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Particle Systems

A particle system is a really versatile technique that consists in creating complex moving structures that produce dynamic and "fuzzy" effects. These structures are used for simulation of abstract effects of fire, smoke, explosions, magic, electricity, fountains, rocket trails, flocking, and many many more. All these effects are hard to reproduce using traditional rigid objects: particles are represented not by a set of primitive surface elements, but by point masses forming the volume of particle primitives. Another distinctive feature is that particles are not static — they may change not only their position, but also the form with the time.

A particle system consists of three main entities:

  • Emitter — the source that emits particles.
  • Particles themselves, which are emitted.
  • Additional forces applied to the particles that have influence on their emission.

See also#

Particles#

By using finely adjusted particles, you can make the scene more attractive. This section contains the description of the particles parameters.

Fire and smoke simulated by using particles systems

Creating Particles#

To create particles, perform the following steps:

  1. On the Menu bar, click Create -> Particle System -> Particles.

  2. Place the Particles object somewhere in the world.
  3. Specify the particles parameters.

Types of Particles#

Unigine has the following types of particles:

  • Billboard particles are by far the most usable type. They represent rotating square planes that are camera-oriented. For example, billboard particles can be used to create smoke.
  • Flat particles are perpendicular to the Z axis of their particle system. They are good for simulating some effects on plane surfaces such as water.
  • Point particles are similar to the billboard type. They also always face the camera, but have the fixed screen-aligned orientation.
  • Length particles are billboard particles that can be stretched along the direction of their movement. Stretching is an adjustable factor. Sparks and splashes can be effectively simulated using this type of particles.
  • Random particles are square particles randomly oriented in the space. Leaf-fall can be successfully imitated with this type of particles.
  • Route particles can be used to create tracks from moving objects (for example, trail following a ship). They are similar to the previous implementation of flat particles.
  • Chain particles are billboard particles that form a continuous, visually uninterrupted flow. Their length directly depends on the spawn rate of the emitter. This type of particles is intended to be used with shift emitter creating a chain-like trail after it.

Stretch and Flattening of the Length Particles#

You can specify the length of particles with the Length stretch parameter:

  • With the value of 0, the length particle is simply a square billboard.
  • Increasing the value stretches particles in the direction of their movement. The result is calculated by multiplying the stretch value by the particle velocity value. So, the higher the velocity is, the more stretched the particles are in the direction of their movement, while the other side remains of the same width.
Length Stretch = 0
Length Stretch = 1

You can also specify the Length Flattening parameter. This parameter makes the length particles not camera-oriented as usual billboard particles, but more perpendicular to the Z axis.

  • With the value of 0, the particles are not flattened.
  • With the maximum value of 1, the particles will be flat (perpendicular to the Z axis) when they are emitted.
Length Flattering = 0
Length Flattering = 1

Variation#

The Variation parameters (VariationX and VariationY) provide a diversity of emitted particles to make the scene more natural.

If the Variation option is enabled, particles will randomly take one of the possible orientations of the assigned texture along the proper axis.

Notice
Use these parameters wisely: sometimes it makes the scene look more naturally, sometimes (especially when the texture has accurately defined top and bottom parts) it can ruin the plausibility of the scene.

An example of variation: four automatic particles orientations

Particles Interaction Detection#

Interaction of the particles is limited to the application of forces and collisions with external objects. There are two method to detect the collision with external objects: by using the Intersection parameter or the Collision parameter.

Notice
Particle-particle collisions are not checked as collision detection is an expensive operation.

Intersection#

Intersection stands for calculating collision of the mesh only with the center of the particle, not the whole particle shape. Intersection may look a bit unnatural as the physical reaction starts only when the half of the particle has already penetrated the mesh, but it is perfectly suitable if there are a lot of small particles. The main advantage of this method is that it is fast and cheap in performance.

Collision#

Collision, unlike intersection, detects whether the whole particle shape has collided with the mesh. If particles are big enough, this method is preferable, as it provides a higher degree of visual realism: particles react according to the set parameters, when their edge or vertex comes in contact with an object. Collision calculations are more expensive, so big particles systems should use this option carefully.

Interaction with Physical Nodes#

Another way of particle system interaction is interaction with the environment through physical nodes (also known as effects): wind, force, and water.

Particles Physical Mass#

To participate in the scene dynamics, particles should have a certain mass in kilograms. This value defines the intensity of the physical node's influence on the particles flow.

Notice
The Physical Mass parameter doesn't have influence on other calculations.
  • With the mass of 0, the trajectory of the particle system is not affected by any external forces.
  • The more the mass, the heavier the particles are, and the less physical nodes can decline their flow, stretch them, or otherwise affect.
Physical Mask#

For a more selective interaction of the particles systems with physical nodes, the physical bit mask is used. This bit mask is set for both the particles system and the force. These masks should have at least one bit matching, otherwise there would be no interaction. The other bits of the mask can match masks of other forces, thus providing perfect control over the scene integration.

Particles Node Hierarchy#

To create complex effects, it is necessary that all particles systems are synchronized in time. Setting a particle system as a parent node results in the following:

  • All particles systems that are child nodes are synchronized relative to their parent particle systems. If the children have children of their own, they still are synchronized to the main parent system, which is the highest in the hierarchy.
  • When creating a new child particle system, it should be synchronized to the parent one by disabling and again enabling the parent emitter (Node tab -> Enabled  box). At this moment, each of the child systems is initialized with its simulation parameters (such as generation duration, period of generation pause, and delay of initialization).
  • Disabling or enabling the parent emitter (Node tab -> Enabled  box) affects all child particle systems: they synchronously stop or start emitting particles (emitted particles still live out their time).
  • Disabling or enabling the parent node (Node tab -> Enabled  box) also affects all children: all particle systems in the hierarchy are turned off and on — and preserve the same state as was at the moment of their disabling.

Delay of Initialization#

Delay option defines the time to pass between the parent system initialization and initialization of the child node. If any delay is set, the parent system starts emitting the particles, and after the delay, the generation of the child particles is activated. If the particle system doesn't have children, the delay defines the time after which the particles are emitted.

The delay can be set with some extent of randomization.

  • With the mean and spread value of 0, the parent and child systems are initialized synchronously.
  • With higher mean value, the initialization of child particle system will be delayed relative to the parent one for the strictly defined time period.
  • Providing spread value allows to define the range for randomization of the delay pause.

Rendering Options#

The options described below determine particles system rendering specifics.

Warming#

The particle system evolve with time, so after encountering it in the virtual world, the system only starts to be generated, particle by particle, until the whole system gains the intended look. When the character comes out on the glade, we will see the fire gradually burn up. Warm start for the particles enables rendering the full-grown particle system straight away.

The technical realization of warm start is the following: when the particle system is initialized on encountering, its life is computed starting from the generation of first particle to its disappearance. After that, the particle system is considered evolved and is rendered in this state. The calculations are taken at a fixed frame rate of 25  fps, which is the minimum required for correct simulation of particle systems (see also information about correlation between framerates).

Warm start can be enabled without any detrimental effect for any particles systems, except for huge ones.

Depth Sort#

Depth sorting is required, if particles use alpha blending. If not enabled, then basing on the depth buffer data, further positioned opaque objects can be wrongly rendered over the top of transparent particles. With depth sorting, geometry will be rendered in the order from back to front, which rules out visual artifacts.

Clear on Enable#

Enables or disables re-initialization of the particle system each time it is enabled. When this option is disabled, turning on the particle system will restore the state it had before it was turned off.

Procedural Rendering#

Enables rendering of particles into a procedural texture to be used by an orthographic decal or a field height. This feature can be used, for example, to create ship wakes effects.

Procedural Parenting#

This parameter defines relationship between the particle system and a decal / field node, that uses the procedural texture into which the particle system is rendered:

  • Parent - the decal/field node is a parent of the particle system
  • Children - the decal/field node is a child of the particle system

Procedural Positioning#

This parameter defines positioning mode to be used for child nodes (decal or field) using the procedural texture, to which the particle system is rendered. The following values are available:

  • Manual - position of a child decal/field node can be changed manually
  • Auto - position of a child decal/field node, that uses the procedural texture, is automatically defined by the position of particle system and cannot be changed manually
Notice
Takes effect only when Procedural Parenting is set to Children.

Procedural Resolution#

Specifies resolution of the procedural texture into which particles are rendered.

  • 128x128
  • 256x256
  • 512x512
  • 1024x1024
  • 2048x2048
  • 4096x4096
  • 8192x8192
  • Custom activates additional fields for specifying a custom resolution.

Emitter#

Emitter is the source part of particle systems that generate particles. This section contains description of emitter parameters.

Types of Emitters#

The emitter type define the shape of the volume within which the particles are generated:

  • Point — particles are emitted from a single point.
  • Sphere — particles are generated in a random point within a sphere, that has a certain radius.
  • Cylinder — particles are generated in a random point within a cylinder, that has specified radius and height.
  • Box — particles are generated in a random point within a cube, that has parameters of width (X axis), height (Y axis), and depth (Z axis).
  • Random — if the random emitter is chosen, the particles are generated on surface of the arbitrary parent mesh or over the particles surface. To use random emitter, you should set the particle system as a child node of the mesh. At rendering time, the random vertices of the mesh will be chosen to generate the particles.
  • Spark — this emitter generates particles in the conditioned points. It can be used to create particles that are able to spawn new particles themselves: when the first particles collide with the ground, in the point of collision new spark particles are born. In this case, the spark particle system should be made a child node of the parent first particles. Spark emitter can be used to simulate cascades of particles.
  • Also emitter can generate particles only when you move it. It called Shift Emitter, to enable it use the Emitter shift option. After that, particles are generated only when the system is moving. Particles can be shifted after the parent node (need to be assigned as a child), or their movement can be defined procedurally. Shift emitter has the following options:

    • Emitter based - particles are moving along with the emitter. If you start moving the emitter, particles will move too because their transformation depends on the transformation of the emitter.
    • Emitter continuous - enables continuous particles that follow the shift emitter.

The Emitter enabled option enables\disables the emitter.
The Emitter sync option enables the synchronization of the child particle system with the parent one, even if the child particle system has the Emitter enabled option disabled.

Particle system with a teapot as an emitter

A teapot mesh used as a parent node for Random emitter.

Emitter Size#

By using the emitter size parameter, you can specify the size of the particles source. The number of fields (whether it is radius or boundary dimensions) depend on the chosen type.

Limit#

The total number of of the emitted particles. This parameter specifies the number of particle that can simultaneously exist in the world. In other words, the number of particles existing in the world cannot exceed the limit value. For example, if the Number per Spawn value is 10, and the Limit value is 5, 5 particles will be emitted. And no particles will be spawned until the previous ones exist.

Sequence#

This parameter sets the order of rendering for particle systems, especially when creating a complex effects like shots (with muzzle flash, smoke and the shot itself, each rendered with different particle systems). This parameter is very much the same as Rendering Order option in the Materials Settings. But it allows setting a rendering sequence inside of the particle system hierarchy, to avoid such situations when the smoke from a distant shot is rendered atop of the fire of the foreground shot.

  • 0 means a default sorting according to bounding boxes of particle systems.
  • Particles with the lowest Sequence number are rendered first and are covered by the particles with the highest Sequence number, which are rendered last and above others.

Simulation Parameters#

This section contains description of simulation parameters which can be used to obtain scene plausibility.

To simulate a unique particle system, the Unigine engine uses stochastic methods. Stochastic processes introduce some degree of randomness, allowing the deviations of the resulting value within a specified range. As a result, it gives the particles system shape and appearance the natural-looking freedom of change. For example, not all the particles in the flow will move with identical speed: some will move faster, some slower, imitating complex interactions.

Each of the simulation parameter has 2 values:

  • Mean value defines the average value. It sets setting milestones to control the parameter.
  • Spread value defines the range for possible variation. The higher the value, the more diversely the particles will behave.
    Spread value is optional: if set to 0, it will not influence the simulation process and only the mean value will be used.

After these values are specified, the following formula is used to calculate the final result for the parameter:

Result = Mean + Random * Spread
where Random is a random value in range from -1 to 1. This means, for each of the particles in the system the parameter will be different, but the value of this parameter of the one particle will be close to another.

Particle Radius#

This parameters defines the radius of particle, in other words, size of particle. By using the spread value of the parameter, you can generate the flow of particles with different size.

Orientation Angle#

When the particle is generated, its orientation in the space can be defined by the specific angle. By using this parameter, you can create particles systems of richer structure and higher visual complexity, by specifying mean and spread values.

  • If the angle spread value is set to 180  degrees, the particles will be randomly oriented in all directions.
Notice
This option is not available for particles of point and length types.

Number Per Spawn#

Sets the number of particles to be spawned simultaneously each time according to the Spawn Rate.

The value defines the number of particles emitted per one spawn action. For example, if the value is set to 5, 5 particles will be generated in one spawn action.

Spawn Rate#

If particles are enabled (Emitter Enabled checkbox is flagged), the emitter starts to create them with the specified rate. This parameter defines the number of spawn actions per second.

  • The value defines how many times a certain number of particles will be spawned in one second. For example, the value set to 5 equals to 5 spawn actions per second.
  • 0 results no particles at all.
  • If the Emitter shift checkbox is enabled, the spawn rate correlates to spawning particles when emitter shifts one unit.
The number of particles generated per one spawn action is defined by the Number Per Spawn parameter.

Spawn Threshold#

The number of particles spawned by spark and random emitters can be additionally synchronized to the parent particle system. This parameter allows to regulate the number of particles depending on the velocity of the parent particles.

  • By the value of 0, the spawn rate of the spark emitter is independent of the parent particle system.
  • The higher the threshold value, the higher must be velocity of the parent particles for the sparks to be generated. If it is not high enough, there will be only few particles, if any.
Notice
Threshold for random emitter functions only with a particle system as a parent node.

Generation Duration#

Duration#

The emitter can generate particles not only constantly, but also in intervals. Duration parameter controls the time period, during which emission occurs.

  • The higher the value, the longer are the periods when particles are generated.
  • Setting the Duration to 0 means that particles are spawned over an infinitely small time interval, that is, only during one frame, simultaneously. This value can be used when you need to simulate a one-particle gun shot, for example. The exact number of particles to be emitted at once is controlled via the Limit parameter. (Set the Spawn rate very high in order to generate particles in this case).

Period#

After the generation cycle is over, the emitter can make a pause, duration of which is defined by the Period parameter:

  • If the mean value is set to 0, the particles are spawned constantly, without any pauses.
  • If infinity (inf) is specified, the particles emitter becomes inactive after one generation cycle.

Life Time#

The Life Time parameter shows, how long will particles exist after emission in seconds. This parameter also has mean and spread values, that allow the particles flow to form a convincingly disappearing tail with changing density.

  • If the mean value is set to 0, the particles will not appear.

Fireball with a shift emitter with color changing and gradual tail disappearance.

Direction of Emission#

Direction#

The Direction parameter specifies the direction in which all the emitted particles move forming a flow.

  • Emitting direction is specified along the X, Y and Z axes. The values are relative to each other, which means the particles flow is deflected in the direction with greater value.
  • Negative values force the particles to move in the inverse direction of the axes.

If a Random emitter is used to generate particles on the mesh surface, it is possible to make the emitted particles move in the direction of the surface normal. For that, you need to set the following:

  • Direction values to 1, 1, 1.
  • Spread values to 0, 0, 0.

Spread of Emission#

Shaping the particles flow allows to create different spawning models of the particles. Spread option introduces additional angular modulation of the emission direction. It represents the same spread values, that randomly vary direction of the emitted particles within the set limits.

  • Spread controls the scattering of the particles along the X, Y and Z axes. The values are also relative to each other and the direction values.
  • The higher the value, the wider the particles are scattered. If no direction values are specified, the scattering occurs in both the positive and the negative axis directions.

For example, to create the particles flow that is spread downwards and forms a 90   degree cone, the following values could be set:

  • Direction: 0, 0, -10. This will provide the overall movement down the Z axis. The same is achieved with the positive value after the particle system is rotated.
  • Spread: 10, 10, 0. The particles will be spread evenly along both the X and Y axes, scattering at an angle of 90  degrees and forming a cone.

Emission cone. Particle system with decal child node.

Particles Linear Velocity#

Velocity#

The velocity determines the speed of particles movement in the set direction. To grant the natural-looking flow, the final velocity of each separate particle can differ, if the spread value is set.

  • The higher the mean value is, the faster the particles movement becomes.
  • Negative mean values set the particles movement in the opposite direction to the set one.
  • If the spread value is higher than the mean velocity value, the particles will move in two directions: the main flow in the specified direction, and some particles in the opposite one. To avoid it, the spread value should be less than or equal to the mean velocity value.

Gravity#

Particle velocity can be altered by the additional external force of gravity. With this parameter the particle direction can be interfered with, diverting the flow along the X, Y and Z axes.

  • Positive values equal gravity vector directed upwards.
  • Negative values equal gravity vector directed downwards.
The rotation of particle system node does not affect the gravity vector.

Linear damping#

Linear damping specifies the decrease in particles linear velocity with the time and is used to simulate effect of the medium friction on particles. In other words, this parameter shows how quickly the particles stall their linear velocity.

  • If the value is set to 0, the velocity of the particles remains the same throughout all the particle life.
  • The higher the number is, the faster the particles velocity decreases with the time until it stops completely.

Particle Rotation#

Rotation#

To add the angular velocity to particles, use the Rotation parameter. Starting from the initial orientation angle, particles can spin around their own axis. Rotation parameter determines the angular velocity of their spinning motion.

  • Positive numbers rotate the particles clockwise.
  • Negative numbers rotate the particles counterclockwise.

Angular damping#

Angular damping is responsible for the gradual decrease of particle rotation. This parameter shows how quickly the particles stall their angular velocity, add by the Rotation parameter.

  • If 0 value is set, the particles will consistently rotate throughout all of their life.
  • The higher the number is, the faster the particles lose their angular velocity, until they become completely nonspinning.

Particle Growth#

Growth#

By using the Growth parameter, you can change the size of the particles dynamically, in spite of the particles radius range. The growth parameter introduces particle that change their initial size with the time. The growth can be either defined strictly (only mean value) or approximated with the range (by specifying also a spread value).

  • Positive numbers result in particles increasingly growing after they are spawned. For example, fireworks grow and blossom in the sky.
  • Negative number define the particles gradually lessening. For example, to imitate the smoke dissipating in air.

Growth Damping#

To control the Growth parameter, use the Growth Damping parameter. It defines the gradual decrease in the particles enlargement in size with the time. For example, with this parameter you can simulate explosion effects: in the beginning the particles grow rapidly, while afterwards their growth slows down.

  • The value of 0 means the particles will be constantly increasing in size throughout all of their life time.
  • The higher the value is, the faster the growth of particles stops and they live out with the constant size.

Particles-Objects Interaction#

When particles contact any object (it should have collision or interaction detection enabled), they can react in one of the ways described below.

Culling#

If the Culling option of the particle system is enabled, the engine will not render the particle if the intersection or collision have occurred. It can be useful if you don't want to render particles after the interaction with the geometry.

If the option is disabled, the behavior of particles will depend on other parameters. For example, they can appear on the geometry surface as decal objects or reflect from the surface and continue the movement.

Restitution#

After hitting the obstacle (if the culling option is disabled), they can bounce off the surface rather than slipping along it. This option is very convenient if simulating some watter effects that include splashes. The strength of the effect of bouncing depends both on the restitution parameter of the particles and the restitution surface option for the colliding object (Properties ->Parameters tab -> Restitution).

  • With the minimum value of 0, the particles does not bounce off.
  • With the maximum value of 1, the angle of particles fall equals the angle of their bouncing off.

Roughness#

Another characteristic of the particles, showing up on their contact with the obstacle, is the roughness of their surface. It determines whether the particles scatter in different directions or react as a uniformly directed flow.

  • The minimum value of 0 means the trajectory of all particles after the collision is the same.
  • The maximum value of 1 means the particles will scatter in different directions and a bit angularly. This angle arising from particle roughness also affects bouncing behaviour.

Synchronizing Several Particle Systems#

To synchronize several particle systems, for example, to create a shot effect (with three particle systems: muzzle flash, smoke and the bullet), you can do the following:

  1. Create the parent particle system that will be used as a dummy one, purely for synchronization purposes (you can even disable its surface). Its Duration time interval should cover all duration intervals and delay intervals (if any) of the children particle systems. Other parameters (Spawn rate, etc.) do not matter.

  2. Add the child particle systems. They can have any Duration time necessary (but it should be smaller than the one of the parent). For example, to synchronize all child particle systems at once and to spawn only one particle, you can set the following:

Additional Forces#

More intricate changes in further movement of the particles may be performed by applying the forces. They have influence on the particles flow in the desired direction or on the contrary deflect it. The forces can be of three general types:

There is no limitation to the number of forces applied to one particle system and they can freely overlap, enabling to constitute complex trajectories easily and fast. If the Attached flag is set, point forces are dragged and rotated with the whole particles system (and their position is also defined relative to the system, that represents zero of force's coordinate system). If the flag is off, the forces are not affected by the system changes in position.

Point Forces#

Point forces represent a force concentrated in a point, application of which is limited by the sphere. The point force sphere can be placed anywhere in the scene and rotated, if necessary. However, for the point force to affect the particles movement, it should include them in its radius.

Besides that, point force has two main properties, that define its influence.

Attractor#

Attractor property allows to correct the linear direction of particles movement.

  • If positive value is provided, the particles are repelled and move away from the force center point.
  • If negative value is provided, all the particles are attracted to move in the direction of the force center point.
  • By 0 value, the property is inactive and does not effect particles movement.

Rotator#

With Rotator property, the particles are spinned around the force center point.

  • Positive values spin the particles in the clockwise direction.
  • Negative values spin the particles counterclockwise.
  • By 0 value, the property is inactive and does not effect particles movement.

Point Force Attenuation#

To get more plausible visual result, especially by applying a set of different forces, their influence on the particles can gradually decrease when moving to the boundary.

  • 0 equals no attenuation and the force's influence ceases abruptly when crossing the sphere boundary.
  • The higher the attenuation value is, the closer to the force center point starts to weaken.

Noises#

A physical noise is a cuboid shaped area that adds a distribution flow based on a volumetric noise texture. Depending on the specified Position and Rotation parameters, it can be positioned and rotated to cover the necessary area.

Texture Sampling Parameters#

The following parameters are used for pixel sampling from the generated noise texture:

  • Offset - sampling offset along the axes.
  • Step - size of the sampling step along the axes.

Force Multiplier#

Force - is a force multiplier. The higher the value is, the higher the value of the resulting force that affects an object inside the noise volume will be.

Generation Parameters#

The following parameters are used to generate a noise texture that will be used in run-time.

  • Scale - scale of the noise texture. The minimum value is 0, the maximum value is 1.
  • Frequency - number of octaves for the noise. The higher the value is, the more details the noise texture has. The minimum value is 0, the maximum value is 32.
  • Size - size of the noise texture image in pixels.

Deflectors#

Deflector is a surface field that has no visual representation, but physically interacts with the particle system (no other objects are influenced, of course). Depending on the specified size, it can be either rectangular or square, plus arbitrarily positioned or rotated to cover the necessary area.

Deflectors are one-sided, meaning the particles can freely penetrate them through one side, and interact only with the opposite one, for example, when having fallen on it from above.

Deflectors can be of two types:

Reflector#

Reflector represents an invisible surface aimed for providing additional bouncing off and scattering of the particles.

Deflector Restitution#

The restitution of the deflector is based on the same principle as the particles general restitution. After hitting the deflector surface, particles bounce off it at the angle, defined by set value:

  • The minimum value of 0 means the particles does not bounce off, but rather slide along deflector surface.
  • The maximum value of 1 proves the angle of bouncing that equals the angle of particles fall.
Deflector Roughness#

Deflector roughness is also similar to the roughness characteristic of the particles. It simulates unevenness of the surface that results in particles scattering in different directions when hitting it.

  • The minimum value of 0 means the surface is smooth and the particles are scattered in a uniform direction.
  • The maximum value of 1 means the surface is harsh and the particles will scatter differently and angularly.

Clipper#

Clipper is a surface field that clips all the particles it comes in contacts with. If the particle system is accidentally dispersed into the unnecessary area, it can be clipped simply and trouble-free by adding a clipper, that does not render, without exerting additional effort of readjusting the whole particle system.

Mesh-Based Particles#

It is possible to create mesh-based particle systems. For that, Mesh Cluster should be added as a child node of ObjectParticles. After that, meshes are automatically spawned by the emitter.

Notice
Change the viewport mask for particles, if you do not want to spawn them together with meshes.

Mesh Cluster-based particles
Last update: 2019-04-30