Zoic Studios Spawns Superhero Particle Effects with Krakatoa


Marvel’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron” made a splash at the summer box office with impressive VFX that left fans craving more. From Loki’s sceptre to the analytical android Vision, the film features several shots from Culver City-based VFX house Zoic Studios. Led by CG VFX Supervisor Timothy Hanson, Zoic used Thinkbox Software’s Krakatoa plug-in for Autodesk Maya to generate large quantities of particles created in the 3D animation software.

Architected and maintained by technical gurus Mike Romey, Saker Klippsten and a team of engineers, Zoic’s proprietary pipeline is constantly evolving. The team brought Krakatoa for Maya into the fold as soon as it became available in 2013 and tightly integrated it with Zoic’s ZFB file management system, just as they’ve done with other pipeline tools including The Foundry’s NUKE, Side Effects Software’s Houdini and Next Limit Technologies’ RealFlow, among others.

“I’d always been a huge fan of the Krakatoa renders my 3ds Max counterparts produced and loved the beta release of Krakatoa for Maya, so when it became available, I was excited; it’s a must-have for any VFX pipeline,” shared Hanson. “Krakatoa is literally overflowing with benefits, from ease of use, to awesome features like the PRT Loader/Savers, not to mention the standard Krakatoa Particle rendering engine, which can handle loads of particles. It was especially useful for all of our work on ‘Age of Ultron’.”

Hanson managed several dynamics shots for the film, including sequences featuring Loki’s sceptre. Looking to create a wispy, ethereal energy that emanates from the sceptre, he leveraged Krakatoa’s Forced Additive Mode to deliver particles that glow, without reflecting or absorbing light. Hanson explained, “I knew instantly that Krakatoa would be perfect for these scenes. I haven’t seen anything else even come close to that smooth, smoky feel you get with Krakatoa in this mode.”

For sequences featuring Vision, Hanson and team fused Vibranium – a rare, meteoric metal exclusive to the Marvel Universe – with the android’s cellular structure. They simulated the effect using HYBRIDO fluid technology in RealFlow, with Krakatoa for particle rendering. “We did this viscous simulation for all of the sequences with Vision, and Krakatoa handled it like a champ every time. Almost all of my renders flew off the farm in no time, and the end result was exactly what we needed.”

He concluded, “Thinkbox support is nothing short of amazing! I’ve built three CG departments from the ground up in the last three years, and on the rare occasion I run into a server issue, Thinkbox is always right there with me; they’re the epitome of professionalism.”

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