Visual Effects (VFX) Software used by the PROs

Visual Effects is a term used to describe digitally produced images for films, commercials, music videos, games, and many other moving media. It is a very dynamic and vast field that the entire work of Visual Effects is not limited to a single software. 

We have experienced magical worlds that only in the cinematic universe exist, we’ve seen space, we’ve seen cities get destroyed by global phenomenon, alien invasion. We’ve been given a glimpse of what a zombie apocalypse could be and how to (maybe) survive it. We’ve seen  doctors and scientist experiments gone wrong unleashing this unknown creature that caused havoc in the entire world. We’ve seen the lives and felt much closer to our beloved superheroes, all thanks to Visual Effects.

Visual Effects is the integration between actual live footage and digitally produced imagery to create an illusion of a realistic looking environment. Visual Effects is different from Special Effects. VFX are effects that cannot be done on set, or are impossible to happen in real life.  That being said, since new worlds, superheroes, monsters, magical powers are being created and controlled digitally through computers, something powerful might be creating it, and these are the software. Nothing will ever be made without them.

VFX can be divided into: modeling, animation, shading / texturing, effects, rendering, match moving, rotoscoping and compositing. Today we’re going to talk about the most used software in movie production houses. All studios are different, yes, but the software they’re using revolves only on a few powerful ones. 


3D MODELING

3D Model of Venom

3D modeling is the creation of a three-dimensional character or object  inside a simulated software. It can be made of simple shapes all the way up to complex high-polygon models.

There are five (5) software for 3D Modeling:

  1. Autodesk Maya
  2. Autodesk 3ds Max
    • For 3D Modeling, Autodesk Maya and Autodesk 3ds Max has become the industry standard. Both are capable of building 3D characters, animating, rigging, creating particles and more. Both are very powerful software which also cost a very high price. Autodesk has been the leading name in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software.
  3. Pixologic ZBrush
    • ZBrush is industry standard for 3D Sculpting. 3D Sculpting is modeling a 3D object / character as if it was made out of clay.
  4. Autodesk Mudbox
    • A powerful 3D Sculpting tool as well, counter part of ZBrush.
  5. Modo

 

ANIMATION

Animation, in all its forms, still boils down to this, a method in which shapes, characters, objects are given life by digitally controlling them, giving them lifelike, realistic, fluid movements. In 3D Animation, there’s only one name that reigns supreme, Autodesk Maya.

Animated Character within Autodesk Maya

Autodesk Maya is the industry standard for computer graphics. It has played a key role in the creation of Academy Award winning films such as The Matrix , Spider-Man , Avatar , Finding Nemo , Up , Frozen, Pacific Ring, Jurassic Park, and so much more. 

 

TEXTURE & SHADING

Texture Painting in Maya & Photoshop

Texture and Shading adds details to your models. Usually, what’s used in building the 3D model, is the same software used for shading. Autodesk Maya and Autodesk 3ds Max are popular shading systems.

Textures are images created though software like Foundry Mari, Substance Painter and Adobe Photoshop.

 

EFFECTS

Water simulation in Houdini

Simulations like smoke, fire, flood, rain, and other fluid elements are these 2 supreme software: Houdini and Autodesk Maya. Houdini is the standard for effects simulation, it’s much better at dynamic simulations compared to Maya. Houdini is a 3D animation and special effects application, built for work in 3D animation and VFX for film, TV, video games and virtual reality.

 

RENDERING

3D Rendering  is usually the final phase of the 3D creation process. Your computer gathers the information from your scene and calculates the final result. The output is usually a single image or a series of images compiled together.

This is usually connected with the modeling and shading software, this is responsible for the final 3D image generation. There are three (3) software used by movie houses, these are Autodesk Arnold, VRay, and Pixar’s Renderman which has been used 27 times out of 30 movies that won best Visual Effects in Oscar.

 

MATCH MOVING

The process of extracting camera motion information from the film footage. there are three (3) main software.  3D Equalizer, which is the most popular and powerful, used since 1996. SynthEyes, and The Pixel Farm’s PFTrack.

 

ROTOSCOPING

Rotoscoping within Mocha

An old VFX technique that’s still used to this day.  It is the process of tracing over footage, frame by frame,to be used in live-action and animated films. Silhouette and Mocha Pro are the go to software for the pros, both has advanced  tools necessary for VFX houses.

 

COMPOSITING

The final stage of Visual Effects. VFX Compositing is combining different elements, from different sources, to create an illusion that they’re all part of a single scene, this is incorporating the VFX into the live footage, blending them together to build the final shot of the film. The software used for compositing is Nuke. (Surprise! It’s not After Effects, nope.)

Nuke is a node-based compositing software, while After Effects is a layer-based. A node-based compositing gives you much greater control with your composition, and working on a node based software is much faster than layer based.

After Effects is an amazing tool that lets you create almost any kind of animation and effects, but with compositing and how it’s built, it’s layered based system is too limited for a complex compositing tasks. YES, it has been used in movies along side other software, but not as the main one for compositing. After Effects might work for TV Commercials and films that are not visual-effects-heavy, but not really ideal for huge projects.

Blackmagic Design Fusion is a less popular software for compositing, but is also used by some production houses.

Video Post Production Basics