The following is an excerpt from Elemental Magic, Volume I: The Art of Special Effects Animation by Joseph Gilland. This book breaks down the world of special effects animation with clear step-by-step diagrams and explanations on how to create the amazing and compelling images you see on the big screen. Here, Joseph gives you a step-by-step tutorial on building fire… and this time, it isn’t for roasting marshmallows!
1. Here is another approach to “building” a fire. I have started with basic triangles—note that they are different sizes. Because of the repetitive nature of fire shapes, it is important to always vary your shape sizes.
2. Now I have treated each of the individual triangles as if they are flags being blown from below. I have added the curving bottom line shape of the fire, and indicated the directional flow of the air currents causing the flags to flutter and wave. Note that there is cooler air pushing down from above the fire as well, that causes additional turbulence.
3. Now things start to get a lot more dynamic, as turbulence is added to the picture. This turbulent energy creates small spiraling eddies of air that twist, pull, and squeeze the triangular shapes, causing the familiar arcing shapes that we see so frequently in fire. Note that on the left side of the fire the twisting currents rotate counter-clockwise, while those on the right revolve in a clockwise direction. Opposing arcs become very apparent at this stage, and are an outstanding feature of almost all good, elemental effects design.
4. At this stage in the drawing, the same air currents and turbulence that came into play in Figure 3 are now used to add the more detailed, wavy, wiggly shapes that really start to describe this shape as a fire. Opposing arcs are always a very important aspect of these designs. As always, make sure that the size and positioning of these shapes avoid being overly repetitive.
5-6. At this point, we must think of our two-dimensional diagram as a three-dimensional object. I have illustrated, first with an overly technical wireframe drawing, one way of approaching this stage in our drawing. We can then add our interior shapes which do much to describe the volume and directional energy of the fire. With more experience, one would generally begin a fire drawing with a very volumetric sketchy approach, skipping the more technical process shown here in the first four examples. But this is an excellent foundation for beginning to understand the principles at play in a fire.
7. Finally, we can add our elegant touches to the fire design, tweaking and pushing our design to make it as dynamic as possible. The final outline, combined with the interior shapes, makes for a pleasing (in this case relatively simplified and stylized) rendition of a typical campfire size fire.