Thanks for sitting down with us, Nema. Starting out, tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been in the industry? Where did you first get your foot in the door, so to speak, with being an FX Artist?
Sure, thanks for having me! I have been a freelance FX Artist for about 3 years. Before that, I started dabbling with CG about 9 years ago, then slowly got into Realflow, then Houdini about 5 years ago. Eventually my first FX job was at MPC in January 2016. After that I started getting more work at different studios. Eventually Digital Domain booked me and that’s where I’ve spent most of my career. Other than that I’m usually at The Mill or MPC.
I’m just gonna start with the obvious question – how is it working on Marvel projects? You’ve worked on Avengers, Thor, Spiderman, do you find Marvel projects to be easier or harder than other shows or is it all the same?
I guess that depends how you feel about Marvel movies, personally I’ve always loved them! So working on them was definitely an exciting and memorable experience.
The projects weren’t particularly more or less difficult, they varied like everything else. Of course feature work usually means you’re working on a larger sequence/sequences, which means there are more shots to do. But it all depends! A lot of things affect the difficulty of each FX job, like your role on the team or the amount of time to do the job.
Sort of going off the last question – you have a pretty good list feature film credits – Avengers, A Wrinkle In Time, Geostorm – just to name a few. Has there been a specific film or project you’ve enjoyed the most or are most proud of?
That’s an easy one, definitely Spider-Man: Homecoming. It was my first feature project and first time at DD. Probably the most challenging job I’ve been on, but equally rewarding. After getting booked to help get shots done for a trailer, I was eventually extended for the rest of the project. There I got to work with some very smart and experienced people. My favorite effect to work on was the “web spray”, when Spider-Man is trying to trap Vulture’s gun, as it jumps around malfunctioning. Pop grains was relatively new at the time and grain strands ended up being the main part of the setup. Eventually I shared the technique of emitting strands during a simulation, (in the form of a strange black Spaghetti looking thing).
Now you’ve been working in Advertising and Film, do you have any thoughts on which you prefer? Or maybe some of your likes and dislikes of doing FX for each?
It’s fun to switch it up every once in a while. That’s one benefit of the commercial work, shorter projects means more variety. So if you’re the type to get bored easily, that helps.
The spectacle of feature work is fun too, but the novelty does wear off. Having said that, I feel like it’s been worth the experience every time!
Turning a bit towards the technicals of the job, how do you feel about Houdini 17, and the addition of Vellum? I’ve heard talk that it might be able to sort of nudge out Maya’s foothold in the Fur and Cloth pipeline with the speed and ease it brings in keeping all FX inside of Houdini. Do you feel there’s any credibility to that?
Yes Vellum is flexible and easy to setup. Plus, with OpenCL and the power of today’s GPUs, it can be a very fast way to simulate soft bodies of all kinds.
More generally about Houdini 17: I really love the new popFluid microsolver. You can use it in a pop sim to get fluid behavior, or use it in a FLIP sim to get better particle separation. Using it with FLIP gets some really cool results.
Obviously it’s a bit soon to already be looking to Houdini 18 or 17.5, but are there any improvements you’d still like to see implemented?
I’d be excited to see some GPU rendering for mantra. Nothing else comes to mind though, still learning what’s new in 17!
What are your thoughts on FX Artists specializing in just Houdini? Is there a need for them to learn Bi-frost or Realflow or whatever it may be to have a more rounded skillset or is Houdini enough?
How do you feel about the direction fx work is moving towards in regards to new technology and the possible future for fx artists. Are there any skills you feel you’ve had to develop now as a technical director that maybe were not as important back when you were first entering the industry, or vice versa where there are skills you had back then, that you feel you don’t need now? Or do you feel it’s all sort of stayed the same?
To the first part, I really like how GPU computing is accelerating a lot of things. And hopefully machine learning can help speed up some of the (computationally) slower parts of the job!
To the second question: I feel like it’s sort of stayed the same, of course it’s important to keep learning though. And luckily it’s pretty accumulative, definitely can always still use things you’ve learned a long time ago. The more useful tools in your toolbox the better. But if I had to pick one thing that’s less important as a junior, it would be HDA tool development. If I had to. Still would encourage juniors to learn that though.
How important is it would you say for new artists to learn technical skills such as Python or even C++?
Kind of the same answer. TDs don’t necessarily need those skills to be successful. But having them would probably make their lives easier. Simply by giving them more options for dev and day to day problem solving.
With the schedule demands of being an FX artist, how do you manage that with life outside of work?
It helps to keep things optimized so you can get things done faster and back to your life sooner. But sometimes, it doesn’t really matter and you’re going to be busy anyway! That sort of job doesn’t happen too often though, and as a freelancer they don’t last very long. I do try to keep normal 40 hour work weeks though, balance is important.
Some artists come home and work on their personal projects, but sometimes that can be difficult with family or other demands. Are you able to find time to work on personal projects? If so is there anything recently you’ve been working on that you’d like to share?
Been developing a fun “air fields” workflow, on and off for a while. Its been “off” for many months but just getting back into it since H17. Hopefully sharing something about that soon.
If you could give your younger self career advice, what would that be?
Stop worrying about your reel and get out there.
More generically do you have any advice for aspiring fx artists?
Learn the right math, that’s definitely my main advice. Knowing how to work with vectors, quaternions and matrices opens up a lot of possibilities for all kinds of setups.
Also, tutorials and learning from others is essential. But I think it’s really useful to experiment and test things out on your own too. If you have the time to spare.
Thank you, Nema for doing this interview with us! If you’re curious to find out more about Nema
you can check out his website athttp://nemavfx.com. Thanks!