Featured VFX Student: Kaki Hudgins, Vancouver
Hello, my name is Kaki Hudgins and I am currently at the FX Academy at MPC. I recently graduated from Otis College of Art and Design and completed my Houdini Diploma at CGSpectrum.
Upon entering my senior year of Otis College, I needed to come up with a senior thesis project that would encapsulate everything I had learned in the last four years. I knew I could just get by and present a typical demo reel with a few nicely designed and composited effects. But when I examined how I spent my time in school, all I could think of was the all-nighters I pulled trying to figure out why a sim was broken. I remembered how many times I banged my head against a wall trying to get my render times down. And I thought of why I got into effects in the first place - to solve tricky problems and to learn something new every time I fired up Houdini.
This is how Cycle VR was born. My goal was to choose a project that would give me the opportunity to take a crack at all the things I wanted to try before entering the working world. Never before had I rendered at such an insanely high frame rate. Never before had I told a story within a 360 degree view. Never before had I written my own shaders. And never before had I had the opportunity to create a full 3 minute CG world straight from my imagination.
Cycle VR is a look at the similarities between human nature and the natural world around us. By combining the characteristics of organic life with the constructed nature of civilization, we can see how a cycle of constant growth and self destruction develops.
The beginning section of the film represents the blank slate. No life exists and the landscape appears deserted and desolate.
The second section is all about organic growth, represented by the grass, flowers and trees that emerge to form a fully developed natural world.
Next comes the constructed version populated with neighborhoods and cities, representing a fully developed society.
At this point we start to see a weather shift, with the clouds closing in and the rain falling down. This is to convey how nature destroys itself. We are also getting a glimpse foreshadowing the same result in the constructed world, with fighter jets and planes appearing in our view.
Suddenly there is a single explosion and then our view fades to a black screen. This represents the human side of destruction, provoked by war and conflict.
The final stage, identical to the first, revisits the blank slate of deserted land to represent the cycle starting itself over.
The biggest challenge of this project was optimization. With massive render times on a huge amount of frames, I had to really push myself to create efficient workflows by taking out many dynamic and flashy simulations and relying on the beauty of proceduralism. For example, I was hitting a brick wall when it came to growing the grass and other organic items. Instead of using a particle operation I was able to just combine a mix of noise and color variables to create a lightweight alternative. Also when it came to volumes, I was using vdbs rather than trying to actually do a pyro simulation. Proceduralism was the biggest help and I think it’s what really made this project possible. I was constantly making changes and having to optimize my setup from week one to week thirty and with the amount of data in the scene, being able to make changes that would quickly affect the whole chain below it made that possible.
The second biggest challenge was the lack of information readily available with regard to working in VR or within a 360 view. It was a lot of trial and error, as well as feeling like I was taking a shot in the dark. But thanks to beta html viewers such as Mozilla web vr and boilerplates from A-Frame, and a few brave souls developing incredible lens shaders and workarounds for mantra, I was able to get viewable videos for youtube 360, as well as the for oculus rift.
You can find a great lens shader resource here:
The most important things I have learned in the last four years have not come off the shelf, but they have come from not having an answer and being forced to find one. Cycle VR was just my latest solution to a whole host of unsolved answers. I hope you enjoyed viewing the end result!
Special thanks to my thesis teachers Michael Wright and Mark Medernach, who did not shut me down, to Beau Ballew and Jake Hays for creating the music and to everyone at SideFX who helped me get this project moving, especially Ben Mears. And finally a big thank you to Gridmarkets for rendering my job and making this film a reality!
Kaki Hudgins 2016
By: Patricia Cornet