We recently spoke with David Adan to get the scoop on all things “Godzilla: King of Monsters”, “American Gods” and “Terminator: Dark Fate” or really, just all things VFX and with 15 years of experience as a Technical Director working in the Television, Games, Films, Architecture and Education industries that’s the kind of scoop and experience you want to get!
Q: WOW! David, You have a vast array of talent and experience! Your Architectural Renders, are truly stunning! …But then those tentacles are pretty dope as well, created with procedural animation in Houdini I assume.
A. Thank you Lori, for your comments, and thank you so much for the interview, very glad to have a chance to share a bit of my experience.
About the tentacles, yes, those were designed as a procedural animation rig, based on a concept for the epic Chinese movie Asura, released in 2018.
For the project we were awarded several shots where the tentacles interacted with characters and environments, causing damage to their surroundings. The challenge was that we had only a few weeks to come up with a proof of concept and finish all shots involving the tentacles, and most of the shots had many, sometimes up to 10 or 12 tentacles. As lead FX TD for the show my responsibility was to come up with a way not only to procedurally model the creatures, but also to create a system that could permit the animators to handle the animation of the creatures in a fast and easy way.
The result was a procedural system created in Houdini, that let us create as many variations of the tentacles as we needed on the fly, with just a few clicks, animators would then create a path where the tentacles would travel, they also had a few controls for the choreographed motions of the creatures, the rest was handled by the procedural animation system.
Q: Can you give us some background on your specific software skills, what software do you use most often in your industry? Which software do your prefer for personal projects, if they differ. Since you started out in Graphic Design do you continue to update your software knowledge in that field as well? What do you recommend for someone just starting out and wanting to follow a similar path?
A: Even before I enrolled in college, I have loved computers and their possibilities. My first exposure to professional software was when I was in high school, while an intern for a local advertising company. The company had just acquired a Video Toaster editing system that shipped with a 3D modeling and animation software called LightWave 3D. I clearly remember seeing the demo content of the software and it blew my mind, at that moment I knew THAT was the thing I wanted to do for a living.
After that I have never stopped learning and experimenting with new graphic software, at college, while studying my graphic design major, I learned Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, but in my free time I started learning After Effects which I loved since it gave me the opportunity to work with moving images, namely, video and animation. Eventually, I came across 3D Studio Max which was my main tool until I went into films, since I started doing compositing work, I started learning Nuke which is currently an industry standard and eventually started learning Houdini, which is currently my main tool for the creation of VFX.
Outside of the office, I am starting to use Open Source Software a lot, more specifically I am using Natron as a compositing tool, and Blender for organic modeling, video editing and motion graphics. I also own an Indie Houdini license (which is my absolute favorite piece of software), this is very cost-effective and still lets you work on a professional level. My last freelance project was “Terminator: Dark Fate” and I was able to deliver 4K shots using Blender, Natron and Houdini Indie.
Regarding my advice in terms of software, for students wanting to begin a career in Design, VFX or anything related with computer art would be to become as informed as you can, and never stop learning for example.
For a good example of learning new skills, software and staying informed you can check out David Adan’s CG CIRCUIT TUTORIALS.
Find out about the trending software and what are companies using to create the content you would like to create, or even if you have an idea of where would you like to work, find out what software that company is using and become a master of it, learn all you can about it and the effort you put into it will surely be rewarded.
Q: Can you tell our readers what a typical day is like in the life of a Technical Director? Feel free to expand and add plenty of details… also, what is an “un-typical” day like? Have you ever had a problem you could not solve and if so how did you go home and sleep that night? …or did you ; )
A: A typical day for an Visual Effects Technical Director usually starts either with a project brief, in case there is a project kick-off, or a project “daily” in case you are already working in an on-going project. The project’s brief purpose is to inform the FX TD about the overall shots that will be handled by the studio and of what each shot will need in terms of effects, it basically gives you an overall picture of the problems that will need to be solved, and the technical issues that will need to be handled. Once the FX TD is familiar with the requirements of the show, it is his responsibility to design the way to create the most awesome effects in the most efficient way possible for the show in general, and each shot in particular. Usually in early stages of the project you will spend much time doing Research and Development (RnD), testing many aspects of your effect, for example, how long does it take to generate, how much resources will it take from your system, how long will it take to render or what is the best combination of settings for it to look the most realistic or just plain cool. This initial stage is usually the most creative and also the most technical since it requires you not only to put a lot of thought into how each effect will be handled, Once this first filter is cleared, it is time to show your work to your CG Supervisor and VFX Supervisor, this is what the “dailies” are for.
In preparation for your daily session, you will usually render you effect in the context of a shot for the supervisors to evaluate and they will give you feedback on the effect, at this point, it is a matter of “washing, rinsing and repeating” your effect until it is approved by the client and your rendered effect can be passed to the other departments, namely, lighting and comp, to finish the shot.
An un-typical day, well, to have your effect approved in your first attempt would be extremely un-typical.
Being an FX TD is all about problem-solving and yes, there are some times when a problem can be very challenging, in those cases, no, I don’t sleep much and I usually go home with the problem in my mind, trying to recreate the problem mentally and looking for possible solution, recreating many possible scenarios.
As a last resort, there is always many talented people you can turn to for help, in most of the cases, to your FX Lead or to other Senior TDs or even a junior artist with seemingly less experience can have a solution to your specific problem. The nice thing of working in a team is that each artist has different experiences and different ways of looking at specific problems, as a team, there is most likely at least one artist has come across a similar problem at some point.
Q: Do you have any predictions about [future of industry/specific trend/software developments etc.]? Any new advancements that interest you?
A: I think there are two main paradigms that will reshape, or actually are already reshaping the industry which are procedural-ism and AI. With the ever-increasing demand for more and better VFX and the expected turn around times as low as ever, artists and companies are looking into ways of working in a faster and more efficient way. This is where proceduralism and AI excel, with procedural software such as SideFX’s Houdini, Adobe’s Substance Designer and Massive, you can create elaborate setups for effects, models, environments, textures or even crowd simulations and then very easily create variations of them or make changes to them in a relatively short amount of time.
Regarding AI and Deep Learning, we still don’t know how far it will take us but even now we are starting to see some very impressive applications, take for example Nvidia’s GauGAN, in a matter of minutes, you can create concept images without being an expert illustrator or designer. My guess is that in the future, the industry will need more creative and artistic oriented people, artists with great imagination and vision since most of the technical and repetitive tasks will be done by the computer.
Q: Recently you created some pretty amazing tutorials for CGCircuit. Tell me about your video tutorials such as “Introduction to VEX Vol. 1,2 and 3” CGCircuit and how and when you started doing tutorials and/or just sharing your professional knowledge. Do you enjoy teaching and what drives you to create tutorials for others?
A. Thank you Lori, the new tutorials published by CGCircuit are focused on introducing new Houdini users to VEX, which is Houdini’s scripting language. Their main purpose is to teach them in a simple and practical way how to apply the VEX code and to show them the possibilities that scripting will open to them. I tried to cover most of the applications that you usually encounter in VFX work, like handling 3D geometry, controlling particle systems and Rigid Body Simulations and I even touch up on creating and modifying volumes with VEX, without the need of simulations.
Regarding how and when I started creating tutorials, well, my CGCircuit tutorials are my first tutorials to be published although I have done several webinars and more informal tutorials in the past. Actually I have done a lot of teaching throughout my career. A few years after graduating as a Graphic designer, I was invited to teach in the Design Faculty at the university where I studied. I was a teacher in a few computer graphics classes, and as I mentioned before, in 2004 I received the Autodesk Instructor certification. I like to teach not only because you get the opportunity to transmit knowledge and influence others in a positive way, but also it gives you the chance to stay up to date with your own skills.
Q: Is there anything else you can tell us about yourself that we haven’t discussed to give our readers a sense of who you are on a more personal level or if not, how you tie your personal into your professional? For example: how did you get into Martial Arts and how does influence your life? Any upcoming events or any upcoming personal or general/industry events or workshops that you find interesting and you would want to share…
A: When I am not at work or studying on my laptop, I usually am with my family. I have been married for almost 18 years now and I am a father of two wonderful kids, one extremely sweet 10-year-old boy, and a lovely 6-year-old girl. We also have two Basenji dogs and just moved to Montreal. We like to take walks in the park with our dogs, read stories, play board and video games and of course, we love to go to the cinema.
Personally I love all kinds of sports and have practiced many, from volleyball to martial arts and archery. Although now I have little time to practice sports in a more serious way, I learned from sports and mainly from my martial arts training confidence in myself and discipline to achieve success.
Q: Any upcoming projects you are working on or hope to work on? Will you be creating more video tutorials for CGCircuit (we hope) and also is there any software that you would still like to learn or improve upon? Do you think an artist is ever done learning?
A: There are a few interesting projects that I am working on currently which are at the moment undisclosed, but hopefully, we can talk about soon, although I can tell you that just recently Cinesite delivered a few epic shots for “Angel has fallen”, a project that I really enjoyed working in. In the future, I would really like to work in any Robert Rodriguez film whom I greatly admire.
Regarding more CGCircuit tutorials, you can bet on it, I would love to be able to publish more Houdini tutorials soon.
About new software I would like to learn; I am always learning new things, currently, I am into Substance Designer but I would also love to keep learning Houdini, and no, I think an artist is never finished learning, there are always new things to discover. I agree with Aristotle who said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know”.
Q: Last but certainly not least, is there any advice you can give someone just out of school looking to get hired at your company or a company like yours? Are their certain networking events or is their advice you can give that will give them an edge on their resume/ reel or in general?
A: Something I learned from my VFX mentor and friend Allan McKay is to always have clear goals in mind and focus on achieving them, even if they are small goals at first, once reached you can set higher goals on focus on them. Also, try to showcase your strengths and work hard on your weaknesses.
Networking events; I would strongly recommend attending SIGGRAPH at least once in a while, it is the best chance to learn new things regarding our industry, to meet amazing talent, and to know people with our same interests.
And finally regarding demo reels, as Mikael Pettersen would say, keep them “short and sweet”, show only your best work, and show your most impressive shots first.
SOCIAL MEDIA INFO
We hope you enjoyed our interview with David Adan as much as we did, to learn more about David please check out his Houdini “HScript & Channel Referencing and VEX Vol. 1, 2, and 3″ tutorials on CGCircuit as well as check out his links above.
If you have any questions or feedback on this blog, we’d love to hear it in the comment section below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author:
Lori Hammond, CG Circuit
Author & Content Producer
Experienced multi-talented Artist/Designer/Blogger with an extensive background in the Arts & Entertainment Industry(Animation, VFX, Game & Product Design)