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Smoke FX for 3ds Max: thin smoke

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Date Added: 15th February 2017
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Vikrant Dalal creates a fine white smoke effect using FumeFX for 3ds Max...


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Hello everyone! In this tutorial we are going to take a look at how you can use FumeFX for 3ds Max to make a thin white smoke effect which could be used for candles, matchsticks, cigarettes, incense, and so on. To start, I will introduce the idea of thin smoke, which you may have seen many times in your daily life.

There are number of software packages and plugins with which you can create fire and smoke effects, such as FumeFX and Phoenix FD for 3ds Max and Maya, Houdini, Cinema 4D, but many big VFX and animation studios use FumeFX in their pipeline as it's well-established, trustworthy and most importantly user-friendly.

There are different techniques you can use to make this effect in FumeFX, such as Simple Source, Object Source and Particle Source, but we are going to use Object Source.

Before you start working on this kind of effect, it helps to have good knowledge of smoke properties, such as Turbulence, Velocity and Buoyancy. There are different types of smoke, from thin smoke for incense and cigarettes, to thick oil smoke or explosion smoke, and each one has different properties.

I can't teach you each and every parameter of this plugin and software, as they're very vast and need a lot of time to go through, but this particular tutorial will cover as much as required to create this thin smoke effect. This is a very interesting subject, because you can't define one certain process to create this effect. As much as you will use your creativity and tools, you will find different types of effects every time. So it very much depends on your own understanding of using the different tools and techniques.


Step 01: Create and modify object

Open 3ds Max. Before we start working on our scene, remember that we are going to use the Object Source technique in FumeFX. This means we are going to use an object to emit smoke, so for that purpose we'll start by creating an object (in this case, a GeoSphere).

Go to the Create panel and select Geometry > Standard Primitives > GeoSphere. Now change the Radius to 2 and Segments to 2, and set the Position to X: 00, Y: 00 and Z: 5.75. Then convert this GeoSphere into an Editable Poly and modify it as shown in the image.

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Creating an object to emit smoke

Step 02: Create a FumeFX Object Source

After finishing the modeling of our object, it's time to proceed to the FumeFX plugin. So first of all we will create the FumeFX Object Source where we will add our Object. To create a FumeFX Object Source, go to Create Panel > Helpers > FumeFX > Object Src. Click on this button and drag it into the viewport. Now go to the Modify panel to make some changes in the Parameters. Change the Object Src Type to Solid. Set the Temperature: 600.0, Smoke: 20.0 and keep the other parameters as they are.

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The FumeFX Object Source

Step 03: Create a FumeFX Container

We are going to use FumeFX here, as it's very simple, but still has many options and parameters. We'll cover as much as is required for this particular tutorial.

So let's start with the FumeFX Container. Go to the Create panel and select Geometry > FumeFX > FumeFX. Click on the FumeFX button and drag it into the viewport, then go to the Modify panel and set the Size and Spacing as follows. Width: 200, Length: 200, Height: 300 and Spacing: 0.75.
Now set the Position of FumeFX to the following: X: 00, Y: 00, Z: 00.

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Creating a FumeFX Container

Step 04: Modify the FumeFX Container

After setting up the FumeFX Container, it's time to modify the parameters. So select the Container and go to the Modify panel. Now click on the 'Open FumeFX' UI button and a new window will appear. As you can see, there are six sections in this FumeFX interface and we will modify them one by one. So let's start with the Obj/Src section. In this section you just have to add the FumeFX Object Source which we generated earlier. So go to the Obj/Src section and click on the Pick Object button, then select the FumeFX Object Source.

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Modifying the FumeFX Container

Step 05: FumeFX - General Parameters

After finishing the setup of the Obj/Src section, let's set up the General Parameters section. We have already the set General Parameters to Spacing: 0.75, Width: 200, Length: 200 and Height: 300. Now we'll move ahead to the Output Range, set the Start Frame: 0, End Frame: 400, then go to Paths, where we set the FXD Files (Cache Files) path. So click on the button which is next to the Default Path and set the path as per your Folder Structure. Now move ahead to Playback Range & set the Play From: 0 & Play To: 400. So these are simple modifications in General Section.

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Going through FumeFX's General Parameters section

Step 06: FumeFX - Simulation

After finishing the setup of General Parameters, let's modify the Simulation section. Go to the Simulation tab and apply the following settings:

- Time Scale to 1.5 to increase the overall speed of scene
- Gravity to 2.5
- Vorticity to 0.0 to reduce the internal motion in the smoke
- X Turbulence to 0.1

Now go to Turbulence Noise and set the Scale to 60.0, Frames to 10.0 and Details to 1.0. Go to Fuel and turn it off, because we don't need fuel or fire to emit smoke; this way we can reduce the simulation time. Then go to Smoke and set 'Dissipation Min. Dens.' to 0.1 and Dissipation Strength to 1.0 to dissipate the smoke fast. Keep the other parameters as they are and hit the Simulation button. It will take around 2-3 hours to finish.

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Setting up FumeFX's Simulation section

Step 07: FumeFX - Rendering

After finishing the simulation, just make sure that everything is as per your requirements. Now let's make some simple modifications, starting with setting the color of the smoke. Go to the Rendering section and then Smoke parameters. Set the smoke color to gray, then turn on the Cast Shadows and Receive Shadows options, so we'll see the smoke's shadow when we add light.

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Selecting a color for the smoke

Step 08: FumeFX - Illumination

After finishing the Color settings, it's time to add light to the scene. Go to the Create panel and select Lights > Standard > Target Spot. Click on Target Spot light and create in viewport. Now set the light position to X: -800, Y: -400, Z: 720. Set its Target Position to X: 0.0, Y: 0.0, Z: 80.0. Now select the light, go to the Modify Panel, turn on the shadow and set it to Ray Traced Shadows. Then go to the Shadow Parameters and turn on the Atmosphere Shadows. When you're done with these settings, return to the FumeFX Container, then go to the Illumination section, and add this light into the Lights section by clicking the 'Pick light' button.

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Adding light to our smoke effect

Step 09: Rendering and post-process

After finishing the light setup, now it's time for rendering. Go to Render Setup, set an Output Range, Output Resolution and Output Path, then hit the Render button. It will take around two hours to finish the rendering.
Afterwards, you can import all the renders into After Effects, or any compositing software which is convenient for you, and make some changes in the color or brightness of the image, then render out the final output. And now you will have some thin smoke!

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The render settings for the final smoke effect

Related links

Head over to Vikrant's website
Check out the 3dcreative magazine back issues

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