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Thinkbox Software’s Krakatoa MX 2 review

Rating

5/5 Excellent

Pros
- Unique particle processing and rendering capabilities
- Greatly improved Magma editor
- Significant number of smaller updates, maturity
Cons
- Steep learning curve
- Complex interface
- Would benefit from additional preview capabilities
Recipient of MU’s Editor’s Choice Award

By Hristo Velev, April 24, 2012

Introduction

QUICK SPECS

Krakatoa

Software type: Plugin

Version: MX 2

Category: Particles

Company: Thinkbox Software

Price:
$1000 single license / other options available (at time of review)

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Krakatoa is a high volume particle renderer and particle data processing environment developed by Thinkbox Software. It’s currently available as a Max plugin with a stand-alone version for both Windows and Linux expected soon. Krakatoa has an interesting history, it was initially developed in-house at Frantic Films’ software division, and ended up later in Thinkbox’s portfolio (the company is headed by one of Frantic Films’ original co-founders). Despite the transformations on the surface, the same developers have been behind it since the beginning.

Overview

Krakatoa provides a pipeline for acquiring, caching, transforming, shading and rendering massive amounts of particles. It also provides data exchange capabilities for sharing particles with other 3D software.

The image below illustrates the fact that you can traverse the graph in almost any direction, which creates some useful applications. Krakatoa videos on the web mostly show examples of its rendering capabilities – the atomic, silty look and its variations. But the particle data processing functionality gets used daily in productions, and helps open up a great number of new options and solve lots of data exchange situations.

Whether you want to combine a Naiad simulation with FumeFX to add some mist, bend a linear particle stream around a spline or add some leaves and debris over a water stream created with RealFlow and render with V-Ray, Krakatoa allows you to integrate these tools and do more with them – such as adding modifiers, retiming, skinwrapping, etc.

Krakatoa’s functionality includes a volumetric renderer that feeds on particles and renders them either as points or voxels. A great number of them, actually, so they can shape up solids, swirls, dust storms, ocean surface foam, energy fields and more.

Krakatoa provides a toolkit to deal with these particles, which includes the Magma System, a modifier that you can put on top of a particle loader that allows you to take some inputs – like any particle data (position, velocity, normal, etc), lookups to external particles, geometry and textures – and allows you to do some operations on them, and write the results into some data channel on the particle – like color, density, velocity, selection, etc. All this can be done using the MagmaFlow editor, a node-based visual programming environment.

What’s new in Krakatoa 2.0 MX

The first thing one notices is that there is now an ‘MX’ added to the end of the Krakatoa name. The idea here is that Krakatoa is going multi-platform, with MX being the Max version, and SR being the standalone version. Eventually, there will be a host of plugins that load and write PRT files – the open Krakatoa particle cache format – for various 3D applications, with Maya, Houdini and XSI being the most obvious choices.

Hot magma

In 2.0, the Magma Channel Data Editing system has been rewritten. It is now faster, holds all the data inside the modifier, including animation controllers, and has more tools available. My favourite ones are the new lookups, which have been extended: now you can get information from a lot of objects in your scene like external particles, geometry and maps. This helps make your PRTs really interact with the rest of the scene, which is very welcome. There is also raycasting, which should be falling in the same category.

The standard nodes now support default input values as spinners in their interface, so you don’t have to create this multitude of float and vector nodes, just to give a constant value to something – this helps reduce the amount of nodes in the flows.

The rewritten Magma editor offers various improvements

Another great thing is the exposure to the modify panel, which enables you to work with the MagmaFlow setup without even opening the editor. As a part of the rework, the flows are now saved in a human readable format. This makes it possible to create flows by typing or with a script, or even copy/paste from Skype or forums’ posts – a great thing I’ve enjoyed when working with Nuke, and I’m very glad this comes to Krakatoa. Actually, the whole Magma environment is Maxscript accessible, opening it up to automation, for the unsung heroes of the pipeline.

Another very important addition is the unlimited number of outputs you can have in a single Magma modifier. So you won’t need to create several modifiers that put almost the same flow in different channels – again, a big optimization point. You can even have several editors open simultaneously, if you’re that kind of person :). The new Magma is another modifier, and the old one is still in there, for backwards compatibility.

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Comments

by Jason Addy - April 24, 2012 12:20 pm

Simple and to the point. Nice job Hristo and Pablo.

by Paul Roberts - April 24, 2012 12:37 pm

Good review, looks like a great release.

by Pablo Hadis - April 24, 2012 4:41 pm

Thanks for the good words, folks. All credit here belongs to particle wizard Hristo Velev.

by Raj Verma - June 2, 2012 2:07 pm

Awesome review, Its help me a lot…..hope our production house will use soon……Thanks guys!(Hristo & Pablo )

by Vikas Nagolkar (Vick) - June 3, 2012 10:03 pm

Bobo has done and is doing excellent job by building this kind of system which has not only integrated inside 3DS Max, but into the world of Visual Effects.
With today’s sophisticated technology ,Krakatoa is a perfect “Mechanism” for Visual Effect Sector has become a part of my daily LIFE personally and professionally.
All i can say is “Perfect numbers like perfect men are very rare. And Bobo is one of them”.
Hats off to all memberlist who gave a new LIFE to this industry via Krakatoa.Hope to see more in near future.

by Bobo - June 4, 2012 1:10 pm

Hi Vick,

While I appreciate the flowers, please remember that Krakatoa is a team effort and the majority of the kudos should go where it belongs – to Darcy Harrison, the Lead Developer of Krakatoa MX, to Mark Wiebe, former Director of Development at Frantic Films who started it all, to Conrad Wiebe who is responsible for the upcoming Krakatoa Stand-alone version, and to a bunch of other very smart people who contributed code to the project.

I only implemented the scripted portions of the toolset, wrote the docs and helped shape the product to some degree. But I should not be singled out when talking about what Krakatoa is today. I just happen to be the more visible tip of the iceberg (or the volcano, if you prefer ;)

Cheers,
Bobo

by Vikas Nagolkar (Vick) - June 5, 2012 2:56 am

Absolutely Bobo,you are right . That’s why i did mentioned “Hats off to all memberlist who gave a new LIFE to this industry via Krakatoa”.

by Pablo Hadis - June 12, 2012 10:06 am

@Raj Verma: Glad you found it useful. These articles take some good work, so it’s great to know they’re being helpful to readers.

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