How To Make Smoke

In this special guest post, Ghost Games’ Art Director Dave Taylor gives us an exclusive behind the scenes look at just what goes into creating those incredibly realistic smokey visuals seen in the recent Need for Speed trailers.

Reference. Reference is why our art directors and VFX (Visual Effects) team were on a test track just outside of Gothenburg, Sweden, in the middle of a typical dreary winter evening. In this case though, we were pretty excited about the rainfall and the very early Swedish sunset. Need for Speed‘s environment, Ventura Bay, after all is perpetually sleek, wet and dark, bathed in sodium and mercury vapor street lighting. So these were ideal reference conditions for us.


For our future art reviews we knew that we’d be staring at whatever we captured during the evening, scrutinizing the subtleties all through the project. How does tire smoke sit with wet kick-up? How does it receive light from the brake lights? How long does it linger in the wind? It’s a complex relationship between particles, physics and lighting that goes far beyond capabilities to work from memories or imagination.


A few minutes after we arrived, our crew of drivers pulled up with the hero car on a flatbed. They needed to be able to produce smoke on demand, throw the car into as much choreography as our VFX artists would need, and they needed to provide a car appropriate to our car list, styled and set up appropriate to our customization.


A very big thank you to the Gothenburg Vicious Crew who ticked all the boxes and drove with skill, enthusiasm and were willing to waste good tires for our benefit.


From left to right; Joacim Johansson, Chris Lundberg, Fredrik Ågren and Karl Bryngelsson. The night began with jury rigging a whole host of high speed GoPro cameras around the car. We wanted to ensure we had the detailed orthographic reference for internal purposes, as well as capturing from the game camera as well. After all, this is how our players would see the visual effects most of the time. The trick was replicating our virtual follow camera in reality.


I’d love to say it was a very high-tech solution, but the reality was a lot of mathematics, some complex shot matching and a broomstick or two. By the time the Swedish sun had finally set, we had our follow camera rig set up and we were mildly confident that it wouldn’t collapse or fly off when the car went through its demanding drifting sequences.


And so it began. We started with a warm up, quite literally. Simon Edgar, Need for Speed‘s lead VFX artist, wanted to capture some burnouts on a wet road, and we need to get the tires warmed. Here we were capturing some close-up detail of the smoke as it is lit by the mercury and sodium lights. Everything was captured by our Canon 5Ds, (the same cameras we use to capture all our visual reference) for consistency – and calibrated as required. Additionally, in order to maximize consistency, we captured from all angles at the same time. Simon briefed Joacim, the driver, on the required speeds and acceleration times. We then determined the placement of the tires on various types of asphalt to better understand the kick-up differences.


Now, here is the strength of reference. Half of the team were expecting incredible plumes of smoke – the displays so often captured at drift events. But semi stock cars on wet roads have quite a different signature. Smoke mixes with wet kick-up, and under the limited lighting a lot of the great smoky content blends into the darkness. It is there, but lingering under street lights and illuminated by the tail and head lights. Under the knowledge that the reference was authentic, we were pretty sure we would need to make some fictional adjustments in engine to exaggerate the effect. Additionally, it was a nice surprise for the art directors to see how street lamps look after some very irresponsible driving nearby.


Satisfied with our smoke reference we moved onto the skid pad for some very real kick-up photography. Joacim was let loose onto the wet, again choreographed by Simon. Once more, everything was captured from multiple angles to ensure the ideal reference. More GoPros were attached to the car – mainly covering all points of kick-up. What began as a few back and forth straight line drives quite quickly escalated into a full-blow skid pad ballet (plus some very convenient reflection reference for our non-VFX team in attendance).


With memory sticks filled with 120FPS 4K content and an hour or so of track time left, we used the remaining minutes in the most constructive way we could. We stuck our handling designer in the passenger seat, instructed Joacim to drive for fun, and chased him around the track with a follow car for some cine reference. With the technical constraints lifted, we captured some fantastic reference, and more importantly shared some very visceral memories that came up frequently in the following reviews, including a near miss with the follow car that should translate very well into the product.


As I write this, in much sunnier conditions, the team is busily tuning and adjusting the smoke behavior within our game engine, Frostbite. Wind, physical behavior, traction variables, surface properties all need to be connected via (very complex) schematics to ensure the behavior is correct no matter how irresponsibly our players drive. Needless to say, we’re very happy with the results and can’t wait to get it into the hands of our fans – or indeed any fan of great game graphics!

David Taylor



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will it be on steam?


Sooo was that car automatic ? just wondering. Think I know the answer


High five Dave! Nice insight :)


I think that had to be the realist shit i heard like. Oh my god. I cant even.


Will you please get me some wheel support, cockpit camera and driftable physics?


Will you please get me some wheel support, cockpit camera and driftable physics?


hmfatlace because all the cars in game are, just sayin....


I don't really know why, but I really adore that little nissan.


D1RGE hmfatlace wait..... what? I mean it's nfs, so realism isn't exactly important to me beyond visuals here, but the option needs to be there. Hell, in Underground you could have customizable tuning profiles.


johnbezt D1RGE hmfatlace the car may be, but the gameplay will not have manual gears. No cockpit, no wheel support, no gears, no realism. They went ultra arcade/console on this. God only knows when they will want to make a GOOD game again.


​ Please Honda Civic SI 2014 (canada), Subaru WRX STI 2015, Honda Civic Type R 2015, NSX 2015, Lexus LFA, Toyota MR2 Supercharger, Nissan 300zx, Nissan 370z, Skyline R32 R33 R34 and R35, Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, Honda NSX 2015, Eclipse 1997 GSX, Datsun 240z, Nissan 240SX and Veilside Fortune Mazda RX7 Han from Fast Tokyo Drift!! Pleasee


So much work, gives me a hint that it's just reinventing the wheel


So much work, gives me a hint that it's just reinventing the wheel


So much work, gives me a hint that it's just reinventing the wheel


All this effort and the Hoonicorn isn't 4WD?


D1RGE johnbezt hmfatlace They left that realism part to Slightly Mad Studios, which, as we know, went berserk on the payed beta concept and announced Project Cars 2 (with the same funding thing behind it) before PC1 is even in a finished state


Really keen for this game but it NEEDS to have a manual option.


D1RGE And always online, which always works well for EA.
Still, i find it interesting that they are rebooting NFS again, with an Underground-like game...again.


Awesome article, please keep the articles on NFS 2015 coming. I especially enjoy the article about the graphics work.


Acc D1RGE johnbezt hmfatlace I love Project Cars. I honestly felt the NFS series needed to be split up. I wanted them to keep Slightly Mad for a continuation of the Shift series, so we can have a good DRIVING game to play the cool cars. For the people that want the arcade story, they could play these arcade games. This way NFS still retains some respect from the game community while the arcade games are there for the flash and bang and easy sucker money from the console crowd.


Driveclub has astronomically correct stars on the night sky, and still its a 30fps arcade crapshow. Im almost sure this newest NFS will be the same..


Sorry, but until EA decides to give this game a proper offline Single Player mode, I'm not interested.

I'm not supporting "Pay to Rent" games that can be shut down as soon as the developer wants more of my money.




MatsNorway Considering EA is the developer, and most of the official links re-direct back to Origin?

Highly unlikely.

And since this game is "always online", combine that with Origin's wonderful reliability for online titles, and you pretty much know what to expect.

A game that will look absolutely amazing, and be absolutely impossible to actually connect and play for the brief amount of time EA leaves the servers up.


RotaryNissan Preach, Brother!


RotaryNissan it's confirmed that you can play the offline campaign without being connected to the internet


Am I the only one who wants to know more about that S13?! Well I'm a S13 sucker anyways but like johnbezt said: somehow this silver bullet tickles my senses ^^



Your source?



Hope you aren't referencing this article or the Facebook post that spawned it.

Because this is the update to said article:

"UPDATE: The Facebook message was since taken down, and we were told by PR that it was factually incorrect. The new Need for Speed will indeed require an online internet connection."


With an auto spastic gearbox... greeeeeat



the car was very good 
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