My take on on Simon's recent X-wing tutorial

Okay, I remember the 1997 special edition when everyone in the theater said, Oooh, when this shot came up. It's a cool shot. So when FxHome/Simon did a tutorial on this it became an excuse.

An excuse to give using 3D models a go. An excuse to buy a nice X-wing 3D model. An excuse to educate myself. Sold.

The main thing I wanted to play with was if/how/easy would it be to have the fleet of ships done with a more fluid movement. In past I had seen an  example or two where everything was kinda stiff and rigid feeling. The answer to that question turns out that is very easy. Although, I wish the lifetime panel was more functional with 3D models used as the texture. That would open up additional possibilities.

I did not try to dup the original shot. Without a pilot/head moving in the cockpit I'm not interested. I did not try to dup Simon's tutorial. He already did that.  So this is my take.


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    Lock S-foils in attack position! 

  • Great one! I love it :) One thing to mention, try to use the new animation value graph for the camera rig. Sharp turns and stops are undermine the effect a bit.

  • Nice movement on the ships!

  • I did find a stray keyframe in the camera stop from a previous iteration of camera movement I tried. I wasn't paying close enough attention. Focused on other things.

  • Yup- the movement on the ships is nice and fluid. Great job!

  • NormanPCN, I love your video!  After watching it, I decided to take a stab, and here it is.  I don't have an animation X-Wing model, so I used a free model that I found online.  As a result, the foils don't move.  The orange planet is a modified Mars, and the blue planet is of my own creation.  I couldn't find a Death Star that I liked, so I used a new Death Star instead.

  • edited January 2016

    Thanks for posting your take on the shot. I am kinda torn on a slower ship movement so you can see them in better detail or more of an exhibition of speed. I like both and obviously I did the later.

    I had thought of trying something where the camera moved at half ship speed to slow the flyby for a rear view shot but I thought the R2D2 view might be funny. I should have had R2 pan his camera.

    This is where I got my Death Star. It's free. Death Star 1 (version 2) MAX & 3DS.

    The normals needed to be flipped in the Advanced Tab on import. Even then the trench normals still seem to be backwards. Also getting the materials right for the laser weapon takes a bit of fiddling as it does not show up (preview) properly in the models property window. I guess all this is the "cost" of a free model.

  • Man, update #3 is going to make this kind of camera move so much easier.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    It's not nice of you to tease us like that, @SimonKJones ;

  • edited January 2016

    Thanks @NormanPCN, I will check it out.  @Triem23, I agree with you, it is NOT nice to tease us like that! :)  Thanks also to Tony for pointing me the the right direction while looking online for models.  That was a great help!

  • I idea of new camera move abilities has got to give the mighty @Triem23 a very serious itch. He is after all, Mr. Cool Camera Move.

  • @senseihaynes  No problem chap, I have you registered, I hope the Facebook login wasn't giving you any trouble it should be fixed now :) 

  • @NXVisualStudio... Thanks, it works great!

  • Lucas could not stop changing things, and since this is a Star Wars clip, so when in Rome...

    My excuse was I wanted to experiment with doing a "fancy" camera move around one of the ships. This is what I came up with. I did run into an issue in HF4 with regards to spatial bezier control points on a parented layer. Whacko mouse movements and you can only get a coarse adjustment which is good enough for proof of concept. There is a lot of power in combining temporal bezier and spatial bezier. The bug notwithstanding, it is pretty easy and intuitive to use.


  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    That second shot is actually a really good camera move. Nicely done! Now... Let's get some glow on the thrusters... 

    I see two basic approaches here--first, load up a plain sphere 3D model and set it's Diffuse, Specular and Emissive colors to pure white {255,255,255}. Drag this sphere into the same model layer as your fighter, duplicate, scale, and reposition into place. The way your shots are set up, your particle sim can composite in 2D mode. This means you can add effects! Put in a Glow with a Threshold of 100% and use A/B colors for a white and pink glow. The only catch here is adjusting lighting so nothing on an X-Wing blows out to pure white except the spheres. 

    Second method is trickier to set up. Basically you duplicate your particle emitter for the fleet and change the particle type to a 2D image set to Billboard to Camera. (Sparks Star?) You offset this emitter into position to line up with an engine, then duplicate this emitter another three times. Since all emitters will have the same seed, everything will line up. In fact, with a little more duplication work and a little keyframing you can have procedural fleets fire procedural weapons! 

    This shot uses duplicate emitters to provide the ships, thrusters and weapons fire, AND initial explosions, all in a single particle sim layer.

    @SimonKJones hiw did you do your engine glows? 

  • For my X Wing shot I went super simple and just parented a 3D plane to the back of the ships where thrusters were visible and slapped some custom light flares on. That was it! Worked nicely, but was very specific to this specific shot and wouldn't work for a more complex camera/ship move (which is why I didn't cover it in the tutorial).

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator

    Makes sense. 

  • edited January 2016

    Thanks @Triem23. That move was easy given that the camera was parented to the moving ship. So the camera movement was not complicated by the forward movement. The parenting was also the source of the issue I bumped into.

    I wondered if/when someone would comment I did not have any engine exhaust. I intentionally skipped this as I was/am in the middle of experimenting.

    I like your 3D exhaust ideas and look into those.

     Since I don't know jack, my initial thought was that I would need to render, then bring the render back in so I could track the nozzles to overlay a simple color glow there like in the films. This is easy, but is a lot of work/time with a lot of fighters in front of the camera. Thus I skipped it. That is something you do when you are "done".

    My first 3D thought was to define point layers in the app on the nozzles. However, with multiple objects in a model layer, I cannot parent a point to a specific object within the object layer. This is limiting. My X-wing "hero" ships (3) each have their own wiggle movements which of course are relative to the world transform of the object layer. The world transform moves linearly from A to B. The ships each bounce around and rotate small amounts back and forth so the fleet does not look stiff. So I would have to copy/duplicate the ship keyframe sequences, which again, is a maintenance issue and something you do when you are "done".

    My next thought was a feature addition to Hitfilm. It would be nice if Hitfilm let us define a "point" on the object we could use in the app. Being able to place a point in the model properties viewer and that point is relative to the object center so the point moves/rotates with the object. It sounds like a useful thing but how to present it and use it in the app layers. I would guess they could show up similarly to object animation transforms. But they would not be actual layers you could reference as Hitfilm exists now. Often simple things like this have their biggest difficulty in presenting the resultant data within the app user interface framework. Hitfilm knowing where such a point is at any given time is trivial. Presenting that data to the user for us to use can be complicated. With any object that an exhaust or an emissive light or whatever it could be useful to have an object relative position point available to use in the app.


  • @Triem23 I tried some quick tests based on your suggestion(s) and creating a bunch of points and proper parent relationships I can get this 3D exhaust thing to work and no keyframe cut/paste.

    I would have never thought about putting a sphere inside the exhaust port. I need the exhaust points as children of the object since the Xwing rotates and since the engines are off axis there is positional translation.

    Using a particle sim for exhaust becomes complicated. Like in Simon's TUT I am displaying the "hero" ships in addition to the particle sim ships. Because of the wing open animation, and thus using animated in the particle sim, unrolled does not work on the hero ships. The particle sim fleet disappears when unrolled is used there. Also, with just a "fleet" there is no object to parent the camera to for my camera move.

    I will have to reset a number of things to get setup for 3D exhaust. I have to move everything out to points. Individual objects can have a parent. A side effect of this is that when an object in an object layer gets a parent, the world transform is then ignored for that object. So moving the global transform will not move all objects. Also when parenting the object within an object layer the X-wing wings become detached from the main model body unless to model is at 0,0,0 and has not been moved. Normally parent/unparent computations work fine. There is a slightly different relationship between object animation parts, the object and the world transform. I think one part of the computation is missing for this specific circumstance.

    I like this whole 3D exhaust thing. It can (hopefully) just work no matter what my model or camera are doing.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator


    Yeah, I don't know how you've set up your animation, but one thing about both methods I've suggested is they are both a hellofa lot easier to set up BEFORE animating the scene! (In fact, if you're going with the sphere method, I suggest making a new composite shot, moving an X-wing into it, centering up the X-wing (position/rotation 0,0,0), rigging it for motion and with the sphere, then saving it out as a Composite Shot, so that if you ever do another X-Wing shot you never-ever have to rig that again. While you're at it, parent up points for the turbolaser cannons. That way everything is pre-rigged and saved as a preset for future use.)

    I've never encounted issues with multiple models in a layer disabling World Transform! Odd, that. I've used both the sphere and particle methods for thrusters before, but I've never done it on something like an X-Wing where the engines themselves are prone to movement, so I do see where that's caused a couple of extra rigging headaches.

    How have you set up your rigging? Basic question, but I think I would have moved the anchor points in the wings (if not already in the proper location), then I'd rig a "X-Wing Move" point for the world transform, then parent "S-Foil" pivots to the Move point, then parented the spheres and wings to their respective points, which should keep everything locked together. But, again, this is easier to set up BEFORE animation instead of having a 90% complete shot and having to add that last little element. I've made that error before myself. ;-)

    Actually I'm in the midst of that annoyance myself--I have a fairly long short in progress that's all animation, and with HF 4 coming out I've been going back through all the completed shots and re-doing materials and tweaking a few things. I also decided to take the project from 720p to 1080p, so--yeah, it's a pain. heh.

  • edited January 2016

    Okay @Triem23 here is some glow on the thrusters. I used your idea about using a sphere to source a glow effect. Once setup, all ships get automatically handled. The model has enough depth there that I could tuck the sphere in such that it is not visible from the side.

    The glow effect can only be used from behind due to some reflections at specific angles relative to my lights and of course the lighting needs to be right as you described. So where is that works everywhere, all the time on everything no matter what feature. ;)

    Thanks for all the help.

    I tweaked my lighting and I like the look better. I do notice some anomalies with the Hitfilm lighting shadows. I have a directional light on the ship left and a point light at the orange planet. In the Death Star view you can see the shadows "dancing" on the ship surfaces. By that I mean the shadow shape/position is computed differently on successive frames. The last ship to pass under the camera really shows this just to the right of the upper left engine.

    This experience did reveal to me a good way to rig the ship with layered parent relationships. The X-wing complicates things since the wings move and the engine moves with the wing. That means the engine exhaust sphere/glow has to move and stay registered. Gotta get the anchor point right.

    I did find something interesting about the X-wing model I;m using. I am 99.9% sure I have the same model used by Simon in his tutorial. It turns out you don't have to monkey with the anchor points for the wings as shown in the tut. Just zero out the position and anchor to zero. Now in the wings open position it looks much more like the Turbosquid example screen shots. I'll tag @SimonKJones in case he might find this tidbit of info interesting.

    This comp now has a lot of layers. 41. 3 hero ships with 5 point rigs a piece and a lot of layered flyby audio (10), really start to add it up.

  • The dancing shadows could be a few different things. It might be z-fighting caused by models being very close behind the camera - are there additional ships out of view behind the camera at the end of the shot? We're putting some clipping options into the camera for the next update which will help with that.

    Alternatively, it could be that the shadow casting lights are at very oblique angles. Update #3 might help with this if you raise the shadow map resolution.

    Basically, update #3 is awesome.

  • Triem23Triem23 Moderator


    Looking good! The new lighting is (IMHO) better.

    Last note--try extending your composite shot duration by a few frames and move the last position point to the new end. Then set duration back to the original length. This will ensure that your squad doesn't come to a stop before the end of the shot.

    Glad to help. Procedural Engine glows have been one of those topics that people have debated since HF2U

    New clipping options? Sounds interesting. 

  • @SimonKJones @Ady 'We're putting some clipping options into the camera for the next update which will help with that.'

    If this is a fix for the previous issue I mentioned a year back then you have made someone a Very happy person :) this means I no longer have to make modifications to models in Max and no longer have to do multiple passes for large scenes, 

    One of our users uploaded a video demonstrating the issue and I tried to explain in the best possible way without going overboard with information, I think I was point, as I said in the comment I could be wrong.

    only time will tell ;) 
    Huge Thank You ! <3

  • edited January 2016

    @SimonKJones "...are there additional ships out of view behind the camera at the end of the shot?"

    Quite a few are behind but not on right on it. By that point the fleet is past the orange planet so the orange point light is behind the fleet by some angle. The shadow dancing only happens with the addition of the directional light which from the camera view is on the left. The directional light has no falloff and the point light has linear falloff so it is getting weaker by this point.

    There may be some interaction with some ships possibly between the directional light and the ship in question. It looks like one or two might possibly have an effect.


  • edited January 2016

    @SimonKJones I took my project, saved a fresh copy and whittled it down and got some good information.

    What I found was the shadows are pristine without the particle sim layer using the hero ship. I moved the sim ships way off into the distance behind the hero ship. -11,000 units back. There is nothing anywhere around the single ship.

    If I turn the sim layer off. The shadows seem fine. If I leave the sim layer on, but adjust the particles per second such that not a single particle get created. Still ok. Only when at least one particle sim 3d object is created do the shadows go bad. By bad it looks like they are very blocky and that edginess may be what is causing the shadow dancing.

    I can give this project to support now or should I wait to see what happens with update 3?

  • One other question - what dimension type are your 3D model and particle layers using? Are they 2D, or full 3D unrolled? But yes, sounds like it'd be useful to have a look at the project.

  • edited January 2016

    @SimonKJones Both layers are 2D. The 3D model layer cannot be 3D unrolled when using the "Animated" frame style which I am using as per your tutorial. If you set the model layer to unrolled, Hitfilm removes it as the source layer in the particle sim texture source layer and it is not shown in the list if you try to put it back. The particle sim layer can be unrolled but that is no really useful when the model layer must be a plane layer type. When the sim layer is unrolled the shadows are still bad but they do not dance around like in 2D mode.

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