Featured Artist: Pingo Van Der Brinkloev, Denmark
My name is Pingo van der Brinkloev. I am a freelance VFX artist based in Copenhagen, Denmark.
I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years now. I actually started out in print and moved on to advertising where I did everything from DTP to illustrations and art direction. Then I migrated to the film industry and directed a ton of music videos and commercials. VFX and motion were initially only a hobby. But then I started doing post on my own films and suddenly I was working full time doing VFX.
I’ve been using Cinema 4D, XSI and Houdini for several years now and recently dove into Vops and VEX.
GM: Tell us a bit about your career as a VFX artist!
GM: What is Knitbox?
Knitbox is a collection of Houdini Digital Assets designed to assist in, and automate the creation of 3D knitting, threading and weaving. These types of highly detailed motion effects are super popular at the moment and developing the scenes to execute them takes time. Having a library of prebuilt tools at hand that can be customized is obviously an advantage in a production. This is my take on it.
GM: When did you start developing the Knitbox concept?
Creating Knitbox from start to finish only took about 6 weeks, including the production of the actual presentation film. However, the first stitches that led to Knitbox were made over 3 years ago. About that time I got blown away by the “Art of Raw” commercial and various other similar advertisements featuring shots with weaving and knitting. I was intrigued by the complexity and high technical level and actually came up with a solution to mimic the knitting process in Cinema4D. I made a 30 minute video of the concept with voice over. It was my first tutorial and my first upload to Vimeo. The video was extremely popular.
I’ve known since then that if I wanted to take the knitting concept further it would have to be in Houdini. Though it’s possible to tackle knitting in Cinema4D, it’s a complicated process that involves either visual trickery, nasty python hacks or heavy use of expresso. Houdini has now become a lot easier to use for artists and my own technical skills have substantially grown since I started my research, so it was the perfect time to start this project!
GM: Tell us some more about the Knitbox development process!
When I started out I had a simple brief: Build a complete set of Houdini digital assets for procedural knitting and make a production strength presentation as proof of concept. I also had some rules: I wanted to render with Arnold, which I’m fluent in as I’ve used it with both XSI and Cinema 4D. It’s basically the same on all DCC’s, so once you learn it you can take that knowledge with you anywhere.
Another rule was to render using an online farm. I don’t have the patience to wait for overnight renders and even using GPU rendering would take too long with sequences. Gridmarkets had been on my radar for a while, and as it turned out they were in the process of implementing Arnold. I signed up and immediately began rendering my project while beta’ing the Arnold implementation - which basically worked from day one.
I started putting the clips together one after another and the project took form. The look had started out very bright and dusty, but quickly evolved into something darker and more sinister.
Half way through the project I went to freesounds.org and collected a bunch ambient space sounds and distorted machinery effects to use in a crude soundtrack. Adding audio always breathes new life into a project and you begin to get new ideas. I ended up using a fantastic sound designer to create a full on ambience for the entire project, which just accentuated everything. A big thanks to Humanrobotsoul.com for this! Highly recommended.
Now, I wanna talk a bit about the pipeline I set up for the project, and then you can decide for yourself just how effective you think this is for a freelancer. No doubt this is gonna sound an awful lot like I’m being paid to write it, but the simple truth is I gotta compliment Gridmarkets for their service. I started normally by building my scenes and render test-stills on my big PC at the office. I usually do flipbook renders of animations before going anywhere near a fully shaded render, but after sending my first sequence of 170 frames off and getting it returned in about 10 minutes for 4 USD in full HD I just began submitting everything to the farm without any previz.
It was extreme luxury to have immediate feedback so early on in the process. I was editing on my laptop and doing the motion graphics overlay and grading alongside and I was totally immersed when working. If there was something I didn’t like I just corrected and resubmitted. I actually made a last minute correction at the sound studio on my MacbookPro because we needed some extra frames to make it all swing. The actual hip files are only about 800KB, but when executing you deal with huge amounts of points. The whole project only cost me 50 USD. It’s the cheapest and least demanding production I’ve ever done in terms of rendering, despite doing raytraced hair with GI.
GM: Can we get some technical background on the assets contained within Knitbox?
Sure. I’ll quickly go over some of the technical details of how the the main Knitbox asset is built and then touch on the functions of the remaining assets in the collection.
The main asset is the KB_yarn. There are several ways to create threading, like we’ve seen in recent commercials and even articles here on GridMarkets. This one is made of a copy node followed by a VOP network. Each copy is rebuilt, subdivided and UV mapped with a length attribute that is used to twist the normals around the tangents along the spline. The curves twist is offset by the curve_number divided by the number of curves multiplied by 360, distributing the curves evenly. Each curve is then offset along its new rotated normal and you have yourself some spiraled yarn. There are options to randomise the parameters, as well as a ramp for the displacement along the length. Also, the rotation can be based on the number of points for input curves of various lengths.
The asset can be daisy chained, creating super complex yarn types and ropes. It’s very fast and scalable since it’s really only pushing points around.
KB_knit takes input curves (or preset patterns) and distributes them on target geometry, either by existing polys or the UV’s of the target. It then connects the curves to long threads, and readies them for the KB yarn. A special thanks goes out to SideFX developer Neil Dickson for writing a pretty complicated Trace and Connect asset.
KB_fuzz adds hairs on top of anything with some random options.
KB_color adds colors to the knots by patterns, from bitmaps or simply at random.
KB_grow animates the length of all input curves with variation and was originally built by copy stamping the Carve node. That performed too slowly, and Matt Estela (www.tokeru.com) wrote a super simple node in VEX that simply deleted points based on a threshold derived from the length attribute.
Some procedural animation presets are available like KB-crisscross, which uses KB-grow in different directions. KB_wipe needs two inputs and animates from the first input to the second input with various options.
There is also a pretty clever curve profiler, but it took too long to visualise and was removed from the demo. Knitbox is fast, since it really only adds and moves points around. It’s capable of handling large amounts of data.
GM: How should artists go about producing quality personal projects?
It’s fantastic to do a complete project the way you want it and there’s been a lot of great feedback about Knitbox. I would recommend this to any artist: Take time off in order to dig into something complicated and challenging! I’d like to give some personal insights into how to go about actually doing it as a freelancer.
Before you set out to do a personal project you need to realise that there isn’t going to be anyone around to help you out or tell you to move on when you’re stuck. Treating your project as a real job can help and setting up rules can aid you in the whole process, and serve as a job description - so put on your boss hat and make a briefing.
Creatives sometimes find it hard to execute their own ideas alone. This stems from the fact that once you’ve thought about something, at some level you think you’ve actually already done it! It can also become increasingly hard to deliver as you tell more and more people about your project, before you even begin working on it. But it is extremely important to realise, that thinking about doing something and actually doing it is very far from being the same thing. And me telling you this isn’t even going to convince you. You’ll be like “Yeah yeah, I know”, but for you to truly understand this, you need to really do it. It is coincidental that those two words are the slogan for a sports brand exercising heavy use of the exact same type of 3D that Knitbox can produce. It is also coincidental that those two words also happen to be the bottom line of basically any self help book available on how to achieve anything. The point is of course: You can think as much as you like, but if you do nothing, nothing will happen. And of course if you do something, something is bound to happen! But wait, the real important lesson is this: When you finally do something the outcome isn’t going to be what you expected! And this is the true reward. It will not be a rerun of your dreams and it will not be boring. Once you put the first stroke on paper, you are starting a feedback loop process whereby you become your own creative partner. In the end you might very well convince yourself that the result is exactly how you pictured it, which really can’t be argued or verified. But that’s just how our mind works. The payoff from you doing a project that’s entirely yours is without question a very rewarding experience and the realisations that come along with that can be applied to other aspects of your life aside from merely work.
GM: What are the next steps in the Knitbox project?
Knitbox is now fully functional and able to do everything that’s shown in the demo, but it is not quite at a stage where it can be packaged and shipped as a documented set of Houdini digital assets. I’m researching how to make it available. Updates will be made public via my website or on my Vimeo channel. Meanwhile people who are interested can download a free scene with an early bird of the KB_Yarn asset and play around with it.
A final note on Knitbox is that it generates curves. Curves can be exported as Alembic files which are application independent and contain animation. So any decent application that renders curves or has a hair module can handle files created with Knitbox. I’ve made a small .abc file for testing with DCC’s other than Houdini.
Pingo van der Brinkloev 2016
By: Patricia Cornet