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Frédérik Barbeau

By: Rebelway

Frédérik Barbeau shares his thoughts on the pros and cons of attending an in-person 3D school and explains how Rebelway's courses gave him more practical knowledge in one year than an average degree program in digital art would.

Frédérik Barbeau took more than 10 Rebelway courses in just a couple of years and recently landed his first gig as a VFX artist at an animation studio. 

When and how did you decide to become a VFX artist? Where did you study 3D art before Rebelway?

Video games were pretty much all I knew as a teenager. I think I had more gaming knowledge than water in my body when I was 15. Today, it’s exactly like that but with VFX.

It was a no-brainer that I was going to do 3D. I played with Blender for less than a year doing some animations and then, once in college, I started using 3ds Max.

I was in a 3-year 3D program that covered just about every general aspect of 3D art. Like in a lot of these schools, around 80% of the people there wanted to do modeling. I was part of that group for at least half of my time there, but then, in my second year, I discovered Houdini and without knowing, one day, I was an FX artist.

I didn’t really make any major decision about my career. It just kinda happened. I was spending way more time on Houdini than on any other things. The flexibility and stability of it were just beyond everything I knew. This was the only software application I knew that allowed for that much experimenting.

 It’s only with Rebelway that I started discovering the whole spectrum of VFX.

You took more than 10 different courses at Rebelway, including Explosion FX in Houdini, VEX for Houdini Artists, and Stylized FX for Games. What are the biggest differences between training at a 3D art school and completing a course at an online school? What format would you consider to be a better option for someone who wants to become a VFX pro?

Content is key at Rebelway, you learn a lot of advanced techniques for whichever subject you choose. In most cases, a 3D school can’t give you this amount of knowledge in 8 to 10 weeks, sometimes even in 3 years. You will be able to learn at your own pace. 

Other schools will force you to follow the teachers’ and students’ speed. You might not be able to understand what the teacher explains right away, and then you’ll have to look up their schedule and find the right time to ask them your questions. 

At Rebelway, you watch the content as much as you want, as fast as you want, and for as long as you want in one sitting. The teachers are available whenever you need them and even if you don’t get an answer, there are some really nice members of the  Rebelway community that you can find on Rebelway’s Discord server. 

How did your learning process at Rebelway go? Completing over 10 courses in a couple of years takes an immense amount of will and dedication - what made you want to move forward and keep learning?

First thing first, I was really lucky to be able to do that much learning. I had a little job on the side to pay for the courses, but my family covered all my expenses so I could focus on VFX. I know not everyone has access to this kind of help and I don’t believe you need to do all the workshops at Rebelway to get a job in VFX. 

What drove me back in the day was simply the idea of freedom as an artist. I wanted to have the ability to do anything and everything I had in mind. I wanted to be an artist who never says no to any idea because it’s “not doable.” Today, I have this freedom and I use it to do some really cool scenes.

The biggest challenge was really the organisation. At some point, I think it was summer 2020, I was doing 4 workshops. I decided to take Rebelway’s courses on Nuke compositing, Water FX, and Houdini VEX. And along with that, I was doing one more course on another platform. It demanded a lot of careful planning. Every Sunday I would open my OneNote and would schedule all the work I had to do. It’s something that I’ve been keeping with me until today and will probably keep doing it forever.

Tell us more about your massive personal project with tower destruction. What inspired this environment, where did you look for reference? How did you approach modeling and texturing? Could you tell us a bit about your creative process behind the explosion and destruction effects?

When I started working on the project, I began by scrolling through ArtStation and Pinterest to find a cool building to destroy. I thought that once I find the structure, the way I would destroy it would come to me intuitively.

Early Shift, concept art by Dela Neve

I found this amazing concept from Dela Neve on ArtStation and then I immediately thought about how fun it could be to destroy one of the towers like they did with the Statue of Liberty in The Man in the High Castle. It’s a show I really like and they have some amazing visual effects.

I then started to search for reference. I looked for building demolition, concrete chimney explosion, and controlled building fall. Then I compiled a document full of video references for motion, destruction, and materials. Most of them came from YouTube and Vimeo. I really just tried to replicate as much as possible. 

I had lots of challenges. One of the biggest was to make a good transition between the simulation and animation of the tower. Getting the perfect timing for circular explosion was a tough one, too. I created a setup that allowed me to have different versions of explosion sourcing while also getting different spawning times and having it all animated with only one parameter for the whole setup for easier iterations.

I wanted this shot to be used as a reel and I wanted to show my ability to create tools, so when I started modeling, I immediately decided to create a script for the towers. I started taking notes on which parameters I wanted to be available in the randomizer, what details I really wanted to keep, and which ones seemed way too time-consuming. I spent a long time on this tool and I’m really proud of it.

Most of the shaders were already done: I found some textures from around the Internet and in my own library and simply used them. All done with Arnold. The compositing was pretty simple, I made sure to do most of the work in Houdini because that’s what I wanted to show in my shot.

I also had a lot of people coming to me sharing their thoughts. Honestly, the best thing you can do as someone trying to enter the industry is to go chat with professionals. You will be a good artist way faster with talented people around you. People are kind, at least I am… I think. Come chat, don’t be shy!

Now let’s move on to probably the most exciting part of the story - your job in the VFX industry. When did you land it and where are you currently working? What does your day as a VFX artist look like on average? How does the knowledge you gained while doing Rebelway courses help you in your work?

My first gig was as an FX Artist at Squeeze Studio Animation in Quebec City.

I started in September 2022, it was a short contract and I loved my time there. Everyone was amazing, and the team was always available if had any questions. I honestly would just keep saying good things about them for the whole interview if I could. Hope to come back as soon as possible. 

I had the chance of doing some fires, clouds, and wind effects for them. It was fun and even in the smallest things, I always had the possibility to find little challenges for myself. Now I’m doing some freelance work. Things are moving really fast right now, and I’ve been offered a lot of amazing opportunities. Life is exciting!

Rebelway gave me the freedom of doing whatever I wanted. I never knew the exact recipe for doing something, but I always believed I could figure it out. Obviously, some stuff still can’t be learned from schools, there are still challenges to be faced, there is no shortcut other than by gaining experience in VFX. I would say Rebelway gave me the key to becoming a professional.

What are you planning to do in the future, personal project-wise? Is there any area of VFX you’d like to focus on more - destructions or water simulations or something else?

My reel is kinda dry, I must say. I have some shots planned, but nothing as massive as the tower one. I’m working on a lot of cool experiments. I focus way more on smaller shots with a bigger intensity than on huge and long projects. Life is short and there is so much I want to test out. I never really shared my work, because rendering takes way too much time on my PC, but now things have changed. I will be posting on my YouTube Channel and my Instagram.

For the distant future, well without too many spoilers, I would really like to create my own game with my friends. Just for fun, we will see how it goes. Right now, I’m mostly focused on animation and VFX and not so much on real-time visuals, but it’s a life goal for sure.

What advice would you give to those who want to work in the VFX industry?

Schools won’t teach you everything, you need to work on your own. Most of them will only scratch the surface of any subject there will be. Join workshops, follow a bunch of tutorials, and always bring something of your own into it. 

Also, don’t think too much about art. You can’t create art freely if you talk too loud in your head.

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