Alumni Q&A with Houdini FX Artist Glenn Dawick

Student work by Glenn Dawick

5minutes read


3D Artist Glenn Dawick has spent a decade working in TV, advertising, and even on Netflix's I Am Mother. Working for a number of studios, he noted the amount of Houdini work being outsourced and saw an opportunity to increase his own versatility as an artist.

Over the past ten months, he's made SideFX Houdini his creative playground, experimenting and pushing boundaries with the encouragement of his industry mentor, Daniel Hourigan.

Glenn took a moment to share his thoughts about the Houdini FX course, and what his future sights are set on!

Glenn's showreel showing work he did during the Houdini course, plus personal and client work.

Glenn, you've been working as a 3D artist for more than a decade, and already have a diverse set of skills! Why did you decide to take the Houdini course at CG Spectrum?

Thank you! Houdini had been on my radar for some time. I could see it being used a lot more in the industry and some of the incredible things it was capable of. I knew I wanted to use it, but working full time as a 3D artist just never gave me the time to take on any additional training.

Everyone knows the feeling of being at work for a solid 10 hour day, then coming home to switch the computer on there too. After a long period of doing this, anyone can become disinterested in additional workloads during your own free time.

In June of last year, after a long period of slow incoming jobs at the studio I worked at, I was unfortunately made redundant. A downside of not being the lead artist, or one of the lower salary junior roles. Cuts had to be made.

In all fairness this was actually the best thing that could happen for me.

I was given a decent payout from many unused holiday days and I finally had time up my sleeve for some new training and working on more interesting projects.

I did quite a bit of research around online looking at various Houdini VFX schools, ranging from full time learning to smaller, pay per tutorial videos. After much research I decided on CG Spectrum, being very impressed with the Houdini FX Diploma student showcase.

Being trained by industry professionals was a huge draw. Talking with pros about issues you’re facing while learning, alongside the weekly live video sessions made the choice of CG Spectrum easy.

How did you originally get into 3D, and what kind of work have you been doing since? 

When I first left college back in 2000 I had dreams of working as an architect. Those ideas quickly faded when I found out how much additional training I would need to even start as an amateur. Years later I would find out determination pays off!

I started studying my next favourite thing at the time, which was graphic design. During this period I became more and more interested in the idea of creating moving graphic art, which brought me to my first love of 3D, working with NewTek’s Lightwave.

I still have a copy of my first ever animation and although hilarious to look at now, it shows how far I have come over the years.

I’ve since worked in a few mid sized studios around New Zealand, focusing mainly on TV and online advertisements. Most of our work was aimed at higher level, photo realistic, CG integrated elements into live action footage.

The studios I worked for were constantly outsourcing FX shots to freelancers around the world. I thought that was ridiculous for a place that had many full time senior 3D artists.

The type of work being outsourced just wasn’t capable with our current set of skills, mainly using Maya.

With Houdini under my belt I hope to continue freelancing for local studios as well as branching out with more remote work for other studios worldwide.

Knowing the intricate skills of Houdini is a huge draw card as a 3D artist. It offers an even more impressive set of skills than simply being a 3D modeller, animator or texture artist.

What did you enjoy most about the CG Spectrum Houdini course?

It’s just super exciting to finally be confident and have the knowledge to create these crazy natural effects that I was never capable of before. I’m so stoked to be able to say I can work with 3D destruction, fire, explosions, rain, liquids, oceans, clouds, smoke, fabrics, dirt and sand. All this stuff seemed untouchable before, but having the confidence and know-how to be able to step into these types of jobs is incredible.


Tell us about three of your recent Houdini pieces. What was your inspiration, your process, and what challenges did you face?

These are all projects with the heart of the simulations being techniques learnt over the Houdini FX course. We learnt many small scale effects to get an idea and a handle on how to build these types of effects in Houdini. These projects were taking those techniques further to try and create some more impressive shots. If I’m putting in so much time learning these techniques, why not go all out creating something special for a showreel piece at the same time!

The broken statue is a basic rigid body destruction technique with some more intricate underlying fracturing. As the larger pieces start to break apart, the distance between them triggers smaller chunks of surrounding pieces to break off, resulting in a more detailed or dynamic simulation.

The exploding house started as a Houdini modelling exercise. Further into the course we were learning about rigid body destruction, so I thought it would be fun to throw a giant steel ball at it and see how it broke apart!

Further down the line we began the fire and smoke areas of the diploma, so naturally the next best thing to do to the little house was make it explode!

The sandcastle being hosed down was a similar train of thought, just taking the incredible things we were learning and pushing it to a large scale showreel piece.

It was great working on these larger projects, as I was still learning each of the techniques and would often come across problems or issues I might face in the real world.

Being able to talk with the industry pros at CG Spectrum greatly helped me through some tough areas and taught me much more, in preparation for moving back into the paying world of a freelance 3D artist.

There were definitely challenges when working on the larger scale projects, mainly around shot set up intricacy, simulation and render times. 

Sometimes it’s just trial and error, but knowing and understanding the data you're looking at greatly increases your chances of pushing your simulations in the right direction.

The many techniques and in depth tutorials covered during the course gave me a head start in effectively using the data available in Houdini to help reduce those difficulties.

You've got a great eye for design, and your creative interests extend to photography and music production! Where do you find inspiration and how do you overcome creative blocks?

Creative blocks are a very real thing! The easiest way to overcome them is to stay current with the industry around you. Keep an eye on all your favourite artists and get inspired from everything you see online.

There is always going to be more impressive work out there and it can be a great reason to keep working and pushing yourself further.

I spend a lot of simulation and render times checking out a few of my favourite websites. Mostly Instagram, Behance and Artstation, but there are other incredible resources like Designspiration that just quick-fire thousands of images at you, which I find the best resource to get your brain firing on new projects, or what you want to try next. It can be anything from colours, shapes, movement, layout, composition etc.

What's next for you, Glenn? 

The next step for me is to keep building newer showreel pieces to show off the incredible things I’ve been learning! I always have many projects on the go. I’m currently simulating more sand and water alongside rendering a new recursive growth project. There’s always more to do. Greatly looking forward to finally being able to accept new job offers now that the study has slowed down. The course may be over, but there is always more to learn.

I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone at CG Spectrum whose effort putting the courses together has paid off.

Also a huge thank you to my course mentor, Daniel Hourigan who kindly put up with me asking him questions at all hours of the day!

See more of Glenn's awesome work on Instagram at @glennimusprime or on his website:

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Tags:   Visual Effects