Industry Practice


I want to take the opportunity of this unit to completely focus on improving my fluid dynamics skills. In, past projects I have been able to use some dynamics but its always been overshadowed by animation or modelling etc. With this unit I can put all my time into researching and developing these specific skills, preparing me for the industry, plus giving me some dynamics to put into my show reel, which I desperately need.


Simulations are found all across the animation industry, you’ll find it in games, feature films, tv and adverts. Although they are hardly ever the main aspect of an animation (bar something like Moana) they really help to add that extra dimension of detail.

There are a bunch of software packages used in the industry for the creation of dynamic simulations. From my experience and research the main packages used are Houdini, Realflow, Phoenix FD and FumeFX.


Houdini is a procedural node based 3D package, its functionality is not too dissimilar to that of Maya. Its main focus has been on effective built in simulation tools, but with recent updates its modelling, rigging and animating tools have become close to that of Maya, if not even more. Houdini is generally the go to for any sort of simulation. Its customise-ability and functionality is next to none for any dynamics solution. It has all the dynamics tools built into the vanilla version, with no plugins required. This is where Houdini trumps Maya. The drawback of Houdini is due to its complexity and wide range of tools, it takes a long time to become proficient at using it. It would be like learning how to use Maya x10 all over again.


Real flow is a dedicated fluid simulation program. Its functionality ranges from small, macro liquid simulations, like water droplets. To medium scale rivers and large scale ocean surface simulations. As well as liquids it can create soft and hard body and even granular simulations, like sand and snow.

Realflow is node based like Houdini, a workflow I find much easier to use, the ability to view the whole work tree and make non destructive changes. However unlike Houdini, Realflow only deals with dynamics, mostly fluid dynamics, but it has some soft body and rigid body functionality. The node based system and focused tools make Realflow a much easier program to learn. I have been using it last term and this term, the simulations are quick, but the meshing tools, I find at smaller resolutions, make the liquid look too smooth and more paint like instead of like water. This came in handy for a project where I needed to make an oil like substance, but for this project I want to create something of a higher quality.

Phoenix FD and Fume FX

Phoenix and Fume are very similar software packages. They are both plugins for Maya and other packages, they are very similar in terms of functionality, however Fume FX only deals with volumetric and and particle fluid dynamics, whereas Phoenix FD has the option for liquid fluid dynamics as well. This is one of the reasons I am using Phoenix as my simulator this term. Another reason I am using Phoenix is that, The Chaosgroup (creators of VRay and Phoenix FD) offer a student version for around £70, but Fume FX do not. I could have used a pirated copy but i would not have an updated version, it could be buggy, and I wouldn’t have the support directly from the company. I have purchased both Vray and Phoenix student copies to accelerate my dynamics studies.

Because Phoenix and Vray are produced by the same company, the two plugins work seamlessly together within Maya. This makes pipelines very streamlined and effective. Render times are reduced when compared to rendering Maya fluids, simulations are faster, and Phoenix comes with built in shaders, which can produce content to a photo real standard.


Thinking forward to the future as a freelance artist, using Phoenix makes more sense than Houdini. Yes Houdini is more widely used in the industry but is very expensive costing $4500 yearly. When compared to Phoenix which is £500 one off payment, plus Vray £600, and the cost of Maya £1600 yearly, going this route I would save over £1000 every year and still be able to produce high quality content.

From my research, speaking to the guys from Rixy and other people from the industry all say that feature film is the highest paid sector but work can be hard to come by. Saying this however, the market is not very saturated so when work does come along, dynamic artists get picked up straight away.

Networking in this industry is key. With few Dynamic artists in the industry, artists will gain a reputation for certain tasks such as fire or water simulations, and a large network will make work easy to find.


The Simulation

As mentioned previously I will be using Phoenix FD to produce the simulation for this unit. Phoenix comes with built in presets but I will be building the simulation from the ground up to show the whole workflow.

There is sadly not much online content for Phoenix FD for Maya, the majority of tutorials I found were for 3dsMax. However because the programs are so similar, it was not so hard to transfer the information into Maya. The ChaosGroup have a fantastic documentation site, which details everything about each attribute, although this is helpful, it does sometimes lack the information on the application of said attributes and unless you kno what your reading it won’t make sense. Below is all the content I have used to help me further my learning


Here are my progress playblasts, at the start the waves were coming out too linear, not enough variation, it was also moving too slowly. This was a problem with the world scaling of the ocean texture, I changed the metre scale to 1 and added some more velocity. I also added an uneven surface below to alter the flow and create more interesting wave shapes. After increasing the resolution the 2nd playblast was the result.

Video Breakdown

Here is the video breakdown, the actual run time was about 3-4 hours but I have condensed it down to 2-3 minutes, i briefly voice over detailing what i am currently doing.

Here is my final rendered out come, I am quite pleased with the results. I have rendered it out in a square resolution as I intend to post it on my Instagram as part of my plan to improve my online profile.

The water level has rendered at a fine detail and in my opinion is close to photo real. I would’ve liked to have run a high resolution simulation, this would prevent the water droplets you see on the building from being so large. This would also have added more foam and splashes to the scene which I think it needs. I was able to boost the foam in nuke as i had rendered out a pass of just foam, i couldn’t make there be more foam but i could boost the levels and make it more visible.

This has been a helpful project, to get to the final stage I had done many previous R&D tests, this has far broadened my knowledge of phoenix FD. In my opinion having problems is the only way you learn, learning the solutions brings knowledge.

I will be continuing to use Phoenix over the summer as part of portfolio unit. producing short 10 second videos and posting them on social media. hopefully by the start of next term I will have a bank of various simulations i can use for my portfolio