fxguide has an interesting article with embedded videos about the destruction tools commonly used in VFX pipelines.
Extract from the article:
Destruction pipelines today are key aspects of any major visual effects pipeline. Many current pipelines are based on Rigid Body Simulations (RBS) or otherwise referred to as Rigid Body Dynamics (RBD), but a new solution – Finite Element Analysis (FEA) – is beginning to emerge. In this ‘Art Of’ article, we talk to some of the major visual effects studios – ILM, Imageworks, MPC, Double Negative and Framestore – about how they approach their destruction toolsets.
In VFX and CGI, RBS is most often relevant to the subdivision of objects due to collision or destruction, but unlike particles, which move only in three space and can be defined by a vector, rigid bodies occupy space and have geometrical properties, such as a center of mass, moments of inertia, and most importantly they can have six degrees of freedom (translation in all three axes plus rotation in three directions). Rigid bodies are also importantly defined as being non-deformable, as opposed to soft bodies, flesh sims, or deformable bodies. The one major exception to RBS is Finite Element Analysis (FEA). This is used by at least one major effects house – MPC – but until recently has been prohibitively expensive for all but real world engineering simulations in industries such as power plants and pipeline testing, for example.