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The Butterfly Effect
The Butterfly Effect is a collaboration between Unity Technologies Stockholm office, two-time Academy Award-winning creators of Gorillaz visuals Passion Pictures, and Nvidia to push Unity to new levels of technological advancement.
The Butterfly Effect

Behind the Scenes of The Butterfly Effect

Through the creation of a high-quality real-time rendered short, the goal of The Butterfly Effect was to take many techniques and workflows used to create Hollywood blockbusters and apply them to Unity in ways that would benefit the entire Unity community.

The Butterfly Effect demonstrates the amazing results of our collaboration.

Butterfly Effect Animation Pipeline in Unity Editor

Animation pipeline

The Butterfly Effect was a complex short movie with multiple shots by multiple cameras through a number of different Unity scenes. Cameras were animated to provide Passion Pictures’ artists the ability to create the look and feel of high-end Hollywood-style cinematics through multiple camera angles. Live scrubbing was built into the editor so that we could scrub through animation and also preview without having to compile. Finally, the ability to preview the scene camera in the game view was added in order to allow artists to see the final shot with all post-processing effects in place.

Butterfly Effect Lighting Showcase


Amazing lighting is of huge importance when creating quality motion graphics. For The Butterfly Effect, real-time direct illumination and indirect light were baked into lightmaps and probes. Shadows were baked separately from lightmaps to provide more control over baked and dynamic lighting. HDR Images Based Lighting provided realistic color from ambient light from the skybox instead of single ambient color and intensity. The light mapping tools in the Unity editor were extended for automatic computation of light map resolution to bake multiple scenes in sequence. Finally, Lighting Render mode was added to the scene view in order to help the artists debug the lighting of their scene.

Butterfly Effect Shaders Showcase


A new subset of shaders inspired by the Mental Ray Architectural shader were used to render a wide range of materials. This allowed the use of a standardized single shader throughout all environments including buildings, cars, and even particle effects. This gave us near offline rendering quality, proved to be intuitive for us and was already familiar to the CG artists we were collaborating with. We also extended our material inspector, separating shader properties into distinct areas we could access quickly and introduced reflection probes, which are similar to Unity's light probe workflow, to set up baked or dynamic reflections.


The main character was one of, if not the, most important aspects of the movie. For the character artists at Passion, we added a number of improvements to Unity including catmull-clark tessellation, an industry standard in film for smooth geometry.

Butterfly Effect Skin Showcase
Realistic skin

Sub Surface Scattering shader replicated layers of human flesh and skin. This was done using 3 layers of texture space diffusion and 2 specular overlays and created a translucency that could also be used for plastic surfaces, like the balloons and the kettle.

Butterfly Effect Facial Expressions Showcase
Facial expressions

Blend Shapes are used to deform the face and create extreme facial expressions like screaming and shouting.

Butterfly Effect Hair Showcase

Nvidia provided the character's hair and slippers! The variety of styles is defined by a set of Guide Hairs which are amplified by hardware tessellation on the GPU giving us the volume and flexibility you see in various scenes.

Butterfly Effect Clothes Showcase

The movie also called for highly detailed multi-layered cloth motion which was pre-simulated for performance and full artistic control.

Explosive and visual effects
Butterfly Effect Explosion Showcase
Explosive effects

Fireballs were visualized using animated spheres while ray marching and pyroclastic noise techniques created dynamic surfaces resulting in an incredible explosion that goes beyond mere particle effects.

Butterfly Effect VFX Showcase
Visual effects

While there are already post effects found in Unity, work on The Butterfly Effect helped to improve many aspects of existing work. Depth of field, Bokeh, Look Up Tables, and Bloom all saw significant steps forward.


Unity Technologies

Renaldas Zioma
Ole Ciliox
Paulius Liekis
Aras Pranckevičius
Andrius Keidonas
Robert Cupisz
Kuba Cupisz

Technical Artist
Erland Körner

Lighting Artist
Tommy Andersson

Video Production
Will Goldstone

Project Management
Steffen Toksvig

Audio Mix
Mason B. Fisher, East Coast Game Audio

Passion Pictures

Dan Sumich

Ryan Goodwin-smith

Head Of CG
Jason Nicholas

VFX Supervisor
Neil Riley

CG Coordinator
Aline Ngo

Lead Character Modeller
Cesar Nunes

Character Modellers
Michael Orbing
Mario Ucci

Lead Environment Modeller
Ian Brown

Environment Modellers
Nicolas Guiraud
Florent Rousseau

Texture Artists
Gabriel Loques
Emma Berkeley
Eleanor (Ellie) Bond
Nicollette (Nikki) Newman

Additional Texture Artist
Alonso Varela

Richard Perry
Xavier Zahra

Lead Animator
Wesley Coman

Lucas Vigroux
Steve White
Marc Phoutharath
Alexandra Gasztowtt
Catherine Brooks

Chris Dawson

Lead Lighting
Quentin Vien

Stuart Hall
Paulin Cointot
Patrick Krafft

Lead VFX
Jamie Franks

Additional VFX
Augusto Lombardi

Cloth Sim
Simon Clarke
Marc Di Nocera

Lead Pipeline Developer
Julian Hodgson

Additional Pipeline
Sajjad Amjad

Concept Art
Giles Dill
Colour Board
Celine Desrumeaux

Matte Painter
Carlos Nieto

Jamie Foord
Tim King

Additional Editors
Nadine Strohaecker
Anne Monnehay
Michael Sofoluke

Stephane Coedel


Simon Green
Jon Jansen
Alexander Kharlamov
Nikolay Chirkovv

PhysX Team
Bryan Galdrikian
Andrey Shulzhenko
Jared Duke
Sheikh Dawood Abdul Ajees
Hai Loc Lu
Lou Rohan
David Sullins

Technical Artist
Khariton Kantiev

Project Management
Phil Scott
Miguel Sainz
David Schoeml
Monier Maher

Our take-away for Unity
Our take-away for Unity

The Butterfly Effect project was an eye-opening experience and took Unity to places it's never been before. Many of the improvements that surfaced were planned for further development and were rolled into the product throughout the 4.x cycle and beyond. The first of these implementations is DirectX 11 support and the improved post-processing effects you'll find in Unity 4.0.