Once Familiar

2020 – Short Film – FX Artist – Dirt FX, lighting and rendering

A small team comprised of third and fourth year students at Escape Studios worked on the VFX for Once Familiar, a short supernatural thriller set in a forest, created by MA students at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Our work focused on the supernatural effects, with my responsibility being the creation of a dirt simulation, with CG soil needing to be displaced by a live action character rising from below the forest surface, along with some other FX R&D work early on.

My main task was creating a dirt simulation to enhance and integrate a duplicate of the protagonist rising from the dirt, which was shot practically using a dug hole in the ground and body doubles. Early testing for this went well, with using vellum grains inside Houdini proving to be achievable to the level of detail required with the time given.

A note from the client asked for the dirt to stick to the character as they rose, but for continuity this dirt needed to fall off before the end of the shot. To achieve this I built a method which allowed for the painting of high friction areas on the animated body collider model, which then had a decay function allowing for control over where and when the dirt stuck to or fell from the model.

Friction Painting

When testing the render setup the main question became particle count and detail verses rendering time available. For the final renders, the particle count was around 3 million, with counts above this not providing a visible increase in quality to merit the increase in render times. For any up close shots, point replicate methods used in testing to increase the count to 30 million were effective but slow, however the final shots for this effect ended up being all wide shots which removed this as a concern.

Final Render

To help break up the dirt shapes and add some colour variation, I quickly modelled a series of twigs using a basic l-system and instanced these onto a random set of the original sim points. While not giving any dynamic interaction, having twigs following the points gave the illusion of interaction which held up at the distance from the camera.

Twig Instances
Combined Effect

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