ABOUT Breaking Ice

In the Spring of 2015, I decided to do an independent study to become more proficient in creating effects. The vizlab allows us to collaborate with artists from the industry as an external advisor. Can Yuksel, a former vizzer( alumni of the Department of Visualization), currently working as an Effects Artist at DreamWorks Animation, was kind enough to agree to mentor me for a whole semester. Dr. Fred Parke was my in-house mentor. In this semester long project we explore the different ways in which ice breaks. I was responible all except the gargoyle and background icebreg models.


Understand the mechanics of simulating physical systems as implemented in production-level visual effects software. And move beyond basic understanding, in order to manipulate physical system simulations to achieve complex and art directable physically based effects. Learn to interface with visual effects software API and write code to augment software in order to achieve a visual effect not directly supported by the software. Gain sufficiently deep knowledge and experience with simulating physical systems and compositing in order to produce “studio quality” visual effects. Can Yuksel from DreamWorks Animation will act as the domain expert to determine if we have achieved “studio quality.”

Software used: Maya, Houdini, Nuke


I storyboarded the short that I wanted to create keeping in mind the concept of breaking ice. My short involved showing how ice floor cracks & icicle breaking. I also added a fantastical effect of an ice block exploding.


For the cracks I created art directable procedural cracking tool in Houdini, that helped me achieve the ice floor cracking effect I wanted. Based on the curves, the cracks and secondary cracks are generated. The progression of the crack is controlled by animating the curve generation. For the explosion, I pre-fractured the geometry, I took help of metaballs to control it. Also built a debri system which generates smaller pieces of debris based on the force of the explosion.

Ice floor cracked

Ice block explosion


Created a procedural ice shader in Houdini SHOPS with subsurface, displacement, refraction, reflection. I procedurally bubbles ( with different refrative index) inside the ice geometry.