Jason Slabber

Head of FX & Instructor

Interview By Rebelway

Jason Slabber, Head of FX at Blackginger and our newest instructor joining the Rebelway team! In this interview, he shares his insights, experiences, and his journey to becoming an FX Artist.

Jason Slabber has a career filled with remarkable achievements in the world of visual effects. His talent and dedication have led him to work on some of the biggest movies including Avengers: Age Of Ultron, Deep Blue Sea 2 and 3 and Espace Room to name a few.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you got started in the field of VFX?

The journey into the VFX industry was quite lengthy for me. I began in the graphics and design industry, during which I transitioned from working in the printing sector to creating multimedia presentations. Throughout this period, I consistently explored 3D. Unfortunately, there were very few companies involved in 3D work in Cape Town at the time. Eventually, I was fortunate to secure a position in motion graphics. While I primarily used After Effects, the company also utilized 3D Studio Max, which I actively learned on the side. This presented an amazing opportunity that allowed me to expand my 3D knowledge, progressing from basic particle effects to the creation of pack shots.

This journey eventually piqued my two primary interests in VFX: special effects (FX) and the creation of realistic renders. Subsequently, I transitioned to a company as a 3D generalist, where I utilized Softimage XSI. In 2006, I joined Blackginger, a pivotal moment that introduced me to Houdini. Shortly after adopting Houdini, we migrated our shading and lighting workflows from XSI to Houdini, with rendering powered by Mantra.


Over the following years, my primary focus was on shading and lighting, with occasional FX assignments interspersed. During this time, I assumed the role of lighting lead. As we began to tackle more FX-intensive projects, I took on the responsibility of managing larger setups. This transitioned my role toward a greater focus on FX, while I continued to handle the lighting for most of my shots. In the last few years at Blackginger, I took on the position of Head of FX and Lighting. Unfortunately, Blackginger eventually closed its doors.

2- Can you highlight some of your most notable projects or experiences in the VFX industry?

One unforgettable experience was my involvement in Halo 4 Spartan Ops, which involved overflow work for Axis Animation. This project primarily revolved around lighting, but it was incredibly enjoyable. Afterward, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Mike Seymour from FX Guide for our contributions to the project.

Other noteworthy moments include the showcasing of my Naiad fluid simulations at Siggraph as part of their exhibition. This was a significant milestone, considering that Siggraph has always been a gathering place for industry professionals. Knowing that my work was viewed by these artists was a remarkable honor. Additionally, I had the opportunity to present some FLIP simulations at Houdini launch presentations, a tremendous privilege to have these showcased by SideFX.

3- What inspired you to pursue a career in visual effects?

Interestingly, I used to play a game called Myst back in the day, and I was utterly captivated by the visuals of that era. This experience sparked my fascination with 3D imagery. I recall my brother obtaining a copy of 3D Studio DOS, which I believed was the software used to create the images in Myst. While I couldn’t do much with it initially, it introduced me to the realm of crafting 3D images that you could navigate through. I was absolutely hooked!


4- Can you share some of the challenges you've encountered in your VFX career and how you overcame them?

From a creative perspective, one significant challenge I encountered was mastering the art of receiving criticism. Initially, it was a tough endeavor, particularly when I had invested so much effort into crafting something the way I envisioned it, only to have a director express dissatisfaction. I had to learn the skill of emotional detachment from some of these artistic choices. Now, I view changes as opportunities to further enhance the quality of my work.

5- What specific areas of VFX are you most passionate about, and why?

which has consistently driven me to enhance my skills in lighting and shading. There’s an unparalleled satisfaction in presenting a shot to someone, and they are unaware that a portion of it is computer-generated. Another area of great interest to me is fluid simulations. I am fascinated by the organic nature of fluid behavior and the challenge of making them appear as natural and realistic as possible.

6- How do you stay updated with the latest developments and trends in the ever-evolving VFX industry?

I stay updated by following several online sites, such as VFXepress, Befores & Afters, FXguide, and more.

Additionally, I’ve had the privilege of participating in the Houdini alpha/beta testing program for several years, which has been instrumental in keeping me abreast of the latest technological developments.

7- Are there specific strategies or tips you would recommend for building a successful career in this field?

One crucial piece of advice is to keep learning, as there’s always an abundance of knowledge to acquire, especially for Houdini users. Additionally, emphasize the importance of references. Always seek out and study references before and during the process of building a setup. Never rely solely on your memory to determine how something looks.

8- What do you think the future holds for the VFX industry, and how do you prepare your students for these upcoming changes?

I believe the future holds great promise, whether you’re involved in VFX or the gaming industry. Society consistently craves quality entertainment. One of the significant challenges in the industry is undoubtedly artificial intelligence (AI). However, from a personal standpoint, I think VFX artists should embrace it. Remarkable AI tools are continually being developed. AI is essentially another set of tools in an artist’s workflow, and when used effectively, it can accelerate the creation of superior images.

9- Lastly, is there any piece of advice or words of wisdom you'd like to share with our students as they embark on their VFX journeys?

Pay attention to what’s happening in the industry, and most importantly keep learning! Honestly, if you have any free time, use it to learn and try new techniques.

But that’s not all! We have some incredibly cool news to reveal next week, so stay tuned for an announcement that promises to elevate your VFX journey.
Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter so you don’t miss out on this exciting new and the big reveal coming your way!

As you wait, you can take advantage of this tutorial by Jason Slabber and download the project file for free .

Free Tutorial & Project FileWatch here.

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