References with character abstractions using particles/shaders?

Hey Everyone,

I’m trying to do some research on storytelling through vfx and wanted to take a deeper look into characters. I was hoping some of you could point me towards some references on interesting ways to abstract a character through vfx and how the vfx can communicate and convey a emotion or narrative. Perhaps the character is part of a flashback, a lingering spirit, or maybe a hologram.

Some examples that come to mind are:

Everybodys gone to rapture


Notes on Blindness VR (360 video also available)

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I did the effects / character work on Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.
Here’s a few blogposts I wrote up on the subject:

Did you want to know anything specific?


Hey, It’s awesome you saw this! I actually remember seeing your blog post years ago on The Chinese Room’s site way back and actually recently had to go looking for it when I starting doing research into this.

I imagine it’s been quite a while but, if you could could sort of give a brief high level breakdown of the character vfx (while the dialogue is occurring) that would be great. Something like the differentiation between whats going on the mesh, particles, and post process on each character? I definitely don’t have the strongest eye for realtime vfx yet.

But from what I can see is it mainly 3 effects?

  • Ribbon/trail swirling around each character
  • Cascading flakes effect whenever a character is talking.
    • Is this a shader on the mesh itself or perhaps particles emitting from the mesh? And is each cascade of these flakes a manually timed effect that is triggered on each pose you set for the character? Or is it just periodically triggered by audio?
  • The periodic spots of bloom popping in an out on each character
    • Are these sprites?

Any other insights you could offer on the controls and dynamism of the effects would be great.

The main thing for that project was a focus on backing up the story telling. That is unusual in game effects since effects are normally driven by gameplay aspects.

If you are planning to do something like this, you need to think about how the effects can accentuate beats in the story and call out moments of contact between two characters, possibly when they really connect in the dialogue. You also need to think about if the effects should feel frantic for the moments in a scene or you can slow down the effects for more quiet, reflective moments to allow acting to shine through and not allow the effects to be distracting.

You are right with most guesses. There is the ribbons around the characters that helped define where they were and also gave them directionality when the characters where moving around. The bloom around the characters was also part of the same effect as the ribbons. Think they were partly setup in local space.
There was effects emitted from the character meshes (outlined in the second blogpost), that gave glimpses of the characters. I chose the poses based on key moments in the audio/acting that suggested a defined pose for the character. There was markers in the audio files with specific names for triggering the effect emission on different poses. This really helped in speeding up timing of the flashes.

It was a good while ago, so probably the blog posts would be most help to you.

Hopefully that helps a bit.

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Oh man this was great, excellent blend of design and tech insights. I especially like how you phrase this:

think about how the effects can accentuate beats in the story

Thanks a bunch, super glad you stumbled on this!