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Learn Through Failure with Simon Fiedler
In this podcast episode, Simon Fiedler dives deep into the idea of learning how to learn, sharing his Cinema 4D and Houdini insights along the way.
In this podcast episode we sit down with Simon Fiedler, an advanced 3D artist who has made a name for himself in the Cinema 4D and Houdini community. On the episode, we chat about the value of learning difficult things, we hear how Simon has developed his Houdini skillset, and learn how he embraces the pain that often comes along with developing new skills.
Simon lives in Mainz, Germany where he freelances for studios and clients around the world. Simon's understanding of 3D is impressive and it was no easy trek to get to where he's at today. So what advice does he have for artists looking to dive into the deep end of 3D? Well, let's find out…
Simon Fiedler Transcript
Joey Korenman: Meta learning or learning how to learn is something that comes up a lot on this podcast. I think about it probably more than is healthy, but you know, I'm a teacher. It's kind of my thing.
Anyway, this episode you're about to listen to, goes kind of deep into some ideas about learning, specifically learning difficult things. I'm a big believer in embracing the pain that comes along with developing new skills, and fortunately my guest today agrees. We have a geeky episode for you. My friend Simon Fiedler, 3D artist extraordinary is on the podcast and boy do we go deep. If you're not familiar with Simon's work, check out the show notes for links to his stuff and get ready to have your eyeballs assaulted with intricate particle work, organic 3D growing objects, tons of beautiful simulations, and all done with a very keen eye for design.
Simon lives in Mainz, Germany and he freelances for studios and other clients all over the world. He's a master of cinema 4D and has become incredibly capable with Houdini as well.
And in this conversation we talk about how he developed his skills. Was it easy for him? Does he have any advice for artists looking to dive into the deep end of 3D? Well, let's find out.
Oh, and real quick, if you haven't already heard, we launched a free, yes, free course on our site. It's called the Path to Mograph and it's a 10 day course that will give you, or anyone you think might be interested, a really fun crash course in the world of motion design. You get to see tours of actual studios, breakdowns of projects, and lots of cool examples of motion design. So check it out at Schoolofmotion.com, and now say hello to Simon.
Simon Fiedler. Hope I'm pronouncing it right. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, man. I'm a big fan.
Simon Fiedler: Thanks. Thanks for having me.
Joey Korenman: My pleasure man. So why don't we start with this? You know, I think something that every motion designer can relate to is the challenge of explaining to your friends and family what the hell you do, and I think especially for someone like you who does a very kind of specialized version of 3D animation and you're sort of a specialist I guess doing really high end stuff. Like if your grandma asked you Simon, "What do you do for work?" What would she tell her?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, that's actually a pretty hard question. My mom asked me that from time to time and then I'll try to explain. I think at the moment who knows quite good what I'm doing because I usually show the stuff that I do, but if my grandma would ask I probably would say I do stuff with the computer that you can't film for commercials and film, or something like that.
Joey Korenman: That's great. Okay. So my, my grandma would say something like "Oh, he works in television." That's great. She actually understood, you did a better job explaining than I have. So how did you end up, you know, in this field doing what you're doing?
Simon Fiedler: I would say I was always a very visual guy, so I I wasn't good at school or something like that, but I was always fascinated in seeing cool stuff. I started pretty early to also not only consume stuff but also create.
So, as a kid I was drawing of course, and then later I got my hands on some programs like Photoshop, and then just start to play around with that. Then, I built websites for me, or friends, or whatever, but without a real background in that.
And my father actually is, he's also a teacher, he already retired but he was a teacher, and he could always draw pretty good. So, I always saw what he is doing and I want to do something similar.
And then actually years later when I was still in school, my sister started to study design and this is when I got more and more influenced by her and interested and yeah, this is how everything started.
Joey Korenman: Cool. So, you mentioned that you weren't good at school, and I kind of want to jump ahead a little bit here because the kind of work you do, and for anyone listening who's not familiar with Simon's work we're gonna link to it in the show notes and you have to check it out, but it's basically very technically complex 3D for the most part. And, you know, especially the stuff you're doing with Houdini, and simulations, and building these crazy tools to let you dangle strings from 3D objects, to me I would guess that you have to be pretty good at like math, and maybe even understanding some physics and things. These are the things you would learn in school, but you said you weren't good at school so I'm just curious-
Simon Fiedler: [crosstalk]
Joey Korenman: Yeah. So I'm just curious how did you end up like learning anything if you weren't good at school? You know?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, I was good in school in stuff like art or sports or something like that, but math especially I was horrible. Actually, I failed class in one year and had to do it twice. So, I had to do one year more than all the other guys in school because I was so bad in math and French.
But then later on when I started to work in 3D and suddenly everything made sense because I could see what happens there. And I think one very big helper there was a man [inaudible] the one guy from Aixsponza, or also the one guy from Entagma.
So, when I started working at Aixsponza we talked a lot, and he has a pretty way and a very visual way of explaining stuff. He actually also did a workshop at my university while I was studying, and suddenly everything made sense. And also you mentioned physics, that you need a basic understanding. That's only partially true because the hard stuff is done by the computer, right? I mean you just have to make a fire simulation, or smoke, you just have to understand, okay, if it's hot it goes upwards, and the rest is basically done by the computer, by your machine.
So, also mathematics, right now I'm super fascinated by mathematics, but I still wouldn't consider myself to be good at it. So, basically all the stuff I do, I do with just a few functions and very, very basic stuff, but it adds up and then you can build more and more complex things.
Joey Korenman: That's really interesting because you're making me think about something that I think about this all the time because I am a teacher and I literally all day think about how to make teaching more effective, and it seems like putting math in the proper context is what helped you. Being able to see, you know, if you're sitting in a desk looking at a book explaining a math formula, that's one thing, but if there is a 3D package where you can put in an equation and immediately see the result of that equation, it connected for you and I guess that was the way that you started to learn.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Alright, so now we're going to take a step backwards. So, when I was researching you, and by the way, like out of all the guests that we've had on the podcast you may have the smallest social media presence. I couldn't find a lot of information about you.
But I did find a reel of yours from 2008, 10 years ago on Vimeo, and first of all, I applaud you for leaving it up there because a lot of people, they kind of prune their old works and no one knows that they ever were a beginner at one point, and the reel is good, but compared to what you're doing now, I mean it's almost like two different people. You know? Looking at your reel now, looking reel 10 years ago, and that's what you'd expect. You would expect to get a lot better over a decade. But I'm curious, did you have like a process or a strategy that you used to improve over the last 10 years?
Simon Fiedler: I'm not a really good organized guys, so I definitely have not a strategy. I think the reel you're talking about is actually from 2008, not '8, 2010. If it's the one where in the beginning the letters fall out of the sky?
Joey Korenman: Yeah, that's the one.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, that's 2010 actually, and that was my reel while I was still studying. So, in 2009 we had to do an internship somewhere for six months in some studio or company, wherever you want to go. And I went to Frankfurt to Pixomondo pick, the visual effects studio Pxomondo, and have been there for six months, and a lot of the stuff which is in the reel I also learned during this internship. Yeah, and this basically started everything.
So, after my internship I made this reel and then I slowly started to freelance a little bit here and there, I was still studying so I didn't have enough time to make it full time, but during the semester break or, yeah, whenever I had time I'd try to find jobs somewhere in the studios here in this area. Yeah, so it just evolved over the time I would say.
Joey Korenman: So what were you studying? Like what was your schooling like?
Simon Fiedler: I studied at the University of Applied Sciences here in Mainz, and the thing I was studying was called media design. So, actually it gives you a pretty good foundation in design because the first, I think two semesters, we had class with the graphics design people together. So, we had classic graphic design, color theory, composition theory, photography, like analog photography. Taking picture and going in the dark room and develop the films by yourself. So, you get the foundation in [inaudible] typography, for example, you get this there.
And then later on you can specialize in a certain area. So, some people go for live action films, some do documentary, other build interactive stuff. And so, my field was, after some turns, it was 3D animation. So, before that I tried a lot of other stuff.
So, for example when I started studying there was this thing back in the day that was called Flash, and everyone loved Flash websites where you would go on the website, you'd see a loading bar and everything animates in and I thought, "This is super cool and this is totally the future." So, when I started studying I still thought, "Okay, I will create Flash websites."
And during my studies I tried documentary, I tried an interactive project, I tried a short film, like live action short film, which ended up to be a horrible. So, I'm definitely not the guy for, for live action.
Yeah, and then actually my roommate showed me the first 3D application that I could really do something with, which was Cinema 4D back then, and then yeah, it just started on.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I was going to ask you about where your sense of design came from, because looking at your work, especially now, you know, as a 3D artist I think it's easier to kind of look at design almost like a cinematographer, but you still have a knack for composing really dynamic frames, and placing lights in ways that gives you good contrast and good form in your images. Did that come from, you know, those first two semesters at school or did you sort of develop that later on?
Simon Fiedler: I would say it's a combination. So, definitely I learned a lot of stuff at university in the first two semesters. There was a lot of good foundation of that, and then I loved photography so doing good composition is something that I really like, and what definitely also helps is I show my stuff to a lot of people.
So, for example here in my office I have this shared office with eight other freelancers from different areas. There are a few 3D guys here, but there are also designers in here who have nothing to do with 3D at all and they simply just look on the picture, and they give pretty good feedback.
Or I could also show it to my dad for example, or to my sister, or for example my wife is also a graphic designer, so if I show it to her her critique is always very, very hard. So, I would say that helps just to show it to a lot of people.
Joey Korenman: So that's the secret. You're supposed to marry a good designer. I got it. Okay.
Simon Fiedler: Definitely. Yeah, that's it.
Joey Korenman: Perfect. Awesome. Okay, cool. Well, I want to get into like, so you went to school, you got an internship, and it sounds like that internship, within six months you learned a lot and you [crosstalk]
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, definitely. Yep.
Joey Korenman: So, before we go on further into your career, one of the things I'm always curious about is you've been doing this now for I guess eight or nine years then professionally?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: And are there things that, you know now having the experience, and the clients, and the projects you've worked on, are there things that you wish you'd known earlier that might have saved you some embarrassing moments, or some pain, or anything like that?
Simon Fiedler: Oh, that's a good question. I'm actually not sure. I think that making mistakes is super important just to develop yourself and maybe failing at a project terribly as super important to develop your skills in another field maybe, or just to understand what you don't like doing. So, I'm not sure if I could give myself back then a good tip. Maybe get a new haircut or something like that, but nothing maybe which helps with the career.
Joey Korenman: Did you have a bad haircut back then? Is that what's going on?
Simon Fiedler: From time to time definitely yes.
Joey Korenman: That's awesome. I've had the same haircut for the past probably 12, 13 years so I never had that problem.
That's really interesting. You know, I actually just read this interesting book, it's called The Talent Code, and we can link to it in the show notes, and the whole idea of it, it's kind of a book sort of based in science about how people learn and how people improve. And the crux of it is that failure is the way you learn.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: So, you know, one of the things I've always told my students is that you need to embrace that pain of trying and failing because that's the only way you get better. You don't get better by getting it right the first time. If that happened you didn't try hard enough you know?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah. I have this one example of where it actually shows that this is totally true.
So, why when I did my graduation film, which we called Droplets back in, when was that? 2011 I think. That was my graduation film, Droplets, and I thought, "Okay, I will make a movie about ideas." So, I wrote down the concept. I had this idea with a fisherman somewhere on the ocean and he's looking for good ideas and tries to catch them. And I was super happy with that, and I brought it to my professor, we had to pitch our ideas there. So, I told him what I want to do and he said, "Yes. Okay. Okay." And then suddenly he started to shake his head and said, "Okay Simon, this is nice, but ideas don't work like that. Start again." I was like, "Oh, dammit."
So, I went back home and I remember exactly I was like one week at home and sat down every morning and was like, "Oh God, dammit, time is running. I need a new idea for my final project here." So nothing happened. So I wrote an email to my professor. I still have the email. I saved it somewhere because it's a pretty good reminder, and said, "Dear Professor, I don't have any new ideas. I have no idea what to do. Please help me. I'm super desperate. What should I do?" And then actually I got the answer from him, he was also no 3D guy at all, and this was maybe a pretty good thing for me. So, he answered, "Okay Simon. This is actually the best thing that could happen to you. Try to find pictures for the feelings that you have right now."
And then okay. I started to come to my office everyday then and for the next, I think three or four weeks, I just sat down and felt bad, and every time when I could connect some kind of image with the feeling that I currently had, I scribbled that down quickly and after three or four weeks I had like, let's say 40 pictures maybe, and suddenly I could put them in an order and that is actually my film. So, that was, that was a super crazy experience. So, that showed me that failing a lot of times can actually form something new, but you need this process of failing. And that's actually what my film Droplets is all about.
Joey Korenman: That's amazing. You know, I have a small kids and I'm trying now to instill this in them. Like, don't look at failure as a bad thing, look at it as a gift, and that story you just told is like an amazing example of that. Literally failure became the muse for you to help you. That's, that's amazing man.
So, let's get into the rabbit hole of 3D software, and I was going to ask you what was the first 3D app you learned, but you mentioned that it was Cinema 4D. So, did you have any experience with 3D software before that.
Simon Fiedler: Yes. So, as I said, I changed my direction during my studies from time to time. So, I tried a lot of stuff, and I remember in one semester, I think it was on the third or fourth semester, we had this 3D course at university and there was a guy teaching us in 3DS Max how to model stuff, and how to build stuff, and I thought "This is amazing. This is super cool. I will become a 3D artist now."
And then there was semester holidays and I sat down and thought, "Okay, maybe like a practice project would be cool. So, I want to model a snowmobile." This was the thing that I want. I don't know why. Actually I don't think that snowmobiles are super cool, but for some reason I wanted to model one and I think I tried it for about an hour and then I said, "Oh, fuck this." And stopped again. And then I thought, "Okay, I will never do 3D again."
And hold on for a few months maybe. We did some live action shoots then at university and I thought, "Oh, maybe this is also not the right thing. Maybe back to Flash websites, I don't know." And then I got a new roommate who also happened to study with me and he introduced me to a Cinema 4D, and for some reason everything worked there that I wanted to do, and it was easy to understand, and it had a nice interface, and stuff like that. So yeah, Cinema 4D was definitely the first one. I had like very little experience with 3DS Max before, but that was maybe a few hours, so not real really much.
Joey Korenman: Gotcha. And so how did you go about learning Cinema 4D? Because on your Vimeo page I actually saw a little experiment that you did, you know, from years ago, and it was shiny balls, you know, in a cloner with dynamics. And I think Nick from Greyscale actually commented on it like, "Hey, nice job." So, I'm assuming like Greyscalegorilla tutorials and things like that, but was there any other resources that you used to learn it?
Simon Fiedler: I mean, back then when I saw, "Okay, this is a program that I really, really like and I want to learn it." Basically, I watched all of the tutorials I could find. I remember that during studying or in the semester holidays that sometimes people go out at night and I wanted to stay at home just to watch more tutorials. So, I was a pretty big nerd back then. I don't regret it definitely, but I just tried to get my hands on as much knowledge as I can, so from all directions. So, I'm pretty sure that I also got some influence from Greyscalegorilla, and all the usual stuff like Video Copilot, and everything you can find on YouTube, Vimeo, or whatever.
Joey Korenman: Yup. Yup. Absolutely. Okay, so that brings up a question that, you know, I always kind of think about when I think about teaching 3D, and we recently launched a Cinema 4D class for beginners, and as we were developing it, EJ Hassenfratz is the teacher. EJ "Hootenanny" Hassenfratz.
And, you know, you actually kind of talked about this already. You first want ... You know, you were using 3DS Max for a few hours and you wanted to model a snowmobile.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: I mean that's a really difficult thing to do, you know, if you don't ... And that's one of the things about 3D that beginners kind of slam into when they start learning it is that, well, it's not just learning a program. It's not just learning Cinema 4D. You have to learn about sort of the principles of 3D. There are vertices. There are edges. There are polygons, and you can have quads, you can have tri's, and so there's best practices for modeling, and, you know, it's like there's just so much to it, and a lot of people learning Cinema 4D kind of skip over a lot of those basics in the beginning because it's just so easy to get started.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: I'm curious. Did you get any of those fundamental's somehow or did you kind of do the same thing most of us do, which is you start by just making abstract stuff, and then later you figure out some modeling, and later you figure out how shader's work?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, I would say I did the classic way that you do a lot of mistakes. I must also say I don't think it's a bad way to learn it like that, because if you once, let's say you modeled like a character for two weeks, and then you try to rig it, and then you learn the hard way why it's not so good if you have super long stretched polygons then you definitely won't do it again.
So, and there's, as you said, it's so much stuff you have to know. I would say what helps is the basic vocabulary. That you know what a vertex is and that you know what a normal is, but I would say it's hard to really teach that in a right direction. So, maybe I would say the basics should be there and then the rest comes along the way.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. I mean, this is something we talk about all the time at School of Motion is like, what's the right order to learn things in? And maybe there's not really a right order, but I think there can be, you know, a more efficient order of kind of structuring things and structuring learning.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Do you think that, you know, knowing what you know now, if you were going to structure a curriculum for learning 3D, do you think that there's any benefit to like starting with the basics, learning the vocabulary, or you know, is there an advantage to just jumping right in and making a million mistakes?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, hard to tell. The thing is most people that get excited over 3D and want to learn it, which is often the case when you're a student, for example. You see something, let's say you see, the making of some blockbuster movie. Then you think, "Oh, this is super cool. I want to learn that too." And then usually your expectations are super high. So, when you take a look at the university and see what 3D students want to create in their first semester, the goals are usually way too high.
So, they want to create a super, like 12 minute character animation that walks through a river, or something like that, and I think it's so vast what you can do that it's pretty hard to pick out the basics.
So, if I would be teaching at a university, I would definitely say, "Okay, in the first semester we just make a still." For example. So, no animation because there's so much stuff that you can do wrong. No simulation stuff, no highly technical rigging stuff. Just create one image because this is where it starts. So, you have to build something, you maybe have to put some colors on it, and then you'd have to put a light in it, and a camera, and that's it, and I would say this would be a first, a good first task for one semester maybe.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. That's interesting. That's how we've kind of structured our class is everything starts with stills, and I'm just fascinated by it. I mean, it seems like out of all of the 3D artists I've talked to that have achieved some success and are doing great work, there's a million different stories of how they got there. So, maybe there isn't really a right way, and this is something that we'll be exploring for a long time. That's really interesting.
So, you know, now you seem to have really focused on the ... There's like a look to your work. It seems like what you're interested in is really technical, interesting, sort of abstract, high-end looking 3-D. As opposed to say, what EJ does, which is more sort of toon-shaded, a little more cartoony, like friendly...there's just a lot of different styles to it and some are more technical than others.
Your style is extraordinarily technical. So what drew you to that side? How come you're not just a character animator just using the character animation tools?
Simon Fiedler: I was always interested more in the dark side of things. Maybe also build some stuff that looks disgusting, or like growing, alien-like, glibber, or whatever. That was always more appealing to me.
I have two character animators here in my office and they totally love super cartoony, bendy-arms, jump-around bounce things. I also like watching it, but I don't like creating it. And I'm actually also a pretty horrible character animator, so that's definitely something that I can't do. Yeah, but, I don't know, exactly. For some reason, the dark things seem cooler to me, so I'm a big fan of science fiction movies. I like the Alien films a lot, so, stuff where just, green and blue and dark and has a rim light is definitely something that I like.
Joey Korenman: Excellent, excellent.
So, over the years, you learned Cinema 4D and you got very technical with it, and then at some point, you decided to make the leap, as a lot of artists are now doing, and try to learn Houdini. So, can you talk about why you made that decision? Like, what was the catalyst for you to say, all right, it's time, I have to learn it?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, as I said, I always liked working very technical in Cinema 4D also, so basically, all of my scenes had an [inaudible] somewhere and I tried to build stuff in there. And it got more and more and more technical. I learned [inaudible] and built some set-ups with that, and then, actually, in...was it...2015, I was working at Aixsponza and with it this film called Seed. For that film, we built all of the stuff in Cinema 4D mainly. I think it was also a project to promote Cinema 4D, so we of course built most of it in Cinema 4D.
Then there was one task where I actually don't remember what I wanted to build, but I walked over to Manuel, the boss of Aixsponza, and asked, Manuel, do you have any idea if there's a tool that I can use to make this here? And he said, yeah, of course. Houdini. I was like, okay, so I stepped back on my machine, downloaded the demo, opened it up, and that was the same that everyone feels who opens up Houdini for the first time. Basically, what the fuck?
Joey Korenman: Right, just fear.
Simon Fiedler: But yeah, then I started to create only this one specific effect that I wanted to build. Actually, it never ended up in the film, but I managed to build this one effect with Houdini, and then I thought, okay, this could be interesting. If I remember correctly, Manuel told me, learn it now, you will thank me in five years. So I took that to heart.
After that, when I got home, I think I took off for three months. I said no to all the jobs for three months, and came to my office everyday in the morning, sat down, headphones on, and listened to tutorials and tried to understand and to learn as much as possible. The first few weeks are horrible. Nothing works. I mean, it took me a few days until I understood that a cube is called box in Houdini. So I always ask myself, why is there not a note which is called cube? And then I found out, okay, it's a box. And then, for example, Houdini differentiates pretty strictly between points and vertices and stuff like that. I had to relearn a lot of stuff.
But then, it started to work, and then my strategy...that was a one time when I had a strategy, actually. I had all those very complicated techie set-ups that are built in Cinema 4D, and then I thought, okay, I already know how they work, so maybe I'll try to re-create them in Houdini. So I rebuilt the particle grit noise...I built the thing with particles where particles move only in ninety-degree angles. I rebuilt that. I made particles fly along a spline, and stuff like that.
I think on Vimeo, there's also like a Houdini learning progress reel that I put out, and that was, I think, after four months of learning Houdini. That was that time when I took off from all the jobs and tried to just learn. So I produced a ton of very little scene files in Houdini just to get better and better.
And then, at one point, I remember, I visited my sister. So I was standing on her balcony and a studio called me, and that was Frame. Frame from Copenhagen. They asked me if I can help them out. They need a Houdini artist for a project, and my friend Nate [inaudible], he actually recommended me and said I'm a Houdini artist. So if they hear that, guys, when you booked me, I actually had no idea what you're talking about.
So they asked me if I could build a particle tornado in Houdini, and I said, yeah, of course. Then we hang up. Then I ran back home, and I think I had two weeks to learn it, but that was basically one goal that I had in mind. I need to find out how to build a tornado. So I would say that's a pretty brute-force approach to learning something. Yeah, but it worked somehow.
Joey Korenman: I love so many things about that story, Simon.
Okay, I want to ask you about this, cause I've talked to a few people that have tried to learn Houdini and sort of backed away after experiencing a lot of initial difficulty with it. I mean, you yourself said for the first two weeks, literally nothing worked.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: And I'm sure that was really frustrating and uncomfortable, and there must have been times where you thought, you know what? This is pointless. I know Cinema 4D really well, I can get by with that. I don't need to learn this really complicated piece of software.
What was it that kept you going to keep pushing through that initial wall?
Simon Fiedler: It's a few things. I mean, of course in the beginning, it's extremely frustrating. But then, after some time, you come to the point where something little starts to work, and then you suddenly understand the potential. So you see where you could be if you continue, and you see in theory what you can do there. That was one thing which kept me going.
The other thing was that I have Manuel in my Skype contacts, so every time when something didn't work at all, I could write, Manuel, I need help! He's a very nice guy, so usually he doesn't even respond to me on Skype. He instead calls me on the phone and said, okay, Simon. I will explain this now. So I had a lot of help there, definitely.
But yeah, I had Houdini on my radar for some years already, but it was always the software which was super expensive, extremely hard to learn, and where there's basically not a lot of jobs in my field. So I thought, okay, it's interesting to see what they can do, but maybe it's not worth to learn it.
Then, I would say it's because Houdini Indie came out, the indie license, which is extremely cheap. I think it's something around two hundred bucks a year. Then you get a fully-functional Houdini version which you can use on jobs and create the stuff, basically what the guys in Hollywood are creating. So you just have to learn it, and that kind of kept me motivated and going.
As you mentioned, I did a lot of very technical stuff in Cinema 4D, and there have been times...I mean, I still think Cinema 4D is a super cool program. It was just for the stuff that I wanted to create, it was not the right fit anymore. So I wanted to create eighty-million particles. I just wanted to try that. One thing I always wanted to do is, I wanted to create geometry procedurally. I wanted to make stuff grow. This was extremely hard in Cinema 4D, and suddenly...I had a conversation with a friend, actually, and we ended up speaking about Houdini, like, comparing it...imagine you have a girlfriend for a lot of years, and it kind of...everything works out with her, and then there's this super-hot but extremely bitchy girl coming by, and she does all the stuff that your girlfriend doesn't want to do. But she's very complicated. Then you're at the point where you decide, okay, maybe I'll try my luck with this new girl over there.
Joey Korenman: Right. That's a really funny metaphor.
So, I wanna take kind of a sideways step for a minute. You mentioned Aixsponza, and anyone listening who isn't familiar, Aixsponza's a studio. They're...where, what city are they?
Simon Fiedler: They're in Munich.
Joey Korenman: They're in Munich. So they're known for their 3D chops, and a lot of their work is very technical. I know they were one of the early studios that really pushed Cinema 4D to the limits and was doing really crazy stuff with it, and they...I'm sure they use Houdini a lot.
What was it like...how did you get in there, like how did you get your foot in the door there, and what was it like being there?
Simon Fiedler: So, I think after...let's see, I think after I finished my graduation film, I put it on the internet and tried to publish it as much as I can. Then I ended up being in the [inaudible] beta team. And in this beta team, there's also a lot of people from Aixsponza, but somehow they got to see my graduation film, and then, I think, they just contacted me for jobs for...I think it was Red Bull, I think was first project at Aixsponza.
Joey Korenman: Cool.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, so I got invited. Of course, I also knew their work, so I was curious to see how it is to be there. I worked there, was very excited, and actually, it's a very, very friendly place. I mean, it's not that many people, maybe twenty people or something like that, and they are not in a big office building. It's actually a normal house where people live. There, they have...I think it's two connected apartments that they use as an office. It's super close to the English Garden in Munich, and it's a very nice place to be.
So that was a great experience. I think the Red Bull job was for three or five weeks. I don't remember. That was also my first longer time in Munich, so it was great.
Joey Korenman: Can you talk a little bit about how quickly you progressed and learned new things while working at Aixsponza versus kind of learning on your own?
Simon Fiedler: Oh, learning while working is always much, much faster, because you're usually confronted with problems that you couldn't think of by yourself. You have, I don't know, you have...I think this Red Bull project, for example, was something with a Formula One car, and then you animate this car, and then there's something with the engine, which doesn't behave like you wanted it to be, and then you have to fix that somehow.
But if you would sit down at home and say, okay, now I build a Formula One car and make it drive, and something's not working, then you maybe just change the camera angle or you animate it in another way, or whatever. Sometimes that doesn't work on a job. So I would say, learning on the job, you're usually much, much faster, and you have to solve the problem.
Joey Korenman: Right. Especially if you're...it's probably helpful to be surrounded by the caliber of artists I'm assuming work at Aixsponza.
Simon Fiedler: Definitely. Definitely.
Joey Korenman: Yup.
So, you mentioned that your Houdini progress reel on Vimeo, and we'll link to that in the show notes too. In the description there, you describe Houdini as a playground. I'm just curious what you mean by that, cause I've heard terms like that before, but I've never used Houdini. What does that mean, that it's a playground?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah. I mean, other people say Houdini's a torture chamber, but it can be both. You have to understand, some core concepts of Houdini, which is what takes so long to understand that, but then, basically, all tools are open. So if anything doesn't work the way you want it, you can dive inside and change it. A lot of tools, for example, you have to build by yourself. They are not included.
So let's say, a good comparison is always the spline wrap that we know from Cinema 4D. So you draw a spline, you have some object, and then you can basically slide this object along the spline and deforms nicely. It's absolutely no problem to build that in Houdini. No problem at all. But there is there a note which is called spline wrap? No, it's not. So you have to sit down, and then you have to understand, okay, what does the spline wrap actually do? What is calculated internally? If you then want to have a spline wrap that has some additional functions, then it starts to be a playground, because then you can connect more tools in it and give it more functionalities. It's basically limitless.
Joey Korenman: Right. You could add randomness to the way it wraps, and things like that, I'm assuming.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah, sure. Or you could...let's say you built something like that to make a snake crawl around. Then you can directly say, okay, now the snake should leave a trace behind in the sand, or it should spin around the thing, or...I don't know...the curve that you use as a spline should deform because it has some wind...I don't know. Basically, you can interconnect everything, and most of the tools work together. This is pretty cool.
Joey Korenman: Right. It's a really good example that you just used, the spline wrap.
I know how to use the spline wrap in Cinema 4D, but if you asked me how it's actually calculating the deformation on that geometry, I couldn't even begin to tell you that. It seems like the Houdini artist that seem to get noticed and do really cool work...and what I love about you, Simon, is that you have these really great tutorials on your Vimeo page, too, where you actually show how you build these things. There's a lot of code, and there's vector math, and so that's where I'm always curious.
Earlier, you said you weren't good at school and stuff like that. Do you have to be a mathematician to understand this stuff? Do you have to really love math to use Houdini?
Simon Fiedler: No, not at all. I mean, it makes sense because you can do so much more stuff with it. If you ask me, knowing a little bit about vector math is useful in every 3D application.
The stuff that I built, which is connected to vector math, I really...I would say I use less than ten methods for vector calculations. You have to understand when you're add two vectors, what happens if you subtract two vectors, what a cross-product is. That's always my...I just use the German word for always. So we can switch between the languages from time to time, maybe.
Joey Korenman: That's good. I know two German words, so it'll be a short conversation.
Simon Fiedler: One is "immer".
Okay. So that's always my best example. If you know what a cross-product is and how that works, you can basically build a tornado. That was the thing I had to learn back then for this job. They asked me, okay, can you build a tornado? Then I ran home and I started researching, and then...okay, they talked about the cross-product and I started to understand that, and it's really, really simple.
I'm not a super intelligent guy, but this is something I can understand. It's not a lot, and you don't have to understand it. I mean, I think there's those shelf tools in Houdini which you can click and then basically it's like a preset that creates it. I think there's even a tool to make particles spin around something. But it's much cooler if you understand what's happening internally, and then you can art-direct it more, and create your own effect, and not the built-in effect.
Joey Korenman: Right, right. It sounds really fun, and maybe in my next life I'll have time to dive in and learn it all.
I wanna ask you a question. This actually came from one of our contributors, Ben [Karmelich], and it's something that I've struggled with in my career, and I'm assuming once you get into Houdini it maybe is even a little trickier. To do what you're talking about, to learn about the cross-product and build a tornado rig that's totally customizable obviously is a pretty technical thing, but at the same time, you're doing it to create a beautiful image. That's the point of Houdini, is to make beautiful images, right? And it's very easy to forget that if you're kind of lost in the technical weeds.
So, how do you kind of juggle those two goals? You're trying to make a beautiful image, but you're also trying to build a spaceship, to some extent.
Simon Fiedler: This is a pretty common problem with Houdini artists in general, I would say. Because the viewer, actually, that takes a look at your image, she doesn't see the node graph. He doesn't care if it's super complicated and super clever, what you calculated in there.
I ended up a lot of times building something super complicated and then was extremely happy with that, and actually, when someone else sees it, they say, okay, that is nice that it works, but actually, it looks pretty bad. I would say the best way to prevent this is to show it to other people. I mean, most of the stuff I show, I send it to my wife when she's at work, and then she can give me quick feedback. And as I said, I have this office with a lot of people sitting here. For example, we also have a web designer in this office. If I show him the stuff, he doesn't care if it's complicated, calculated, or whatever, he just looks at the image.
Just show it to a lot of people, and maybe also to people which have nothing to do with 3D at all.
Joey Korenman: That's really good advice.
It reminds me of something that happens a lot on the after-effects side, too, which is that you can kind of get sucked in to the power of writing expressions in after effects. You can write these insane, elaborate expressions that are very clever, but then, in the end, what you've actually made isn't very fun to watch. You know? It's kind of addictive. It's almost like...I think I've said this before on this podcast, that doing these technical things and solving problems, I mean, that's why a lot of people get into motion design, cause it's fun, and it's kind of addictive to have a technical problem and you beat your head against it and finally, you crack the nut, and then someone says, yeah, but it doesn't look pretty. I don't like looking at it. And then you're like, well, yeah, but look at the code! Look at what I did, it's so clever!
So I like that advice.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah. A good example is also the two character guys that I mentioned here in the office. Let's say you have a character and it has a big belly, and while he's walking you want to make this jiggle around. I could spend days sitting here and build this super complex FEM soft-body simulation and see how this belly could jiggle around, and actually one of the animators would say, screw that, I just animate it. He would put one bone in the belly and just hand-animate it, put three key-frames in there and after twenty minutes, he's done.
This is what happens a lot, and you have to be very careful.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. So, how do you decide when it's time to go into Houdini and build a really complex setup versus just setting some key-frames?
Simon Fiedler: Good point.
I would say that doesn't work every time. So, sometimes I get caught in complex stuff and then I just want to make it work. I want to finish it. If it's for a job, I would say there's a natural limit, which is just your deadline, so you have to be done in time, otherwise the client won't book you again.
It really helps if you have someone...I work from home for some months, and that didn't work at all for me. Since I have this office here, which is now three years, I think, or maybe almost four years, it's pretty cool to be surrounded with...they are all freelancers, and being surrounded by those guys, everyone is looking on your monitor from time to time, and we give constant feedback to each other. I would say that that helps in a lot of cases.
Joey Korenman: That's an amazing setup. I want to talk a little bit about freelancing in a second, but the last thing I want to touch on with Houdini...and this is a question, this actually came from EJ, who teaches our Cinema 4D class, and I'm really interested to hear your perspective on it.
Houdini right now in the 3D community is...it's just really popular. It's really hot, and I think a lot of that comes from seeing the amazing work that you're doing. I don't know if Nates is using Houdini, I'm assuming he probably is at this point...
Simon Fiedler: I think he is starting right now. Yeah.
Joey Korenman: Is he starting?
But I mean, there's sort of this perception that, at the high, high end, the really crazy-looking visuals are done in Houdini, and so, in order to get there, if you're a really good Cinema 4D artists and you wanna be doing the coolest stuff, you need to learn Houdini.
Do you think that that's the case? Do you really need to learn Houdini to be considered a, quote, high-end 3D artist?
Simon Fiedler: No, not really. I mean, there's people who do super amazing stuff in Blender, which look insanely cool. You don't have to be, but what I would say is that it definitely helps. You have the chance the get your hands on such a great tool which has so much potential, and where they develop so much insanely good tools, and you can have it for just a few bucks. That's definitely a great chance.
When I was an intern at Pixomondo back then in 2009, I think, there was one guy who was also an intern, and he decided to learn Houdini. His name is Dennis, and I think he's now a lighting 2D at Trixster VFX Studio in Munich. So he made a pretty good career out of that. But I remember back then, there was no tutorial on this planet. The only thing he could use was a stupid book, and I remember that he sat down, and the scene he built, that he showed me after a while, was...it was really...it was a point that flew in a circle and it left a trace of other points. That's it. And I think it took him two weeks to complete that. I saw that and I was really not impressed at all, but it was just...back then, there was no tutorials.
Now, if you start to look for good tutorials, there's a lot of stuff there. Entagma, who produce so good stuff, and there's all the tutorials on the SideFX website. I think ten years ago, they didn't have any tutorials on their website. I'm not a hundred percent sure on that. And back then, there was also the problem that it was just super expensive. I didn't know anyone who had Houdini, and actually, I also didn't know any studios who were using it.
Now, since a few years, it gets more and more popular, and I would say it's...at the moment, if you're interested in [inaudible] 3D, and if you like technical stuff, or make stuff grow, particles, dynamics, but also animation, it's a great choice, definitely.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, I've heard good things. There's a class that I'm pretty sure is Adam Swaab made it, and it's over at Helloluxx, we can link to that in the show-notes, too. I've heard that's a really great kickstart for Houdini also.
Awesome. All right, let's talk a little bit more about the way you freelance. Have you always been freelance? Have you ever had a full-time job?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah. After...as I said earlier, when I was still studying I started freelancing, and my goal was always, okay, when I'm done with my studies, I will continue freelancing.
Then it happened that I freelanced for a studio in Frankfurt called ACHT IMAGING...I think it's now called ACHT STUDIO, something like that...and they offered me a full-time position. It was pretty cool because they said, okay, you will work on some car-related stuff, and the first month when you're here, you can be in China. So it was a project where I could be for five weeks in Shanghai. Then I thought, oh, this is actually pretty cool. I knew the people there, they were super nice, it was a great place to be. But I said to myself, "Okay. I will take this position," and I wrote it in my calendar actually, I said, "Okay. After one year I will think again," because I didn't want to be caught in a comfortable position well then say, "Okay. Actually I would love to freelance again but no, it's too nice here."
So I just wanted to make sure that after one year I sit down and rethink my decision so I did that and I don't regret it so I had a great time traveling to China and we've been to France and whatever to do those car shows but yeah, then the year was over and I sat down and I realized, okay, actually, this is not what I want to do ... and also after I published my film, "Droplets," I got a lot of emails from studios from all over the world who asked me if I would freelance for them, and I always had to say no because I was an employee and I thought okay, if I wait any longer those emails won't come anymore so I decided then after one year to quit my job and be a freelancer again and luckily this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life I would say.
Joey Korenman: That's great man. So were you, when you made that decision were you nervous? Did you think oh, this is might not be the right move?
Simon Fiedler: Oh I was horribly scared. Definitely. I was super, super nervous. The good thing about working in a company is that you get to know other freelancers and they carry your name to other companies and actually that was, I mean, [inaudible], he was on this interview with you also, right?
Joey Korenman: Yep.
Simon Fiedler: So actually I met him in this company while I was still an employee so he got booked as a freelancer and then he came then this is the first time we met and since then we have been in touch and when he goes to a company and they ask him, "Do you know someone who can do this and that? Build a tornado?" And then he says, "Yeah. There's Simon." And if I go somewhere and they're looking for someone I recommend him and this is how it works with other freelancers also so you basically, while I was in the studio for that year I got to know a lot of people who work in different places and they basically carry your name around. I mean this is also why you should always be nice to those people and try to be friendly ... because they will also tell other companies if you're an idiot.
Joey Korenman: Exactly. Well one of the things I wanted to ask you about was I watched one of your presentations and we'll get into that in a minute too 'cause you do a lot of speaking, but you told the audience that you prefer to, and I think this is a direct quote, "make friends, not clients."
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: And I thought that was so cool. So I'm wondering if you could just talk about that. What do you mean by that?
Simon Fiedler: Yeah that was ... when I realized that at the end of a very long project, so here in my office I was with a few colleagues and we did this project for Nike, the material X, so it was like a street soccer shoe and a car and car race through the city at night doing burnouts and you see the shoe and stuff like that, and that was for a studio in London called Village Green ... and the studio actually doesn't do 3D animations that much so they tried to find someone who can take the whole project. They do [inaudible] direction but they were looking for a team to produce this project. So we did that here, and so me Bastien [inaudible] and [inaudible] and other friends, we were three guys sitting here and we were in pretty close contact to the two guys at Village Green and ... over the days it just the conversations with them were super friendly. It was extremely nice and after the project they actually visited us here in Mines just to hang out for a day.
So we did a bicycle tour around the city. We showed them everything. We had a great night in a bar and then I realized, okay, working ... that kind of work that we do takes a lot of your free time so it's basically if you go home from the office and you see a nice car somewhere and you look at the paint job and think that is a really nice reflection somehow, and ... it's always a part of everything you do. So I would say it's not like a normal job. It's a huge part of what you do. So it's much easier to make this job and to accept all this heart and blood that you put in it ... if it's nice at work. So it's much cooler if you have clients that you like and that you, where you don't think, "Oh no, I have to call them again. I don't want to speak with them." Actually, it's much cooler if you call them and first of all you talk five minutes about the stuff you did the other day or on the weekend and yeah, when it comes to problems and the project, for example, it's much easier to solve if you just know the person which is on the other side and you don't only know the client who's on the other side if that makes sense.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. It does, and I agree with you 100 percent. I think sometimes in this industry it's fun to complain about clients because they ask for too much or they don't understand how long things take, but the truth is that if you just have the mindset of, "I'm a human. That person's a human and together we're gonna make something cool," a lot of times these problems can almost work themselves out because if you can avoid that mindset of like confrontation, you know, okay, it's us against them and I'm trying to get them to pay me what I'm worth and they don't respect me. That mindset's really kind of poisonous I think.
And I love, I just love the way you put that. So you've worked with a lot of really good studios. I know you've worked with like, Spanza. You've worked with Tendril and I know you got to work on basically a dream team including Nate's and a bunch of other really talented people. But those studios and a lot of your other clients, they're not located in Mines so how does that work? Do you travel a lot or do you work remotely?
Simon Fiedler: When I started off I traveled a lot so I usually went to the studios and brought on site because also the studios don't know you and then it's always, it's also made of trust so first of all, they want to see how you work, how fast you are, just how good you do your job. But then over the years I could make it happen that I make more and more projects from here and actually it's a huge bonus to have an office so I think it would be harder if I would say, okay I work from home and I can do everything here. So for me it feels more like going to work. In the morning I get up, I take a shower, I go out of the house, walk to my office, actually it's only five minutes away from the place I live, but it's another building. Then you sit down and you have all the professionals in your room here and most clients accept that actually. So I'll try to do my job as good as I can and from time to time I still go to the studios and work there if it's necessary. But if not, I'm also happy to just be here and do my work here and have like a Skype conversation with them from time to time.
Joey Korenman: Sure. So how does that work on like a technical level? If you're working on a project with other artists that are not in Mines with you and the kind of work you do I'm imagining that there's like gigantic simulations cashes and ... like renders could be gigantic files and things like that, how do you coordinate all that stuff between different locations?
Simon Fiedler: That depends on the project. I mean, sometimes it happens that you get a very specific part like a chapter of a film and then you just do that and you render it and you send them the final images. That works quite good. You mentioned Tendril, so I worked with them also on a Nike job where I did some stuff and those files were pretty huge so it was a simulation and you had to write a cash out of that and was like ... oh I don't remember, like 300 gigabytes or something like that, and they're located in Canada so you have one is the problem of the data that you have to transfer and the other problem is totally different time zone which is kind of complicated and we ended up that I built my scenes here and basically I prepare everything and put some notes into the scene file and then I just sent the scene file over which is super small, and they started it on the machine and hit the cash in button and then it cashes everything locally on their system there, so you only have to send them scene files and the cashing is done there so you don't have to take care of the data getting transferred to Canada.
Joey Korenman: Right. That's clever. Yeah. So I mean there's always ways around it and I like that you mentioned at first you may have to travel, which it's not really that bad you have to travel.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah it can be quite nice actually.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. Exactly. I mean obviously everyone's situation is different but once you've established that trust, even doing the kind of really technical high end stuff you do, you can do remotely. The set up that you have with other artists in your office that have nothing to do with the industry you're in or very kind of tangential to it, that seems like a really good set up. How did you arrive at that? Did you sort of come up with the idea, oh I wanna work alongside a web designer and a character animator, or did that just happen?
Simon Fiedler: Back in 2011 while I was working on my graduation film I had three other friends who were also working on their graduation film and we decided okay, we don't want to sit at home along and work on that. We want to have an office. So we could find a little room somewhere in the city, rented it and then this was our office. It was four people in maybe ... 16 square meters, something like that.
So it was pretty small and we worked there and after we finished our studies I got the full time position so this office basically broke up and when I got back to freelancing I did a few jobs from home and I felt super lonely so I totally missed to have an exchange with other people and just have a chat with a cup of coffee in the morning, something like that. So I started to search for people again so I still had one of the guys who were in the old office, he was also still freelancing. He's one of the character animators ... and then we started to find more people and then there was another guy who wanted to join and another one and then we were three or four and then we heard that there's another shared office in Mines with people who may look for a new place and so we thought maybe we can team up and so connected with them and it was a very interesting mix of people and I would say that's a unique thing about our office. So people do something in the creative industry but totally different styles.
I don't if you, for example, know Ugly the short film? This film with a very ugly looking Indian chief and a very ugly cat?
Joey Korenman: No I haven't seen it.
Simon Fiedler: So whatever, if you look for Ugly the short film there's a guy called [inaudible]. He's an animator and he's also in the office. So this is a super different kind of work that I do but it's extremely interesting and funny to have a guy like that in your office. Then we had a photographer here, we have a web designer here. We now have a girl who is a [inaudible] designer here. The character animators ... one does sculpting, another one is doing like is more generalist and this is a pretty, pretty unique and cool mix and yeah, I totally love that. And actually we now have a guy who is also a sound designer and this is amazing because I was also looking for good sound designers and people you can like explain what you're looking and they kind of nail it on the first try and he's one of those guys. That's pretty cool.
Joey Korenman: That's amazing. I mean, it sounds like there's a really big trend in the United States right now with co-working spaces and it's exactly what you have and there's, I mean, in the US it's a gigantic business now that you can sort of become a member of WeWork or something like that, so that's really awesome. I think it's a great option for solo freelancers out there.
Simon Fiedler: Yeah.
Joey Korenman: So one thing I wanted to ask you, the skills that you've developed, especially with Houdini, to me, they seem pretty specialized. There's probably a million people that know after effects but there's probably a few thousand people that really know Houdini the way you do and I was curious, like is there enough of that type of high level work out there where you can basically be booked as much as you want on those types of projects or are there lots of kind of boring projects where you're just doing basic stuff that aren't on your reel?
Simon Fiedler: So definitely not all of my jobs are high end and super cool and I want to show. Definitely there's times when I just have to do a job just to pay my rent.
Joey Korenman: Yep.
Simon Fiedler: This is then something that doesn't end up on my portfolio definitely but I would say in general I'm not sure if I'm super specialized, maybe I just put out work from this area because I like it that much. There's a lot of stuff in Houdini I haven't touched at all, definitely. So for example, right now I'm working on a project where I do a lot of hair and fur so I never did that in the past but I was, yeah when this came up I was super interested and I thought okay, I'll give it a try and at the moment it's super cool and a lot of fun to work on that. But yeah, I would say in general if you start to work very technically in Houdini you're the guy to be able to solve a lot of problems and I would say this is pretty good at the moment. So there will always be problems and productions and some scenes that people don't know how to solve them and yeah I would say there's a lot of stuff to do right now.
Joey Korenman: Yeah. And it seems like Houdini's also being used in a lot of sort of newer areas that maybe it wasn't used for before. I mean, it's always been kind of a high end visual effects tool and I know that for feature films doing destruction and stuff like that's been done in Houdini for years and now it's I think a lot because of the pricing model when they changed that now it's being used a lot more for motion design.
It's also used in the gaming industry. I know that it can tie in with Unity and you can create game assets with it. Do you ever work in those industries, freelancing, doing like true visual effects or making set ups for ... I don't know, like level artists or something in Unity?
Simon Fiedler: No. Visual effects is a thing that totally fascinates me to watch it. I don't think it's an industry where I want to work just because you have those gigantic projects and then in the end you worked on one second of explosion or something like that.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Simon Fiedler: And ... yeah, working on one project for like nine months or something like that ... yeah, I have problems I think to focus that long on one task.
Joey Korenman: I hear you.
Simon Fiedler: So this is why I work mostly in advertising because I just like to create nice 30 seconds, or nice 60 seconds. So this is a great length that I like to work.
Joey Korenman: Yeah I can definitely feel you there. So let's talk about some of the presenting you've done and anyone listening, go to Simon's Vimeo page, we'll link to it. There's a lot of great presentations that you've given at various conferences, IBC, things like that. So first I wanna find out, presenting for companies like Maxon and side effects [inaudible] make Houdini, how has that helped your career? I mean, is it just something you do 'cause it's fun or like does it actually help you in a more kind of tangible way?
Simon Fiedler: It helps a lot, definitely. I mean, you get in touch with a lot of great people. Usually you're not the only presenter so there's a bunch of people around you who are just amazing and it's one thing to listen to their talks while they do the presentation but it's also a pretty cool thing when after the presentation you have dinner together, for example, and you get the chance to chat with those people. And the other thing of course is that a lot of people get to know what you're doing so for example, this Nike presentation for the [inaudible] X I got a lot of feedback about that and several clients contacted me because they saw what I'm doing and they know, okay, maybe I can help them with their project. It doesn't happen every time, so sometimes they contact me and then I say, "Okay, sorry I'm the wrong guy for that. I can't do it," but it definitely helps. You get a lot of feedback and you get in touch with a lot of very interesting people.
Joey Korenman: Yeah, and just kind of as an aside, I watched most of that presentation and there was some very cool tricks in there that I recommend everyone watch that if you're into 3D. The way that there's a shot in that piece where the tread of tire has to morph from one tread to another and they way you pulled it off was brilliant, really cool.
So how did you get those opportunities to present for those companies?
Simon Fiedler: I think it started off with IBC in 2000, maybe 13, or 12 I think. That was when I joined the Maxon Beta Team and I also posted my graduation film, "Droplets," in the Maxon Beta Forum and yeah, then they just contacted me and asked me, "Do you want to go to Amsterdam and have the presentation about your film?" I was like, oh this is amazing, just go there and I mean, I worked on this film for eight months so I basically knew what I was talking about so I could put together a nice presentation. I went there, I was extremely nervous but it turned out to work and yeah, then they booked me again for other presentations and with side effects it was little bit different so basically that was out of an accident somehow.
Maxon introduced the Houdini engine and cinema 4D.
Joey Korenman: Right.
Simon Fiedler: And for that, they needed some demo files so I had the Houdini indie version at home and they asked me if I could build them a little asset that does something and you can load it in cinema 4D and use there. So I built the scene file and I sent to Maxon and I think it was c-graph, I'm not 100 percent sure, and [inaudible] had this file and to use it, yeah, he's fantastic. So, and to use it on this presentation machine he had to convert my indie version of the file to a full effects version that was for licensing, I don't know. So he took the file on the USB stick and went to the side effects booth and asked, "Can you convert this please?" And they put it in their machine, converted it over, converted it, he took it back, did his presentation, everything worked nicely and I remember, it was an asset to do this geo-boil effect so where it can put in geometry and it throws out some bubbles on the surface.
A few weeks later I was on the internet and I found a thread in the Houdini forum where someone showed this presentation and asked, "Hey guys, do you know how to build this asset in Houdini?" And then someone posted a link and said, "Oh, just download this asset here," and it was a link to the [inaudible] store so the official side effects asset store, and there was a note called geo-boil that you could download and I was curious what that is so I mean, maybe someone rebuilt it which is totally fine. It's allowed. So I downloaded it and then I opened the file and then I thought, "hmm, this arrangement of the notes looks familiar."
Joey Korenman: Right.
Simon Fiedler: And then it turned out that that was actually my file and what happened is that at side effects, at the booth there was a lot of people there and some [inaudible] and somehow the file slipped into a wrong folder and they took the machine back to their office and then they thought okay, those are our presentation assets that we showed, whatever, so they uploaded it and yeah, we found an arrangement then and they said sorry but after that I got in touch with side effects and actually we have a pretty awesome relationship now so they're super nice guys and they then gave me the opportunity to present my stuff at their events.
Joey Korenman: That's really great, man. Have you noticed any, you know one of the things that always was surprising to me when I started teaching was just how much better you get at doing your craft by teaching it. It's kind of like a little secret. Have you found that to be the case, like when you present do you feel like, oh I feel like I'm more competent now after presenting this?
Simon Fiedler: Oh definitely. I also think I'm the guy who watched my own presentations the most so not because I love myself ... hearing myself speaking. It's just because I, maybe I over analyze myself a little bit. So usually in the weeks after a talk that's published I just work and put it on my headphones and just listen to how I explain stuff because of course English is not my first language so I try to get better at that and the way I explain stuff, sometimes I'm at a presentation explain something and afterwards I hear it again and then I think oh man, this is extremely complicated how I said that. So it could be much easier. So I try to be better the next time. So it definitely helps.
Joey Korenman: That's great. It's funny, I actually do the same thing and it can be very painful and uncomfortable, like every podcast episode when it comes out I listen to the whole thing and it's a good way to improve if you can kind of develop a critical eye about yourself which is very uncomfortable.
Simon Fiedler: I'm curious to see what happens when I listen to this podcast here.
Joey Korenman: Yeah.
Simon Fiedler: Hopefully not too embarrassing.
Joey Korenman: You're gonna love it, man, and I won't even tell anyone that you're in a very hot room and you took all your clothes off before we started talking.
Simon Fiedler: I will publish a picture on Instagram that the guys see that this is a bloody lie.
Joey Korenman: Perfect. Hashtag, naked Houdini artist.
So the last question I have for you ... and this actually comes from one of our alumni, Ian Wilson, is with all these skills that you developed and sort of the success you've had, what would be your dream project?
Simon Fiedler: Hmm. Hmm. Okay ... I think this really depends on the time when you ask me, so that changes. So a few years back, for example, I really said that to a friend I want to create a sneaker commercial one day because back then man versus machine started to put out those great sneaker commercials and I always thought oh man, this is so cool. I want to do that one day.
Joey Korenman: Yep.
Simon Fiedler: And then I got a chance to work on three or four sneaker projects and it's cool, it's nice, it's a lot of fun but yeah, as I said, it changes from time to time what I would love to do. Actually, just a while ago I spoke with a friend about that or maybe also with my wife, I don't remember, and I don't know why but at the moment I would really love to work on a project about perfume. I don't know why.
Joey Korenman: Interesting.
Simon Fiedler: So it's just a cosmetic product and just ... yeah, maybe perfume, just to ... maybe because a lot of perfume spots, I mean, most of them are super cheesy and you see a lot of people with photoshopped bodies jumping from a cliff. Some were on a nice beach but there's also a certain aesthetic to that that I think is super interesting at the moment and you maybe have the chance to do something very arty. Maybe this is why I'm interested in that at the moment. I don't know.
Joey Korenman: That's really fascinating. That was not the answer I expected you to give, the perfume commercial. Maybe it's 'cause you're in a hot room with no clothes on right now, Simon-
Simon Fiedler: Oh no I'm sweating and I start to smell pretty bad, yeah.
Joey Korenman: You think that's it. Awesome, man. Well Simon, man, thank you so much for your time. This has been really awesome.
Simon Fiedler: Thank you.
Joey Korenman: What a nice guy. I love it when I get to meet artists whose work I really admire and they turn out to be really awesome human beings as well as great artists, so thank you so much Simon for coming on and sharing your knowledge and thank you for listening. It really does mean the world to us to have you as part of the School of Motion community and if you have any comments or ideas for future episodes, hit us up. You can email us, [email protected] or hit us up on Facebook or Twitter @schoolofmotion. That's it for this one. You stay classy.