RealFlow 2013 Review


RealFlow 2013 is out now! Expert Jahirul Amin shares his thoughts as a new user on this industry-standard, out-of-the-box, fluid simulation software.

Product: RealFlow 2013

Company: Next Limit


Key features: Hybrido Fluid Technology, Caronte body Dynamics, Particle-Based solver

Review score: 5/5

Release date: May 2013

Price: Learning edition: $99.00 US.

Commercial license: from $3,995 US.

Visit for more info


As a new user to RealFlow 2013, I first stumbled across the industry-standard, out-of-the-box, fluid simulation tool at its unveiling in London back in May 2013, hosted by Escape Technology with Next Limit Technologies.

Excited by what I saw, I was later given the opportunity to test out the product as a new user. And having had only minor experience with packages like RealFlow beforehand, I must say I am impressed with what I've seen!

The latest release of RealFlow is, as Victor Gonzales says, "a milestone" for RealFlow. 15 years in the making, it's the RealFlow that should have been, making tasks that were previously not possible, possible. This latest version not only adds more to the toolset, but it's also evolved to make the procedure of doing those small-to-large-scale simulations a touch easier for artists all-round.

I'm not going to go into the details about the new features as it's already pretty easy to find that kind of information online. What I want to share with you instead is how I've found using RealFlow as a new user. Was it intuitive? Is it powerful? Can I fit it into my toolkit? And more importantly, beyond this review, would I want to use it again?

To answer all of these questions, I set myself the challenge of completing an image; that image being some paint-like substance being thrown over a head. Sounds simple, right? So how did things pan out?

Before starting the image, I thought it would be wise to get familiar with the interface and the RealFlow 'workflow'. If you are familiar with packages like Maya, then navigating should be a doddle to you; as a Maya user myself the general UI was clear enough for me to start creating some nodes and running tests pretty much straight away.

To be quite frank, I found it very easy to get up and running: I simply created a circle emitter for the particles, added some gravity to pull them down, created a plane for the particles to make contact with, and then hit Simulate. With that done, I already had my first fluid simulation running.

An initial test to get familiar with the package
Better still: I found that you can stop the simulation at any point, make some changes and hit go again. Rather than having to re-simulate from the start frame, it continues from where you last left off. Simply add a Mesh node to convert the particles to geometry and hit F6 to render.

And yes, you can now, for the first time, view renders in RealFlow through the integration of the Maxwell Renderer! I cannot imagine having to work without this feature, so I'm pretty sure this will make many RealFlow users very happy indeed. Also coming along for the ride, Next Limit has included a variety of shaders, allowing you to apply them to your surfaces to get a clearer idea of what the final output will be.

Playing with the viscosity to get the desired results

Continuing to edit the settings for the desired effect

Okay, so back to the first shot! Firstly, I had to get my head model into RealFlow. With the latest version of RealFlow, Next Limit has added Alembic to import and export assets. Unfortunately, the version of Maya that I was using is not Alembic a-go-go, so I had to stick with the good old OBJ file format for the time being.

Bringing assets into RealFlow was no issue at all for me, but I learnt pretty quickly to reduce the density of my models for better results! Once the mesh was fit for RealFlow purpose, I began playing with the different emitters to see what would work best for the effect I was aiming for. After some experimentation using the circle, square and sphere emitters, I finally settled for the sphere.

"RealFlow allows you to give these fluids personality. You can direct them, sculpt them, bend them to your will, and that opens up a whole range of fantastic possibilities!"

I did at one stage model a paint tub, imported it into RealFlow, filled it with particles, and then animated the tub to drop the fluid onto the head. The results were pretty good, but I was not getting the 'chaos' I was after. Playing around with some of the Daemons such as the Noise Field and the Magic also gave some interesting results, but still not what I had envisioned...

The key to getting the behavior of the fluid right in the end, for me, was in the Viscosity and the Int pressure. By playing with these settings I was able to get the 'character' that I was after into the fluid. And I think the word 'character' is important for what RealFlow can bring to your work. Not only does it allow you to create believable oceans, rivers and so on, but it also allows you to give these fluids personality. You can direct them, sculpt them, bend them to your will, and that opens up a whole range of fantastic possibilities!

Going back to the image I was trying to create, once the settings for the emitter had been set, I needed to adjust how my head model would interact with the fluid. By tweaking the Particle Friction, Bounce and Sticky parameters, I was able to get a result I was pretty happy with. Then I needed something extra to create the 'chaos' I mentioned earlier that I was after. This came in the form of a very nifty Daemon node called Sheeter. This node helps to fill the holes left open by high viscous settings - and not only did it do that, it also created some great streaking effects! Just the type of madness I was after.

Testing the results on the final mesh

The final node I used was the Particle Mesh to create the geometry that I would render out in Maya using mental ray. And that's it! A total of 6 nodes (including the Hub01) to create the final image.

A quick Maxwell render to see how the final results could be

By using RealFlow, it's possible to create cool-looking effects with a little bit of button pushing. However, by researching the behavior of fluids and gases and so on in the real world, and then striving to emulate those results in RealFlow, that's when this package can truly deliver. What is the viscosity of honey? What is the density of wax? How do external forces affect the gases that you are trying to emulate? By having an understanding of the real world, you will be able to push RealFlow further and make bigger and more believable simulations.

"For anyone wanting to get their fingers wet, I would highly recommend trying RealFlow 2013 out!"

Returning to my personal project, once I was happy with the simulation and the results of the meshing, it was a case of taking it into Maya. Thankfully, RealFlow offers a plug-in that creates a shelf in Maya that can be used for just that: the RealFlow Maya Plug-in. A simple click of an icon brings up a window to select the desired mesh - and viola! There you have your fluid mesh, ready to light, shade and render.

Bringing it all into Maya for final rendering

So that's a loose breakdown of how I created my first RealFlow image. But my RealFlow experience did not end with the package itself. I must say, the support team at RealFlow was also fantastic; quick to answer questions and eager to help out in any way they could. Plus the community of users through sites such as The Vault has an amazing array of resources to get new users up and running, while also giving plenty of hints and tips to help solve any issues that may arise.

Overall, RealFlow 2013 is a great package, and for anyone wanting to get their fingers wet, I would highly recommend trying it out. Will I be using it again and can I fit it into my toolkit? Definitely. Actually, I've already started experimenting with the Hybrido 2 solver on a larger shot consisting of giant scorpions and chaotic rivers! It may sound like an odd combo, but hey, I like scorpions and I like a nice choppy river. Till then, I will try and do the washing-up without obsessing about how the foam from the soap sits on the water. Note to self: must get out more...

Beginning to test out the new Hybrido 2 solver

The final outcome from my experience with RealFlow

System requirements:

Windows: • 32- and 64-bits

Windows XP, Vista, 7 or Windows Server 2008.
• 2 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor, Athlon 64 AMD or better
• 2GB RAM minimum. 4GB of RAM memory is recommended
• Hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card
• 400 MB available hard disk space for installation
• 3-button mouse

Macintosh: • 32- and 64-bits

Mac OSX 10.5 and up
• G4, G5 or Intel CPU. G5 or Intel is recommended
• 2GB RAM minimum. 4GB of RAM memory is recommended
• Hardware-Accelerated OpenGL® graphics card
• 1 GB available hard disk space for installation
• 3-button mouse

• 64-bits distribution with a 2.6 Kernel and glibc-2.5
• 2GHz Intel ® Pentium 4 processor, Athlon 64 AMD or better
• 2GB RAM minimum (4GB of RAM memory is recommended)
• Hardware-accelerated OpenGL graphics card
• 300 MB available hard disk space for installation
• 3-button mouse

Related Links (UK prices available here)

To see more by Jahirul Amin, check out Beginner's Guide to Character Creation in Maya
and 3ds Max Projects

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