“Frozen X-WING” Scene Breakdown

“Frozen X-WING” Scene Breakdown

VFX specialist Niels PRAYER (Robocop 2014, Minions.) showed how to create an awesome looking Star Wars scene thanks to the procedural power of Houdini.

We’ve asked VFX artist Niels PRAYER to talk a little about the way you can use Houdini to build really smart and interesting scenes in a short period of time. In this short post Niels (he worked on Robocop 2014 & Minions) talked about his production process and the way Houdini can help to build incredibly looking scenes.

Frozen X-WING


I’m Niels PRAYER. I’m a French VFX Supervisor and Director based in Paris. I’m working for Supamonks Studio at now, after some months in England at Framestore and almost a year, back in France, at Illumination Macguff. I’ve worked on Robocop 2014 and Minions. Now, with Supamonks, I can create my own project, most of them are short motion design sequence, such as Elemental, Mankind or Human painted Face. You can find it on my Vimeo!

Learning Procedural Behavior in Houdini with Star Wars

Yeah, in the beginning, I’m just trying to combine with only one attribute (color for instance) the displace, the reflection and the refraction of a shader. Just like that, I’ve just tried to change a procedural noise pattern or paint a texture, and my displace/refraction/reflection will be modified by that.


And then, after a little break, I had some clean up in my 3D files and I’ve found that X-wing model downloaded few weeks ago. I’ve thought “That’s could be amazing to put that thing with a custom shader I’m working on”. So I’ve converted the Spaceship in some curves pattern with some areas painted for the ice material later, and I created a simple landscape with my fresh new material, tweaking a little bit the parameters to obtain a great snow/ice shader and that’s it!

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First, I’ve applied to the ship an effect I really like, that is to populate some particles onto the surface and converting it to curves to obtain an abstract shape. Then, I’ve created a basic grid with couple of turbulent noise to give some relief to it and put the color to a custom attribute for displace, reflection and refraction in mantra. Clouds are basically boxes with volume and fractal noise applied to them, rendered with billowy smoke shader.

I’ve made that piece in 3 or 4 hours. The most difficult part was to set the refraction for Ice, to have this nice effect, not too refractive, not too opaque. The most time consuming was to adapt my test shader to the scene. It’s not really the same for the ground and the Ship. Due to the scale of the scene, there is a lot of tweaking and you have to wait the render each time, to see the result.

The List of Tools

Essentially, I’m using Houdini as main 3D application, sometimes a little bit Maya to arrange the models I’m working with, Mantra for rendering, and After Effects and Nuke in Comp. There is no “best” plug-in or software! It all depends of the sensibility of each artist. Now, you can do anything you want with all the software there’s on the market. For an image like that, just pay attention to details and tiny elements to give life to your scene.

Niels PRAYER, VFX Artist

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