3D Integration VFX - After Effects & 3dsMax

3d geometry created in 3dsMax

It really does not really matter what 3D program you use for a 3D integration VFX. You can use 3dsMax, Cinema4D or any other program you like but

  • It needs to have fairly advanced features like rendering out separate passes for different elements (e.g. shadows, alpha, zDepth, etc) and particle systems
  • You need to know how to use those features. Knowing how to render simple shapes is probably not enough

I have used Maya before shortly, but don't remember much of it, so my weapon of choice for the 3D integration VFX was 3dsMax. My brother Nils who works in the 3D/VFX industry gave me a hand with the trickier bits

In 3dsMax I first created simple geometric shapes for the ground and placed a vRay camera in the scene with the same position, angle, focal length, aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings as the camera I used to shoot the scene.

Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 04 - 3dsMax Geometry

I made sure that the geometry, once rendered, would fit nicely over the geometry (the pier) in the shot when being composited in After Effects. Test this first! It sucks if you find out when you try to finish your VFX that things don't fit as expected!

Building a birth texture for 3dsMax

Here comes (the first) tricky part.

I want crows to come out of Celina's shape as she spins. I decided against having them shoot out of her entire body as I wanted to utilise the spin and have the crows emerge from her legs first, then her body, then her head just as she completes the motion.

This means I need to spawn the particles over time, from bottom to top of Celina's shape as she performs the spin. For this, I needed to create an animated texture that defines the areas where the particles spawn to be used in 3dsMax.

First, I added a Colorama effect to my rotoscoped layer of Celina and rendered it out in black and white:

Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 05 - Birth Texture Setup 1

Next, I animated a mask to move from bottom to top over the layer and rendered out the animation. It looks like a horizontal window is moving up the shot as Celina's white outline does a spin

Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 06 - Birth Texture Setup 2

3D Crow Model

My brother Nils once created a dissolve to crows effect for one of his short films and he was nice enough to let me use his awesome animated crow model for my particles
Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 07 - 3D Crow Model

pFlow and birth texture setup

In 3dsMax I created a standard pFlow. If you do not know what that is, 'pFlow' is a particle system in 3dsMax. I set up a plane exactly where Celina was standing at the pier and assigned the animated birth texture to it.

I replaced the birth event in my particle flow with a Birth Texture operator and set up the particle to be emitted from the white areas of my animated birth texture. Next I added a Shape event and assigned the crow model to my particles. You will have to set up a few other things like animations, facing, randomness, etc to have the crows spawn (fairly) realistically out of the animated texture.

Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 08 - Spawning Crow Particles

vRay shadow catcher material

Here comes the (second) tricky part!

We want to render out the crows. We also want to render out the shadows they cast, however we do NOT want to render the ground. Since I used the vRay renderer inside 3dsMax, I created a material that would not be visible but catch and render only the shadows of any objects in the scene.

Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 10- Colour Graded And Stylised

In vRay, you can create a vRayWrapperMtl and then assign a standard material as the base material.

  • Select the Matte Surface option
  • Set the Alpha Contribution to -1. This will cause the alpha channel to be wiped and thus any objects that fall behind the ground (e.g. crows that are obscured by the pier) won't get rendered
  • Tick the Shadows and Affect Alpha options and you're ready to go!

I set up a standard directional light in my scene to immitate the sun from the actual live shoot. I do not like the vRaySun much as it tries to do too many things for you automatically like changing the colour of light with the angle. I then rendered out my crows

Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 09 - Rendering Crows

Note that while you can see the ground in this example, in the final render using my vRayWrapperMtl, the ground will be invisible, but the crows' shadows would be rendered with their correct alpha value.

zDepth layer

One more thing I rendered out (and I like to because it usally proves useful for creating 3D integration VFX) is a zDepth pass. This is a pass that renders a greyscale image coloured by how far objects are from your camera.

Dissolve To Crows VFX Breakdown 11 - zDepth Layer

The further away from the camera something is, the darker it will be. This layer can be useful for a number of things when you composite your VFX in After Effects. You can use it to add and blend stock footage elements into your scene using zDepth compositing or you can use it for depth of field or other special effects

I used Render Elements provided by vRay to render this pass out separately.

Now it's time to return to Adobe After Effects to composite our original footage with the rendered layers to create the final dissolve into crows effect!


User avatar
7 Years Ago
December 16, 2012 @ 3:04 pm
Excellent! Great work, and Thank you !
User avatar
7 Years Ago
December 16, 2012 @ 10:05 pm
Very nice one special because you combine 3ds max with after effects! Excellent work cant wait to see the tutorial and the progress work.
User avatar
7 Years Ago
December 17, 2012 @ 8:16 am
not bad.
User avatar
Photographer Guy
7 Years Ago
December 17, 2012 @ 10:21 am
Keep up the good work buddy!!!!!!!!!!

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