I started doing 3D with Video Copilot’s Element 3D a decade ago. I was making my own (extremely goofy) short films at the time, and rode the wave of the After Effects community until I went to college in 2012 to study film and animation. All the college had was the Adobe suite and Maya, and a great deal of ambition. One of our projects was to create a destruction sequence around the college, which we were instructed to do using Maya for all the sims and After Effects for the comp. While googling some tutorials, I stumbled across Houdini and used my home computer to create some smoke plumes just clicking shelf tools. It looked pretty awful, but that was my first interaction with Houdini and I made the transition from there.
I currently work at The Mill in London, and currently we’re all working remotely!
To help tell stories and amplify the scope of what can be imagined – Stories are so important to the development of humanity. Whole groups can be inspired and motivated to do great things with the right story. The space narrative, the suffragette movement, propaganda of the Allied Forces; these narratives shaped generations, and the role that films and similar media played in all of those was undeniable. I’m interested in postmodern cultural narratives and how our entertainment shapes those feelings, especially in a time where entertainment is so globalized. Coupled with the spectacles we are able to create, I think there is an opportunity to inspire a global narrative unlike anything that’s been seen before, and I want to create things that inspire a culture of cooperation, hope and development. So I see VFX as an incredible tool to visualize what we previously saw as impossible, and tell those stories.
I think Rebelway is set apart by its community and focus on creating works that are oriented towards an understanding of the techniques rather than just a final result. The content created by the Rebelway community is pretty outstanding, but you get a sense that Rebelway is not working towards a single result on any course you take. There is always an expectation that you will take these techniques and implement them into your own projects, which is what makes the courses so good!
Rebelway helped me accelerate my understanding of Houdini and CG. While I had a formal education in visual effects and animation, nobody taught Houdini. Rebelway gave me the methods and tools to develop much faster as a Houdini artist, and kept the focus on final results that were in context and rendered, which I was later told was one of the big things that made my portfolio stand out when I was approached by The Mill.
Mastering Pyro and Mastering Destruction were big ones for me. I frequently use techniques from those classes in my professional and personal work. I followed a lot of popular Houdini courses on those subjects, which always were great for beginners, but both Rebelway courses took the Pyro and Rigids subjects into much greater depth, and again didn’t drive towards a final result, but gave me a broader understanding of the techniques.
I also loved the Python for Houdini Artists course, which just doesn’t exist in the same depth anywhere else. That’s helped me a lot professionally when it comes to taking a bigger role on projects and within a studio.
Well I worked on HBO’s Watchmen last year, which was an incredible opportunity. In the end I worked on six episodes and did a huge variety of FX work. Possibly most notably in that was the sequence of Dr Manhattan forming Eden on Titan, which was easily the biggest sequence we worked on.
I’ve also done some really cool commercials for companies like PlayStation, Respawn and Coors, which featured a lot of pyro work, terrains, grains, destruction and more. In commercials the challenge is time. You might get shown a reference from a recent movie, and then have to recreate that effect in a matter of days. Other times things are far more bespoke, especially when certain ads have a particular style they like to follow. Either way that short time is a real challenge – but at least I never get bored!
I have a lot of very talented friends and colleagues who inspire me every day – It’s a mindset that gets me excited, and that can come from anywhere. I have friends who will stay late to get a shot looking as perfect as they can because they believe it can be something special, or who will throw themselves into a subject because they have a vision for something they want to create or achieve. That kind of dedication can’t be taught, but can come from anyone at any level.
I try to stay close to students from my old university too, particularly those who want to learn Houdini, and despite having no Houdini tutoring support from the course, they are being defiant and learning so much about it. It’s an inspiring group to watch and help where I can.
On top of that, it’s always amazing seeing the work that comes out of other studios. I think the work DNEG did on First Man was pretty incredible, and paired with the theme of the Moon Landing was great. Weta’s work on Avengers Endgame was also very cool – I loved the bombing sequence of the Avengers’ headquarters. So quick but really satisfying and well done! I also love the rendered cinematics on the Final Fantasy 7 Remake. They’re worth finding on YouTube even if you’re not a gamer!
In all honesty, I don’t listen to many podcasts or YouTube channels on being an artist. I’m a fan of The Artificial Intelligence Podcast with Lex Fridman, and highly recommend listening to the episodes with George Hotz and Richard Dawkins. If you’re a science or technology person, they’re great.
TED’s Chris Anderson has also done some really interesting sit down interviews with people like Linus Torvolds and Elon Musk, which never fail to interest me.
Well I promised myself I’d get better at doing water sequences, and I’m now on the Water FX course (which I’m really enjoying so far). Every time I work on a new show, I want it to be better than the old one, so I’m getting far more interested in what makes a good show and how a show can be streamlined for the best results possible. I want to be able to analyse the data from a show, and start comparing it across multiple shows – what you might call an emerging ontology. How do these things connect and when a show goes well or a show goes badly, what were the factors that contributed to this? I feel like this would be a much better way for a studio to strategize its future, and would also help individual artists understand their own skills and areas they need to develop.
Professionally I’d really like a big water sequence to dig my teeth into – that kind of responsibility terrifies me, but I think that’s the right direction to move in!