Embark on a Journey into the Exciting World of VFX
Winner John Fanny, and runner-up Daniel Ha, share some details of their winning Rebelway FX Challenge entries and learning Houdini and professional VFX techniques with the talented instructors at Rebelway.
For as long as humans have told stories, we’ve dreamed of conquering beasts in uncharted lands. From ancient Greek mythology to modern gaming adventures, we’re captivated by the idea of welding our magical abilities to slay the monster and bring peace to our land. The Rebelway FX challenge was a contest that asked artists to tap into that creative spirit by challenging them to develop incredible FX for an epic fight scene.
Entrants were tasked with creating their own unique take on this battle for the ages by adding in VFX to make the scene pop. The winner of this epic duel walked away with amazing prizes as well as an opportunity to flex their FX muscles in Rebelway's series of Workshops.
Tell us about your entry in the Rebelway Challenge?
John Fanny: Based on the provided assets, the brief was to create the FX that would give life to the fight between the two characters. This was the opportunity to give our unique take on the battle and craft an epic fight scene.
I aimed to represent the feud between conventional and atypical FX, the duality between real and unreal. There was a wide variety of effects to explore, from rigid bodies to FLIP and Pyro simulations to magical effects.
I started as soon as the challenge was launched. Most of the design related to how the characters could interact with their surroundings and how the set design could help emphasise the action. Along with that, I gathered references for the different FX early during pre-production.
The previs helped a lot in determining which FX to include or not.
I kept simulation setups simple so that it was easier to handle, allowing quick iterations. On top of that, planning was essential to be on schedule throughout the project.
Daniel Ha: The look I was going for was a blue and orange feel since my theme was lava vs ice. The colours have a nice contrast to each other. I wanted the monster to be emitting lava and fire and the iceman to have freezing powers. I looked at lots of references of lava and tried to match it closely to those.
I did not have a complete idea of what I wanted to do in the beginning, I just did one effect at a time and made it up as I moved along. This caused lots of problems later on! To create the effects in Houdini I used flip, rbd, vellum and lots of smoke/pyro simulations. I think I had about 19 separate smoke simulations in the scene and 4 layers of rbd.
Once I finished all my sims I worked on all the materials, lighting and doing test renders. The final rendering took about 500 hours using mantra. Then I went into composting and tweaked all the render passes to really finesse the final shots.
Why did you take part in the Rebelway Challenge? What have you learned as a result of participating in activities above and beyond your studies and work?
John: I was learning Houdini besides my full-time job dreaming to work one day as an FX Artist in a studio. So I felt extremely fortunate to stumble upon the Rebelway Challenge.
It was an unhoped-for opportunity to showcase my skills to the industry masters and go beyond what I did until then.
I could describe participating in the challenge as a great exercise to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Plan, do and share are the leitmotiv that I'll take away from the challenge. John
Due to my day job, I had just some hours to progress in the project daily. Then I realized that I could "make" time by planning and optimising my work.
Having an overview of tasks allowed me to keep the time allocated to tasks flexible avoiding having things getting out of hand. That was a great lesson of self-management.
Thanks to the brief that requested to post updates, I learned the importance of getting things done to mark the progress. Moreover, having to break down the effects taught me the value of sharing with the community and get feedback. I was thrilled by how supportive they were.
There was a great sense of accomplishment in being able to drive the project to term.
Daniel: I took part in the Rebelway challenge because I thought it would be a good learning experience, I like competitions and the free workshops sounded great! It was very cool seeing everyone's progress during the competition.
I learned that participating in activities like this takes a lot of time and dedication. You need to have a schedule of when you need to finish certain things so you can finish your render on time. Sometimes you just have to move on because you can always make something look better without necessarily having enough time to make everything perfect.
What’s the name of the Rebelway FX program you signed up for?
John: I took Python for Houdini Artist taught by Corbin Mayne. Even though it was a more technical approach, being able to create my own tools and automate my workflow using Python in Houdini could be very useful.
From tools to manage caches to a script to automate repetitive tasks: the possibilities are infinite!
Daniel: The Rebelway courses I took prior to the competition were Mastering Destruction, Intro to FX, and Explosions. After the competition, I won three free workshops so I took Water FX, Compositing in Nuke and I am doing Vex right now.
Being an online program, what does a week look like for you?
John: I break down my week into three different phases: reading, working, and delivery. The time allowed will vary considerably depending on my full-time job, but here’s what my week tends to look like in each phase.
Usually, I watch the course and take notes for around two days. Then the next three days, I apply what Corbin has shown. During this whole phase, I research the topic discussed during the course, and I check the group chat if I have any questions and try to add my contribution.
In the following days, I carry on to deliver the assignment. Lastly, I do further researches and check my notes to see if I missed anything during the week the remaining time.
You’re learning a wide range of skills and software, what subjects or tools are you enjoying the most so far?
John: I have so many. We went through many topics during the course. But one of the most exciting tools we created during the course was a smart caching system that could help us easily save and revert to old parameters. With that in mind, we could revert the simulation to older parameters to recreate the archived caches.
Daniel: The subjects I enjoyed learning the most doing these courses are particles and destruction. I didn't think I would like doing particles at all but it ended up being my favourite part of the Intro to FX course. It was very fun learning it. Destruction is a very long process but it was very cool to learn the techniques Rebelway taught, and I just like watching destruction in general. Very satisfying!
What advice do you have for students thinking of studying online? And Rebelway courses in particular?
John: I truly encourage anyone to study online. Whether you can't afford a school or because you want to push forward your understanding. Plus, since this is online, you also have access to a myriad of resources to add up to your course.
A big chunk of the work goes into being constant in the time and effort allowed for learning a new skill, in other words, your aptitude to get things done.
Even after finishing the course, you will need to practice a lot to master what you learned. So don't be frustrated if you struggle, it’s just part of the learning process.
Daniel: I highly recommend learning Houdini online. I am very glad I did the Rebelway workshops. Much cheaper than college and the quality is very, very, good. Take the Intro the FX course for example - After you finish it you will be able to execute the most common effects, very well.
How would you describe the Rebelway instructors?
John: What I respected with the Rebelway team is how serious they are about providing quality courses. It's a lot of fun to work with, sure. But they know what they can do. Their bar is high and they push you ahead to achieve the goals.
It’s more than just buying a course then learn it on your side.
[At Rebelway], you are part of a community of learners that can't wait to help or share their progression. All of this is boosted by passionate instructors that are as great as their reputation suggests. John
Daniel: I would describe the instructors as very knowledgeable and some of the best Houdini artist on the planet! The community is also very helpful and they have people in the discord that can help you.
What personal projects are you working on at the moment? How do you stay motivated?
John: Starting my next project, I am currently training to create tools from setups I used for previous projects like the Rebelway Challenge. This could make me save a lot of time on repetitive tasks or for managing the project.
Thanks to all I learned from the challenge and the workshop, my knowledge of Houdini improved a lot. And more broadly, it enriched me as an artist. John
With all this skill set, I will make sure to continually raise the bar. Every day will produce something unexpected that I will need to overcome. The challenge never ends! And I can't wait to use all the potential of the fantastic workstation that Rebelway and Puget System offered.
Daniel: Right now I am working on creating shots for my demo reel, I just finished some explosion stuff and will probably do something with water next.
Where do you see yourself after this?
John: The Rebelway Challenge comforted my desire to work in VFX. I took a step in my journey.
Seeing a personal project get so much attention definitely helped put a foot in the door. Thus, I hope to be part of a team that pushes the limit of what's possible to achieve amazing visuals that will support the storytelling.
Ready to take part in your own challenge? Check out The Rookies contest page for regular design briefs to challenge your skills.