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what is particleillusion?

particleillusion is a 2d particle effects application. with it you add visual effects to 3d animation, video, and images. it is not a plug-in, but a standalone program. this makes it possible to use it with the output of any 3d application, video files, or still images. using opengl hardware acceleration it gives you real-time feedback on all changes you make, and gives you incredible control to create hundreds or thousands of different visual effects.

this guide is broken up into 5 tutorials that cover all aspects of particleillusion. we'll cover all of the features, options, menus, and key shortcuts, but first you need to know a few key concepts and understand the basic terminology.

in brief:

particles: particles are the visible entities in particleillusion. you have no direct control over individual particles; once they are "born" they behave based on the values set in their particle type. particles use images for their appearance.

particle type: a particle type is the collection of properties that determine how particles of this type look and behave. a particle type consists of an image (or images), a color gradient, and various properties such as velocity, size, weight, etc.

emitters: an emitter is not visible, but is the object that particles emit from. emitters come in 4 shapes types: point, line, ellipse (circle), and area. an emitter contains one or more particle types, and "global" duplicates of many of the particle type properties (velocity, size, etc.). emitters, unlike particles, can be directly controlled and moved over time.

so an emitter is made up of particle types, and particle types are made from images, and particles are created by the emitter based on the properties of its particle types. in other words, an emitter creates particles which combine to form the visual effect. understand? if not, it will become clearer once we cover these things in more detail.

a more complex type of emitter is a super emitter.

super emitters: this is a special type of emitter that does not create particles directly, but creates other emitters which create the particles.

free emitters: the emitters that a super emitter creates. they are similar to particles in that you cannot directly control their position -- once they are "born" they behave based on the properties of their free emitter type.

free emitter type: like a particle type, this is the collection of properties that determine how the free emitters of this type will behave.

so a super emitter is made up of free emitter types and free emitters are created by the super emitter based on the properties of its free emitter type. each free emitter type consists of particle types, and particles are created by each free emitter based on the properties of its particle type. in other words, a super emitter creates free emitters, which in turn create particles which combine to form the visual effect.

there are three more objects that are possible in particleillusion: deflectors, blockers, and forces.

deflectors: a deflector is an invisible (or visible) barrier that particles collide with. deflectors are line segments or a series of line segments.

blockers: a blocker is an area that you define on the stage in which particles are not visible. the contents of the background images or background color are used to "block" visibility of the particles.

forces: a force object defines an area in which a force is applied to particles and free emitters. by setting the strength and direction of the force, you can simulate wind and other similar effects.

now that we've covered some basic terminology, we'll begin a more detailed explanation of particleillusion.

the particleillusion interface


the particleillusion interface is divided into 6 basic windows.

1. layers window.   where you add, delete and arrange layers used in the project.

2. hierarchy window.   where you can control the various aspects of the animation functions of an emitter and the particle types of the emitter.

3. stage window.   where it all comes together, this is where you see any background images you have added, and the symbolic representation of any emitters, deflectors, and blockers in the project. the gray outline represents the stage area, which is the area in which particles are visible, and is the area that will be saved when saving output.

4. graph window.   here you control various properties of emitters and particles over time.

5. library window.   shows the list of emitters that you are currently working with. emitters in the library are available for adding to the stage with just a mouse click or two.

6. preview window.   the emitter that is selected in the library window is displayed here. you may click and drag in this window to get an idea of how the emitter behaves before adding it to your project.

you can adjust the sizes of all of these windows by moving the mouse over the edge of the dividing line between the windows and simply dragging the divider. (you can also load different window layouts using the view menu load layout commands.) the window size that is most important is that of the stage window. the stage window must be large enough to fit the dimensions of the project you intend to work on, at least when saving output. for example, if you are working on a 640x480 project, the stage window must be at least 640x480, or you will not be able to save your output full-size.

also indicated in the interface image above are:

7. main toolbar
8. nudge toolbar
9. playback toolbar
10. status bar


there are 3 toolbars used in particleillusion: the main, playback, and nudge toolbars.

main toolbar (small)

playback toolbar (small)

nudge toolbar (small)

the toolbar buttons can be made larger (using the view menu button size function):

main toolbar (big)

playback toolbar (big)

nudge toolbar (big)

the toolbars are by default "docked" to the top edge of the main particleillusion window. they can be docked to other edges of the window too, and can even be left "floating". to move a toolbar (or "float" it) just click on the toolbar (but not on any of the buttons) and drag the toolbar around. (you will see an outline of the toolbar so you can position it before releasing the mouse button.)

each of these toolbars will be discussed in the tutorials that follow.

status bar

the status bar at the bottom of the main window gives information on several current settings:

status bar

from left to right, the status bar displays:

- whether the rgb or alpha channels are being displayed
- the current stage zoom level
- the x-y coordinates of the mouse cursor when in the stage window
- the number of emitters and particles on the stage
- the redraw framerate (with the project framerate in parentheses)
- the state of the caps lock, num lock, and scroll lock keys.

there are many concepts, procedures, functions and dialogs that you will need to learn to get the most from particleillusion. the following set of tutorials will show you step-by-step how to use each function. follow these tutorials as they are set up and when you come to the end of the tutorials you will be an informed user of particleillusion.

let the fun begin!

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