Featured Artist: Alexander Weide, Germany
Hi, my name is Alexander, I was born in late 1984 in the city of Dresden, Germany.
I was twelve years old when I saw “Star Wars” for the first time. I watched the VHS cassette behind my parents’ back and I was so stunned by the imagery! Watching the movie was an emotional experience for me, one that marked the start of my dream of making my own movie. It did not take long for me to understand that I wasn’t seeing reality captured on camera. I quickly understood that this was a story made by people behind a camera. So I started to make my own Star Wars “movies”: I built starships and Star Destroyers with Lego bricks. They looked ugly with their random colors, not to mention that they only moved with the help of my hands. I added sound effects using only my mouth as children do and I obviously did not know how to make animations or film sequences at the time.
One year later I had my first contact with a computer and I began to draw basic shapes in Corel Draw. I tried to represent a Star Destroyer and a TIE Fighter. This only fed my dream of making my own movie. I wanted to make it all perfect. I wanted everything to be like in the movies.
The following year brought me closer to this goal. My half-brother showed me some computer images that he had created with the help of “Simply 3D”, a 3D software. One of the images was actually a TIE Fighter, and what amazed me was that I could see it from different angles and perspectives. I so wanted to do this myself! Not suprisingly “Simply 3D” became my first 3D software. With Simply 3D you were able to create simple things like extruded Adobe Illustrator files from Corel Draw. I used this feature to build my own first models based on Adobe Illustrator files. My drawings focused on our city’s trams. I started to study them while driving to school every day. Then I drew them and colored them with as much detail as possible.
Two years later I had become very good at creating 3D models. In the back of my head, I still longed to fulfill my dream of producing movies in the style of Star Wars. In 1999 I saw a making of documentary - “Star Wars: The Special Edition”. Watching the special edition was thrilling - not only could I observe the creation of moving ships, I saw how artists were able to design living, breathing creatures. I wanted to do the same at home with my computer. And there was no doubt I was going to do it!
Soon thereafter I got my second large 3D Software package from my parents - “Monzoom 3D”, the first software to introduce me to bone animation, deforming meshes and lighting. A whole new universe was ready to be conquered from my home computer! I literally sat for thousands or even millions of hours in front of my machine, trying to understand this new world and trying to reproduce every effect I was seeing in the movies.
Eventually I was able to run and render my first animation. One of the first projects I've ever rendered was a spaceship flying around the earth. The animation had more than ten thousand frames and I tried to consider every aspect of it – the movement of the sun, the accurate speed of the spaceship... This was a whole new field and I decided to pursue it further.
I started with my vocational training at age sixteen as is typical in Germany. I went to a private and expensive art school that my parents had to pay for. My subjects focused around art and media, which allowed me to learn the basics of colors, shapes, composition and drawing. We created short-movies, engineered sounds and even studied film history.
After successfully passing all my exams, I decided to take my studies further and graduated from High School with a specialization in art. One of my graduation projects was the design and production of a realistic looking subway train in Dresden. My best friend and I were filming tunnels and streets in the city of Berlin and then composed a virtual subway train into that film material. We captured film sequences of Berlin and Dresden and mixed them up to create the illusion that everything was captured in Dresden. The footage seemed so real that our teachers thought I hadn’t actually built any of it! I never forget the moment when the exam commission looked at the final 3D animation. They were stunned that a young boy and his friend could build such a realistic sequence. But then high school was over and I had to look for a real job. Of course, I wanted to work in the 3D industry – of this I was certain.
There was a problem however - I didn’t know anyone in the industry and no one was able to guide me. It didn’t help that the 3D industry in Germany at the time was in its infancy, not nearly as developed as in the U.S. So I had to reinvent everything based on the basic education I had acquired at school. I was convinced that 3D animation was the future of the arts however. Artists were going to build everything in the computer. I was playing games like every other young man on the computer, which further shaped this belief. Eventually I met a lot of people involved in the 3D industry, I built friendships within the artist community and thought in depth about the future of this special job.
To earn a living, I worked mostly for small media companies and tried to find real reasons to create 3D animations, sometimes even mixing up film material with 3D effects. My unusual career path was full of obstacles, but somehow, I managed to move around or through them. One day my boss at the time told me about a project: a film documentary for a local dance project. The project was called “Dancing Jesus”. During the ten weeks of rehearsals, I filmed over 30 hours of material and cut a documentary with a total length of over one hour. This documentary was a very emotional project, because I became a team member with all of the dancers. They saw me as a part of the choreography - the man behind the camera. I tried to bring those emotions into the documentary.
A couple of weeks later, I had an interview in the German city of Hannover, where I applied for a job in the movie industry. I had nothing to show, no perfect 3D animation, no perfect VFX shot, not even a simple showreel. I only had the raw cut of my documentary and a basic trailer for it. Still, the people at Ambient Entertainment were stunned by my small documentary. Nearly 40 minutes into the interview process, I got the job.
My dream had come true and I would work on the largest feature film production in Europe during all of 2006. The working title was “Urmel 2”, a story based on a children’s book. I met a lot of people from around the globe: people from New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain and from many other nations. Everyone was working on the same project. It was a very challenging time for me - a time of learning, but also of frustration. I realised that a movie production isn’t really as glamorous as I had expected it to be in my dreams. It was very hard work and it took much longer than I expected to texture a single model for a single shot. At least I became very good in texturing after that one year of production and I was also learning a lot of scripting and workflows using the 3D software Maya.
My name is listed twice in the credits of the “Urmel 2” movie. I built and textured props and built concept models for an entire set. I even built a wrecked ship inside a large whale - a ship which is based on a real 1:60 model of the “Wappen from Hamburg”, a German gun boat from 1669. My Dad had painstakingly built that same model by hand over the course of 6 years, assembled from many detailed wood and copper pieces. In a way my CG model became the fulfillment of my dad’s dream as well, because years before, my dad had been in my situation - he had wanted to go into the movie industry, but eventually decided against it because of his family and friends. So if I think about it, I not only made my dream come true, I also made my dad’s come true as well.
In 2006 in Hannover, I got introduced to the Houdini software. I met artists and freelancers who were working with Houdini. I was so stunned by the Houdini functionality that I wanted to work with it myself. I was looking around for every production made with Houdini and I wanted to learn it - to be the best. I realized that Houdini is one of the best kept secrets of Hollywood. I downloaded the apprentice version of Houdini and started to forget about Maya. Maya is not bad, but it is not the best when you like to create whole new effects nobody has ever seen before.
Years later in 2011, after gaining a lot of experience working for different companies, I became independent and upgraded my Houdini apprentice version to an Indie version.
At the same time, I tried to connect Houdini to Blender and to literally every tool that I knew. This effort was very good for me, because I learned a lot about building pipelines and understanding the basics of what’s underneath the hood of every 3D software. I think the limitation of not having it all, of not being rich and of not being able to drive to Industrial Light and Magic just to get some help, was another key for the small success of my work and later for my independence as an artist. I understand that there is no real magic; rather, it’s all about passion and skill. When a client has an extraordinary idea, you cannot say that his idea is impossible! You have to think about how you can realize your client’s dream. So you must use what you have and deploy the tools that provide the best results. And the more you know, the better your images will be.
The decision to move away from all other commercial 3D tools was not only because of license costs, but also because of the functionality of the tools. Houdini gives you the ability to create your own effects from scratch; this is not really possible inside Maya without scripting. The Indie version of Houdini is the best piece of software I've ever used. It’s a lot better than working with 3dsMax, Lightwave, Maya or even Cinema 4D – all tools I worked with in the past.
My Star Wars dream isn’t quite guiding me anymore, but instead I now dream of creating stunning and emotional pictures with the best technical tools available on the market.
I think to be your best as an artist you cannot ever lose your ability to dream. Dreams come true - dreams are the power in our hearts to build a better and brighter future and dreams lead to advantages in science and technology. I deeply believe that the makers of Blender, Houdini and GridMarkets have this belief in their hearts, along with every artist around the globe. That is what I feel as a client. I feel supported in my efforts to create my vision or the visions of my clients. That is my key reason to work with GridMarkets, Houdini and Blender as tool sets for independent artists. I think we need flexible and affordable power to bring the visions of our clients to life. We live in a world where all budgets are shrinking at the speed of light, where no independent company or artist can compete. At the same time, we are forced to raise the overall quality of our images and animations. In addition the spectrum of work is expanding. In the past we copied CGI into filmed footage. Today we do not just track cameras or actors movements. We scan sets, we recreate sets, we create digital actors, repaint cars, change skylines, alter streets and simulate growing weed or paint digital makeup. From volcanic eruptions to snowfall, we can do nearly everything today. But this requires a lot of calculation power and work. Why do we artists even go through all this effort? I think we understand that every pixel tells a story, and every pixel changes the overall message behind every shot and every move of the camera. It's passion and passion drives us to perfection - to tell the perfect story is key. This idea, despite the enormous effort it requires, drives me every day.
My reason for supporting GridMarkets, SideFX and the Blender Foundation is not based on my dislike of other software companies; it’s because of the overall support I receive, the low amount of software bugs I have to deal with and the supportive community itself. When I have a problem, I can ask for help on Facebook or inside the Houdini FX groups. I can ask for guidance on websites and forums. Everyone has a friendly comment and often I get pointed towards a valid solution. I missed that in other software communities. We live in a world of competition and I deeply believe that those shaping our future aren’t individuals with the largest and biggest companies or the biggest wallet. Rather, the future will be written by the companies with the greatest dreams and the best supporting communities.
So I have to say thank you to the makers of Houdini at SideFX and thank you to GridMarkets for supporting me with computer power. Right now, GridMarkets gives me the power to compete with larger companies as a small independent artist, helping me not only to survive - but to thrive. And of course thank you to my parents and to the artists of ILM which helped me to dream of this business - this profession - in the early days of my life.
Alexander Weide 2016
By: Patricia Cornet