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  1. 3D & Motion Graphics
  2. 3D
Cgi

Creating Realistic Clouds in Autodesk 3ds Max Using Particle Flow and AfterBurn

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Difficulty:IntermediateLength:MediumLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

AfterBurn is a great volumetric plugin for Autodesk 3ds Max. In this tutorial, I'll show you how to use AfterBurn, along with Particle Flow, to create a realistic puffy cloud scene. I'll finish by doing some compositing in Adobe After Effects to make the result look even better. 

1. Creating the Wire Structure

Step 1

First of all go to Create > Particles > Particle Flow Source

Creating PF Source
Creating PF Source

Step 2

Then draw a PF Source icon in the perspective viewport.

Creating PF Source Icon in the Viewport
Creating PF Source Icon in the Viewport

Step 3

Click on the Modify panel and then click on the Particle View tab. Alternatively, you can press the 6 key on the keyboard. 

Ways to Access the Particle Flow
Ways to Access the Particle Flow 

This opens the Particle View window:

Opening the Particle View Window
Opening the Particle View Window

Step 4

Select the Speed, Rotation and Shape operators and then delete them, as these operators are not required for creating static clouds. If, however, you want some motion in cloud puffs then you can play with these parameters later.

Deleting Several Operators
Deleting Several Operators

Step 5

Select the Birth operator and set the values of Emit Stop as 0 and Amount as 10.

Setting the Birth Parameter
Setting the Birth Parameter

Step 6

Select the PF Source icon in the viewport and change the Viewport % value to 100.

100 Particles in the Viewport
100% Particles in the Viewport

Step 7

Set Icon Type as Box and set the Length, Width and Height values as 50, 80 and 10 respectively. The values may differ in your case.

Changing PF Source Icons Parameters
Changing PF Source Icon's Parameters

2. Applying AfterBurn Effects

Step 1

Go to Rendering > Environment, or press the 8 key on the keyboard.

Opening Environment Window
Opening Environment Window

Step 2

This opens the Environment and Effects window. Inside the Atmosphere panel, click on the Add tab. This opens the Add Atmospheric Effect sub-window. Select AfterBurn and click OK.

Applying AfterBurn Effect
Applying AfterBurn Effect

Step 3

You will see AfterBurn and FusionWorks Renderer are added to the list.

Applying FusionWorks Renderer
Applying FusionWorks Renderer

Step 4

Apply a standard Target Spot light in the scene. I have done it this way to illuminate the AfterBurn particles. I can always change its settings at a later stage.

Applying a Traget Spot Light
Applying a Target Spot Light

Step 5

Turn on the Shadow option and choose AB Shadow Map. Increase the Multiplier value a bit and choose a light blue color for the light’s color.

Changing the Parameters of the Light
Changing the Parameters of the Light

Step 6

Press 8 on the keyboard to open the Environment and Effects window again. Select the AfterBurn effect which opens the AfterBurn Manager below.

Opening AfterBurn Manager
Opening AfterBurn Manager

Step 7

First click on the Pick Particles/Daemons icon, and then select the PF Source icon in the viewport. This adds the PF Source to the list. Click on the Show in Viewport icon to see the actual shape of the AfterBurn particles in the viewport.

Selecting the PF Source Icon in the List
Selecting the PF Source Icon in the List

Step 8

Click on the Pick Lights icon and press the H key to open the Pick Object window. Select the spot light and then click on the Pick button. You will see the spot light gets added to the scene.

Selecting the Light Source in the List
Selecting the Light Source in the List

Step 9

Render the scene now. At this stage it still doesn’t look very realistic. I need to tweak some parameters and their values and then it will look much better.

Rendering the Scene
Rendering the Scene

Step 10

First of all, go to the Particle Shape parameter and change the Sphere Radius to 25 and Squash to 1.5. Set the Variation percentage to 50.

Changing the Radius Value of AfterBurn Particles
Changing the Radius Value of AfterBurn Particles

Step 11

Go to the Rendering parameter, change the Falloff to 1.5, and turn on the Self Shadows option. This will enable the cloud to generate and receive its own shadow.

Changing the Falloff Value
Changing the Falloff Value

Step 12

Render the scene to see how it looks. Now we can see the cloud formation clearly. But I've still got to change a few more things to make it look like a realistic cloud.

Render the Scene
Render the Scene

Step 13

Go to the Shading parameter and change the Ambient Color to light blue. After rendering the scene you will clearly see the difference in the ambient shadow part.

Changing the Ambient Color
Changing the Ambient Color

Step 14

Go to the Noise Animation parameter and change the Noise Size to 25. Set the Type as Smoke and don’t forget to turn on the Cubic option.

Changing the Noise Size
Changing the Noise Size

Step 15

Render the scene again. Now the cloud looks much better.

Render the Scene
Render the Scene

Step 16

You can increase the Density to 5 to check the result.

Increasing the Density
Increasing the Density

Step 17

Press 6 to open the Particle View once again and this time decrease the Amount to 5. A smaller amount of particles will make only one or two big puffs of cloud.

Decreasing the Number of Birth Particles
Decreasing the Number of Birth Particles

Step 18

Change the Shadow Falloff value to 1.5 to make the shadow a bit smoother. Also decrease the Opacity amount to 0.7 or 0.8 to reduce the darkness of the shadow.

Changing the Falloff and Opacity Values
Changing the Falloff and Opacity Values

Step 19

Now let’s render the scene and see how it looks. You can check from any angle. It looks pretty good.

Render the Scene
Render the Scene

Step 20

Try tweaking some more parameters and their values to get different results. Decrease the Noise value to 15 and then render the scene to check how it looks.

Changing the Noise Size
Changing the Noise Size

Step 21

To add some more variation decrease the Hi Threshold value to 0.7 and the Low Threshold value to 0.2. It adds fractal and turbulent edges to the cloud.

Changing the Threshold Values
Changing the Threshold Values

Step 22

This time increase the Noise value to 20 and select the Cubic option. The Cubic option adds much smoother and feathered edges to the cloud.

Decreasing the Noise Size
Decreasing the Noise Size

Step 23

Once you’re satisfied with the settings, go to the Smoke parameter and increase the Levels value to 15. Now render the scene and you will see more detailed cloud puffs.

Increasing the Levels Values
Increasing the Levels Values

Step 24

Go to Rendering > Render Setup. This opens the Render Setup window. Here go to the Renderer tab and select Catmull-Rom as the Filter.

Changing the Rendering Filter to Catmull-Rom
Changing the Rendering Filter to Catmull-Rom

Step 25

Now render the scene once again. The Catmull-Rom filter makes the rendered frame sharper.

Rendering the Scene
Rendering the Scene

Step 26

Increase the Length and Width values of the PF Source box. This will scatter the cloud puffs across a broader area.

Scattering the PF Cloud
Scattering the PF Cloud

Step 27

Go to Rendering > Environment and set the Background color as black.

Black Background
Black Background

Step 28

Render the scene. The cloud looks quite nice. It's time to do some compositing in Adobe After Effects and add some effects to make the final result look much better.

Redering the Final Frame
Rendering the Final Frame

3. Compositing in Adobe After Effects

Step 1

Open After Effects, import the cloud footage, and place it on the timeline.

Opening After Effects
Opening After Effects

Step 2

Press Control-Y to create a new Solid Layer. The solid layer color should be white. Put this white solid layer behind the cloud layer.

Creating a Solid Layer
Creating a Solid Layer

Step 3

Take the Ellipse masking tool and, while pressing Shift-Alt, mask a circular area in the white solid layer. This will act as the Sun. Add some feathering as well.

Masking the Solid Layer
Masking the Solid Layer
Feathering the Mask
Feathering the Mask

Step 4

With the white solid layer selected, go to Effects > Sapphire Lighting > S_Rays. Use the same settings as shown in the image. You can play with the values to get different results.

Adding Rays
Adding Rays

Step 5

Make another solid layer and make its color royal blue, just like the sky. Put this layer beneath all the layers.

Creating a Navy Blue Background
Creating a Royal Blue Background

Step 6

With the cloud layer selected, press Control-D to make a duplicate layer of it. Select the upper duplicated layer and apply the Brightness & Contrast effect. Use the values shown in the image.

Adjusting the Brightness and Contrast
Adjusting the Brightness and Contrast

Step 7

Pick the Pen tool and make a mask around the cloud layer as shown here.

Making a Mask Around the Cloud
Making a Mask Around the Cloud

Step 8

With the upper white solid layer selected, go to Effects > Sapphire Lighting > S_LensFlare. The settings shown in the image will give a nice lens flare effect.

Adding Lens Flare Effect

Step 9

Finally, add a Tint effect to the upper cloud layer to make it a bit unsaturated.

Adding Tint Effect
Adding Tint Effect

This is the cloud I made following the same procedure. You can play with the settings, parameters and their values to get different results. I hope you enjoyed the tutorial. Do share your results and views.

Final Scene
Final Scene

A Composited Scene

A Different Look with Live Element
A Different Look with Live Element!

Conclusion

In this tutorial I’ve shown you how to create a puffy cloud scene in 3ds Max using AfterBurn and Particle Flow. AfterBurn is a great volumetric plugin for 3ds Max. You must give it a try. I hope you have enjoyed the tutorial.

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