added many quick presets for the most common simulation types that are not only useful for new users that need a starting point, but also for advanced users that just don't want to start from scratch every time and can directly get a setup with ready materials, shaders and dynamics that you can start tweaking right away to get the effect you want.
image courtesy of Hammer Chen
In simulating fire and smoke, there’s big a difference in the detailed resolution between Phoenix FD 3.0 and older versions. What improvements did you make to achieve such a great effect?
We added new algorithms for almost all the stages of the fire/smoke simulation – for how smoke rolls, how it interacts with the air around it, what it does when it moves quickly or slowly. Fluid dynamics for personal computers is still an area that is widely open for new ideas, approaches and inventions, and there is a ton of stuff that can still be improved. We watch a ton of reference videos and figured out some of the things that were missing in fluids these days, but there is a lot more to figure out. Nature does amazingly beautiful and complex fluids in real time! Fluid simulators nowadays have a long way to go until we are able to recreate all these phenomena. But nature has a huge lot of parameters too, and another part of our job is to refine these and make them easy to control and tame.
image courtesy of Gone Coyote
Phoenix FD can also deal with liquid simulation, can you tell us about the strength of PFD 3 when facing liquid tasks?
We basically scrapped our old liquids solver, and made an entirely new one, using the FLIP technique. What's very important is that FLIP is just a way to do it – a direction. So any software that has their own FLIP solver is still free to modify many parts of it and this can be done in a completely different way than the others. We also have some of our special stuff there, but our new liquid solver is still very young and we often keep changing parts of it and try to improve it and make it more customizable. What's most important is that our new solver is very fast and can do many different things – oceans, small droplets, beer foam, sticky viscous chocolate, etc. We have several additional particle systems apart from the main liquid mass that are key to this wide variety of effects you can achieve – we also have foam particles that could be born from fast moving or accelerating liquids and which can stick together to form large pieces or patterns. We have splash particles that can be created from the edges of the liquid mass or while it falls down, and acts like a cheaper and faster extension of the liquid. Splashes can turn into foam when they hit the liquid surface again, or they can turn into mist, which is great for simulating waterfalls or stormy seas. And you can control where and when these particles are created or vanished, so you are able to create all kinds of scenarios with Phoenix liquids.
Could you share with us, some recent commercials or movies which made use of Phoenix FD in their pipeline?
I can't reveal many of them, but Phoenix is in Game of Thrones right now, The Flash, The Man in the High Castle as well. It was in some of Peugeot, Land Rover and Coca Cola's commercials recently, and we've got a part in some very cool game cinematics lately as well. Artists use Phoenix for a very large variety of other tasks too – sea and ocean visualizations, medical visualizations, and archviz as well, in the form of pools, fountains, small rivers, etc.
When it comes to major industries or studios, have you provided customized service in Phoenix FD for them? If you have, please can you briefly share the process with us.
We do this all the time. One of the cool things about Phoenix is that we want to help everybody get their job done quickly and with the best quality, so we are in contact with many artists and studios and constantly add, tweak and fix various things they need for their work. Each client of Phoenix now gets automatic access to our so called 'Nightly Builds' which contain all the latest stuff we add every day. There is some risk of course, when using these latest builds in production; but we try our best to have them tested and verified and people are happy when they get the changes they need in a couple of days after they contacted us.
Phoenix FD has a great feature, which allows users to preview the simulation by GPU; it’s a nice preview system which allows users to know that “What you see is what you get”. Do you think this has brought more advantage for special effect or the lighting artists?
I really hope this has helped artists get the look they want without having to re-render many times for many hours. It's so fast because it simplifies the illumination and it does not preview the full effect of dome lights for example, but still, it reacts in real-time to all the light position and color changes in the viewport, and of course to all changes to the Phoenix render settings. We are planning to extend it with support for more light types, but this would make it slower, so it should be optional. In fact, artists have used the image sequences that the GPU preview provides, as they can save them to files as their final images without actually rendering them. These image sequences are also very useful when you leave a simulation overnight and you can check what the result is immediately after you're back.
In the recent release of V-Ray 3.5 for 3ds Max, is there any optimized feature for Phoenix FD in regards to the render speed?
Most of the render speed depends on how Phoenix handles the rays that come from the renderer, so it's generally up to us to make it faster. The new adaptive lights in V-Ray 3.5 is a big step though – if you do progressive rendering of smoke or large amounts of bubbles or points, they can really help to speed up the rendering a lot. Also, since V-Ray 3.0, you can now render oceans a lot faster.
To sum it up, what’s the biggest advantage for Phoenix FD compared to other particle simulation softwares in the market?
In short, Phoenix is very versatile and you can easily do all kinds of things with it, it's easy to pick up and quick to work with. It blends very well inside of Max and Maya and works great with V-Ray, because the V-Ray guys are next door and we can always bump into them all the time about anything :)
If possible, could you share with us some functions or features that would be introduced in the next update?
One of the things we spend the most time on currently is improving our waves and oceans. We would love to help artists who suffer through the process of making an object float above the liquid surface. I hope that soon, in the Nightly Builds we'll have a little something that would make this easier :)