Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 Posted by Jim Thacker

The 10 best visual effects breakdowns of 2016


If you follow the CG Channel Facebook feed, you’ll know that we post a daily selection of the best new animated shorts, cinematics, demo reels and R&D tests. But we know that some people only visit the site itself – which is why we thought we’d bring you 10 of the highlights from the past year, in the shape of the best VFX breakdowns of 2016, as determined by our social media followers (and the Facebook algorithm).

Below, we’ve taken the videos that got the most views on our Facebook channel over the past year, and divided them into 10 categories, from broadcast effects to personal projects. Around half of the most popular videos were breakdowns of commercials, so we’ve further divided those into three categories: one for large studios (defined as those with over 20 staff), one for boutique studios, and one for individual artists.

It goes without saying that the CG on display is excellent, but bear in mind that this isn’t a run-down of the biggest or best visual effects projects of the year: it’s a run-down of the best visual effects breakdowns. Editing, presentation, and the quality of the making-of material on display all count for a lot here.

So what were the best visual effects breakdowns of 2016? Scroll down to find out…

Best Commercial Breakdown (Large Studio)

Title: Behind the Scenes: Lipton ‘The Revolution in Tea’
Studio: The Mill

Our first winner was a video we posted on the very first day of 2016. Designed to illustrate Lipton’s T.O tea making machine, ‘The Revolution in Tea‘ uses Cirque du Soleil performers to personify the tea leaves.

To show the tea infusing, The Mill bled the boundaries between the performers and the water, surrounding them in shimmering clouds of colour. The result was both artistically and technically breathtaking.

Tech notes: The Mill’s team of 35 modelled each of the eight actors in CG to recreate the underwater performances accurately, creating 62 individual fluid sims, the largest of which contained 1.5 billion particles.

Read more about the making of ‘The Revolution in Tea’ on The Mill’s website

Best Commercial Breakdown (Small Studio)

Title: Mercedes-Benz Making Of
Studio: Spellwork Pictures

Mercedes-Benz’s ‘Loch Ness‘ spot for its E-Class saloon couldn’t get more Scottish if it tried: the car, sitting by a loch, in the rain, with a bagpipe score for anyone still confused about where you’re meant to be.

It’s only when you watch the making-of that you realise that everything is digital: the car, the loch, the environment; even the passengers themselves – all painstakingly recreated in CG by Berlin’s Spellwork.

Tech notes: The spot uses a range of tools, including 3ds Max, Maya and V-Ray. The environments were sculpted in ZBrush and textured in Mari, with Itoo Software’s Forest Pack plugin handling the instancing.

Read more about the making of ‘Loch Ness’ on Spellwork Pictures’ website

Best Commercial Breakdown (Individual Artist)

Title: Strawberry Candy – VFX Breakdown
Artist: Giulio Tonini

Sometimes, a making-of video can be more compelling than the actual project. Italian 3D generalist Giulio Tonini’s finished shot isn’t terribly complex: a photorealistic strawberry, melting into a blob of candied goop.

But the making-of is gorgeous, treating the breakdown like a commercial in its own right, with timelapse and split-screen effects synched to a jaunty score. The end title is the cherry – or is that strawberry? – on top.

Tech notes: Tonini sculpted the strawberry in ZBrush, following the Fibonacci spiral for the ‘seeds’ on the outside. Fluid simulation was done in RealFlow, and the shot rendered using Maya and Arnold.

Read more about the making of ‘Strawberry Candy’ in the comments on the Vimeo video

Best Broadcast Series Breakdown

Title: Game of Thrones: Season 6, Episode 9 – ‘Battle of the Bastards’
Studios: Iloura, Rodeo FX, Rhythm & Hues, The Third Floor

Despite stiff competition from new series like Stranger Things and The Expanse, this year’s most popular broadcast VFX breakdowns came from an old favourite: Game of Thrones, now in its sixth season.

The high point was the multi-Emmy-Award-winning episode 9, the epic ‘Battle of the Bastards’ – described by GQ as a true ‘holy fuck’ moment – as the armies commanded by Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton clash.

Tech notes: Iloura, Rodeo FX, Rhythm & Hues and The Third Floor all worked on the episode. Variety’s video (above) provides an overview, but you can see Iloura’s own breakdown here, and Rodeo FX’s here.

Read more about the making of ‘Battle of the Bastards’ in this article from Digital Arts

Best Movie Breakdown

Title: RVX Everest VFX Breakdown
Studio: RVX

Our movie VFX breakdown of 2016 was a surprise. In a year that produced Warcraft, The Jungle Book and a slew of Marvel and DC movies, our most-watched making-of came from a much less other-worldly drama.

Was it the compelling subject matter? The calm, unhurried quality of this five-minute breakdown? Or just the sheer beauty of RVX’s invisible effects? Either way, Everest was our breakdown of the year.

Tech notes: RVX’s photogrammetric reconstruction of Everest was based on hundreds of archive images, with LIDAR to help reconstruct individual locations. Most animation was done in Maya; sims in Houdini.

Read more about the making of Everest in this article from fxguide

Best Game Cinematic Breakdown

Title: StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void Timelapse Sequence
Studio: Blizzard Entertainment

Blizzard Entertainment senior cinematic artist David Luong’s timelapse of a 3D digimatte sequence from Starcraft II: Legacy of the Void isn’t strictly a breakdown, but it is extraordinarily beautiful.

The animation compresses a three-day period during the reconstruction of the Aiur home world into just 18 seconds, with buildings and craft popping into existence. Light trails show the motion of night-time probes.

Tech notes: Clouds, planets, fog and background mountains were created in Vue, with a matte painting for the night sky. The foreground was lit and rendered in 3ds Max and V-Ray, and comped in Nuke.

Read more about the making of the StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void timelapse on David Luong’s website

Best Music Promo Breakdown

Title: Behind the Scenes: The Chemical Brothers ‘Wide Open’
Studio: The Mill

Directors Dom & Nic’s collaboration with choreographer Wayne McGregor made for a compelling music promo, showing dancer Sonoya Mizuno’s body progressively being replaced by a 3D printed replica.

The Mill’s breakdown is no less compelling, showing the reconstruction of both Mizuno and the environment in 3D – and the creation of the 7,000 clean background plates required for the long, continuous shot.

Tech notes: Mizuno’s body was recreated via photogrammetry. Clothing was created in Marvelous Designer. The environment was LIDAR scanned. Background plates were painted manually, aided by a bespoke tool.

Read more about the creation of the ‘Wide Open’ promo on The Mill’s website

Best Motion Graphics Breakdown

Title: Nike LunarEpic Flyknit Launch | Process
Studio: Tendril

Nike commissions some of the best motion design studios (ManvsMachine, Aixsponza) for its ads, so the real question was not whether one of them would be our most watched breakdown of 2016, but which.

In the end, Tendril’s brilliant making-of for its LunarEpic brand teaser took top spot, the surreal forms of the alien landscape echoing those of the space-age running shoe. Look out for a lovely in-joke at 00:52, too.

Tech notes: The alien planet was created in 3D using World Machine and the GeoGlyph add-on, based on photo references of Arizona’s Pariah Canyon. Other CG elements and rendering were handled in Cinema 4D.

Read more about the making of the Nike LunarEpic Flyknit launch teaser on Tendril’s Behance gallery

Best Personal Project Breakdown

Title: Lego River – Thinking Particles Fluid R&D
Artist: Yigit Acik

FX TD Yigit Acik has worked at some of the world’s best commercials houses, including Psyop and Trizz, but it was this personal project inspired by the The Lego Movie that really caught our viewers’ attention.

The 30-second breakdown shows how Acik translated the stop-motion look of the film into a fluid simulation, with the waters of a rushing river replaced by a cascade of miniature Lego bricks.

Tech notes: The base simulation was done in 3ds Max and thinkingParticles, then used to generate the ‘water’, with colour data derived from the Velocity and Position data channels. The shot rendered in V-Ray.

Read more about the making of Lego River in the comments on the Vimeo video

Best Student Project Breakdown

Title: BreakingPoint VFX Breakdown
Artist: Martin Lapp

Former Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg student Martin Lapp is no stranger to awards, having won the VFX & Animation category at The Rookies earlier this year before going on to land a job at Trixter.

This breakdown of BreakingPoint, his amazing diploma short, deconstructs the digital environment and slow-motion sims through which the actress sprints while the street explodes around her.

Tech notes: The film itself took 1.5 years to create, including half a year of animatics and previs work, followed by eight months of visual effects, mainly created in Maya and Houdini.

Read more about the making of BreakingPoint in the comments on the Vimeo video

Know of a gem we missed? Post a link in the comments. For more videos like this, follow us on Facebook.