A few months ago, the Barbarian Group was approached by Erasmus to help with promotions for the Relentless Energy Drink. Relentless, available only in the UK, is a frequent sponsor of music festivals and sports competitions. They asked us to make an audio visualizer that would run in real-time so they could show it at these venues. In addition to the live application, they wanted a content creation version and an iTunes plugin version. The content creation version would allow them to create renders from recorded audio and the iTunes version would allow members of the Relentless Order to experience it on their own computers.
The project went through many different looks. The primary art direction we received was that the end result should be dark and should have some baroque sensibilities. We did our best to hit these goals and we are quite proud of the end result.
For me, the most rewarding part of this job was that I learned a whole lot. Fellow Barbarian, Andrew Bell, showed me many interesting tricks, not to mention working his ass off to optimize this project so it would run at 30+ fps and also handling the port to C++ for the iTunes visualizer version.
The early versions had the primary tendrils rendered as flat strips that always orient themselves towards the camera so you never (well, almost never) see the strips from the side. This was my way of faking the viewer into believing they were seeing a solid mass. However, this method had its problems. It was impossible to texture map it in an interesting way, and occasionally, the strip would twist a full 360Â° which added unsightly kinks. Andrew suggested we move to actual tubes instead of strips and I thought he was nuts. The piece was already starting to drag down the framerate and he wanted to add more geometry?? Nuts, I tell ya!!
A couple days later, he showed me the new build. I was floored. Not only did he do what he promised, but he improved the frame-rate in the process AND he added support for shaders. Awesome!
Suddenly, things got a lot more interesting… more lush. He ended up switching the tendril geometry over to VBOs (vertex buffer objects) which sped things up a great deal. He also pre-cached the texture coordinates because they didn’t actually change once the piece was up and running.
The idea of flocking crows or ravens is very much in keeping with the Relentless aesthetic but there was some concern that we were simply repurposing a project we did with Nervo for Fox Movies. We decided to do away with everything we did for Nervo and start from scratch. The original Nervo piece relied on using 160 flat images of a 3D bird in flight. For the Relentless version, we switched over to actual 3D birds (admittedly quite rudimentary). Each bird was made up of 12 polygons. The wings actually flapped and they could be viewed from any angle (whereas the Nervo version worked best when the birds were viewed side-on.
From the beginning we were instructed to do away with the notion of an infinite black or white space. The entire scene should be filled with content and this proved to be quite the challenge. Originally, we just dropped the whole scene inside a large textured sphere but the end result was lacking. Andrew came up with the idea of using a flat plane as the background but by using some FBO trickery, he was able to make these beautiful flourished textures bleed into view. I still have no idea how he pulled it off but the effect is quite stunning. Later he added a dynamic light source to make the scene feel even more dark and slightly disturbing.
The (faked) Volumetric Lighting
After we settled on the look, we wanted to make it seem like the invisible center of the mass of tendrils was a hidden light source. Earlier versions actually had the tendrils glowing near their base but the look of shadow and silhouette was more intriguing so we killed the glow and added faked volumetric lighting. The light beams themselves behave as if they were magnetic particles. Each one is born, lives for a predetermined amount of time, then fades out and dies. While they are alive, they repulse each other if they get too close. This created a really nice organic movement which made it seem like the movement of the tendrils actually caused the light beams to form or disappear. Combined with the background lighting, the effect became quite engaging.
The Content Creation Tool
Erasmus wanted to be able to create renders from pre-recorded pieces of music so we tweaked the live version to accommodate the loading in of external audio as well as an XML file of adjustable variables. By modifying the XML file, they could run the application and customize their experience. Every graphic element could be toggled individually. So if you want a video with no background for compositing, or perhaps you want to leave the birds out, just tweak the XML and run the application. Additionally, since we were no longer confined to creating an experience that ran live in real-time, you could up the amount of objects as high as your memory will allow. This is how we made the following test render. The bird and particle count was turned up really high, as was the detail on the tendril geometry.
The following video is a test render from The REV content creation tool. Please note this is not an official Relentless video. This is simply a test render we did to make sure the audio responsiveness was as we liked it. The audio is by The Flashbulb (“Six Months Without Light” off the album Kirlian Selections) but be aware that The Flashbulb has no affiliation with Relentless. The chosen audio was simply a test track. I chose The Flashbulb because he is my favorite artist to audio visualize and I love this track.
Or you can view the much higher resolution Quicktime here. Note, it is around 300Mb.
The REV iTunes Version
As I mentioned above, there is a free downloadable version for iTunes. You can find out more at the Relentless Energy site. Have at it!