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The short film La Main des Maitres is a beautifully animated steampunk fantasy which is receiving awards and accolades at animation festivals around the world. This project has given a group of young animators a chance to explore new ideas and showcase their talents. Adrien “CaYuS” Toupet, Looky and Clément Delatre put their heart and soul into this animated short and the results are outstanding.

For the visual effects in La Main des Maitres, the team turned to Houdini Apprentice HD which was used to create big smoke explosions, blood, and falling objects and debris. Apprentice HD’s non-commercial license was a perfect fit for this independent project and gave the team the chance to work with Houdini’s renowned particle and dynamic tools.

Adrien “CaYuS” Toupet was the VFX lead for La Main des Maitres and he came into the project with only a bit of Houdini experience. Starting off with a few books, the Apprentice HD edition and tips from his friends, Adrien quickly built up his skill set.

La Main des Maitres was my first project using Houdini,” says Adrien, “and it won't be my last! I never feel lost in Houdini. There is always a way of creating a shot and Houdini’s nodal philosophy lets me work interactively without having to write any scripts.”

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Smoke and Debris

Smoke explosions were created using particle simulations with metaballs copied to all the particle points to add volume. The set geometry was then tagged as colliding geometry and characters were knocked out using shadow mattes. The effect was then rendered with a billowy smoke volume shader using Houdini’s Mantra renderer.

To create debris and falling objects, the team used rigid body simulations. Models were broken up into chunks using the Shatter and Cookie tools in Houdini. After running basic RBD simulations, the motion was tweaked using Time Blend and Time Shift, and in some cases, certain chunks were isolated and keyframed independently.

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Bloodletting

Blood was also created using particle simulations combined with the particle fluid surfacer to generate the viscose shape needed for a variety of different shots. Particles were emitted from a polygon shape copied to a specific point on the character where he/she was going to be shot. The character was then set up as a colliding object, gravity was applied and then the blood was simulated. To finish the shot, the blood was rendered with a red constant material in Mantra.

The ability to re-use this same effect for other shots made a big difference in the production of the animated short. By simply changing the impact node in the network, the team could get a totally different simulation. This allowed everyone on the team to create their own blood effects with a setup time of around 2 minutes because they could simply re-use the original network.

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“With Houdini, I can go back and play with all the parameters to refine the look of each effect,” says Adrien. “By spending less time on the technical aspects of an effect, there is more time to focus on the making creative decisions. With Houdini, the Art Director can make these decisions independently without relying on a big team of artists. This was especially important for us given our limited resources.”

La Main des Maitres was created using a few different software packages and Houdini Apprentice HD integrated with these other solutions in a number of ways. Camera animation was imported in as channel files from XSI and MDD was used for point caches—one geometry file and an animated MDD point cache could be combined to get an animated character. To share animated characters, OBJ sequences were exported from Maya using a plug-in found on highend3d.com then imported into Houdini as geometry sequences. Visual effects were then applied to the imported sequence.

Now that La Main des Maitres is on the festival circuit, the artists are moving on to their next endeavors. Adrien is taking a position as an Effects TD at Framestore in London, Looky has started his own company with colleagues and plans to develop animated cartoons while Clément is working on a variety of different projects. With this amazing project on their reel, they are definitely going to be busy for years to come.

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