In Depth: Rain Generators

In Depth: Rain Generators
News, Tutorial, In Depth Jun 13, 2016 at 11:20 AM

It has been cloudy here all day and is just starting to sprinkle here so I thought it might be a good time to update this article with some new information.  Added June 13, 2016: Next Limit Realflow, Insydium X-Particles, a Boris tutorial, and more examples.

Updated Monday, June 13, 2016. - Added Next Limit Realflow, Insydium X-Particles, a Boris tutorial, and examples. 

Introduction

This article was originally published May 1, 2013. Right after NAB, as I'm getting my cable upgraded to 50MBPS, the cable guy needed to get to my basement, where we discovered flooding! It's being taken care of but it's raining again. How bad is the rain? Here's a headline for you: 

All this rain has been the inspiration for this article, but by no means is this my first interaction with rain plug-ins.  In my book, Plug-in to After Effects, I wrote a section on Rain Generating plug-ins. Since the book came out, I actually had the chance to put most of the rain plug-ins out there to use. I worked on a film called 7 Stones (note: very little of my work is left in the film.)

So, yeah, it's wet but, hey, at least it's not snow (although snow wouldn't flood my basement!)

Why not just shoot rain if there's so much of it?

  1. Electronics don't like water. In the film, there is monsoon and water, water everywhere. Having a full crew and equipment around so much water is dangerous for the equipment and puts your crew and actors at risk of electrical shock. 
  2. Conditions often aren't good for shooting water.  The mise en scene of 7 stones is very dark, as takes place inside a dome with a hole in the top, where rain is pouring in. On top of this, magical stones were glowing in the background with and actress hacking away at them. Everything was shot handheld and footage was very dark, making it pretty much impossible to capture nice rain falling and keeping everything else looking good. Much of it had to be re-shot and darkened later, but I needed to digitally add rain and have it look as natural as can be. It was actually extremely difficult to get the rain to look natural. I ended up mixing stock footage of rain with plug-ins. I ended up leaving the film before it was finished, so I am not sure what was used in the finished product, I just know I learned a lot along the way! 

Rain Generating Plug-ins

There is a multitude of rain plug-ins and particle generators that can create rain, and some look more realistic than others. I’ll talk a bit about five of them: GenArts Monsters GT M_Rain, Boris Continuum BCC Rain, Cycore CC Rain, Digieffects Delirium RainFall and Trapcode Particular.

All of the plug-ins auto-animate. All of them have options to control the speed, angle, direction variance, random seed and amount of rain. Some have options for splashing, although not all are that well implemented. Another nice option is to be able to use a mask to avoid splash in certain areas. Pan and blur are also nice features to have. One feature that all of them need is the ability to have depth close to the camera so that drops nearer to the camera are larger. Trapcode Particular is the only one that did what I wished.

After Effects CC Rainfall (Cycore)

CC RainfallCC Rainfall is a particle generator for quick and easy rain, and it ships with After Effects so if you own After Effects, you already own this plug-in. There are several options to customize rain motion and to set a specific range of randomness to individual rain drops for increased realism. 

I placed the plug-in on a solid black layer and applied the effect, then used Add Mode to composite over the background. There is an option to apply the filter right on the footage and use "Composite With Original" and a pull-down menu build into the filter with Transfer Mode, but it looks terrible composited this way. There are options for Background Reflection which can be used when you apply the effect to the background footage. This brings in some of the colors from the background. I didn't use this feature since I didn't composite.

I used two layers of rain, one set to larger raindrops and one set to smaller raindrops, to create the illusion of depth. There is also an option for Scene Depth which shows the closer raindrops are falling faster while the further raindrops fall at a slower rate. This looks pretty realistic but the drops are all the same size, no matter how close or far they are. I could have put this on 3D layers and moved the camera to match the motion of the footage, but instead, I chose to use the Offset option, to offset the speed. I linked it to the position of the camera with a simple Expression.

I adjusted the Speed, Size and Amount as necessary to give a realistic rain, and of course, turn down the Opacity to make it believable There are Wind, Spread and Variation (Wind) options too. 

Overall, CC Rainfall is very easy to use and fast, but the parameters are much more limited than with Boris Continuum’s Rain or GenArts Monsters GT M_Rain.

Note: In After Effects CS6, CC Rainfall was new. You can open and render older projects with CC Rain but it is obsolete. 

Pros Cons
  • Fast
  • Easy to use
  • Ships with AE, so you own it.
  • Scene Depth option
  • Limited Parameters
  • No splash or ground options
  • No presets

More on After Effects CC Rainfall

 

Boris Continuum Complete BCC Rain

BCC Rain InterfaceBoris Continuum BCC Rain is a robust rain generator that comes with several presets and rain’s lifespan is adjustable. Of the plug-ins specifically made for rain generation, this is my favorite. There’s a feature to add a Splash Layer or to Splash on Ground, which is referenced from a 3D layer positioned as needed. The splash is tough to see. I would like to be able to control the opacity of the splash and turn it up a bit. The water in my shot is reflective so the splash is lost. The BCC Rain also includes the PixelChooser, which is included in most of the BCC plug-ins and allows for more control in selecting and masking exactly where you want an effect to appear. The PixelChooser is fantastic for separating out elements in the shot via masks or mattes. It gives the user total control.

The Rain Depth options are not quite as good as I hoped. I still had to make use of 3D layers and distribute them in 3D space to give the illusion of depth. Again, keep the opacity low and use Layer Modes to composite. 

BCC Rain is easy to use and has a breadth of options and is GPU accelerated so it's pretty fast. With the right settings, the rain can look very natural. The presets are a wonderful starting point. That's one thing I really like about Boris plug-ins... lots of presets. I rarely use them as is but it makes it so much faster to get going. 

Drop Shape

Lifespan

Tile width

Splash

Pros Cons

Tons of options, including Splash options.

Presets

Pretty fast

 

Splash is hard to see. Can't control splash opacity separate from rain. 

Can't control the size of raindrops to give the illusion of depth. Not much depth control. 

New Tutorial: “Make it Rain” with Boris FX and mocha AE (After Effects version)

Make it rain

In this simple After Effects tutorial, Imagineer System’s Mary Poplin shows you how to add realistic rain to a shot with plug-ins from Boris FX and mocha AE.

Mary uses the bundled mocha AE CC for planar tracking and masking and Boris Continuum Complete BCC Rain. Watch the video tutorial "Make it Rain".

More on BCC Rain

Digieffects Delirium DE RainFall

Digieffects Delirium DE RainFallDigieffects Delirium RainFall is a has quite a few options such as Gravity, Wind, and Gusts. There is no color selection for the rain, but honestly, white is probably all you'll ever need. 

Delirium can get the job done and with the right settings, it looks pretty natural. The splash, however, was not even visible at 1080p. Delirium was one of the first plug-ins on the market for After Effects and I'm just going to guess that it was first designed to work at 640x480 pixels. Brandon Smith, the former CEO of Digieffects, tipped me off to the size issue. Sho nuff. I did a test at 640x480 and I could definitely see the splash, but I had a very difficult time controlling the positioning. It wanted to use the bottom of the image, even when I had a different layer selected for Splash via Layer.

If you don't need a splash, Delirium RainFall works well and gives some nice rain effects. As with any of the plug-ins, keep the opacity low and use Layer Modes to composite. Make the layers 3D layers and distribute in 3D space to give the illusion of depth. 

Pros Cons

Inexpensive and looks as good as the more expensive bundles. 

 

Splash can't be seen in HD.

Not a lot of depth control

More on Delirium

 

GenArts Monster GT M_Rain

Monsters GT M_Rain interfaceAs the most robust plug-in specifically for rain, GenArts Monsters GT M_Rain allows you to place the directional source where you want by placing cross-hairs for the left and right sides of the plane. There are presets for Rain Type, including Squall, Light, Drizzle, Sheet and Bouncing Rain. I think Drizzle looks the most natural and I tend to stick to that one and modify settings.

Positioning

The rain can be positioned very precisely by placing the cross hairs for Left and Right. This is useful if you are making a waterfall or water pouring from a specific area. Imagine a hose. 

The Forces settings are unique in Monsters GT M_Rain. Besides controlling the Gravity, Friction, and Turbulence of the rain, There are options to control the Swirl, useful if you need to give the look of a typhoon or squall. The on-screen interface allows for very specific control of Wind, Light, and Colour. Here are a few screenshots, using different Rain Type presets. 

Monsters GT M_Rain Wind

On-screen controls for Wind allow for precise control of Wind Source, Wind Target, Wind Spread and Wind Speed

Light Color

Light and Colour are controlled in the same way as the Wind. The on-screen controls are implemented very well. They knew what they were doing! 

The presets, especially the shape of the raindrops, tends to look cartoon-like. I had to make the drops smaller and tweak the settings to make it look more natural. If I needed rain for a more graphical effect or for an animated piece, this would be perfect. As with the others, Monsters M_Rain looks best when carefully composited into the video using Layer Modes, a low opacity and stacking 3D layers in z-space for the illusion of depth. 

Pros Cons

Control of the position of the rain, Light and Colour are the best of any plug-in tested.

On screen controls ROCK!

Can't control the size of raindrops to give an illusion of depth. 

Not very natural looking presets. They look cartoonish.

More on Monsters GT

 

Trapcode Particular

Trapcode ParticularLastly, Trapcode Particular, while not a plug-in specifically for rain, makes some darn nice rain.The plug-in really did everything I needed with total control.

I liked the fact that I can position the particles in Z space using Position Z so that I can get big drops close to the camera. Positioning the rain in 3D space and creating the depth I wanted was a piece of cake. Particular works with the After Effects Camera and Lights so compositing with other footage on 3D layers works well. 

The splash, generated using Physics Model set to Bounce and the Aux System, looks fantastic. I can control the opacity and color of the splash too. I plan to put a quick tutorial together on how to make a splash and the settings I used. Below is a screenshot of the Physics and Aux System with what it looks like in the black square. The bottom half of the screen shows the splash, which looks a lot better when it is moving. 

Splash

The only real downside of using Particular is that it is not an easy plug-in to just jump into. It takes a time to learn how to use the Physics engine and Aux System. Luckily, Particular is a very popular plug-in and there are a vast number of resources out there to help learn the plug-in. 

Pros Cons

Useful for much more than rain. It is a full blown particle generator after all. 

Best splash in the bunch. 

Works in 3D space so utilizing the AE Camera and Lights is an option. Plus, it gives great depth. 

So many options that it can be daunting if you don't know the plug-in well. 

More on Trapcode Particular

Next Limit Realflow

A new addition to this list, Next Limit Realflow is a water generator that can generate tidal waves, rain, and pretty much any type of liquid. 

Here are a couple of tutorials:

Cinema 4D | Realistic Water Simulation With Realflow

Particle & Dynamic Rain 02

More information

Insydium X-Particles

Another new edition to the list, X-Particles is a full featured particle generator for CINEMA 4D and makes some super cool rain... like this example...

I'd recommend checking out Greyscalegorilla's Introduction to X-Particles, where Nick Campbell goes through the basic parameters and shows how to make rain in one of his examples.

More information

Tips and Tricks

Making a Storm

Jason Sadderland of Big Puddle Films put together this fantastic two-part series on making a torrential downpour. Fantastic work here. He looks like Simon Pegg with an American Accent. Watch these before you watch the tutorials below. This is chock full of great tips.

  • With any of the plug-ins, including Trapcode Particular, I applied the rain to a Black Solid layer. I made the rain white or light gray, kept the opacity low and used Layer Modes, such as Lighten, Screen or Add, to composite.
  • For the illusion of depth, try applying the rain filter to layers 3D layers and distributing them in 3D space. Apply a blur where needed to simulate depth of field. you can also do this with the Camera Depth of Field settings but I found that it was VERY slow to render. Motion Blur also helps but it can kill render and screen redraw time. 
  • Rob Neal on the Adobe After Effects Portal Facebook group commented on the post on this article link on Facebook. "Mark Christiansen wrote a really good point in his book regarding using rain (and snow). It's not just about creating it. It is how it is applied so it merges with the background. If you use the rain element as the Track Matte for an Adjustment Layer using Levels with 90% white and 80% black and Fast Blur at 200, you get a much better effect that integrates a semi-transparent wash over the plate. You can't really see the rain, only the way it distorts and affects the background. I tend to use Particular myself, and this tip makes it look so much better. Give it a try. " Great tip. Thanks, Rob!

Rain Tutorials

Make Your Movie Rain More Dynamic & Sexy with These Dirt Cheap DIY Tricks - This is one of the best tutorials out there for making rain. Good stuff here. 

Part 1 - Advanced Rain with PFlow / Animating the Objects (PSkull + 3DArtist)

Part 1 - Advanced Rain with PFlow / Animating the Objects (PSkull + 3DArtist) from Particle Skull on Vimeo.

Other Tools

Freebie: Rain Tool for Autodesk Maya - We’ve all heard the term “Make it rain,” well… now you can for free! Click for a tutorial from Animcgi.com and a link to download. 

Inspiration

Artificial Rain in After Effects

By Lightstairs Motion Visual FX

Posted by Michele Yamazaki

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