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Tips & Tricks on Mastering VFX with Houdini

An article by Saber Jlassi from GridMarkets full of things you should know about getting started with special effects.

Saber Jlassi, a California based VFX artist currently working as a Senior Technical Director at Blizzard Animation, published a great article on mastering the art of FX and Houdini, in particular. The artist is now responsible for writing tools and scripts to improve the Lighting, FX and Compositing pipeline, but he is also a Houdini instructor currently teaching “Introduction to FX using Houdini”, an 8 week course with CGMA. Looking for advice? Here are some nice tips. 


Art, Art and Art

At the end of the day we are producing art. Art has rules, and everyone creating CG imagery should have a very good understanding of composition, colors and light physics. What follows is a list of useful guides that can help familiarise everyone with the basics:

  • Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter (James Gurney Art)
  • Light for Visual Artists: Understanding & Using Light in Art & Design
  • Art Fundamentals: Color, Light, Composition, Anatomy, Perspective, and Depth by Gilles Beloeil
  • Matters of Light & Depth 1st Edition by Ross Lowell
  • Lighting for Film and Electronic Cinematography
  • Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide to the Art and Craft of Lighting for the Moving Image
  • Set Lighting Technician’s Handbook: Film Lighting Equipment, Practice, and Electrical Distribution

Saber Jlassi 

3D world is all about tools. The first thing to do is to pick a tool and master it. There is no other way. You have to know its possibilities, its hotkeys and its limitations. But that’s not it. The artist also points out that you should focus on learning how to look at things and finding out what makes certain materials look the way they look:

Let’s take water as an example: It is transparent, reflective and has 1.33 IOR. If you take these exact inputs and apply them to your surface in CG the renderer should give you a good starting point to create realistic water, right? Most likely it will not, and this where it is very important to learn how to look at things and analyse what we see. Water looks very different depending on whether you are looking at waves lapping against a beach, a river, an ocean, antarctic water or water in a glass. If we look at each of these scenarios, we will see that it is the same liquid, yet each situation is visually very different. We need to develop the skills that will allow us to accurately recreate every one of those surfaces and analyse the visual characteristics that make each one of them unique.

Saber Jlassi

Saber also discussed the importance of creativity, learning from 2D and anime, and other important aspects. 

In the end, you have to present your work, right? Here is something you should know about presentation:

How to present your work 

This is something that is hardly talked about and generally ignored by young talent and students. But I cannot stress how important it is to properly present your work. Here are few things to consider:

  • Try to describe your work and what you are presenting in the shortest possible way.
  • if you have multiple images, put them into one pdf that is not too large to download.
  • If you have multiple videos, choose the best ones and put them into a single edit. Then add text describing your work.
  • Never record a video with your phone to show your work, NEVER.
  • If a professional is on Facebook, don’t drop your information into his messenger app. Instead, send a professional email to start a proper discussion.
  • It is very important to work on leaving the right impact when sharing your work with professionals and with the community. Even if you are still a beginner, presenting your work properly will definitely get you the attention you need.

    Saber Jlassi

Make sure to read the full article on GridMarkets here

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