Smoke FX for 3ds Max: thick smoke

Introduction

Hello everyone! Here I've got a tutorial for creating a thick smoke effect, which can be used for such things as oil or explosion smoke, a volcanic eruption, a forest fire, and so on. You may have seen this kind of smoke on the internet or on television, or sometimes in your real life, but it doesn't happen every time.

There are number of software packages and plugins with which you can create fire and smoke effects, such as FumeFX and Phoenix FD for 3ds Max and Maya, Houdini, Cinema 4D and so on, but many big VFX and animation studios use FumeFX in their pipeline as it's well-established, trustworthy and most importantly user-friendly. There are different techniques you can use to make this effect in FumeFX, such as Simple Source, Object Source and Particle Source, but we are going to use Object Source.

Before you start working on this kind of effect, it helps to have good knowledge of fire and smoke properties, such as Turbulence, Velocity and Buoyancy. There are different types of smoke, from thin smoke for incense and cigarettes, to thick oil smoke or explosion smoke, and each one has different properties.

I can't teach you each and every parameter of this plugin and software, as they're very vast and need a lot of time to go through, but this particular tutorial will cover as much as required to create this thick smoke effect. This is very interesting subject, because you can't define one certain process to create this effect. As much as you will use your creativity and tools available, you will find different types of effects every time. So it very much depends on your own understanding of how to use the tools and techniques.

Step 01: Create an object

Open 3ds Max. Before we start working on our scene, remember that we are going to use the Object Source technique in FumeFX. This means we are going to use an object to emit smoke, so for that purpose we'll start by creating an object. We'll use a Plane.

Go to the Create panel and select Geometry > Standard Primitives > Plane. Now change the parameters to the following: Length: 40, Width: 40, Length Segments: 50, and Width Segments: 50. Set the Position to X: 90, Y: 00 and Z: 15.

Creating a plane to emit smoke

Creating a plane to emit smoke

Step 02: Modify the object

After creating the Plane, it's time to modify it by adding a Noise Modifier. Select the Plane, go to the Modify panel and select Noise Modifier. Now make the following changes: Scale: 3.0, Strength X: 12.5, Y: 12.5 and Z: 25. Now go to the Animation section and turn on Animate Noise, then set the Frequency to 3.0. Now you can see the Plane with animated noise applied, and you're ready to use it as fire and smoke emitter.

Creating a plane to emit smoke

Creating a plane to emit smoke

Step 03: Create a FumeFX Object Source

After finishing the modeling and modification of our object, it's time to proceed to the FumeFX plugin. So first of all we will create the FumeFX Object Source where we will add our Object. To create a FumeFX Object Source, go to Create Panel > Helpers > FumeFX > Object Src. Click on this button and drag it into the viewport. Now go to the Modify panel to make some changes in the Parameters. Change the Object Src Type to Solid. Set the Smoke to 25.0, then go to the Velocity section and set Object's to 5.0 and Extra to 15.0. Keep the other parameters as they are.

The FumeFX Object Source

The FumeFX Object Source

Step 04: Create a FumeFX Container

We are going to use FumeFX as it's very simple to use, but still has many options and parameters. We'll cover as much as is required for this particular tutorial.

So let's start with the FumeFX Container. Go to the Create panel and select Geometry > FumeFX > FumeFX. Click on the FumeFX button and drag it into the viewport, then go to the Modify panel and set the Size and Spacing as follows. Width: 400, Length: 400, Height: 600 and Spacing: 1.2.

Now set the Position of FumeFX to the following: X: 00, Y: 00, Z: 00.

Creating a FumeFX Container

Creating a FumeFX Container

Step 05: Create a Wind Force

To push the fire and smoke in a certain direction, we'll use Wind. To create this, go to the Create panel and select Space Warps > Forces > Wind. Click on it and drag it into the viewport, then change the Strength to 2.0.

Now set the Position of FumeFX to X: 250, Y: 00, Z: 150. Set the Rotation X: 0.0, Y: -90, Z: 0.0.

Adding Wind Force to move the smoke

Adding Wind Force to move the smoke

Step 06: Modify the FumeFX Container

After setting up the FumeFX Container, it's time to modify the parameters. So select the Container and go to the Modify panel. Now click on the 'Open FumeFX' UI button and a new window will appear. As you can see, there are six sections in this FumeFX interface and we will modify them one by one. So let's start with the Obj/Src section. In this section you just have to add the FumeFX Object Source which we generated earlier. So go to the Obj/Src section and click on the Pick Object button, then select the FumeFX Object Source and Wind Force.

Modifying the FumeFX Container

Step 07: FumeFX - General Parameters

After finishing the setup of the Obj/Src section, let's set up the General Parameters section. We have already the set General Parameters to Spacing: 1.2, Width: 400, Length: 400 and Height: 600. Now we'll move ahead to the Output Range, set the Start Frame: 0, End Frame: 200, then go to Paths, where we set the FXD Files (Cache Files) path. So click on the button which is next to the Default Path and set the path as per your Folder Structure. Now move ahead to the Playback Range and set the Play From as 0 and Play To as 200. So these are some simple modifications in the General Section.

Going through FumeFX's General Parameters section

Going through FumeFX's General Parameters section

Step 08: FumeFX - Simulation Parameters

After finishing the setup of General Parameters, let's modify the Simulation Parameters. Go to the Simulation tab and apply the following settings. Change the Vorticity to 1.0 and the X Turbulence to 0.5. Now go to Turbulence Noise and set the Scale to 2.0, Frames to 1.0, and Details to 5.0.

Now go to Fuel and increase the Expansion to 2.0, keeping the other parameters as they are. Then go to Smoke and set the 'Dissipation Min. Dens.' to 5.0 and Dissipation Strength to 5.0 to dissipate the smoke fast. Keep the other parameters as they are and hit the Simulation button. It will take around 3-4 hours to finish.

Setting up FumeFX's Simulation section

Setting up FumeFX's Simulation section

Step 09: FumeFX - Rendering Parameters

After finishing the simulation, just make sure that everything is as per your requirements. Now it's time to set the colors of the fire and smoke. So go to Rendering section and select the Fire tab. Right-click on Color and change it to Key Mode, then change the Gradient Color as shown in the image. Now move on to the Smoke Parameters. Set the smoke color to gray and reduce the Opacity to 0.5, then turn on the Cast Shadows and Receive Shadows options (so when we add the light, we should see the smoke's shadow).

Selecting a color for the smoke

Selecting a color for the smoke

Step 10: FumeFX - Illumination Parameters

After finishing the Color settings, it's time to add light to the scene. We'll create two lights: one Target Spot and one Omni Light. To do that, go to the Create panel and select Lights > Standard > Target Spot. Click on the Target Spot light and create it in viewport. Now set the light position to X: -1850, Y: -1035, Z: 1950, and its Target Position to X: 20.0, Y: -15.0, Z: 200.0. Create the Omni Light with same procedure and change its Position to X: 825, Y: -600, Z: 550.

Now select the lights and go to Modify panel, then turn on the Shadow and set it to Ray Traced Shadows. Now go to Shadow Parameters and turn on Atmosphere Shadows. After finishing these settings, return to FumeFX Container. Go to the Illumination section and add these lights into the Light section by clicking the Pick Light button. Now turn on Multiple Scattering, set its Max Depth to 8 and Falloff to 8.0, and leave the other parameters as they are.

Adding light to our smoke effect

Adding light to our smoke effect

Step 11: Rendering

After finishing the light setup, it's time for rendering. Go to Render Setup by pressing F10 and set your desired Output Range, Output Resolution and Output Path. Go to the Render Elements tab and click on the Add button, bringing up a new window. Select the FumeFX Fire and FumeFX Smoke elements and click OK. Now just hit the Render button. It will take around 4-5 hours to finish rendering.

The render settings for the final smoke effect

The render settings for the final smoke effect

Step 12: Post-production

After finishing the rendering, import both the fire and smoke renders into After Effects, or any other compositing software which is convenient for you. I'm using After Effects, so import both elements and drag them into the timeline. Select the fire element, then right-click and change its Blending Mode to Add. You can include Glow effects and make some changes in the Parameters. Select the smoke element and make whatever changes you like to the color or brightness settings. Now render the final output and you'll get your finished thick smoke!

Adding final post-process tweaks in After Effects

Adding final post-process tweaks in After Effects

Final

Final

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