Fire simulation: Audiences feel the heat from realistic fire

Advanced 3D VFX software makes simulating fire and its accompanying smoke, explosions, and other effects more realistic and affordable than ever. Leave viewers mesmerized with fire simulation software.

Smoking pot and flaming pot graphics to illustrate the software's abilities.

What is fire simulation?

Fire simulation uses 3D visual effects software to create realistic fire effects that convincingly simulate flame movement, smoke behavior, and the impact of fire on burning objects, enhancing the overall viewing experience.

Guitarist of Tenside shreds in front of a demon made of fire in a still from the "Shadow to Shine" music video.

Tenside’s “Shadow to Shine” music video, courtesy of Phil Radford

Blaze forward with fire simulation software

For many years, the best way for media production companies to capture realistic fire and explosions was to actually incinerate or blow up something on film. Doing so involves time-consuming logistics, expensive and dangerous shoots, and the risk of losing the effort and materials if the take fails.

Even after the advent of 3D visual effects software, digital effects that required fluid dynamics—such as water, smoke, and fire simulation—lagged behind other visual effects (VFX) and failed to convince audiences.

Now, software such as Autodesk Maya makes fire simulation more accessible with advances in GPU-accelerated processes and real-time previews.

Bifrost, a visual programming environment inside Maya, empowers technical directors and artists to create stunning effects for film, TV, and games. Bifrost Aero (or aerodynamic) simulations mimic the movement of gases and can create smoke, mist, and steam effects. Combustion simulations mimic fuel burning and are used for fire and explosion effects.

With Bifrost’s Aero Solver, artists can determine the object to emit the fire effect and the lifespan of the particle cloud that creates the fire effect. Many traits can ebb and flow during a fire’s lifespan, such as the fire’s density and intensity (brightness), emission spread angle, particle-cloud radius, flame speed, flame movement direction, and turbulence.

This wealth of creative possibilities with realistic results has made fire simulation a viable alternative to filming real fires and explosions for the visual effects and motion graphics of movies, TV, advertisements, and other video content. Fire simulations also look better in animation; video games; virtual reality (VR); and, to a lesser extent, architectural and interior design visualization.

Technological advancements that have made realistic fire simulation possible also apply to other dynamic effects such as smoke, explosions, foam, bubbles, fog, steam, and liquid effects like waves, splashes, and sprays.

Autodesk software for fire simulation

3D animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software for film, games, and TV

Scale your studio’s rendering and simulation capabilities, while equipping artists with powerful modeling and animation tools

Visual artists putting fire simulation to work

Promo image of HBO movie "The Many Saints of Newark." Image courtesy of HBO.


One bad Jersey boy

To help tell the story of a teenage Tony Soprano, BREAK+ENTER created the fire and flame effects of a Molotov cocktail, “winterized” New Jersey with snow from Bifrost, and developed proprietary workflow tools for Maya.


Image courtesy of HBO

A digital rendering of a massive fleet of ships from Game of Thrones Season 7. Image courtesy of HBO.


The most destructive Game yet

For the ambitious Game of Thrones season 7, Mackevision’s Maya team created new capabilities to produce a massive naval battle with hundreds of ships, stage CG army battles, and simulate wakes, fire, and smoke.


Image courtesy of HBO

King Kong from Kong: Skull Island.

Industrial Light & Magic

Kong: Skull Island

For a recent King Kong movie, the ILM VFX team was challenged to simulate many natural phenomena, including fire, water, weather, and wild environments of unusual vegetation.


Image courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic, © 2016 Warner Bros. Ent, all rights reserved

Fire simulation resources

Learn to emit fire from an object in Autodesk Maya 3D modeling, animation, and visual effects software.


You can choose many options with Maya’s comprehensive fire simulations, such as the fire’s density, intensity, flame radius, spread angle, speed, turbulence, lifespan, and more.


Jesse Pitela speaks to AREA by Autodesk about starting RedefineFX to create high-quality, succinct learning content, mainly for FX simulations like water, fire, destruction, particles, and more.


Bifrost for Maya includes VFX, such as instancing and point clouds, and particle and fluid simulation for phenomena like explosions, sand, snow, smoke, liquids, and fire fluid simulation. 


This video series will get you started with Bifrost, Autodesk Maya’s visual programming environment.


Frequently asked questions (FAQ) on fire simulation software

Can software be used to simulate fire?

Yes. Various computer animation programs—such as Autodesk Maya—have the ability to simulate fire for entertainment media without the cost, labor, risk, and physical damage of filming real fires.


The building industry also uses fire simulation software, where architects, safety engineers, and others simulate fire to analyze its impact on buildings and infrastructure. For example, the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s software programs FDS and Smokeview simulate fire to help predict fire spread patterns and formulate evacuation plans.

How do you simulate fire in animation?

You can simulate fire in animation with specialized 3D animation software to simulate the behavior of smoke, gases, and fire.


For fire simulation, the artist inputs variables such as the flame shape and size, density, intensity, color, flame radius, spread angle, speed, temperature, turbulence, and lifespan. The simulation also accounts for the fire’s surroundings, such as the temperature and movement of the surrounding air. Artists can also combine the fire with other corresponding effects like smoke, sparks, and explosive destruction.