The Wave of the Future – Small, Lean VFX Studios & a Kick-Ass Specialization!

With Troubled Times in the VFX Industry, a Small, Highly-Specialized Team of Artists May Just Have Carved a Niche to Not Only Survive, but to Excel!

Splash Garden, Fusion CI Studios, RealFlow Simulation, Maxwell Render

Fusion CI Studios, a boutique vfx house in LA & Vancouver, specializes exclusively in cg dynamic fx – water, fire, smoke, all kinds of particles & destruction fx. Renowned as a world expert in dynamic fx, co-founder, Mark Stasiuk , is sought by studios around the world to create photo-realistic fx work for commercials, television and major motion pictures – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (opening title sequence), The Three Musketeers, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Gulliver’s Travels, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and The Guardian, to name a few. Along with co-founder, Lauren Millar, Stasiuk has created a visual effects studio with a unique working model that just may be the wave of the future. They’re about to celebrate 10 years in this troubled industry, so they must be doing something right!

Their niche specialist team provides indispensable support to fellow visual effects studios around the world by performing as an instant, plug ‘n play fx team, fitting seamlessly into most effects pipelines and enabling studios to deliver advanced effects work, cost-efficiently, without worrying about software, personnel or infrastructure stress. Fusion’s innovations lie in the proprietary tools (scripts), methods and technologies that Stasiuk, with a PhD in fluid dynamics, has developed over years that make typical fx software perform far better than usual. One happy client calls Fusion’s work the “crack-cocaine” of the vfx industry, he says it keeps him coming back for more. In this exclusive interview, Stasiuk offers insights into Fusion’s success & strategies for creating leading-edge effects as an innovative, highly-efficient boutique.

An Interview With VFX Supervisor

Mark Stasiuk, PhD

Co-Founder, Fusion CI Studios

Mark, by looking at your amazing reel you’d think yours would be one of the most talked about effects studios around, yet we don’t see Fusion CI Studios in the vfx news regularly – Why do you think that is?

We sort of operate under the radar I guess you could say. Most of our clients are not movie studios or creative agencies, rather they are other effects houses who are awarded shots requiring photo-realistic fluid or dynamic effects. We act as a resource for them, a service. CG fluids in particular continue to be really difficult to do well. Getting a realistic behavior and appearance for fluids requires dedicated research & development on a long-term basis and when studios only occasionally do fluids or effects work, it’s tough for them to get up to speed to produce high-end effects work within a limited timeframe and budget. As schedules and budgets shrink, this issue becomes more and more prominent. Because we specialize exclusively in dynamics, we’ve developed a stable of very advanced technologies and tools that deal with the typical problems inherent in fx work, and in cg fluids in particular. These tools allow us to create a much better look & natural behavior much faster than even very experienced effects artists can achieve. And we customize these tools to respond to our clients’ specific creative direction.
We work as our clients’ instant, plug ‘n play effects team and we fit really well into any studio’s pipeline. So we’re kind of absorbed into their studio. Many of our clients don’t usually disclose to their clients that Fusion is creating the effects, so our work is often uncredited and I guess that might be why you don’t hear too much about us.

Can you describe your ‘toolbox’ a bit more?

Fusion’s work is based on physics simulations, which give fx a particularly rich, organic look and a level of complexity and detail that you just can’t get any other way (except by maybe blowing up your own buildings). Our work over the years has consisted of a whole series of innovations, developed out of necessity because this area of vfx is so challenging – we’re always asked to create effects that aren’t fully covered by any of the off-the-shelf software. As a result, many of the effects Fusion has done have been “firsts” they haven’t been achieved before with off-the-shelf software. And have most typically been achieved through practical effects. Things like: large-scale fluid simulations, floods of water down a hallway, u/w explosions, hyper realistic rivulets of water draining down temple walls, air-entrainment trails underwater behind plunging bodies, and macro-style slow motion hyper-real splashes of paint and highly art-directable fluid morphing (which has had tens of thousands of hits on our Youtube channel.) Each one of these was a first in the field. You can see a list of some of the tools & plugins we’ve developed on our website in the r&d section.

We’re doing this by building custom functionality into off-the-shelf fluid solvers like RealFlow. For some of these effects, big studios like ILM have of course done them, but not with off-the-shelf software. In other cases, the effects themselves have not been done at all in the field, at least to our knowledge. So this illustrates a new and exciting path for the vfx industry that we’re on the cutting edge of – building proprietary innovation into off-the-shelf software packages. By not having to create our own physics solvers from scratch, we’re able to bypass a massive amount of overhead that’s taken on by teams of research scientists at large studios. Instead, we work with developers like Next Limit who are responsible for building the base solver that can be used by anybody. We then develop our own particular innovations that allow us to be first in the field and allows them to create entirely innovative and unique methods and phenomena. So Fusion can compete in terms of types of effects with any studio out there. This means that even a small studio can do ground-breaking work without having to rely on pre-fab effects in software packages.

Smokin’ Pot, Fume FX Simulation, Krakatoa Render

So you take all that innovation, and you work as an “instant, plug ‘n play effects team” for your clients. How does that work?

Once we decide to work together with a studio, we have a call or skype meeting to thoroughly go over what’s required and really clarify the look and behavior that the director & vfx sup require. Then our clients supply us with whatever 3D assets the effects will interact with and we work to create the effects. Through phone calls, secure ftp, email and cinesync sessions (a brilliant technology, by the way!), we’re in constant communication with our clients, providing them with wips as we go along, getting feedback and revising, just as if we were their effects department down the hall in their own facility. We work that way with clients around the world from LA to the UK to Australia to Japan. One of the advantages of this approach for our clients is that our project bids are all-inclusive. So long as there are no major creative changes along the way that alter the scope of work, we hold to our quote and that helps our clients keep strict control on their budgets. Really important in the complex world of vfx where artist hours can go crazy when productions hit technical hurdles. And now that budgets are really squeezed beyond belief, it’s nice to be able to count on something.
We create simulations for our clients to light/comp and finish, or we can light and comp; we’re flexible according to whatever our clients prefer. Oh, and our core tools are Maya, 3ds Max, RealFlow, Houdini, Fume FX & Krakatoa and Maxwell, so we can easily work with most studios.

Swirling, Colliding CG Paint Simulations for Shilo, NYC. Valspar Paint.

There appears to be a strong tendency for many vfx studios to want to do everything in-house, especially once they reach a certain size, many studios feel it’s more cost-efficient to have everything under one roof. How does that affect your working model?

I’ve seen the pendulum swing back and forth on that one and it does seem to be swinging now toward having everything under one roof, particularly because there’s so much uncertainty in the industry right now, there seems to be a ‘circle the wagons’ mentality. Strangely enough, Fusion did really well during the recession because studios were being careful with their resources; rather than wasting money and time trying to create effects that were complex and unpredictable, they went with the sure bet and reached out to us to create the effects for them. That way, they could be certain that for the same cost as hiring effects artists to work in-house, they could hire us to create the effects and they didn’t have to worry about finding the right artists, using their infrastructure, buying additional software, etc. With the industry changing in unpredictable ways now, we’re seeing more studios wanting to have effects artists work in-house, but I can’t see how that’s more cost efficient for them than hiring us. I think it has more to do with wanting to be regarded as a one stop shop in a competitive cg market. There are always studios needing our help with effects work and we’re more than happy to be there for them. I think creating our own area of expertise, then collaborating with others on work that’s outside our area of expertise is the smart way to go and given the state of the vfx industry now, it might be the way of the future – stay lean, stay focused and collaborate – combine your resources to make something better than either could do individually.

You’re world renowned for your cg fluids work. The things you make RealFlow do with your python scripting are amazing, like the fluid morphing in the Whole Water Project, I love that one. But Fusion isn’t just about cg fluids, your studio specializes in dynamic effects. Can you tell us what projects you worked on that do not involve cg fluids work?

It’s funny you should mention Whole Water, that was several years ago now and we still often get that piece sent to us by clients as reference for how they want their creative to look. They’re very pleasantly surprised when they learn we created the morphing & the fluid simulations for The Department of Motion Graphics in Australia. Still one of our favorite clients to this day.

I think a Burn Notice promo on the USA Network was our break-out piece for dynamic effects work. That was the first time we got a lot of interest and feedback in that area. We worked with Go Film in Hollywood, a brilliant director, Andrews Jenkins, and an outstanding vfx supervisor, Eric Rosenfeld. It was a huge challenge to execute Andrews’s creative vision. Each element, including the actors, were laid in as separate comp elements and all had to be choreographed in reverse to make sure all the deadly effects — explosions, debris, bullets whizzing by — would not have someone walking right thru them. It was a lot more difficult to sort out than you might think.

CG Smoke, Fire, Destruction FX & Water, for Go Film, LA. Burn Notice, USA Network

After that we worked with Method Studios in Santa Monica to create a promo for Canon’s Imagin8ion Project -the contest to inspire Ron Howard’s next film. Method did an outstanding job on that piece and they reached out to us to create fire, smoke, and water effects for a couple of shots.

Those two projects really launched awareness of our dynamics work and we’ve gotten lots of destruction fx & fire & smoke in commercials, games, phone apps & films since then.

One of our greatest recent accomplishments with cg water was interestingly not for feature film work where we’ve typically do a lot of grand-scale cg water, but for a television series. Zoic reached out to us to create ocean simulations to combine with practical water shot in a wave tank for a stormy ocean scene in ABC’s Once Upon A Time, The Stranger episode. Zoic filmed a raft scene with a live-action Geppetto and a cg Pinocchio and needed the surrounding stormy ocean and waves hitting the raft to be cg. Geppetto and Pinocchio were also being stalked by a giant cg whale so Fusion needed to generate massive streams of water draining off the whale as it dove and surfaced and also make the whale’s skin appear wet & shiny. The challenge was creating these massive-scale sims on a tight tv schedule & budget. And despite the constraints, the creative called for photo-realism of course. But this is the kind of thing we really rock at, and we had a solid foundation of tools to build on, so we were able to optimize sim times and develop some amazing efficiencies. There’s a pretty detailed case study about that on Fusion’s blog. Zoic was nominated for a VES award and an Emmy for the effects in that episode, so we were pretty happy to have been part of their team.

ABC’s Once Upon A Time – Ocean FX Sequence for Zoic Studios-
Monstro’s cg tail flipping massive volumes of water

I see we’ve dipped back into water again…

Yes, sorry, occupational hazard! It’s what people associate us with and we’re trying to help our clients realize we specialize in a much broader area, so I should be careful about that! Actually most of the work we’ve been doing lately for game trailers and television series have been fire & smoke & destruction effects. We’re working on a massive explosion for a tv series directed by a very well-known feature film director, so the team is stoked about that. And we’ve been working on helicopter explosions and building destruction for a very popular game that’s about to launch. Our team loves blowing things up!

I understand Fusion CI Studios is weeks away from celebrating 10 years in the business! Congratulations, a great accomplishment, especially in these troubled times for vfx. What do you see ahead for you and the vfx industry?

Well that’s an interesting question… We’ve developed a very specific vfx niche where we excel that’s appealing to a wide range of clients – we work on commercials, game trailers, phone apps, art-installations, websites, television series, and motion pictures, so we’ve really diversified and kept our studio alive and thriving. Our willingness to share our dynamic fx expertise with any studio that wants to work together to make their product stronger has been a good working model for us. We don’t have grand designs to expand, in fact, we’ve fought against it. We want to be a lean, mean, specialist team that has a lot of fun doing what we’re doing and churns out great work. And we have some fun internal projects we’re working on to release for our 10th Anniversary, so keep in touch about that!

Small studios can specialize in areas of their expertise and still work on really amazing high-end projects which normally would go exclusively to the larger studios with their proprietary software. Provided you have some expertise you can leverage, you’re able to compete for some very advanced work.

Our work has been an inspiration for a lot of groups – like students and other artists who have used our on-line r&d resources for a lot of their project work. In addition, other artists, for example in the Houdini and RealFlow communities have seen our proprietary work as an inspiration that many have emulated and we’ve even influenced the development of RealFlow, for example, as Next Limit has used equivalent versions of our developments to add to new versions of RF.

Thanks Mark, that’s excellent, congratulations again on your 10 years in the business and we look forward to seeing more outstanding fx work from Fusion!

Fusion CI Studios specializes exclusively in dynamic fx for television, commercials, game trailers, art-installations and motion pictures, acting as a plug ‘n play fx team for vfx studios who need to expand their fx capacity & creating customized fx tools for their clients to achieve challenging, leading-edge fx.

310-928-1483 LA
604-673-6790 Vancouver

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – OpeningTitle Sequence

Inside the Ooze

Conjuring up gooey blood-like fluid dripping and splashing off a stunningly-cool dragon, melting Rooney Mara’s head into an oozing mass and ripping Daniel Craig’s head apart in a violent blood spatter are the rare opportunities that every fluid fx artist dreams of. So when Blur Studio asked for Fusion’s cg fluids expertise in David Fincher’s ground-breaking title sequence for The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, there was no shortage of ‘woops’ from the team. When one of Fusion’s artists, Matthew Benson, got assigned the shot where Blomqvist’s head gets ripped to pieces, his response said it all: “You mean I get to crush James Bond’s head? Right oooon!”

Of course the usual pre-project excitement was quickly followed by the sobering reality of actually having to execute creative director, Tim Miller’s unprecedented vision — the fluid sims had to work with Blur’s meticulously beautiful, but violently-moving character animation, so the fluids had to be tightly controlled while maintaining a natural behavior, and just about all the shots were extreme close-ups — the “ECU” being the typical nightmare scenario when it comes to cg fluids. And of course there were the usual sort of technical challenges, which really turn Fusion VFX Supervisor, Mark Stasiuk’s crank…. in a good way. The fluid elements would be created with RealFlow, as it provides a stable, high-speed fluid solver that allows the user to integrate custom controls and outputs data in a format that is so standardized that virtually any vfx studio’s pipeline can take in without batting an eyelash. Even so, Mark would have to develop custom behavior technology to make the fluids look & behave the way Miller and Fincher envisioned.

The “headrip” shots were the goriest, so definitely an effects artist favorite — check out the playblast below from one of the early versions where things got just a little… shall we say, “enthusiastic.” Getting this spectacular blast of gorgeous liquid splatter ‘out of our system’ was important so we could zero in on what would work best for the sequence.


Mark’s favorites were the shots called “hothands” and dripsOnDragon”, because they involved a lot of new and interesting fluid behavior development.

For the dripsOnDragon shots, Fusion had to complete the apparently simple task of getting the dragon wet, as it had just emerged from Salander’s back. The fluid was to be dripping down and flinging off the dragon. Making the dragon’s geo wet was fairly straightforward because Fusion had developed a “wetting” technology for past projects that creates SPH fluid particles in an even coating on parts of geometry selected by an artist. In this case, we married the wetting technology with Fusion’s “smorganic” tool suite, while adapting smorganic so the wetting fluid would inherit the motion of the specific part of the geometry it was closest to. More on Fusion’s “smorganic” technology here:

Normally if you throw fluid on some geometry and then start the part of the sim where the geo moves, the fluid will just fall off. In this case, we needed the fluid to inherit the geo’s motion for some short period of time and then be released, allowing it to be flung and so develop a more exciting performance. Two of the nicest examples of this are sims done for a shot focusing on the dragon’s head:

Fluid off dragon’s head:


And off the dragon’s wing:


For both of these you can see how the initial inheritance of the geometry’s motion near each bit of fluid gives the overall fluid behavior a much more interesting and performance-connected feel. Add to that a subtle application of smorganic to allow droplets of fluid to elongate slightly, and you get both interesting behavior, and interesting, widely variable fluid shapes instead of just swarms of individual fluid beads.

In the case of the “hothands” shots, we needed a few entirely new technologies to get the shot done the way Mark wanted it to work. In these shots a set of hands converge on Salander’s head, and then start grasping at her face. But when the hands meet her face, it’s like the fingers are hot iron and her face is wax, so the fingers sink in and her face melts and surges upward slightly, squeezing between the fingers.

To do this, we had to create a semi-fluid version of Salander’s head by filling the animated head geo with fluid in RealFlow, and then used a targeting Python script that moved the mass of fluid with the Salander head’s motion. Fluid continued to move with the head until it was “melted”. Melting happened initially thru direct contact with any of the hands, and after that the heat effect was conducted thru the fluid using a proxy parameter for a random-walk diffusion. Once fluid was melted, a time-varying vertical force was applied to surge or gurgle it up thru the fingers, before letting it be pulled back down by gravity. In order to keep the fluid silky smooth, we also applied smorganic. The fluid sim results for the whole length of the animation are shown here with the hands visible:


And with the hands hidden:


And finally from one of the close-up shot cameras:


As with most of Fusion’s fluids work, we relied heavily on the capabilities of RealFlow. The tightly integrated scripting control is a fundamental feature that allows us to achieve specific behaviors and take our fluid effects to a higher level even on short production schedules. When combining RealFlow’s native capabilities with Fusion’s custom plug-ins, and high-quality vfx like Blur’s gorgeous modeling, animation, lighting and virtual camera work, you get a magic formula for outstanding visuals like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo title sequence!

Fusion Creates Watery Escape Route for The Three Musketeers!

While under attack, the Musketeers steal Da Vinci’s plans for a flying war machine from deep inside an underwater vault in Venice; the scene climaxes in an explosion blasting a ‘big water’ escape route! Fusion CI Studios, LA, created the fluid simulations for Mr. X, Toronto, who rendered & finished.

The scene:

The fluid simulations were created using RealFlow and various in-house plugins developed by Fusion’s vfx supervisor, Mark Stasiuk.  Fusion received Maya scenes from Mr. X with the solid geometry, and the geo was then simplified for export to RealFlow.  In general, the fluid sim work was done by creating a number of passes – core water, splashes, foam, spray and included post-processing using custom Python algorithms.  Fusion then passed the RealFlow data sets to Mr. X via ftp and did reviews of the playblasts of the simulations using cinesync.  Consultation and technical support was provided on various aspects of the render – Fusion provided wetmaps and custom foam passes that would work with Mr. X’s rendering technology.

The workflow at Fusion starts with fluid behavior look-dev, using low-detail fluids for faster sim turnaround times, and run in parallel with the development of in-house technologies custom to the project. As the behavior gets close to the creative target for each shot, the fluid detail is increased and versions of the data were passed to Mr.X to start lighting development. The tail end of the project was highly collaborative, with Mr. X’s lighter, Ayo Burgess, and VFX Supervisor, Dennis Berardi, providing feedback and Fusion responding with revisions and added layers of simulations.

In the first shot (VV300), where the explosion is triggered in the subsurface vault wall that lets the water from the Venice canal flood in, Fusion filled canal geometry with high res SPH fluid particles. The huge volume of the final sim (around 10 million particles) was needed to achieve the right level of detail and sell the scale of the shot. This kind of shot would seem to be perfect for applying RealFlow’s voxel-based grid fluid solver, but the grid fluid has a slightly different behavior which becomes particularly evident, and particularly non-water-like, in a shot like this where the water first bursts up and out, straight toward camera, so we fell back to the SPH solver. The same sims when run using the grid solver generated long, unrealistic ‘ropes’ of fluid in the explosion phase. Sim times for low res fluids were a very reasonable overnight, but once at the high res level, this stretched to around a week. However, by the time Fusion was running hi res sims, the results were already approved by the director and it was just a matter of getting in the extra detail to sell the scale of the body of water. The initial explosion was created using a combination of expanding spherical negative attractor fields, noise fields and a vertically directed jet force, followed by a vortex to pull and spin the fluid downward.

For the initial shot Fusion generated a number of passes of foam and spray as post-process sims, as well as running a post-process to create wet-maps on the geometry to allow Mr.X to add wetness wherever the water splashed on the buildings. For these post-process tasks Fusion used its in-house tools, giving us the ability for extreme control on the results.  For example, for the foam pass, water particles were converted to foam particles based on a combination of exceeding a threshold speed, impacting geometry and height in the water column, and converted back to water after particle speed dropped below a critical threshold for a long enough period.

This movie shows both the water and foam particle sets for a near-final version of the simulation.

The capability of RealFlow to use Python scripts at many points of its calculation pipeline is a feature of fundamental importance to this kind of fx work.

In the next 2 shots, where the water first geysers into the vault (VV140) and then floods it entirely while wiping out the bad guy (Cagliastro), Fusion used RealFlow’s grid solver to generate the core fluid behavior. Once the core fluid was simmed with the right behavior and timing, the team at Mr. X tweaked the animations of objects in the scene that needed to respond to the water, such as the corpses of the guards on the floor and the torch stands at the sides of the vault, as well as the digital double of Cagliastro after the point of impact. The tweaked animation was passed back to Fusion for a final run of the core water so it would respond correctly to the solid geometry.

Once the core water was finaled, Fusion used the native foam and splash emitters to emit SPH particles from the grid fluid as post-process sims.  RealFlow’s splash and foam tools work very well for this purpose, and have the advantage of giving you the ability to control the areas from which the splashes and foam are generated so artists could break the sims up, covering different sections of the flood if necessary. In the case of vv140, where the geyser first appears, it is small enough that it wasn’t necessary to break up the foam and splash generation but the controls on the secondary emitters also give great ability to distribute the secondary fluids where you want them.

This movie showing a well-advanced version of the vv140 core water (although the geyser shoots too high, too early), you can see the natural distribution of foam particles that are triggered by threshold radius of curvature in the core water surface.

The foam and splash fluids were set at very high detail level (fluid resolution), and it was really these particles that gave the flow it’s high detail look because grid fluid in general suffers from a lack of detail, even when the voxel size is very small. However with the splash and foam emitters, just about any level of detail was possible to achieve, and these dramatically improved the dynamism of the sims.

This movie shows SPH splash fluid particles over the entire surface of grid fluid core water sim.

The SPH particles from the splash emitters were then themselves used as emitters to create huge masses of spray, where Fusion again went to its in-house tools because of their level of control.  The biggest challenge for the fluids work was the combination of art-directed fluid behaviors and the large scale of the fluid effects.  Fusion’s team is accustomed to dealing with art-directed fluids, but typically these are small scale, for example single splashes forming into art-directed shapes.  They’re also used to dealing with large scale water, but in those cases the creative goal is usually simply making the water behave as it naturally does and not specifically directing its behavior.  In TTM we had to create specific fluid behaviors that were also timed precisely to the action of the shots. i.e. for the initial explosion shot, Fusion created a carefully timed & shaped water explosion which then evolved into a downward sucking vortex, and that had to be done with a sim that became 10 million particles.  Similarly in the shot where Cagliastro is swept off his feet by the flood, the fountain of water had to behave in a specific way, filling the space but remaining behind the character, then striking the character at the exact time in the plate where the real actor jumps into the air. This was made more challenging by the fact this was a stereo project, so it wasn’t an option to do the usual cheats, like translating the water sim back behind him further in order to delay the impact. In this project, the 3D space had to be precisely accurate.

To make all these things happen, Fusion relied heavily on its library of in-house technologies which provide the sort of control that’s required for art directed fluid behaviors. In the vault flood shots, this involved script-controlled rigs of laterally-directed gravity fields to gently nudge the various parts of the sim back away from camera and the Cagliastro character (who starts off standing very close to the large geyser), done in such a way to not look like the water was hitting an invisible barrier.

The above movie shows the core water sim.  When viewed from the side it’s obvious that the flow is being held back until the appointed moment, at which point the forces reverse and the geyser and water on the floor are surged forward toward camera to flood the vault and hit Cagliastro.

Side view movie:

If you look closely at the side view movie you’ll also see evidence of another Fusion in-house tool, for generating turbulence. In general, whether you’re using RealFlow or not, SPH-based fluids as well as voxel-based grid fluids both suffer from a lack of true turbulent behavior, which is normally excluded from the solver for optimization purposes and because the fluids that are typically simulated are at the more viscous end of the spectrum and less likely to show obvious turbulence — say compared to violently moving gases such as fire and smoke, for example. The problem is that fast moving river-type flows should show turbulent flow motions or they just won’t look right, and end up moving in a boring, sludgy way like a plug of fluid sliding over a surface. The usual methods to combat this are to churn up the flow with a noise field or add in lots of obstacles to add more splashy interest to the motion, but still this doesn’t make for a realistic motion. In VV150 the flow on the vault floor, despite hitting all the bodies and torch stands, was still too much like a sliding mass, especially obvious when it approached the camera toward shot end. To get a more turbulent look, we add in a swarm of vortices that are connected to averaged flow-lines of the fluid, and apply scripted tools to control the animation of the swarm’s parameters. You can see in the side view movie how the flow along the floor churns rapidly as it is disturbed by the vortex swarm. The advantage of this method is that we can “inject” as much turbulence as the Director feels look good, rather than being stuck with whatever the fluid solver does.

One last word on the fluid sim work from a studio productivity perspective, relates to the comparative ease of use of RealFlow. Over the last couple of years, numerous new simulation tools have appeared, and we’ve been experimenting with them. But in our view one of RealFlow’s major advantages is the simplicity of its scene structure and controls, despite the advanced dynamics happening under the hood. Compared to most sim packages with endlessly nested dialogs and huge lists of blurrily defined parameters, RealFlow’s straightforward and flexible scene setup, and well-defined parameters is refreshing and makes it a place where fx artists can work productively, with low levels of frustration — and that’s very important in an environment where schedules are always shorter than we’d like. Anybody developing physical sim software should really have a close look at RealFlow to get some ideas on how it should be done!

Fin Design Shares a Coke with Fusion CI Studios!

Fusion CI Studios Shares a Coke with Fin Design!

Coke bursting from a bottle, launching through the air in an elegant, dynamic, sculptured cg splash — super slow-motion and close-up!  This looks like a job for….. dynamic effects specialists, Fusion CI Studios!

When Fin Design + Effects, Sydney, Australia, ( ) was tasked to create this kind of effect for an end tag for the Coca Cola “Share a Coke” campaign, they turned to Fusion to create the cg fluid simulations because of our experience with macro-photography style CG fluids. Fusion has developed an extensive library of technologies and methods for these kinds of effects. Our clients come to us for challenging fluids work, so each project has unique, demanding requirements that pushes the bounds of existing technology and propels us to develop ever more advanced tools to meet creative expectations — the resulting extensive library allows us a good ‘leg-up’ on new project work.  Consequently, Fusion provides its clients with outstanding effects for about the same amount it would cost them to hire an experienced effects artist, while creating a far superior product.

The campaign invited people to send photos of themselves to be featured on TV- the photos would be grouped according to first names. Fin’s task was to find a design solution to showcase the photos that wouldn’t alienate the core concept and that would keep the pictures “Hero.” Fin imagined all the places one would normally see pictures of friends & family – on our phones, in a picture frame, on social networking sites, in a snow-dome, in a locket, etc – and created a series of shot options for the campaign’s TVC’s.  But when Ogilvy asked Fin to also create the new Coke endtag – “a celebration of the pop & burst Coke moment as the lid comes off the bottle,” Fin turned to Fusion to generate the fluid simulations.

Coca Cola is one the world’s most well-developed and iconic brands — everyone from a villager in a remote area of a developing country to Donald Trump knows exactly what coke looks like, so when it’s moving super slow with the camera super close-up, the cg fluids must be stellar. And of course they have to look like something you’d be excited about drinking — this is no small task with CG fluids, which are very challenging to create realistically and far harder to make look tasty.

Fusion was asked to create 2 kinds of mid-air cg fluid splashes for Fin: a splash bursting from the Coke bottle (which had to be sculptural and beautiful while also feeling explosive, pushing toward a chaotic feel), plus a variety of curving splashes that Fin’s team could compose in 3D space in the comp to create a dynamic “Coca Cola space”. So it was up to Fusion to experiment with digital “throws” of fluid and work up a palette of shapes from which Fin’s creative director could give further direction, and then select elements to build the 3D composition.

Fusion has created a wide variety of broadly similar mid-air splashes:

Iconic crown splashes:

Milk & juice splashes, Minute Maid NutriBoost:

Paint splashes, Epic Mickey promo: .

Fusion’s basic splash technology makes use of our “smorganic” tool, developed in-house to prevent CG fluid from breaking up into ugly swiss cheese-like holes that is typical of CG fluids: .

If you’re a RealFlow user you can think of Fusion’s smorganic as RF’s sheeter daemon on steroids. In addition, our splash tool finds flow edges and from these creates the little droplets and tendrils that are so characteristic of small-scale splashes. For the bursting splash, the shape was going to be so chaotic that our tool would create those features everywhere and turn it into a truly crazy shape, so we had to develop artist-friendly ways of controlling where the tendrils came off. We found a simple solution by just having artists paint over the particle cloud, highlighting those zones that would allow the creation of tendrils. Once this was done, it was a matter of creating interesting splash shapes using an array of tiny deflector planes just inside the mouth of the bottle and then running a matrix of tests to see what shapes were generated.

Here’s a link to a playblast of the final version selected by the Fin Design team:

The arc-shaped splashes had a shape more like what we were used to creating, so our tendril tool worked as-is for those, allowing us to auto-select the flow edges and set the number and spacing of the tendrils. The challenge with these was to get controlled, curved shapes. For these we developed a new version of a path-follow tool to guide the flows in a natural way along a path in space. Again, RF users could view this as the Dspline tool on drugs.

An early version of a splash element with this tool created an element that didn’t end up being used in the spot, but illustrates the sort of look when the path was not too highly curved:

But when we really cranked the path-follow tool, we could get this kind of flow that you’d have to be in outer space to even think about re-creating practically (see below):

 The above flow was a little too extreme to be used in the spot, but with some tweaking we got a spiral-sweep going that had a sense of more natural flow while still retaining the magic that can only come from CG:

Fusion supplied Fin’s team with a library of about 15 of these kinds of fluid simulations delivered as mesh sequences, from which they picked out their favorite moments, added tiny particle-type bubbles to the fluid interiors, and built up the set of vignettes to create the final spot.

See it on Fin’s site here:

Fusion’s site:


Fin Design + Effects

Surry Hills, Australia


Fusion CI Studios
Santa Monica, CA