THE MAKING OF CHAOS THEORY
~ written by zoom/conspiracy
As usually with all our intros, this one also began with me coming up with a decent title, half asleep in the morning :)
I think a good title is quite important. If the title already catches your attention, it contributes to the success of the intro. That's one of the reasons. The other reason why the title is the first thing to figure out, is because it already kindof determines the concept and this is a lot of help when you need to figure out what to show. Of course this is two-directional: if you come up with a title that's concept is hard or impossible to execute well, then it's a bad title. The emphasis on "well" is not coincidental. I always strive for quality. If I'm unable to show something in quality, then it won't make it into the final intro. It's so simple. (Of course this isn't always possible, since there is an evil thing called deadline :) ) If you have an attitude like "okay, this doesn't look as good as I wanted to... but hey, it's 64k!", then it's already condemned to mediocrity. It's no wonder you never saw a human model in any of our releases, because I never did one and neither am I able to do one. (Saturday Night Scener doesn't count :) But hopefully sometime...
Naturally, this approach requires healthy self-criticism. Furthermore, you have to be able to cope with the criticism of others, for example if you show a half-done scene to your groupmates, who are in full panic mode about the intro being at 20% completion, three days before the party. Lasty, you also need good debating skills, to convince them why they're wrong with their suggestions on the design ;)
Ok, that should be enough for the foreword. So, chaos theory.
Chaos is good, cause chaos is easy to do. And it just fits my improvisational (read: shot in the dark) way of design, because it brings out my creativity. So I start somewhere and keep fiddling with it till I say "ok this looks cool".
The concept was quite simple: take a dozen of wallpapers from deviantart, use them as inspiration, stir well, and put an energetic enough soundtrack with lots of BASS under it. Gargaj (who is not a musician, nevertheless he wrote the music ;) asked me twice whether he heard it right, that I need heavy music, since we always had softish tracks in our previous intros. Well, yes.
Actually in the first version of the concept, we had the idea to display "cool phrases" besides the abstract 3D scenes, and their letters would have made up groupnames in some way, so the whole intro would have become one long greetings (since we needed to do some catching up in that department anyway), but in the end this was abandoned due to lack of time and ideas.
As you might know, there are two possibilities: write the music for the intro, or do the intro to the music. I think this is different for every group, as it mainly depends on the musician's personal preference and skills, whether he/she can write music for a finished intro. Some are true masters of this, but generally the other option is easier to accomplish, and I can also start off easier with the visuals if I already have the music. I just listen to it, close my eyes and I already see complete scenes moving before me. Yes, that sounded way too corny, I know :) Obviously the musician could say the same thing, that it would be a lot easier to write music when some of the visuals are already available.
Therefore we help each other to imagine what we have in our heads, by showing references of music and graphics. To be more specific, in our case this meant the above mentioned deviantart images, and music by Black Sun Empire with their track called Bitemark.
So, as usually, the soundtrack was finished first. I'd like to give Gargaj a pat on the back here, because I was very picky with the music and drove him crazy till it was finally perfect. I am a perfectionist, but I know he is one as well, so he did it after all :)
He also programmed the soundsystem, and did some updates for this intro. Since a lot of people criticised the sound quality, he implemented a sawtooth-generator and support for compressed samples, which was mainly used for the drums.
Fun fact: I'm a lazy bastard. This means that the music is already finished two months before the party, but I can usually come up with one single screenshot at that time, and I can't convince myself to start working on the damn thing up until there is only two weeks till the party and the whole group is threatening me with selected torturing measures. So then I usually pull myself together and finish the intro in roughly 2-3 days. (Don't you dare to think how much better the outcome would be if I devoted enough time to it. Nonsense. :)
To top it all, the first scene I made was really nothing special and for a long time I didn't want to include it in the final either. But in the end it made it anyway, because it was simple and fit the calm part of the music well.
But the second scene turned out very well as it reflected the visual style I was striving for quite accurately. Luckily from that point I got caught in the wave and made the 3D elements one after another, from which I could later build up the scenes.
A special attribute of this intro is that almost everything is gray and the colors are applied during post-processing with gradient filters.
The scenes are made up of very primitive models, I think the most used object is the simple plane. Of course the trick is not letting the viewer notice this.
Take the first scene. Chaos at it's best. Would you believe it's only planes? If you're not an expert probably not, but it's true.
Ol' Granny's chaos-brew recipe:
Ingredients: 1 plane, 1 cloning-tool, 1 particle emitter, 2 textures with alpha channels
Place down the plane, put the texture on it, then clone it. Move-rotate-scale (transform) the cloned one as you wish. Select both planes, clone them, and transform them again. Select all four, clone, transform. Select, clone, transform. 8, 16, 32, 64, 128... repeat until bored, or complex enough. Put the emitter with the other texture on top of the whole thing for a nice finish, and use close cameras for the effect.
For those interested in technical details: this scene consists of roughly 750 planes, which means around 1300 polygons.
Due to the 64k sizelimit, I've learned quite early to reuse elements in different scenes of the same intro, while keeping it mostly unrecognisable that it's the same thing. Hopefully I don't need to say why this is so important: you only need to store the object once, and merely transformation data for the rest.
A good example for this is the "chaos" scene with the black whirlwind-type effect. The background is also made up of simple textured planes, but they are only scattered in 2D this time. You can see the very same thing on the credits screen at the end of the intro.
Many have asked me how I did that whirlwind effect. I guess this is also more simple than one would think (even BoyC was surprised :)
There's a very handy modelling tool what we call map-transform. This works pretty much like 'displacement' in 3dsmax: distorts the object based on the graylevels of the texture.
So, I took a torus as the base object, which is then distorted a little, and a simple black texture with "alpha-holes" is applied to it. This object is then also cloned&transformed a few times. At the center there are additionally some transparent map-transformed objects, and particle emitters, and there you go.
There is a very useful trick I figured out some time ago. I think it was in "A place called universe" where I used it first. I'm talking about a really simple texture, which I only call inverse envmap. Using this as an environment map on objects gives you a cool metallic look.
Parts of the object perpendicular to the camera angle appear normal, but the more lower the viewing angle, the more shiny the surface becomes. Furthermore, in case of more complex scenes this effect seems kindof like radiosity, and that is of course a very nice thing :) The scene with the industrial looking tunnel/column is a good example of this.
Another "trick", which is more like a practical thing is concerning lots of dusty particles, which contribute very nicely to the details. Using lots and lots of individual particles becomes very fast noticeable in your fps-count. So *tada* use textures which already have lots of "particles". The only thing you need to pay attention here is to use the right particle sizes, because when they're too small and you only see the same chunks of particles everywhere, the illusion is gone. Also, use random rotation in the generation of the particles.
Well, that'll do for technical details I guess, the whole intro is based on combining those methods written above.
By the way, the slow beginning with the planets and stuff is an intentional deceit of course, since we knew everyone was expecting another slow-paced space-intro. I think we managed to surprise the audience :)
Naturally, because of the alarmingly fast upcoming deadline (obviously not because I started working on it late ;), the intro was in the works for the very last minutes.
It was August 2, 2006 and I think I got up around 11 o'clock in the morning, being well aware that I'll have a looong night. Not too much was visible from the intro at that time (1 minute out of 4, at most), but we had the foundations set at least.
So I started up my built-in deadline-rush creative engine, while BoyC was hunting down the upcoming bugs, and after roughly 20 hours straight (without coffee and coke! :), at around 7 o'clock in the next morning I could send over and alpha-version of the projectfile. I gave him some instructions for timing and cameramoves for which I haven't had time, because I quickly jumped into the bathtub and gathered my stuff in record time to be able to reach my train at 8:30, going to Budapest. At that time I already didn't take notice over my sleeping needs, and since I'm unable to sleep on trains anyway, I just stared out the window watching the trees going by while listening to Firestorm - Doomsday. I have to say that was a great trip, gave me some inspiration for upcoming prods :)
After the 4 hours of train ride from my hometown to Budapest, the 2-hour Budapest-Helsinki flight really seems like a snap. We made our way to Hartwall Areena with Vickey, and quickly met up with Gargaj who of course already had the video version of the intro on his PocketPC. Oh how I love modern technology :) I can't remember when exactly, but BoyC sent me a message saying that together with TrX they made a greetings part and made a video of it, so I should check it out whether it's ok. It was :)
So Gargaj wrote the necessary nfo files, zipped it and released to the compo.
Since this is not a partyreport, we jump in time here right to the 64k compo, where we suffered one of the biggest disappointments of our lives: the soundsystem of the arena decided right there that this was it, I'm gonna sound like a mobile phone. The whole low-range of the audio disappeared.
I hope I don't need to explain that this was a disaster for us, since bass played a very essential role in our intro. Being the calm person as I am, I could hold my emotions, but Gargaj snapped, and rightly so.
It was around the fourth or fifth intro when the organizers noticed the audience yelling "WHERE'S THE BASS?" like mad. So, after 20 minutes of technical break they restarted the compo and showed everything again. Of course, the surprise-factor was long gone by then...
That's karma for you.
Despite that, and all in all, we're very satisfied with the second place. Never we have seen a 64k intro compo with so many quality releases, and we in the group also agree that this intro is the best thing we did so far.
BoyC is working on aDDict3 since one and a half years now, and it will be a lot bigger step than it was in the case of aDDict1 and 2. We hope this will also show in the releases made with it. We'll see next year :)
Oh and by the way, if any of you is interested in more, you can download the whole aDDict2 intro pack that we recently released. The projectfile of Chaos Theory is included, so you can take a deeper look if you want. Get it at www.conspiracy.hu
First published in PAiN #58.