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Creating Fire in a Particle Editor

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Date Added: 15th July 2009
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Hi, my name is Bulatov Evgeni. In this lesson I'll show you my way of creating fire in the particles editor.

Magic Particles

Particles are an integral part of computer graphics. Cinema, TV, and video games are using them to create impressive effects. Magic Particles is a powerful and handy tool for creating special effects that we've chosen over several other editors.
I'll try to give you some basic ideas concerning fire creation (backed by definite directions), so that you could go further in this area by yourself. The particles are not limited to the fire only; there is a whole world of wonderful effects.
In the included lesson data there is a Magic Particles emitter file, particles textures and an avi video file with a fire animation. These files can be downloaded here (click link to download).

Part 1: Texture Creation

Particle textures are very important for creating nice looking fire. Experimenting with them will give you a different fire effect every time.

Magic Particles can read the PSD file format and even its alpha-channel (for transparency), but for creating fire we will use a special blend mode (it's called Screen in Photoshop), so alpha-channel is not needed.

With this blend mode, the black colour is completely transparent while other colours lighten the picture under them. To create fire particles let's start by painting textures 256 � 256 on a black background. Later you could resize them smaller, but it's easier to draw them when they are big. Here is what I got (Fig.01).

Fig. 01

Use a thin brush with soft edges and then use the Smudge Tool, duplicating the layers when necessary and using Gaussian Blur (Fig.02).

Fig. 02

Then make some more textures, about three to six. After creating the effect, we can experiment with the textures, deleting the ones that do not fit into the overall picture and making new ones instead. As I see it, the final result is mostly determined by the form of the tongues of flame you have drawn.

Part 2: Particles Editor

After the textures are ready, it's time to use the particles editor.
Run Magic Particles. At the top you can see the button panel, hit the "Create emitter", button and after that "Create particle type inside Emitter" (Fig.03).

Fig. 03

In the preview window you'll see something gray and odd looking. In its centre there is an emitter's icon in a square frame. Drag the emitter to the bottom edge of the screen and deselect the "Show emitter" and "Show clip area" check boxes on the bottom panel.

To load the textures, drag the files onto the texture preview window (or use the "Load texture" button; you can select multiple files in an open file dialogue window) (Fig.04).

Fig. 04

Now go to the Color tab and check the "Intense" box (it's a special blend mode for luminous particles, corresponding with the Photoshop screen blend mode). Now click the gray rectangle at the bottom, you'll put a marker there. This way you'll specify the particles' colour during their lifespan.
Adjust the colour as follows as shown in Fig.05.

Fig. 05

The final marker must be black, so that the particles are faded in the end (this is why we are using the "Intense" blend features). This is the colour of the flame.

Now each particle's texture is changing in consecutive order. But we didn't make an animation, so we do not need this. Go to the "Texture" tab and enter zero in the "Change frame texture speed". Also check the "Random texture starting frame". Now each particle has a random texture not changing during its lifespan.

Now all we have to do is to adjust the particles motion and we'll get a real fire! But first change the "Visibility range" (at the bottom panel) to 9% start and 95% end range visibility. This way the program doesn't show the start and the end of the effect if you don't need them.

Fire always goes up with a constant speed, emitting tongues of flames of different lengths. As it goes up it gets thinner and finally fades. Now, step by step, we'll set the particles' motion according to this model.
Let's start with the emitter. Click on the emitter in the Emitter tree (on the left) and in the top diagram change the point emitter type to the line type.

The particles will emit from this line. It has two parameters, the blue line, which is the incline degree and the green one, which is the line length. The default parameters of 0 degrees and 100 length suit the fire nicely.
Now let's change the angle of emitting the particles. The next diagram is the "Emission direction, degrees". Set the values 36° and 144° so that the particles go up.

Now it doesn't resemble fire very much at the moment, so switch to the Particles and hit the "Diagram Settings" button (Fig.06).

Fig. 06

Here are the various parameters of the particles. As all the parameters are in one place it is very convenient to adjust them in this window. Parameters such as "Life", "Number", "Size", "Velocity" are interdependent. For instance the high value of "Velocity" will increase the motion speed of particles and at the same time will make flame longer. But decreasing the "Life" parameter could shorten the fire size.

Adjust the parameters as you like or take mine (Fig.07).

Looks like a good flame thrower, not too bad, but we'd really like a nice small campfire. Actually, as I was tuning the particles I adjusted both the graphs and the Minimums and Maximums in this window, until I got the result I needed.
Let's adjust the diagrams. Now the fire looks too dense, the flame is too bright. Find the diagram "Visibility over life" (factor) and decrease it to 35.

Now we are going to set the motion of the particles. The flame must go up but now it's thrown sideways. It happens because of the wide angle of emitter direction. When making fire I wanted the flames first to go sideways and then go upward. Like this (Fig.08).

Fig. 08

Now the flame goes sideways and we want to direct it upward. We can do this using the "Weight" parameter, setting its value to a negative number. The particles will "float" upward. In Magic Particles there are two types of graphs. The ordinary (gray icons) and the Factors (red icons). The usual graphs adjust the properties of the particles during the effect's lifespan (X axis is the effect's lifespan). But factors change the particles during the lifespan of the particle (X axis is the particle's lifespan).

continued on next page >

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