Barney’s Version is a Canadian drama film that takes place in Montreal, Québec’s Laurentian Mountains, New York and Rome during the 70’s and 80’s and focuses on the life of a television studio owner played by Paul Giamatti.
Montreal’s own Modus FX were recruited for the effects work. With Houdini as their core tool, they were able to meet the challenge of incorporating a Canadair water bomber aircraft into a shot in place of a live-action plane.
SHOOTING LIVE PLATES
A Cessna float-plane was filmed to provide the team with real-life lighting and reflection references. Modus FX then turned to Houdini to create a highly realistic pouring of water from the aircraft onto the fire-engulfed hills below.
INCORPORATING CG WATER INTO THE LIVE PLATES
The water emitting from the plane covered 75% of the screen. As the water immediately exited the aircraft it had to take on more of a detailed streaming look. As the water got further away from the aircraft it had to naturally dissipate, taking on more of a cloud-like, volumetric look.
“I used a hybrid simulated and a procedurally deformed emitter to get lots of detail and control,” says Francois Duchesneau, Lead Visual Effects Artist at Modus FX. “It was not possible to use volumetric for the rear portion of the water spray without compromising the blending of the initial water stream with that needed to cloud up into a fine mist”.
Duchesneau did find a clever solution to the challenge of blending these two particular streams of water into one.
“I found that a simple trick of growing particles and fading their opacity did the trick,” says Duchesneau. “The particle emitter was then set up to only create particles only when visible to the camera, thus cutting the amount of particles required”.
Using Houdini also provided Modus FX with an overall solution that would allow them to do many iterations of these shots within a tight timeline. They had only two weeks to complete their shots. With Houdini, they could spend as little time as possible waiting on simulation and rendering freeing them up to focus their energy on putting out forest fires.
RENDERING WITH MANTRA
Almost all FX shots created at Modus FX are completed with Houdini’s Mantra renderer.
“Mantra is a fast, flexible and robust renderer that can render lots of points, sprites and displacement - all this with motion blur” says Duchesneau. “The creation of reusable components is very easy to do without having to generate even a single line of code.”
The tools Duchesneau created often had the advantage of being utilizable within every part of Houdini. They are used exactly the same as if they were created by the developers at Side Effects Software. Being able to create these reusable tools increases not only his level of productivity but also the size of his toolkit.
INTEGRATING HOUDINI INTO THE MODUSFX PIPELINE
Modus FX strives to have a common format within their pipeline that allows for any kind of data - polygon, nurbs, volume, particles, etc. The Houdini BGEO format has given them with the perfect solution for handling various kinds of data.
MAKING THE IMPOSSIBLE POSSIBLE
For Barney’s Version, Modus FX delivered on the director’s wish to incorporate an aircraft that was deemed too difficult to obtain for practical shooting. Using Houdini, they brought the CG plane to life by adding realistic water dropping over Québec’s Laurentian Mountains as they blazed in the summer heat.