Digital Art of Bonsak Schieldrop
Bonsak Schieldrop

VFX artist


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Those animations look amazing!! Great job!

Very cool review of the making of Spellbreak. Would be even more cool to see some videos inside UE4 showing how they do a few very specific things unique to them.

This was so helpful for me. I'm hoping to adapt your tutorial to pull off something similar comparing modern satellite imagery with historical maps. No topo, so my steps should be simpler, but I'm a novice with Blender and you've really helped. Thanks!

Digital Art of Bonsak Schieldrop
20 September, 2016

Bonsak Schieldrop gave a great talk about his work with Houdini and various ways you can build amazing digital masterpieces. It’s a great introduction into the creation of digital art.10-curves


Hi my name is Bonsak Schieldrop, I’m a partner/designer/td at Racecar Oslo in Norway. Racecar is a motion graphics studio with clients in television, film and digital markets. We do quite a lot of branding for TV/film, but we also do a lot of tvc’s and B-to-B content. I’m a trained architect but I also have a background in music. Apart from work I’m into mountain bike riding, programming (python and vex) and cooking. I’ve been doing 3d for about 20 years. Working with 3ds Max, Maya and C4D. I’ve bumped into Houdini a couple of times along the way but I never really took the time to figure out what it was all about. Then in late 2014 I went to “C4D Advanced Production techniques 2” in Berlin, arranged by my friend Pingo van der Brinkloev. The final event had a raffle with a full version of Houdini FX as the main prize. I usually never win anything in settings like that so I was totally blown away to go home with the first prize. This was a perfect kick in the butt to sit down and learn it. Since then I’ve studied Houdini rather intensely. Spending time on the SideFX and odforce forum analyzing other peoples work, doing tutorials, learning vector math, but also doing small personal projects. I’ve also started using Houdini in production at Racecar lately.



As a designer and an artist, what makes digital art so interesting and engrossing for you personally? 

For me digital art is both a blessing and a curse. Blessing in the sense that you can always change direction, erase, undo and save a new versions of your work. As much as I love this freedom it can be very hard to keep your focus sometimes with endless possibilities at your fingertips. Now and then I miss the drawing classes at architect school with just charcoal and a piece of paper. But with that said I totally embrace the digital way of doing things. But I always try to set up on some kind of framework or ruleset for my projects to keep them focused and drive them forward.


Could you talk about your approach to the Houdini projects? How does your process usually start? Do you work with the references? Do you start to fiddle with the sliders in Houdini and create some noise and work with it?

I constantly collect stuff that inspires me in Evernote. This can be patterns, colors, structures, movement, light/shadow, framing etc. So when I have time to work on personal stuff I usually pick something from my collection and start working off of that. Other times I can start from a purely technical standpoint and decide to explore a part of Houdini that I’m not completely comfortable with. Both approaches are equally fun and engaging.

The other day a friend of mine posted images with sculptures by the American artist Anthony Howe on Facebook. I’ve never heard of him before but was blown away by his kinetic sculptures. So I decided to try to make a simple case file showing how I would approach making something like this in Houdini. It’s nothing fancy and could easily be made in other 3d packages but it uses a couple of techniques that are key to Houdini. 



If you open the hip file “Howe-01.hiplc“, you’ll see that it’s basically a s-shaped line (fig01) copied onto a circle. With the line itself also having some objects copied onto it (fig02). Using the Copy SOP node is considered a little old-school these days but i still find useful. The alternative would be to use the Instance object node. Common to both nodes are that they can use a set of attributes to modify how copied objects are modified by default. The list of attributes that both nodes can use out of the box can be found here.

In this project i’m only defining the attributes “up” and “pscale” for the Copy SOP to use. This is done to give the copied objects the correct orientation and a variation in scale. The attributes are defined on the line object before it is used as a template by the “copy_make_stem” node. Further down the stream the “pscale” attribute is used again by the “polywire_give_stem_thickness” node as a value for the polywire “radius” parameter. You are free to define your own attributes of course but it takes a little bit of setting up on the Copy SOP. 

Each line’s rotation is offset by the number of copies so it becomes a seamless (fig03). This rotation is multiplied by time that loops every 360 frames.

The animation is rendered in Redshift. Redshift is my favorite renderer. It’s integrated very nicely into Houdini and it’s super fast. One frame of this project takes less than a minute to render in HD, with DOF. If you open this project in Apprentice or you don’t have Redshift, then you can use the “Render with Mantra” take. It wont look the same as the Redshift render though. It’s a rather quick and dirty project but I’ve tried to add notes to each node to make it easy to understand.

Howe-Crystal-Loop-out (0-00-00-00)

How do you work with the geometry in Houdini? Could walk us through your production process? What do you do with the nodes, what do you do with the textures and images? Cause your geometry looks very rich and versatile, it looks so different from anything you expect to see.

The great thing with Houdini is that you can start with something really simple and then build complex stuff from that. Then you can just keep changing anything anywhere in your network until your happy or totally exhausted. It took me a little while to get used to this kind of liquid state you’re projects are in when working in Houdini. I don’t have a particular way of working though and I try to approach each project with fresh eyes.







What do you like about the procedural nature of the geometries you get? How do you work with them? How do you manipulate them in a procedural way to get these amazing results?

At first glance Houdini can feel quite intimidating, but when you get passed the first few hurdles, it’s surprisingly liberating compared to other DCC’s. My a-ha moment with Houdini was when I understood how attributes flow through your networks and how you can manipulate them in vex/vops and apply them to almost any parameter on any object/effect/shader anywhere in the scene. For me this is the key to Houdini. I also like the way you can work with nodes and pass data around to other parts of your networks making new constellations and combinations.


Could you talk a bit about the more practical ways you are applying Houdini in your work? What elements do you use to create the videos, the animations, maybe some interactive elements?

At Racecar we use Cinema 4D as our main tool so most of the stuff we make comes from that. I’ve use Houdini mostly for rigid body stuff until now but I want to start incorporation more volumetric stuff in the future and hopefully some more simulated stuff as well.

How would you advise approaching Houdini for a newbie? What kind of project would be best to start? How difficult is it to build stuff with Houdini in general? Maybe there’s something that you need to read, study first?

I would say a combination of doing projects and doing tutorials is a good combination. But start simple. Don’t try to destroy Manhattan on your first project. Focus on a few things first. If you’re into explosions, focus on that. If you like hydro dynamics focus on that. Don’t try to learn everything at once. And doing only tutorials does not really give you the experience with wrangling problems in Houdini on your own. So start making your own projects in Houdini right away. 


There’s a lot of tutorials on SideFX. Some are made by SideFX, but there’s also a lot of material made by other people/vendors. SideFX are really doing a great job organizing this material. You’ll find free tutorials but also paid/subscription based tutorials. I have used Pluralsight a lot. They have both basic tutorials but also quite advanced material. You definitely don’t need a paid subscription to learn Houdini though. You’ll find a lot of tutorials elsewhere on the net but some of those are made with older versions of Houdini so if you’re just starting out you might get confused by things not looking like it does in the latest version. But there is one site you should bookmark right away if you want to learn Houdini and that is Tokeru. Here you’ll find a lot of solutions to everyday problems in Houdini (with example files) It’s basically Matt Estela’s (animal logic) notes to himself when he was learning Houdini. You’ll learn a lot studying that material. I would also highly recommend that you spend time on both the SideFX forum: SideFX and odforce. Houdini has a great community with complete newbies in one end of the spectrum to total wizards in the other. People there are always very helpful. So good luck and I hope to see you on the forums someday.







Bonsak Schieldrop, VFX artist

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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