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Creating Out-of-this-World Clouds with Krakatoa 

The opening sequence of Paramount’s “Star Trek Beyond” takes viewers on an awe-inspiring journey through a colorful interstellar dust and gas cloud. Though scientists have captured incredible real-life visuals through space exploration, imagery of this nature is often largely accomplished through CG artistry. Alaa Al Nahlawi, head of VFX Arabia, recently shared a tutorial on how to create a CG nebula using Autodesk 3ds Max, PFlow, Sitni Sati’s FumeFX and Krakatoa.

Nahlawi’s main technique for creating the cloud body starts with generating a FumeFX cloud from a deformed mesh. To achieve a more defined look, he uses the Fume simulation with its density channel and loads it into Krakatoa using PRT FumeFX loader to deliver a smokier effect.

“Krakatoa renders millions or even billions of particles with lighting and shading so fast since particles don’t need a polygon face for rendering. I’ve added Krakatoa to my arsenal whenever particle rendering is needed; it enhances my existing production pipeline. I don’t know any plugin out there that can handle such a massive amount of particles in terms of rendering time and shading control,” said Nahlawi.

Depending on their origin and age, nebulas come in many shapes and colors, which means their appearance can vary greatly. Once an artist has determined the desired look of a nebula, they can move to 3ds Max and block out underlying geometry that FumeFX will use as an emission source. It’s important that the simulation contain a significant amount of detail and voxels for a realistic result. Since this particular shot is a camera fly-through, only one frame of the simulation is actually needed.

“The beauty of working with FumeFX in Krakatoa is that we can pump up the particle count with the Subdivision Region option, and also have the ability to utilize the density channel to drive color across an image sequence,” Nahlawi explained.

Delivering the appropriate color gradient is also a key part of the process. It should be bright and hot at the center and cold and dusty towards the edges. Once complete, the artist can then apply a Magma modifier and following, map the density channel, feed it to a texture coordinate and apply a Krakatoa material with a gradient map. In some cases, the artist might prefer to use a large 3D noise map and feed it to a density channel to break the continuous shape of the fume puff.

“When I first set out to make the nebula, working with the Krakatoa Magma modifier was new to me so I dug out every learning material from the Thinkbox website and YouTube; I have a strong background dealing with nodes flow and CG math, which helped. Having worked with Cebas Thinking Particles, it took me only two days to master everything I needed; it’s an amazing feature,” said Nahlawi.  

For the stars pass, the artist uses the same FumeFX cloud but applies a different Magma Flow. First, the whole cloud needs to be filtered, selecting a star-like pattern using a 3D noise map. The remaining elements can then be deleted. Adding color is the next step to ensure a level of self-illumination through the emission channel. When lighting, a top and center light provide the optimal look. The shadow map should be turned on and Krakatoa will read the resolution. Higher resolutions result in longer render times, but details will be more pronounced. Though rendering in Krakatoa is highly customizable, an artist may only want to modify absorption, emission, final pass density and lighting density to keep things simple. Absorption should be set to blue so that light will shift towards warmer colors as it passes through the cloud, but density can be adjusted until the desired effect is realized. Once the emission channel is activated, the stars will glow.

“Krakatoa has a cache functionality so when you render a cached animation, all the color, emission, absorption, lighting and shadow information can be calculated only once, stored to RAM and applied across the whole animation, which will save your life. In my case, it took around 20 min and 45GB of RAM to calculate everything I need for the first frame and the rest about two to four minutes, depending on how many particles are in the view to draw; we are talking about 1.1 billion particles,” said Nahlawi.

Once rendered, the image sequence is imported to The Foundry’s NUKE to add additional color, motion blur, retiming, grain and star glare.

Check out Nahlawi’s full tutorial here 



'Ludicrously fast' production-ready rendering

So, you've heard of Redshift – but what is it? and how could it be useful for you?

Redshift is the world's fastest renderer built to meet the specific demands of contemporary high-end production rendering.

By leveraging the incredible computing performance and efficiency of the GPU, Redshift dramatically speeds up rendering, resulting in faster iteration and lower costs.

If you'd like to find out more about Redshift, take a look at our Redshift page or head over to the Thinkbox Marketplace


Next Limit Technologies RealFlow and Maxwell join the Thinkbox Marketplace

Next Limit Technologies RealFlow and Maxwell are now available on-demand via the Thinkbox Marketplace!

RealFlow fluid simulation software and the Maxwell visualization rendering toolkit can now be purchased per-minute, offering artists, designers and architects the flexibility to easily scale as projects demand.

RealFlow is a fluid and dynamics simulation tool for the 3D and visual effects industry, developed by Next Limit Technologies to simulate fluids, water surfaces, fluid-solid interactions, rigid bodies, soft bodies and meshes. Find out more here

Maxwell Render is an unbiased 3D render engine used in the film, animation, and VFX industry. Find out more here

“We are thrilled to have partnered with Next Limit to bring a usage-based licensing model to users of RealFlow and Maxwell. On-demand licensing empowers customers of all sizes to work how and where they want with the ability to scale at a moment’s notice, and our aim is to continue to bring this infinite scale and flexibility to our users with key partners like Next Limit,” - said Chris Bond, founder, Thinkbox Software.

“Thinkbox is changing the way software is used across industries, and we’re excited to extend the accessibility of our products through its online marketplace,” said Martin van Stein, Head of Sales, Next Limit.


Maxwell and RealFlow join a host of other third-party applications available on demand via Thinkbox including NVIDIA Iray and Mental Ray, Redshift, The Foudry Nuke, Katana and Peregrine Labs’ Yeti.

Check out the marketplace now


Thinkbox Software Releases Frost MX 2.0; Launches Beta for Frost MY 2.0

Back in July - CG Press revealed an awesome preview of Frost MX 2.0 creating V-Ray instances of a Sequoia XMesh. Today we are delighted to announce the full availability of Frost MX 2.0 and the beta for Frost MY 2.0 for Autodesk® Maya.

A go-to tool for meshing particles and fluid simulations for many artists, Frost MX 2.0 nearly doubles the performance of previous releases, integrates more deeply with Chaos Group’s V-Ray and introduces new workflow improvements for greater ease of use. 


With up to twice the speed in particle meshing modes, Frost MX 2.0 allows artists to increase productivity and complete jobs more quickly. Its integration with V-Ray v3.1 and higher enables customizable particle scattering for distributing and rendering millions of mesh instances in Custom Geometry meshing mode. The new V-Ray Instancing mode leverages dynamic memory allocation to render millions of high-resolution meshes with very low memory overhead. Frost MX 2.0 continues to support all Custom Geometry features in V-Ray Instancing mode, including particle channel propagation, material and shape ID controls, animation timing offsets and motion blur from particle velocity. Coupled with the advanced particle generation and Magma data channel manipulation capabilities offered by Thinkbox’s Krakatoa MX, which is available at no extra cost via the License-Free mode, the V-Ray Instancing feature offers a whole new world of power and flexibility to Frost users.  

"The latest version of Frost is a massive leap forward in terms of speed. By stripping away much of the computational burden traditionally associated with data-heavy particle meshes and fluid simulations, we’re enabling artists to work more dynamically and see their work come to life more quickly," 

Chris Bond, founder, Thinkbox Software.

Close-up of a macrophage rendered with Frost MX 2. Image courtesy of Khye Kading.

Additionally, the new Region of Interest option in Frost MX 2.0 lets users easily define a custom bounding box region that can be applied to Viewport meshing for faster previews while adjusting settings of complex particle data sets, to remove unwanted areas in Render-time meshing, or both. A dedicated Frost menu bar has been added to 3ds Max’s main menu for faster access to major features such as creating Frost objects, auto-adding new sources to a Frost object, accessing the Log window, and mass-changing the meshing mode of selected Frost objects.

Screenshot of Frost MX 2.0 inside Autodesk 3ds Max 2017 showcasing the Region of Interest feature. Waterfall dataset courtesy of Adam Guzowski of

Frost MX 2.0 is available for 64-bit versions of 3ds Max from 2012 to 2017, and requires an updated license. To request an evaluation, purchase a new license or renew an existing one, please visit:

For beta access to Frost MY 2.0, please contact


Catch CEO Chris Bond @ Flexera's SoftSummit 2016


If you're heading down to San Jose, CA for this year's Flexera SoftSummit 2016, then be sure to check out Thinkbox CEO Chris Bond kick off the first outbreak session in Track 1 with his talk "Moving to a Consumption/Usage-based Model".

Deadline 8 has revolutionised the way users can purchase software licenses for rendering by introducing it's per-minute licensing model.

Chris will be discussing the move of Thinkbox's Deadline render management software into it's latest major release, the challenges and successes of moving to this software model and how the Flexera partnership has supported it.

Registration is now open for SoftSummit 2016.


WHEN: October 12th 2016, 13:30-14:00

WHERE: San Jose Marriott Hotel

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