VSFX Studio 1 Concept Development

For my initial concept development, my first thought was to do something music-related. Music is probably my favorite passion outside of VFX and it seems like it would be easy to come up with an idea. So the very first ideas that popped in my head were music related. I am absolutely in love with music in general and the potential for the emotional effect it has on people so it comes to mind a lot when I need to come up with creative ideas.

An idea I think I could work with is a message about music and music education, since I feel that it is generally not as high a priority as other forms of education, and it is genuinely something many people could benefit from in my opinion. I am incredibly grateful for having learned the piano and even then I didn’t get much opportunity for that instrument in school. It was only once I began practicing in my free time that I was able to learn. In my opinion most or all people could benefit from the emotional tool of being able to play music and understanding the language of music. When I feel stressed or overwhelmed, I can disappear into the piano and it is very effective at helping me manage my stress.

As for visuals, my first ideas for the music theme came from YouTube piano videos which visualize music with particle effects:

I imagine a person seated at a piano playing something while particles/smoke and effects shoot from the piano body created a colorful mess in the air. The visuals are directly created and infuenced by the music. I am not sure what sort of music would be played but perhaps I could compose my own! I think something like this would allow me to showcase some of my learned skills as an FX artist and (although not the focus of this class) potentially my musical skills as well.

I recently found out about the ability to read in MIDI data inside Houdini, which I think could be really useful for a project like this where I’m trying to create music-based visuals. MIDI is a format for computers to exchange information about musical notes. Most digital keyboards these days can output MIDI, which contains information about which notes are held and which are off, how hard they’re being pressed, and for piano whether the sustain pedal is down. The notes can be read in and based on those factors the effects can behave differently. In fact I think this is really similar to how these YouTube videos work. I think they too read in MIDI notes and generate the particles based on that information.

There is also a lot of variation I could do with this concept! For example, there is no need for the only instrument to be piano. It could be any instrument or combination of instruments. I could try to get a band together although I’ve never done something like that before so I would have to be on top of getting that all organized. The setting can also vary a lot; originally I envisioned it with a grand piano in a recording studio like there are here at SCAD, but it could honestly take place anywhere and could even be an entirely digital production.

Update 10/19: After speaking with the Professor about my idea, I received further guidance about potential directions from him. He instructed me to pick a song or at least a temp song (if I plan to compose a piece). He suggested I look into music with publicly available sheet music or MIDI, which makes sense as I will need to animate the instrument or instruments accurately.

Update 10/25:

THE PIECE: After Professor Joe introduced me to a piece by Salvatore Sciarrino (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAasVT2PT38) I became interested in this concept of a piece that has a super visual flow. If you look at the video, you can see how the contour of the piece goes up, and down, and up, and down. I definitely think a visually interesting piece like this would be interesting for a visualization-based project, but I also wanted something a little more melodic. So I went looking through some piano music I like and I found some good examples from the Impressionist composers Debussy and Ravel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6eLNiWi744Y Debussy – Claire de Lune

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jnKFIp7CahY Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit, No. 1 “Ondine”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5O5wMctUSAM Ravel – Une Barque Sur l’Ocean” (This one was in Call Me By Your Name)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yh36PaE-Pf0 Debussy – Arabesque No. 1

i think of those my first pick would be Arabesque No. 1 as it features ascending and descending arpeggios that I think would look nice visualized. I am still not completely sure whether or not I want to try and write my own piece potentially? My piano chops are ok but I am definitely not gonna be able to write a Debussy-level piece. However writing my own piece would definitely give me the most control.

Lastly, I’m thinking of making this a piano-focused piece rather than incorporating a number of other instruments. I’m not completely sure yet but I think it would definitely make it easier to focus on just one instrument both for animation and choosing a piece. I found a free upright piano model on TurboSquid with a fully rigged pedals, lid and keys (https://www.turbosquid.com/3d-models/free-obj-mode-piano/941702), and I could definitely start using it to try and lay out how I want my scene to look. Additionally once I select a song I can try to use the MIDI data to animate the piano procedurally inside Houdini.

So far the way I am imagining my scene is a simple dark/black room with the piano model in the center, with various pyro/particle effects happening in the air around it. I initially was picturing all of the effects coming directly out of the piano but I felt like this could be too limiting for the effects I can do. For the effects I’m thinking of driving as much as possible procedurally through the MIDI data such as pitch, volume, etc. controlling color, velocity, etc.

Next I want to try to see what ways I can emphasize or include a message about music education and increasing access to musical instruments to people who may not necessarily have that access.

Update 10/27/22

I have completed a super rough partial storyboard for this project!

Obviously there’s shots missing but I will figure this out as I narrow down the piece and length of the video.

Update 11/1/2022

At the moment I think I have settled on Arabesque No.1 by Clause Debussy. This is a very impressionist piece by Debussy that I think will complement my visuals really nicely.

Update 11/3/2022

Gathering some reference for particles driven by audio:

Production Setup: Audioreactive Particles Using Vellum & POPs (Free Houdini Tutorial) – YouTube

Houdini / CHOPS – an automatic player piano – h’s blog (howiem.org)


HoudiniChops – cgwiki (tokeru.com)






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