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"Making of" fractal animations

Since I got quite some requests and inquiries about technical sides and a "how-to", I will share some of my experiences on the "making of" here.

So first of all an animation like "The Infinite in Between" took me really about 2 months full time to do - that is quite a long time, since I was doing many things for the first time back then and had to figure out and learn a lot of stuff myself. The approach is quite classical for a short animation: concept > storyboard & some key visuals > tweaks and changes until concept and storyboard are good > then get the shots done > cutting and editing. Here of course most of the shots are digitally created. Only the shots of the light flying through the forest are real shots.

For those who wonder: yes we dragged an electric generator with 4 guys into the woods and I bought a light bulb, nylon thread and some construction material to make a construct to have the bulb wiggle less while being pulled along the nylon thread between the trees. To try and figure all this out was more time consuming than I expected. We also brought a projector and laptop and projected the fractal animations onto the trees.

Software used

So first of all, the Softwares I used are:

Apophysis 2.08 + 3dhack + Apophymator for animation

I am sticking to the 2.08 version still, cause I started out with it years ago and some of the new version like 7x don't have the old attractors I used, so I always have to fall back on the 2.08 to be able to render my flames at all. So the reason why I stick to the old versions are due to compatibility problems.
But if you are new and just starting out, I would strongly recommend you check out the Apophysis 7x versions right away - it has better features and is more user friendly concerning workflow. Also the new JWildfire developed by a German guy called Andreas Maschke, is really great. It was developed using the Apophysis open source codes and is being continuously improved. It has a lot of new and powerful features which Apophysis does not have and since 2014 it also has the animation functions.

After Effects

This is really the main and most important tool for my animations. For those who know AE, you know how powerful it is and for those who don't know it: you really need it to get your animations to another level. I use AE for animation, compositing, particle and other visual effects, colour correction/grading and also some cutting/editing. After Effects is really the base software you need to put all the elements together and make them into a whole. Also the rendered fractal flames from Apophysis are kinda just a blank that I used as a main element to work with in After effects.

Trapcode Particular and Trapcode Form (AE plugin)

These 2 particle systems are very helpful for creating space, simulating elements, flows and dynamics etc. They were essential for my animations. You can view examples and demo clips via the Trapcode/Red Giant websites.

Optical Flare (AE plugin)

Also one very important element. Optcial Flare is a plugin by Video Copilot for After Effects that simulate lens flares and bright light sources. It gives your shots a very refined feeling. I used this for all the light effects.

I learned most of the techniques myself by watching tons of tutorials on the internet. It is best to have a basic understanding about AE and the workflow and then use tutorials to achieve specific shots.

foliate-01-raw-600x338Raw apophysis renderfoliate-01-form-600x338Particles and lens flares appliedfoliate-01-lens-600x338Color grading and lens effects applied

Tips on fractal animations

Here I want to pass on my experiences concerning fractal animation. Since I have some background knowledge on film and editing, I often notice a bunch of "mistakes" that I see in many fractal animations. "Mistakes" only in that sense, if you want to make your animations credible, cinematic and not "too far out there".

Credible dynamics

is in my opinion one of the most important things to create a believable basis. If your fractals look great but the dynamic and movements in the animation don't work then the whole thing does not work. Movement include how the fractal moves but also how the camera moves. In many mandelbrot or mandelbulb zooms I notice sudden random changes of the camera movement or doing back and forth movements or have the fractal morph back and forth. These are dynamics that are very unnatural and just don't look credible. Of course nature is the greatest teacher, so observing the processes of nature is the best reference. Understanding the behaviour of those dynamics and using them in your animation is a really good way to go - time lapse and fast forward always works on top of that.

Cinematic frame

The format or image dimension is a basic issue. Best to render out the fractals/animations in 16:9. Today hardwares become really affordable, so render times become less of an issue. The lowest resolution in my opinion should be 720p. If possible go for standard HD 1080p. Also if you want use letterboxes, for example over an existing animation, it will create a cinematic look.

Color correction / Color grading

Color correction means to normalise and optimise the colors in a shot. Color grading means to creatively influence the colors to affect mood and atmosphere. This is quite standard procedure in film post production and when applied to animation can make quite a difference. There are a bunch of standard tools and great plugins for this - for example the Red Giant Color suite for AE.

Lens effects

Is another key element I use. The problem with fractals and digitally created images is that they often have that "digital" look, in other words it does not look realistic or anything like you would see in nature. So I always try to make the digital renders look more analog, more like shots made with a real camera. To achieve this to a certain degree, I use a combination of effects to create a strong lens-like effect. This way you simulate the look of a camera or lens, that is recording something in an abstract or imaginary space. The effects are:
1. Vignette: Quite standard effect and available in almost all programs. This darkens edges of the shot.
2. Blur edge: Can be part of the vignette - this blurs the edges of the shot.
3. lens distortion: depending on the shot I usually use around 10-15%. This distorts the edges of the shot creating the lens-look.
4. Chromatic aberration: This effect is a colour distortion effect that occurs in the lens system of a camera. The spectrum gets pulled apart the closer it gets to the edge of the lens.
5. Film noise: This effect simulate the noise of low light information on recordings. This enhances the feeling of an analog shot. I never use this on white and bright colours, cause there is "enough information" - omit the heights and only use this from mid range to dark.

Remember to not over-use any of these effects. Use them subtle so the effect itself does not become obvious. Too heavy-handed might look amatueristic.

I hope this is helpful for you. Comments and Feedbacks are welcome > contact