By Tor Rolf Seemann
Issue: December 1, 2004


PRODUCT: Wondertouch ParticleIllusion 3

PRICING: Windows V.3: boxed $399/download $389; Upgrade from V.2: $75;

Mac V.3 available late 2004


· drag and drop layers

· choose between alpha and RGB channel display

· high-quality motion blur

· more key shortcuts

Here's a tool everyone in the post world could benefit from: ParticleIllusion 3 from Wondertouch. This is a standalone app that wrangles particles like "W" wrangles the red states. This new version boasts so many great new features, including Forces, a Library Manager, and Super Emitters, plus many interface enhancements. I just can't wait to jump in and blow stuff up!

When you've got so many cool emitters (that come standard with V.3) you need some way of keeping all of them organized, and ready to perform on cue. With the new Library Manager you can easily move emitters (and particle types) between folders. The left window shows the currently-loaded library, the middle list contains all of your libraries (from multiple paths), and the right window contains the selected library from that list, similar to how iTunes organizes its tracks. With Forces, you can make wind with ease and no one will complain, animate the direction and strength of the force, and get those particles moving. Yee-ha! Just when you think you've got all the emitters you'd ever need, Wondertouch posts another set you can download for free from their Web site - each and every month.

Another new feature I discovered in version 3 that I am now wondering how I ever lived without: the ability to have the particles sample the color of a background. This is a very powerful feature and leads to what is typically described as "displacement" effects. It's not really what's happening, but it's visually very similar. This allows for your effects to blend in and more realistically "attach" to your footage. You also have the ability to use the alpha channel of an image (or sequence) as a mask to define where particles are created. This opens up a lot of new possibilities.


ParticleIllusion uses OpenGL, so your renders will knock your knickers off. You also get fast, animated previews of your effects while you work on them too. I found that I could quickly run through all the explosive fire and smoke effects in seconds, before selecting just the right fireball to hammer my local City Hall.

There are hundreds of pre-set effects available (smoke, fire, sparkles and fireworks, just to name a few) to add to your project with only a click or two of the mouse. Does it get easier than that? I found the pre-sets to be very useable right out of the box. But by customizing each effect a little bit here, and a little bit there, my comp became far more dynamic. Thankfully, "tweaking" emitters in ParticleIllusion is a snap. All animated properties are displayed in a hierarchy, with the selected property's data shown in a graph window beside it. Any changes I make can be seen immediately in the project - no guessing about how changing a parameter will affect the final render.

Animating the position of the emitter is just as simple. Just change the current frame and drag the emitter into the position you want. ParticleIllusion works in 2D, so it is extremely easy to use. No 3D experience needed, but no need to feel stuck in 2D space - ParticleIllusion contains easy-to-use tools to blend its effects into your 3D work. Multiple layers, the ability to "zoom" an emitter over time, and the use of "deflectors" to make particles appear to collide with objects in your scene are all available to integrate ParticleIllusion into your 3D work, no matter what 3D software you use.


A ParticleIllusion emitter is made up of one or more "particle types." Each particle type is a collection of three main components: settings (such as life, number, size, velocity, size over life, etc.), color/transparency gradients and a shape image. The power of ParticleIllusion comes from giving the user simple access to all of these properties, without being too complex - you don't need to be a geeky programmer to make killer ParticleIllusion effects. Change the "size" property and see the particles change size in the stage window or the animated preview window. Change a smoke emitter into rising bubbles by replacing the shape image with a bubble and changing the colors. It's really very intuitive - you'll be creating new effects and destroying public property before you know it!


Believe it or not, you will have a blast with this software. You may not intend to, but you won't be able to help yourself. Here's a couple things that make working with ParticleIllusion not laborious. The animated preview window: there is something compelling about clicking to create an explosion, or dragging a fiery smoke trail, or making more sparkles than Walt Disney ever envisioned. The hundreds of presets available: library after library, filled with new ideas.

Experiment with changing the available controls. This is where you'll have most of the fun. Take an existing emitter, change a shape image, change a color, change the size - new effect! We're not just talking about realistic effects either (smoke, waterfalls, explosions, etc.), we're talking about effects that don't have names - things you might only see when fondled by recreational pharmaceuticals. Toss in the fact that major motion picture effects houses are making bank using this tool, when it only cost them $400 bucks. You can't afford to not have ParticleIllusion. On PC now, and coming to a Mac near you soon.