This month we had the pleasure to interview VFX Supervisor & Fractal Artist Julius Horsthuis, where he shares some great insights into how he creates such stunning Fractal Animated CGI Shorts!
CGB: Please tell us what your art background is, and how you got your start in the VFX Industry?
J.H. – I grew up in an artistic family, with my mother being a stage actress and my father a composer of contemporary music. My fascination was with film, and I applied to film school no less than three times. Unfortunately I was not selected, and tried my luck learning the skills on the job, as a sound recordist, clapper loader and focus puller. I’d always had an interest in computer graphics, and I met a guy who set up a small motion graphics shop in Amsterdam. From there, I kind of flowed back into film, but as a VFX guy.
CGB – What do you enjoy most about working in VFX?
J.H. – I love the creative process together with DOP, director, production designer. Being able to create something that you otherwise couldn’t make is always a great feeling. I’d love to be the person who can translate an idea into something tangible we can create in Max or Maya.
CGB – What’s your favorite VFX work/film…you’ve worked on?
J.H. – I’m most proud of my role as supervisor on the Dutch movie “Koning van Katoren”. It was my first big show, featuring about 850 VFX shots. There was a lot of creativity on this film, and I believe the result is (for Dutch standards) pretty good.
Watch it here…
CGB – What is Mandelbub3D, and do you know if there are any other software programs that can produce the same or similar fractal 3D generated animations or art?
J.H. – Mandelbulb3D is a program build in order to visualize and render 3d fractals. I suspect it started out as a hobby project of one guy who calls himself Jesse on the forums, but it got picked up by a lot of people because it is extremely powerful and contains many useful features. I only know of one other, similar, piece of software and it’s called Mandelbulber. It is open source and has an active base of coders improving it.
CGB – What is your inspiration and main motivation for creating fractal CGI shorts?
J.H. – The first time I saw a real 3d fractal I was amazed by the sheer amount of detail. I’ve always thought it would make for an amazing environment for a film to take place in. In order to explore this idea I started playing around with the software. When I figured out it would do network rendering I was able to create serious animations in hi resolution. (The rendering can take up to 20/30 minutes per frame) When doing some After Effects magic on the raw renders, I was extremely happy with the result, and decided to post them online. The feedback I got was so encouraging that I continued doing it.
Fractal shorts are great for testing out little ideas – they are exercises in framing, composition, color and style.
CGB – How do you come up with the particular looks of each film and can you discuss the process you go through when creating them?
J.H. – Usually I start by playing around with formulas, until I settle on a shape I like. Then I try different color palettes. Mandelbulb3D is set up in such a way that you can render a still (which can take a couple of minutes) and after that, you can change color schemes on the fly. Even lighting, fog color, and textures can all be changed without re-rendering. This makes it so that I can easily try a lot of different things to see what works. When I settle on a look, I start animating. Sometimes only a fly-through, but sometimes I like the fractal itself to morph. I set off the animation to the farm, and load up some frames in After Effects, where I play with the Z-buffer to diffuse the background, making it look foggy, or create depth of field, which makes it look small and microscopic. Sometimes I use a camera-tracker like syntheyes to add other 3d elements of use 3d compositing tools.
CGB – Can Mandelbub3D be used in combination with other 3D packages like Autodesk Maya or 3dsmax to allow both animated characters and live action to be integrated, and if so what is the process for achieving that?
J.H. – Unfortunately there isn’t a way to really let it work together with max/maya, but there are some hacks and other ways to integrate the two. I created a tutorial, tailored for the VFX industry where I explore the best ways to use the power of Mandelbulb3D in a traditional post-production pipeline. The solutions include camera tracking, voxel slicing, and normal mapping. Watch it here…
CGB – Who produces the music for your fractal CGI shorts, and can you tell us what process you go through to pick the right music to along with each film?
J.H. – Music choice is usually one of the last things I do for my shorts, and it is hard. Sometimes I’ve asked someone to create something for the short, but usually I take something already existing. Since my father is a composer, I’ve used some of his music – and in cases this worked out really well, like in the CGI animated short – The Engineers. Sometimes I find something I like the sound of – usually something that really sets the mood, and enhances the experience.
CGB – What do you think about the Oculus Rift and its use not only showcasing your work but other Virtual Reality experiences, and do you see it becoming a mainstream consumer product?
J.H. – I love the prospect of VR for art, although I doubt it will become a mainstream medium. I’ve had one lying around for several months, but rarely wear it. Don’t get me wrong – I love the immersion and I see its potential, but it is a very exhausting experience for me. I do however want to create something larger for VR – maybe a VR film – where I can combine filmmaking, VFX, fractals and my love for music all in one captivating experience.
CGB – What emerging technologies and innovations do you see that will have the biggest impact on your creative process over the next few years?
J.H. – I’m not sure, but I think that things like the Unreal Engine 4 dev kit give an independent filmmaker fantastic tools in order to try things, real time to see if they work. If this tech develops further, together with cheap motion capture tools, we can really do some very creative things in imaginary worlds.
CGB – What recommendations do you have for other aspiring artists who would like to start creating their own fractal animations and artwork?
J.H. – My advice would be to just play around with the software, and see if you can make something you like. Other than walking you through the way I do things, I would say that creating your own style is important- and doing something new.
CGB – Do you have a favorite movie, and if so what is it and why?
J.H. – There are a lot of movies I like, but if I had to pick a great inspiration it would be the works of Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar) His themes are very much multi-dimensional, like dream-time in Inception and space-time in Interstellar. I love playing with these concepts, and they have a lot of similarities with fractals, which can be four-dimensional as well.
Watch one of his latest fractal shorts released in June 2015, called “Divergent Evolution” – The DNA of mathematics – endless shapes and forms.
Created by Julius Horsthuis ( julius-horsthuis.com )
Music “Soufie” by Banco de Gaia ( Banco de Gaia )
Twitter – (https://twitter.com/JuliusHorsthuis)
Vimeo – (https://vimeo.com/juliushorsthuis)
You can see the full film below: