Fire Recipe by Me, Myself, and I

In response to Jeff’s (not so subtle ☺) suggestion that we could use a Recipe for making realistic fire with HeroMachine I have put this together.

There are a few things I consider when producing fire imagery;

  • It contrasts greatly with whatever is around it;
  • It is never completely symmetrical but it is often balanced;
  • Because it is a light source, the color and intensity of close by objects will often be affected;
  • It is always transparent but in varying degrees;
  • It varies in color and can include greens, blues, reds, oranges, yellows and even whites;
  • Fire also engulfs objects.

The major challenge with making a recipe for fire is that it does not have a static form. Therefore this recipe will be kept very general with few specifics.

Step #1 – Background
I referred to contrast previously and a really dark background can make a bright subject really pop off the page. I just used a dark background rectangle and filled the entire screen with it.

Step #2 – Burning Object
What fire is complete without something to burn eh? (Yes I did just include “eh” at the end of my sentence. I’m Canadian so I figure I’m allowed☺). This time I chose a skull because it’s dark and sinister.

Step #3 – Shading
Certainly not necessary but I often like my objects to have some shading. I selected the last item in the Backgrounds > Shapes section and gave the Primary color an Alpha of 0%. The Secondary color has an Alpha of 75% and is black. Sized like the image here and centered over the skull makes the edges of the skull darker while the center remains lighter. This should give the skull some depth. The Line Color is left as white to illustrate here but will be subsequently changed to an Alpha of 0%.

Step #4 – Flame Elements
I like to use a few different objects to make flames. I do this so that the same shapes do not appear readily. As the image progresses I will add literally dozens of layers of just the flames and the will begin to overlap. There are a few elements available that work easily for flames and here are a few examples before I start to color and layer them.

Step #5 – Adding the Fire
I will layer numerous layers of each of the flame objects. As mentioned previously, flames are not symmetrical so each object will be changed in size, shape and rotation to reduce the same shapes showing up repeatedly. Furthermore, the level of transparency changes as well so the Alpha levels will be changed for each object as well. The torch and glove may seem like unlikely additions but the flames on the torch are really good if the Line Color and the Primary Color Alpha 0 ratings. Some of these objects will be in front of the burning object and some will be behind. The torches in particular are placed behind the object so that the lines aren’t so obtrusive. The glove works quite well for small wisps of flame if the Primary Color and Line Color are made to have Alpha values of 0.

Step #6 – Review
Because the fire covers the burning objects the underlying items often look different than anticipated. I usually find it is good to review the burning object to make sure the coloring and clarity is still what was desired. Feel free to experiment with other objects or coloring to decide what meets your desired objective. In the end it is the methodology or strategy and experimentation that is important and produces results; not any one detail.

Step #7 - Alternatives

17 Responses to Fire Recipe by Me, Myself, and I

  1. logosgal says:

    Thanks for the great recipe, MMI! Those flames are amazing! I never would have thought to use the glove for fire…

  2. Excellent pointers. Especially that “[fire] is never completely symmetrical but it is often balanced.”

    I try to use multiple layers for fire effects. Too often, the flames become a busy orange blob. I like the idea of using non-fire Items to create the “symmetrical randomness” of flames.

  3. Pesky says:

    Very good special effect. Thanks for the recipe.

  4. Hammerknight says:

    Great job.

  5. Zyp says:

    Just amazing!!!

  6. Arioch says:


  7. collex says:

    Verycool, but I wonder- snce youcan have something like 20-30 layers for just one object, how well does the program react after you’ve added the fire?Does it slow down?

    Do you recommend adding the fire early on or at the end of a project

    How do you work on small object not in “head zoom” area, such as an item in a hand? Do you have tips to make this kind of work easier?

    *** Of course, once Jeff will have given us a “zoom everywhere” option, we won,t have this problem.

  8. Worf says:

    @MMI: Very cool. Nice use of the torch with line alpha at 0%. and I loved those blue flames…

    @Collex: My recent experience is that the program does slow down some after so many objects, but the recent changes have made it very stable so keep experimenting.
    As far as the zoom goes I have two methods I use quite often:
    1) right-click on or near where you want to work and select zoom in. This only works for quick fixes or to precisely place objects as you basically “lose” the controls until you right-click again to zoom out.
    2) use the headshot view to work on it and then move the “finished item” to the correct place… This may take some workaround even if you use the grouping options, but if you take notes (for example move the right hand up 200 and right 80) you’ll get it within the zoom area. I really don’t see another option until we have a zoom anywhere feature

  9. Worf says:

    @Jeff: That Hands for Drawing site you posted on sharing day is seriously awesome. Besides the hands it also contains a foot a torso and a head and that really helps to visualize things.

  10. Me, Myself & I says:

    collex (7) you are correct that things can slow down when you have a lot of layers. I find that it doesn’t really slow down much until you have well over a hundred layers. I have found that it is a lot more stable now with Jeff’s recent coding innovations and takes a lot more layers to slow down.

    It helps if you don’t add colors or patterns until the end. Of course special effects like fire have greater demands so they should also be done near the end.

    You can move the objects around by selecting the move ‘Body’ or move ‘Head’, etc. It is a little awkward but it does work.

  11. spidercow2010 says:

    Thanks, MMI. Another box for me to start thinking out of.

  12. Legatus says:

    That is a spectacular recipe, MMI! Thanks for sharing!

  13. logosgal says:

    collex, Worf, MMI (7, 8, 10): Actually, it’s very easy to get a zoom effect anywhere you want without losing the controls and without having to do a lot of awkward moving-of-items after zooming back out.

    1) Use headshot view, then use the “All items” grouping and the move arrows in the transform tab to move the whole picture until you can see the part you want. Don’t click and drag an item, because that will just move that single item regardless of your chosen grouping.

    2) Make sure you change your grouping back to some grouping besides “all items” before you try to alter an item, otherwise the whole picture will be rotated/resized/moved instead of the item in question. It’s especially annoying to accidentally resize the whole picture.

    3) When you’re done, you go back out to normal view, select the “all items” grouping and hit “Reset” in the Move box, and the whole picture’s back where it was before, only with your awesome new item(s) in the proper place. Changing views like this will automatically reset the horizontal (x) placement in the new view, but doesn’t reset the vertical placement.

    So, if you need to zoom to something that’s directly to the right of where the headshot normally is, move all items to the left until you see the desired area, make your changes, then you can go back to normal view without resetting the location. If you want to zoom in on something that’s below or diagonal from the headshot, you will have to reset location after you zoom out.

    This is why I love the “all items” grouping and I really hope Jeff gives us a movable zoom before he takes it away or changes it radically.

    P.S. It would make sense, but it’s probably best not to try to zoom by resizing the “all items” group. I haven’t tried it much, but it seems to be unreliable as to how well it preserves the proportions. I.e., it’s really hard to make sure the x and y resize at the same rate, and the lock feature doesn’t seem to help with that grouping.

  14. Myro says:

    This was great MMI, thanks. I thought I had recently gotten a decent handle on “sculpting” fire with HM3, but you’ve given me a couple techniques in item selection that I hadn’t considered before.

  15. Me, Myself & I says:

    Myro (14) glad to hear it helped.

  16. Me, Myself & I says:

    collex (7) I need to update my earlier statement (10) in regards to the quantity of layers before things slow down. It used to take a lot less layers to impact performance but that has increased a lot.

    This image;
    was actually 202 layers and while it had slowed down a bit, it was still tolerable.

  17. Panner says:

    Neat recipe MMI, I love the random glove thrown into the mix. Really shows that items need not be used only in the most obvious way.