Tutorial 9: Tendrils

In this tutorial, you will create some tendril-like effects similar to those you might see inside the human body or brain. This tutorial takes advantage of AfterBurn's ability to react to lighting in the scene, and its flexibility in creating different kinds of volumetric effects.

This scene contains a particle cloud, a camera, and some lights. For the initial steps you will concern yourself with just one basic spot light, and later you will add the rest of the lights to spice up the animation.


  1. Start up 3ds max and open the AB-Tut9.max scene.


Start Scene opened


  1. Go to > Rendering Menu > Environment or press 8 on the keyboard to bring up the Environment and Effects dialog.
  1. Click the Add button in the Atmosphere Rollout and add AfterBurn. This will add both the AfterBurn effect and the FusionWorks Renderer that is always needed to render volumetrics.
  2. Select AfterBurn in the Effects: list and go to the AfterBurn Manager Rollout. Click on the Pick Particles/Daemons button and choose PCloud01.



AfterBurn Manager Rollout with Particles Chosen


This adds the particle system to AfterBurn.


  1. Click the Pick Lights button in the Source Lights section and choose Spot01.



AfterBurn Manager Rollout with Light Chosen


This adds the light to AfterBurn that will illuminate the volume.


  1.  Do a quick render of the Camera view.



Render of smoke with default AfterBurn settings


This gives you some volumetric puffs but it's not quite what we are looking for. The fist thing to edit is the overall size of the volumetric puffs.

  1.  Scroll down to the Particle Shape rollout and adjust the Sph. Radius: Low Value to 75.


 Sphere Radius adjusted


This will make the spherical volume very large so the viewer will feel immersed in it.

  1.  Click the Show in Viewport button   in the Display section of the AfterBurn Manager rollout so you can see the volumetric spheres.




Spherical Volumes displayed in the Viewport


Only about 10% of the PCloud particles are being displayed in the viewport but this will give you an idea of the sphere size and placement. Now that the size is adjusted, you will lower the density and change some of the noise parameters to add some wormlike tendrils.

  1.  Scroll down to The Noise Animation rollout and click the Interactive Update button under the preview window.




Turning on Interactive Update


  1. Scroll down the Noise Animation rollout and adjust these values:

Noise Type: Turbulent
Density: 0.2

Noise Size: 20
Turbulent rollout / Noise levels: 1.0

When adjusting the Noise parameters you should be able to see the effects in the preview window above.

If you do a quick render you will see it is starting to take a long time. Next you will change the rendering type from Raymarcher to Octane Shader. The Octane Shader is much faster and better suited for an immersive effect like this.

  1. Scroll up to the AfterBurn Manager rollout and choose Octane Shader form the Rendering Engine Type dropdown and render the scene.
  2. Render frame 300.




Frame 300 render



The frame renders much faster. The result is very interesting but not quite what we are after.

  1. In the Noise Animation rollout click on Tendril to enable this type of noise, and render.

You can see the preview window update and the render is basically washed out with white. To get the tendrils thinner, you will have to adjust the Low Threshold values.

  1. Scroll down to the Noise Animation and adjust the Low Threshold to about 0.98.
  2. Render frame 0 to see the result. This is much closer to what we are looking for. Now you will set up the Lo threshold AFC so the farther away form the camera the particles are the lower the value will become, making the particles off in the have larger more washed out tendrils.
  3. Right click on the AFC button next to Low Threshold and Enable. Set the Hi Value to 0.0.
  4. Right click on the PA button and choose Object Distance. Left click on the OD button to bring up the Object Distance dialog and enter 200 for Minimum and 700 for Maximum.
  5. Click the Pick Object button in the Object Distance dialog and choose Camera01.



 Object Distance dialog


None of the particles between 200 and 700 units away from the camera will use the AFC to go from a Lo Threshold of 0.98 to 0.0. Now let's set up a similar AFC for Density.

19.  Right click on the AFC next to Density and Enable. Set the Hi Value to 0.05.

   20.  Right click on the Lo Threshold AFC and choose Copy. Right click on the Density AFC and choose Paste.

Since you just set up all the object distance parameters for the Lo Threshold AFC, you can just copy and paste them over to Density. Since the volume color is white and the lighting is white the scene is looking pretty bland. Next you will change the volume color to give it a more cerebral look.

21.  Scroll up to the Color Parameters rollout and right-click on the color swatch next to Color in the Color1 section. Select Keyless mode, then double-click on the swatch to bring up a color picker. Set the Color to about RGB 0,50,75.

   22.  Render frame 0 to see the result.




Render with color and AFC changes.


Next you will work with the lighting to make the scene come alive.

 23.  Right-click in any Viewport and choose Unhide By Name from the Quad Menu. Select Omni02 and Omni03 and click Unhide.

These lights are animated to flash on and off with a bright green light.

    24.  Go to frame 40 in the timeline and you should be able to see the lights flash in the Camera01 viewport. If you render the scene you will not see any lighting effect because these lights have not been added to the AfterBurn effect.

    25.  Add both Omni02 and Omni03 to AfterBurn as you did with Spot01.




Both Omni lights Added


    26.  Render frame 40 to see the result of the lighting.




Render with green flashing lights


  1.  Unhide the rest of the lights in the scene and add them to AfterBurn. There are two more green Omni lights that float off in space and one white Omni light that is linked to the camera.
  2.  Lastly, adjust the View Falloff in the AfterBurn Manager rollout to 0.6 to give the scene a more liquid feel.
  3.  Render the animation to see the final result.


Frame 40 from the final animation