Faking a 3D Swarm of Bees in 2D


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We were given the task of adding a swarm of bees to a live-action scene as part of a larger project. In order to save on time and budget, creating a 3D bee character was not feasible. Instead, we chose to fake it in 2D with the help of a little special effects trickery using After Effects and Trapcode’s Particular.

To achieve this goal in 2D, we first matched the scene’s camera up with the live action camera (also know as match-moving). The framework of the swarm came from Trapcode’s Particular. We knew the swarm of bees would fly in from behind the camera, so we set up a box emitter out of view. The box emitter created 100 particles a second (which would later become the actual bees), and using the various environmental physics, we pushed them in the direction the swarm would be buzzing. Wind and Turbulence Field are what give the individual bees their own unique and random movement within the swarm. Once we were satisfied with the particle swarm’s movement, we began creating the bee sprite that would replace each particle.

The bee was created out of a single 2D image of a 3D ant model we already created, using some paint-overs and Photoshopping. The wing flapping was added in After Effects using 2D wings positioned in 3D space.  The final animation was rendered out as an 8-second loop. This animated bee was then added to our original swarm project and resized to match the live-action scene. Using Trapcode’s Particular, we were able to change our basic round particles to a custom sprite of the bee. This still didn’t look right, as it was too uniform and needed some variation and randomness. We were able to randomize each individual bee size as well as change the starting frame of the looping animation. After this, the bees weren’t flapping their wings at the same time, nor were they all the same size.

After a few tweaks and final touches, we were happy with the end result. We were able to complete the scene in just a fraction of the time it normally would have taken if we were to use a full 3D scene and characters. Check out the video that shows the live action scene, the base particles, the swarm and the final outcome and let us know what you think!