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I'm beginning production on a film in the next few weeks, and I need an explosion in one of the scenes. It's not super complicated, just one shot a few seconds long with an explosion coming off the top of a building. The shot is from below on the ground, so no building damage will be visible.

I've looked into a lot of ways to do this, but I can't find one that fits my needs. I want to simulate the explosion, not use stock footage so I can adjust it to get the look I want.

When it comes to software, it doesn't really matter. I have access to Maya, Nuke, After Effects, Fusion, Blender, and I'm familiar with all of them. I'm just looking for a fairly easy way to simulate a mid-scale building explosion.

  • A reference image would be nice, also a better shot description (static, dolly, pan...) is key to write an solid answer - there is a lot to cover, especially for the 3d part of it. – p2or Apr 15 '15 at 9:06
  • I don't have a reference image as I haven't shot the film yet. The shot will be a static shot. I know how to do compositing though, so that doesn't need to be covered in the answer. I'm just looking for a way to simulate the explosion. – KC McLaughlin Apr 15 '15 at 13:13
  • Ok, more specific. What kind of building? There is only one building in the center of the shot or is it surrounded by others? How the environent looks like? – p2or Apr 15 '15 at 14:53
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    It's a school building. There's just one building, but not all of it is visible. The building fills the whole frame horizontally and the sky is visible at the top, where the explosion will happen. I plan to shoot in the early evening. The sun will be behind the building. – KC McLaughlin Apr 15 '15 at 16:45
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If you're looking for a fireball explosion, you could download a visual effect of an explosion that's already green screened for you, and just composite that on top of your footage. (That could also be "borrowed" from an existing film and each frame masked by hand. But you didn't hear it from me.)

The building and anything nearby will need to be lit up temporarily by the brightness of the explosion, especially since the front of the building will be in shadow (with the sun behind the building, as you described in the comments to your answer). I would recommend doing that as a practical effect with actual lights covered by actual orange gels at the actual location.

To help sell the effect, there should also be a blast wave (wind) that blows trees, bushes, people's clothing & hair, nearby litter, etc. You might show that with insert shots. The camera could also shake for an instant (even in post production) to show that the impact of the explosion even affected the camera.

I'd also include some bits of debris landing near the camera or in the scene to underscore that the explosion is happening in the same environment as the camera (and possibly characters).

For the explosion noise, lots of sound libraries have explosions and destruction sounds you can layer together. I like using a clean, fiery "boom" along with breaking glass and splintering wood, followed by staccato showering debris.

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