Featured Artist: Varomix, Mexico
Houdini artist Varomix spends his life working and traveling between Mexico and LA. As he will tell you cheerfully, he loves working with anything that consists of pixels. We call that being multi-talented!
GridMarkets sat down to chat with Varo about his life as an artist and his latest projects.
Hi Varo, thanks for sharing this awesome Houdini to Unreal Engine tutorial with us and thank you for agreeing to this interview!
1. Let’s go back to your early days as a young artist in México - what inspired you to get into FX and later into game development?
As was the case for most people my age it all started with “Jurassic Park” and later “Toy Story”. I couldn't understand how they made those dinosaurs. I was so intrigued! The main question in my mind was: Where did they find the dinosaurs for the film?
Later I got into games, starting with the Atari 2600, then the NES, but it wasn’t until the Playstation 1 that I started wondering about the graphics. Lara Croft and Final Fantasy looked so cool! I wanted to do something like that and while I had no idea how to go about getting started, it all somehow stuck with me. Later in life I got introduced to computers by accident and fell in love with that. Eventually I met a friend, who was a musician as well and who was doing 3D graphics at a local TV station. Because I was so keen on learning more, he allowed me to come visit and practice on a machine whenever possible. I often had to wait for a computer to be available, but eventually I mastered Maya playing around on those computers and it all started from there.
2. A lot has happened since then – now you own a studio, Mix Studio. How did that come about?
Mix Studio was a long process. I always wanted to have my own place. After working for a bunch of studios I had just returned from a job in Canada when I decided it was time. I didn’t want to go back to being an employee and just did it! I didn’t prepare a big plan or accumulated a large amount of savings - it was just what I needed to do at that moment. Thankfully I had built amazing relationships at previous jobs and made great friends who sent me jobs to do. That plus all the teaching and training I have done over the years helped me find work from all over the world. Thankfully I never have to look for jobs; everything comes to me and I’m really thankful for that.
3. Tell us a bit about your new studio offices in LA. !
The new L.A. office is something that my friend Javier Saenz from Pixels and Coffee was looking to set up and I approached him about doing it together. He’s an amazing friend and we always wanted to work together, so that was the simple part. Getting into the L.A. film industry - that’s the hard part! But we’re taking it slow; were not in a rush. We’ll start by having a Finishing Suite in LA to finish all our projects and we have a lot of amazing clients already interested in that. We still have tons of work to keep us busy while we build the LA office. Check out our demo reel or contact us there if you need any work done.
4. You have also found time to start a new Houdini tutorial site, Mixtrn.com. What is the idea behind this initiative?
I wish I could find more time, hehe! Like I mentioned before I’ve done a lot of online training primarily through cmivfx.com for the last 6 years, but sadly Chris Maynard, the founder and owner of cmivfx passed away very unexpectedly. That was very hard for me, as he was an amazing friend. His death made me rethink what I was doing and I decided that it was time to start my own training company. I was procrastinating and leaving everything for later, so now I decided that it was time to go for it.
I want the site to be a community for people to come and learn from each other. I also want to learn from the members while sharing what I’ve taught myself over the years. Everyone sharing and learning together - high tides raise all ships.
5. Can you give us a brief overview of your work process and specifically, how Houdini fits into your workflow?
Well, Houdini is actually the Core for me; everything else works around it. Most of the work I do is VFX and I do all that in Houdini.
A typical project for me goes like this: The client comes in with some effects they need. They need them fast, sometimes the same day, so I get the necessary assets, if they’re required, mainly in Maya or alembic format. Then I do my FX and deliver either finished shots, rendered, composed etc. Or they want alembic files back to render on their own scenes.
I rarely touch any other 3D app. The only time I go out of Houdini is to 3d track scenes, make some textures with plain Photoshop or Quixel, composite with Fusion or MambaFX and for game stuff I use Unreal Engine and that’s it.
6. If you could select your ideal client and your ideal Houdini project, what would you choose?
The ideal client is someone who trusts your expertise and pays well of course. The ideal Houdini project - something with lots of explosions, hehe...
7. Houdini is known for its steep learning curve – what should game designers focus on to quickly grasp the basics and avoid getting overwhelmed?
I disagree, I don’t think Houdini has a steep learning curve. I agree that there’s a LOT to learn, yes, but that’s the case with any 3D application. These are all huge applications that require a big effort to learn, so I actually feel other apps like Maya are harder and you spend most of your time trying to make them work instead of creating.
Game people should focus on creating what they want for the game, making everything they can procedurally and building tools. Houdini is perfect for that, and the basics of Houdini are actually really simple, if you forget about this being a “difficult application”. Yes, Houdini is used for very high end stuff, but so is Maya and Softimage and Blender, each one has a certain level of difficulty.
8. What main advantages do you see in integrating Houdini with Unreal Engine?
The main thing is tools: You can create these amazing reusable tools that fit really well with the UE4 mind set. If you’re using UE4 Blueprints you feel right at home in Houdini, which is great. SideFX is making a huge investment to work more and more with game artists, even making the Houdini engine free for indies, releasing an Indie version of Houdini for $199. That’s just amazing and that way of thinking fits with how Epic made UE4 free as well.
9. Are there still bugs and issues in the integration process that you’d like to see addressed in the next Houdini release?
There some polishing to be done. The process works really well, but I would like to see the Houdini Engine being a little bit more responsive inside Unreal Engine and I’d like to have more documentation. That’s an area I will be certainly focusing on in my training.
10. To enhance the creation of procedural game assets, Houdini includes a series of modeling and texturing tools – if it were Christmas already, what additional tools would you wish for?
I tend to not look for what’s missing and the recent batch of Modeling and UV tools is amazing. I guess the only thing I’d wish for would be making it faster to use. It would be great to maybe have a modeling mode or something, but I guess some of that will come in version 16.
11. What are the big trends you are currently observing within the Houdini community and where do you see the software going in the next 10 years?
More and more people are using Houdini. It is no longer just a Simulation tool, it actually never was just that, but it was used a lot for its amazing Rigid Simulation and Particles. I like that more and more people are now using Houdini for all sorts of things, like motion graphics, games, Archviz, print, scientific visualization etc., which is amazing and I like to think that I’ve been part of that since I’ve been telling everyone for 10 years to use it.
In ten years things will be very different, maybe we’ll be using Houdini in whatever follows VR. We’ll walk into a room and create stuff with our own hands, oh wait, that’s how we USED to do things before computers, what the hell...
12. Have you ever considered cloud rendering for any of your Houdini projects and if so, what was your experience like?
We do have big plans for cloud rendering and simulation. Right now with the super short deadlines of less than a day that I have it is hard to do something in the cloud and my files are not that huge, so I do it all locally with my workstations.
But for the studio we will do most of the work on the cloud. There’s no point these days in building your own render farm, it just makes sense to use what’s already there. Huge companies already have so many servers that you can use to cost-effectively render your projects, in that sense it’s identical to having a bigger render farm, only without the initial investment in hardware.
By: Patricia Cornet