Praxis and Pet Peeves

Everyone has their own way of making things. Everyone’s got their own pet peeves and their own system and even their own superstitions. Building particle systems is no different. This list could be a million miles long and include things for Blueprints and Materials and naming conventions and content organization… could include other engines I’ve worked in like Unity or CryEngine. But that list would be way too long, so I’m just going to narrow it down to three of my quirky qualms specific to Cascade particle systems in Unreal 4 – the engine I’ve used most.


I immediately delete the “Color Over Life” module

I often need to unify an effect around a central color or color uniform. Sharing the Initial Color module across all emitters allows me the freedom to animate them separately as needed and change the initial color very easily. It’s more than that, though. I’ll always opt for multiplicative modules that easily stack on top of each other so I can compartmentalize everything happening in a given Emitter.


Ensure the Size By Life module is 0 – 1

Sharing this module is really handy as well. There’s mostly just a handful of basic curves that I use to scale a particle or mesh particle over its lifetime. But honestly the reason I do this is for my own sanity. I want to know that the whatever value I put into Initial Size is going to be represented in world units. It’s a little maddening to me to see an Initial Size of, say, 53, and then the Size By Life module is scaling the particle from 2 to 300. Just how big is this thing??? C’mon. Let’s normalize Size By Life, friends**

**There are exceptions to this. I animate rectangular or velocity aligned particles a lot and I like to extend beyond 1 just a little for extra oomph, and I also like to animate the X or Y from 1 to -1 to get a little spinny spin. Case in point:

Size By Life curve


Clean, lean Emitters.

Nightmare Fuel.

It’s inevitable to make a mess of things while you’re iterating on an effect. But my oh my. Sometimes I’ll see a particle system like the one above and just go on a mass deleting spree. Some folks might not know this because it doesn’t seem very intuitive, but disabled emitters and disabled modules still carry a cost with them. I get that you’re gonna juggle different ideas, different timings, different colors and sizes, etc, and you’d hate to re-do the work you’ve already done.

So, sure, why not disable that carefully constructed Scale Color Over Life module for now and lay another one down? Then toggle between them to see the difference and truly decide which one you like! Cool, excellent. Pick one, delete the other, then move on. Don’t let it spin out of control into this wild mess of discarded ideas. There’s no possible way you can navigate that thing unless you’re this guy:

Image result for charlie day chart

Honestly, it comes down to trusting your abilities. Don’t be afraid to delete an entire emitter… or entire particle system. You can always re-create it. Having worked in a position where I jump from project to project with great frequency, I’ve had to start from scratch a lot. It teaches you a lot about how to streamline your own personal process, and helps you to be an overall faster and more efficient VFX artist.

So there you have it. Three of my biggest pet peeves about working in Cascade. If you engage in any of these, you are FIRED and INVALID and a BAD ART–just kidding. It’s totally fine. Like I said, everyone has their own way of doing things, their own reasons for doing things. And besides, players are never going to see it

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