Studying the Magic of Houdini at Rebelway

Rebelway team talked about the importance Houdini and procedural approach are gaining in the industry and the way they teach CG and FX students to work with the software at their top-notch online school.

About the Team

We have amazing world-class artists on our team and most importantly great teachers that make Rebelway a reliable and trustworthy school for any FX and CG artist with the passion to learn.

Saber Jlassi

Saber started working in CG almost 15 years ago and has occupied different positions as an artist in different countries around the world.

Before creating Rebelway, he worked as

  • Generalist TD at MPC, London, a Senior Lighting TD at Framestore
  • Senior Technical Director at Blizzard Entertainment
  • Senior FX Artist at Barnstorm VFX, during which he received a VES and an Emmy Awards nominations


His continuous pursuit of knowledge and learning inspired Saber to start Rebelway to teach others around the world and share his profound passion for the FX industry.

Igor Zanic

My name is Igor Zanic, I'm a Co-Founder of Rebelway.

I started 11 years ago, first as roto and then as an FX artist on the first big Serbian movie Tears for Sale. After that, I worked for a VFX studio as an IT/FX artist because my background before VFX was in IT. In 2009, I started working as a freelance artist remotely and onsite, and that was a big step in my career, I met a lot of nice people that later brought me more contracts for future work.

In 2010, I decided to open my own studio, with a few of my friends. At the same time, Naiad went public and I was one of the first freelance artists to try it. Very shortly after that, I got my first big water project Shark Night. This is where my journey as a Water FX artist started. I was doing more and more water RnD stuff with Naiad and Houdini and trying to help the community.

At the moment, I am still in Serbia, doing remote FX work and teaching at Rebelway, trying to have a balanced life that can be very hard in the VFX industry sometimes. Working on the projects, doing your own stuff, and having time for personal life is something that we all should have at the end. Not being a slave to your work but actually enjoying it.

Jayden Paterson

I have been working as a Houdini FX artist since 2008, on projects ranging from small TV adverts to larger-scale cinematic content for many AAA games.

My background and studies were in animation, and I worked largely as a generalist and animator before joining Axis in 2008. During one of the jobs I was helping to animate, they needed a generalist to help fill in for some Houdini FX work – I jumped at the opportunity. Having never used Houdini and learned as much as I could during the two months I was on the job. I have been a Houdini FX artist ever since and have never looked back!

During my time at Axis alone, I went from being the sole FX artist on earlier trailers, to eventually leading larger and larger teams on projects like Dead Island, several Halo game cinematics, Destiny and many more, finally moving into a supervising role – I still try to as much hands-on work as I can though!

Russ Gautier

Russ Gautier is a Los Angeles-based motion designer, animator, and creative director specializing in design for technology, television, and feature film. His projects typically include depictions of futuristic technology (known as FUI), future-tech consulting, and title sequence & main title design. Some of his projects of note include Black Panther, Avengers: Endgame, Thor: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Far From Home, and many others.

Russ’s process often involves equal parts technical and creative solutions, and as such he has been an avid Houdini user for several years. He has taught Houdini to graduate and undergrad students of the Computer Arts department at SVA, as well as acting as thesis advisor for many students during his tenure. His other tools of choice are Cinema 4D, Redshift, and After Effects/Adobe suite.

Corbin Mayne

I'm originally from South Africa, where I began my career in modeling and CFX using Softimage. My introduction to Houdini came about when a local studio decided to make the switch and they hired me and a few other artists to just "see what we could do" with the software. Since then I've focused solely on mastering Houdini and the FX side of it in particular.

I've traveled around a lot in search of the best opportunities, lived and worked in many different cities; and it always interests me how despite differences in culture or language, the culture of Houdini remains the same.

I've worked on Feature Films, TV Series, and Game Cinematics all within the animation sector, and there really is nothing more amazing than making a piece of art you know is going to entertain people for hours on end.

I have a burning passion for teaching, so everywhere I have worked I have also taught running courses and workshops to educate my team. This is what led me to Rebelway, the possibility to reach hundreds of artists and share the tricks and techniques I have gathered from around the world.

Urban Bradesko

Urban started his journey with Live action Cinematography at a studio he co-founded. After many years of looking through the lens, he discovered CG and FX. As an FX and Lead layout artist, he worked on games and cinematics for titles such as Gears of War 5, Destiny 2, Heroes of the Storm, Deathloop, Magic The Gathering, Love Dead + Robots and many more. The path of knowledge brought him to teaching others and sharing the knowledge he acquired on his adventures.

Houdini is Gaining Grounds

Sometimes at a studio, people look at Houdini users as the "technical" magicians that know how to fix problems. We used to joke that we are the senior scientists. And while that is true, we are super happy to show anyone how it's done. Just ask us something about FX, and we will never shut up.

Times are different now, with Houdini being so popular it became a go-to tool across the industry in games and movies alike. The way we see it, Houdini is pushing the frontiers of innovation not only in FX but CG in general, and we are delighted to be riding the Houdini wave. More and more studios are shifting their whole pipelines to Houdini for rendering, layout, environment creation, rigging, character FX, and slowly even animation. This makes the whole experience at a studio much more streamlined and efficient.

Let's take layout, for example: Houdini can take a crazy amount of data in the scene, you can quickly create layout "preview" Fx to get everyone on the same page at the beginning of the project, and it just makes it so much easier if the whole team is working in one piece of software. Not to mention that you can create quick procedural tools or scatter objects around the scene in no time.

Let's be honest, FX is the coolest and most fun! We are noticing more are more people trying it out and getting interested. But since Houdini is, in essence, only limited by our hardware and the mind, you can use it for pretty much everything. A good example where Houdini can shine is motion graphics and more abstract design-oriented projects as well.

Safe Way to Learn FX & CG

Here is where we come in with Rebelway, - we want to be the bridge between someone being "interested" in FX and them "kicking ass" in FX. We just released a Fundamentals Houdini workshop that is catered to complete beginners, and we are working on releasing even more beginner-friendly content very soon.

A few years ago, this knowledge was quite hidden from people and was only accessible in the big studios, and even there, you had to find a mentor that was kind enough to guide you. Sure, the internet has a lot of resources now, but it's quite scattered in terms of topics, and the quality of teaching and students can easily get lost, waste a lot of time and not get the progress that they are looking for. With Rebelway, we provide a Safe Learning environment where we provide the support and guidance a student needs and promote trial and error as much as possible. Our main goal is to provide studio-level CG and VFX education at an affordable cost. Give people with passion a chance to learn and create awesome breath-taking FX and CG.

Making Portfolio Stand Out

For studios to notice your work, it has to stand out. It sounds logical, right? But many people try and do too much of everything, so the minimalistic and focused approach is almost always better. It's good to start with a base knowledge in CG in general and then begin to specialize in something. That does not mean that you will be stuck with only doing Pyro, but by focusing on one skill at a time, each piece of work you produce will stand out and shine. That is how you get noticed.

Once you get your foot through the door at a studio, you will be able to sharpen your other skills while working on awesome projects. A skill that we usually see lacking from people is their sense of design, the artistic elements of FX. Even an explosion has many elements that make it a great explosion, from the anticipation elements to the climax and then all the aftermath with secondary elements. Shapes play a big role as well, and hitting a good contrast between heat and dark smoke can be a challenge. All of this is even more true with Magical FX.

Advice to Novice Houdini Artists

Become a student in CG and 2D art. Not just FX. A good base in vector math will go a long way. Know how to make proper renders and comp. You won't believe what we render sometimes and then do a pre-comp with some comp magic, and it looks amazing. We actually have a class on compositing where you can see the pre-comp, and they look the worst. Final Comp looks amazing though. Knowing how to approach creating FX and reach the visual target using comp or other disciplines will save you a lot of RnD time.

Talking strictly in terms of Houdini, know your SOPs. That stands for Surface Operators, where you will do most of your work. People often jump into simulations where the fun happens fast. But without a good base in SOPs, you will soon hit a wall.

The Wonder of Proceduralism

Proceduralism is just one part of the equation, it's a tool, - NO! A weapon that is being wielded by an artist! It's an RnD platform. And that fusion is the critical part. There will always be a balance between the tool and the artistry. But sure, being able to build procedural tools is excellent, it's quite addicting once you start doing it. To be honest, when you start doing it, you will want to optimize not only your FX and tools but everything in your life as well. You have been warned.

Using the power of proceduralism is great, it makes tedious tasks more manageable. Creating a game level is much easier. It's a huge time saver, and the next step is integrating with real-time. Real-time is an area that is becoming more and more present for previz, layout, and lookdev. Houdini made a leap with their new Solaris module, and we can't wait to see how they will do at that frontier. Think about Avengers and how many Sparks and bullet hits there are; placing them manually shot by shot can be a tedious process, so creating a system for it where even the animators or Layout artists can control the fire rate will speed everything up and leave more room for the important big explosion that everyone came to see.

Study at Rebelway!

Free trainings can be found on Rebelway's website under the free section of the page.

Rebelway Team

Interview conducted by Kirill Tokarev

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