This is a different take on the smoke ship project. I dropped renderman, and particle systems to simplify the pipeline.
I brought the softbody simulation back in which was already cached on the disk before and hooked it up to an isooffset node under SOP level. Since isooffset doesn't require any DOP or POP simulation to work, it runs as fast as hard disk can read the cache files.
Some basic volume smoke shaders, depth map shadows, and HDR light does the trick.
The shot is still not where I want it to be, but some 2d compositing work can get it in the ballpark easily.