Entries have closed for the Rookie Awards 2018.

Speeding Up Your 3D Learning

A few months ago the Rookies approached me to write an article on my competition entry. While not a winning entry, it attracted strong interest from the Houdini Art community.

My skills in 3D are completely self-taught utilizing resources freely available on the internet.  In writing this article I have the objective to share how I gained my skills and knowledge. My goal is to pass on tips and enable other aspiring artists to achieve their dreams as efficiently and as CHEAPLY as possible. I do not consider myself to be a good artist. I am rarely completely happy or satisfied by the artwork I create. My strength lies in my ability to learn quickly.


Setting Out

Before downloading the latest version of Maya, you need to decide what your dream job is.  You should also research what software packages are used in your desired industry. For example ILM (Industrial Light and Magic) uses 3DS Max for most of their effects work, whereas Weta-Digital and Rising Sun Pictures use Maya and Houdini.  


For the Beginner in 3D, the best options would be to use the main 3D programs which are 3DS Max, Maya, and Blender.  Whilst Blender has not yet been adopted by larger studios, it’s good for learning core 3D principles. Once deciding where you want to specialise, finding the right tool for the job is essential. To gain greater skills in a timely manner, the best way to find those tools is research.

Opening The Package

You have downloaded the software, set yourself up with snacks and beverages, opened up YouTube and searched for “How to Create a Building Demolition in 3D”.  However, within a matter of seconds you are lost, clicking wildly on the software. You have paused then replayed the video numerous times and still have no idea how to use the software.  Before throwing your soft drink at the screen and leaving the room just breathe deeply…

The creator of the software has always provided Help Files and Tutorials on their website or even installed beside the software. Go through them slowly, multiple times if necessary, until you are comfortable in opening up the software, and knowing what 10% of the buttons do.

Laying Out Your Path

So, you’ve figured out your dream job, the software, and how to navigate around it with minimal headaches. It’s time to now step back from the computer, and on to the paper. Research is vital, and outlining a pathway is essential when learning new skills. This is typically how teachers in schools teach; they create a learning curve, giving students the basic skills and knowledge, whilst cutting out a lot of extraneous information. Unfortunately, being self-taught, you will have to remove the unnecessary information yourself. But you can still create a learning path for yourself.

A Personal Example

My area of expertise/interest is FX, so I will explain the pathway I designed to help me learn. Before I could even start with creating massive explosions, I had to learn to be comfortable with the software. I would watch countless “Introduction to Houdini” tutorials on YouTube, read articles on blogs, and try and replicate them to some extent. I had to dig through a lot of advanced, outdated and unwatchable tutorials before I was able to figure half of the navigation tools. The last half I learnt from both Houdini’s own tutorials, as well as their documentation.

When it comes to problem solving there is usually no quick answer, you have to reexamine each step of the process and sometimes even restart the project and often you will find no obvious mistake.

Finally, to start myself out in the world of FX, I began with Rigid Body Dynamics (RBD). Whilst some people I know tend to go straight to particles or fluids, I chose RBD’s, as it was something I felt I could understand. I figured it would lay down the basis of working inside the simulation nodes within Houdini, and I could mix it with other effects later down the track. I’ve now advanced my progression of learning up to Fluid Dynamics. Whilst I am still learning all about this, my pathway hasn’t yet changed. From there I will go to Particles, FLIP Fluids, FEM objects, Crowd simulations, and then to wrap it all up, Fur, Hair and Cloth simulations.

Because one cannot easily see or know what there is when first starting out, researching is the key to create one’s custom pathway. Creating a pathway is a sure way to speed up your learning. It helps them see where they are, where they are going, and where they have been.

Should I Learn To Code?

This is a common question.  When using 3D software package the ability to Code, and the knowledge of how Coding works will always help the user overcome obstacles.  Even modelers can utilize coding to help to speed up their workflow.  The ability to create custom tools or shortcuts is an essential part of the 3D pipeline.  A typical follow up question is:  ‘What language should I learn?’  The short answer is Python or C.  The long answer is ‘Any’, because each language has the same processes and once you have learnt one language then any subsequent language will be readily learnt because all the languages have similar structure just different syntax.  


So you are no longer learning how but what. Once you have learnt a command in one language, you just need to learn the terminology to perform it in another language.

Note: The reason I say Python and C is that Python is used in almost all 3D Applications, and C is one of the most used languages out there. A lot of other programming languages follow the same syntax.

Problem Solving

Whenever I am asked what I do for employment, I always tell the person that I am an Effects Artist.  When they ask for clarification I say that I am a problem solver. Basically 90% of my time is spent performing that role.  For example I was working on creating an explosion and I was following an online tutorial. However, when the tutor pressed simulate his explosion looked ‘real’. When I pressed simulate my cloud was egg shaped and flat.  I went through all the nodes separately comparing mine to his but could not find any mistakes.  So I deleted the main node and restarted building it again. This time when I pressed simulate my cloud looked and reacted exactly like that in the tutorial.  

Because one cannot easily see or know what there is when first starting out, researching is the key to create one’s custom pathway. Creating a pathway is a sure way to speed up your learning. It helps them see where they are, where they are going, and where they have been.

When it comes to problem solving there is usually no quick answer. You have to reexamine each step of the process and sometimes even restart the project. Often, you will find no obvious mistake.

Wrapping Up

So you’ve read the article, said “Yeah, cool”, and are about to close your tab to do other things. But before you do, have a bonus treat. When I started writing this article, I went through several different versions and topics. One of which was how to create an Art-Directable Gem system inside Houdini. I have created a 2-part tutorial just for that. I recorded the tutorial three times, so hopefully this is the easiest and best way version, and explains a core node inside of Houdini.

Happy Holidays!

Author: Jaron Wilding

I am a West Australian University student, who currently studies Games, Art & Design and Screen Production at Murdoch University.
On the side, I study up on anything Visual Effects related and have built up my skills over the short few years.
I started 3D work in Cinema 4D, then moved on over to Maya, and I am currently teaching myself 3DS Max (and accompanying plugins, with big thanks to Allan Mckay for his tutorials), ZBrush, and finally, Houdini. I always like meeting new people and talking about anything 3D or Film related, so shoot me a message!

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