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​Featured Artist:  Hernan Llano, Colombia

Hernan Llano is currently an FX TD at Framestore, London. He recently moved into Houdini after working with 3Ds Max for quite a few years as a generalist (mostly on the technical side), as a Rigger TD, and also as an FX TD. He really enjoys sculpting forces and moving particles around.



Below follows Part 1 of Hernan’s tutorial explaining how to build a basic splash setup that will allow you to create nice shapes with a high level of artistic control. Part 2 will be released next week so stay tuned. And don’t miss our interview with Hernan at the bottom of the tutorial!


Video 0 - Final result

Video 1- Introduction to applied vectors 

Get an overview of the main ideas taught in this tutorial.

Video 2 - Setting up the initial attributes 

Learn how to setup the initial attributes, how to use subtraction of positions in order to create a new vector, and how to use that vector as an axis in order to rotate an identity matrix.


Video 3 - Splash shaping setup  

Learn how to multiply vectors by scalars in order to modify their magnitude and how to create normalized values that will allow you some degree of control in the shaping of the splash.




1. You graduated from the University of Caldas, Colombia, with a Degree in Biology. In fact, you specialized in Entomology, the scientific study of insects. Tell us more about your unusual journey from biology major to FX TD at Framestore.


I love biology, and mostly the ecology and behavior of insects, but sadly I didn’t finish my degree, because during my final year in college I discovered the 3D industry, and I fell in love with it. I am a self-taught VFX artist, but I have to say that what I learned studying biology helped me a lot, especially when it comes to linear algebra, which I use every day in my job.


I started learning on my own, and after 4 months I found my first job, not a great one obviously, but we need to start somewhere.  After being a generalist for almost 4 years, I started doing rigging. I love the technical side of the 3D, and rigging means a lot of tech fun, like vector operations, transformations, scripting....


Then after some time, everything changed after I started learning Houdini, almost 2 years ago. The main reason to start learning Houdini was because I wanted to work in the film industry, and for me Houdini was the way to find that job. Of course the learning curve is steep, so I started with basic stuff. The only problem with Houdini, is that, unlike other software, Houdini gets complicated very quickly, so you have to be persistent! I started learning SOPs and slowly moving into other contexts - I am still learning  them! I keep learning every day from the forums, and specially from my supervisors. I am being honest here, if you give Houdini a chance, it will change the way you think, and the way you work. For me using Houdini is almost as fun as playing video games!

2. Before working in the film industry you created TV commercials for a variety of Colombian studios and medical animations for Mompozt, Diptongo, Dr.Pepe. What skills did you pick up in these different areas of expertise and how are they relevant to your current position at Framestore?


I think working in commercials is one of the best ways to start doing FX. Of course the learning path is different for everybody, but I found that a lot of people who worked previously on commercials have a very good understanding of the process as a whole. It will force you learn a lot of generalist stuff that will form the basis of everything you will do in the future. It will also teach you how to be part of a team, how to solve problems with little time and few resources. Finally, experience with commercials can also help to make a demo reel quickly, as you have to deliver a lot of projects on very tight deadlines. In short, while there are a lot of ways to start in this industry, I think working in commercials is a really good one. 


With regards to creating medical animations, I started doing it for fun. When I left my university I always wanted to create content for the teachers to use. Maybe in the future it will be possible for me, who knows!

Hernan Llano - Luminous Box: accident sequence totally done in CG


3. While in Colombia you ran your own small business and now you are working for a large company. What are the pros and cons of running your own shop versus working for a large studio?


Wow this is a hard question; the answer would need a complete article on its own! I will give you the short answer: Owning a business is fun, but it is also really difficult, as I was working as an artist all the time, so when I decided to move on and create my own small studio I didn’t have any big client to start out with. I only knew small post production houses, but not the final client. Starting out is really hard and you need to spend all your energy, and probably all your savings on it!  It was fun, and I learned a lot, not only about 3D, but also about how to use my resources, and a lot of bureaucratic stuff. Also, handling clients was much harder than I thought at the beginning! Maybe in the future I will try it again, but my focus currently is on getting better at what I do.


Working for a big company is always fun! When I first started working as a FX TD at Double Negative London, it was a big surprise for me to know that I was going to be working on a project with quite a lot of people, instead of just five guys as had always been the case! The pipeline is different, the way to approach the tasks is also different, as you have to follow the pipeline. Everything needs to run smoothly, so you have to work in specific ways. Now in Framestore I have a bit of more flexibility. It is always fun, and I am learning a lot, which, as I said, is my main focus. There is nothing better that sitting next to people who know a lot more than you, because that is a guarantee that you will learn a lot.


4. What would be your dream FX project?


There are quite a few projects I would love to work on. If I had to pick one it would beany Star Wars movie, not just because of the FX, but also because of the movie itself. I am a big fan of the saga, so it would be really nice to have the chance to be part of that.


5. Where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?


I have always wanted to have my own small post production business, maybe I will give it a try again in the future. Other than that, I really enjoy working with talented fellows in big companies, so probably I will be doing the same thing I love to do, which is FX, at least for a while. But having some financial independence is always nice, so running your own company, even if it is small, is a good goal.

Diptongo commercial for Win Sports

Diptongo commercial for Win Sports

6. Can you give us a brief overview of your software toolkit and specifically, how Houdini fits into your workflow?


When I was in Colombia I started using 3Ds Max. I still love that software, mainly because of it's plug-in Thinking Particles, which is great. But since almost one year and half now I have been only using Houdini.  Right now Houdini is my main tool, I do everything with it! I mean you don't need to leave it if you do FX. You will get the models from a different department, so if the company has a strong pipeline, you probably won't need to open another software. Inside Houdini I try to do as much as I can using SOPs: If for some reason I need to simulate something, I try to do it from scratch using a sop solver, and in the end if that is not possible in SOPs, I will use DOPs, for example for fire and RBD. The main reason is that it doesn't matter how big the company is, Houdini FX licenses are always limited, and the less you need DOPs the better for you and for your company. Also most of the companies have their own set of tools and wraps inside SOPs

Houdini Pineapple

Houdini Pineapple - personal project

7. What do you think makes Houdini a powerful software package?


I would say it’s the procedural workflow, but everybody knows that already. I also think it is the communication between the different contexts, the possibility to create your own tools. In Max if I need to modify something I would need to use maxscript, or in some cases it is just impossible because most of Max tools are a black box. Houdini is completely the opposite; it’s an open book, well, most of it, you just need to learn how to read it. As I said, I am still learning it, actually. I think everybody is still learning it...


8. What new features would you like to see in the upcoming Houdini release?


SideFX keeps improving the software with every new release, I had the chance to see some pretty cool top secret stuff for the new version of Houdini 16 :),  but improvements on the modeling side of the software are always welcome. The less you have to leave the software, the better for everybody.


9. How do you make sure to keep your FX skills current and fresh?


I am very passionate about my work, so I try to study things every day. Also every day I have to solve problems that I have never tackled before, which keeps me studying all the time. All you need is practice and discipline, and some good music.

Keep your FX skills current and fresh - Fun with applied vectors

Fun with applied vectors

10. How important are coding skills for VFX artists?


I think coding will improve your workflow. I am not a professional programmer, but I acquired some valuable coding skills when I was building tools for 3Ds Max. I built some tools like auto-rigs, pipeline stuff... I would say that currently my workflow is 50% Vops and 50% Vex. Most of the time I find that writing a couple of lines is much faster that creating a big network, but sometimes it is also the opposite, for example in regards to the point cloud open function in Vex, I find it more easy to use inside VOPs than in Vex, but that is probably a personal preference.


In conclusion you don’t need to worry if you are not great at programming, because most of the FX can be done without scripting at all, and since in Houdini you can do everything with VOPs, is not something to be really concerned about. I would say, if you really want to learn to code, go for it, it will be really helpful, if you don’t want to, it is not the end of the world, you can still do great VFX without code.


11. What coding language would you recommend to study?


The use of Python is very extensive now, most of the OTLs we use on a daily basis have some Python in them. I’m still struggling to learn it, but as everything in life, it is just a matter of practice and discipline. If you are thinking of using Houdini seriously, It is a good idea to learn Vex and Python, although as I told you before, is not strictly needed..


12. Have you ever considered rendering Houdini projects or Houdini simulations in the cloud?


Of course! If I have time to do some freelance work again, I will start doing my renders in the cloud. It’s faster and you don't need an insane machine at home.

Hernan Llano 2017

By: Patricia Cornet
GridMarkets marketing

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