Interview - Kalman Ruszkai


Kalman Ruszkai
Houdini FX TD

Sydney Area, Australia

Hello and thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Tell us a bit about yourself…
My name is Kalman Ruszkai and I work as a Houdini FX TD. I have started my career working with Lightwave and I worked with it for many years. I changed to Houdini a few years ago and I started to be specialized more in the VFX field. Today FX is my main profile.
When did you discover 3D? What programs/plugins/scripts do you use?
I was still going to elementary school when I first found out about 3D. A friend of mine showed me Lightwave. I had no idea at that time what it was, but it was love at first sight. I was sitting at the computer the whole night modeling a truck from cubes, I didn't even know you could move the points, or what it means to render.
After having finished the final exam in the secondary school, I was lucky enough to get a job in a studio where my first assignment was to work on a commercial. I just realized that people can get money for what they love doing. I am still happy about that. :)
How do you keep up with all the changes in technology? Do you think the game tools are catching up with the art tools?

I hardly believe I could keep up with all the changes in technology, but of course I am trying to do my best. I read internet forums and news on a daily basis and of course I can learn a lot from colleagues as well.
My knowledge about game tools is limited, since I have mostly worked in film and commercial environments. I am aware however that the two fields are quickly converging, and some tools are often used both in game production and film vfx environments. In my opinion, on the longer run, games are becoming and will be more and more visually realistic.

With the market becoming more and more competitive, what do you believe is a must that an artist has in his portfolio or skills?

Quick and reliable work. Delivery on deadline. In your reel, concentrate on introducing yourself as quick as possible and show the best you've got. Although usually not a requirement for reels, but I like to combine my shots with the coolest music I know:)
Happy Feet 2 has a great feedback. What are the challenges on this project? Can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?

At Dr. D, I had the opportunity to meet hundreds of talented people from all over the World. We were treated extremely well, and I really liked how George Miller worked on this film.
Happy Feet 2 was my first chance at working in a big studio, which made everything more exciting and I could gain insight into how a project of this magnitude could be managed and done on time. Managing my schedule was very challenging given the number and complexity of shots and setups to be simulated or rendered. Also, Dr. D introduced a so called production driven pipeline. This meant that everything was subordinate to the story and therefore even the smallest change in the script altered many aspects of the shot: the motion capture, animation, lighting and of course even VFX.  There were difficulties but there were helping hands as well. I think that the final result speaks for itself and that's what matters at the end of the day. I've gained valuable experience.  
What were some of the challenges as a Visual Effect Artist for Going Postal?

There was a scene where thousands of envelopes were floating through a corridor as a river, and of course the envelopes had to collide... Finally we have chosen ODE rigid body simulation. About 23,000 pieces were in the simulation at a time. The setup was more or less simple. There  were different forces based on the envelope positions. That way I was able to control their path as much as I wanted. After having done the simulation I could do some post deformations in real time, such as low frequency waves in SOP.
How do you start working on a VFX project? Do you use references or just imagination?
Most of the time we have a definitive goal that we want to reach. We can describe this goal with references of course. This doesn't mean we couldn't use our imagination, but these references can give us at least a base to start from. It would be silly not to use them as they're freely available on the Internet.

Do you use the same techniques from one project to another? What is your favorite part?
After every finished project you're more and more experienced, and therefore later on you need less and less time to reach the same goal. My favorite part is when the setup is ready, everything is working, and only the final look needs to be polished.
Which render engine would you recommend?
It always depends on what you want to use it for. Each of them has its pros and cons. It is like when you are buying a new car; one can be very comfortable, the other one can be safer, the third might be all in one but too expensive. Most of the time the goal defines the tool.
What are the advantages of working with Houdini instead of 3D Studio Max?

Houdini's procedural nature and logic makes it possible to achieve a goal in many different ways, thus it's less likely to get stuck with a problem. Also, this logic gives you a flexibility other 3D packages might not have, so you may need to write scripts to reach the same result. Not all of us 3D artists are programmers.
Another nice thing is that the learning edition can be downloaded for free with some minor limitations such as render frame size or watermarking, but you can get the “starving artist edition” for a low price, and you're already able to work on your own projects in full high quality.
All in all Houdini is a great tool, and Side FX not only increases the version number from time to time but they actually do improve the software. 
Sadly I don't know much about 3D Studio Max.
How important is it to have a proper education in this field?
Obviously a school can be a great first step. 3D is a complex field where it's easy to get lost. Schools can show directions, they can teach you what you need to know to start working in the industry. 
I have never gone to a 3D or VFX school, all the knowledge I've acquired during the years I've learned by myself, simply by working on projects at home on my own. When I started doing 3D I didn't even have Internet to find tutorials or other resources that could put me on the right track. Today, it's a lot faster and easier. Schools are there and available, they can teach you what you need to know to start working in the industry, even show you the directions you need to take I order to start your career in this field.
However, at the end of the day, it's your knowledge that matters.
Robin Hood. Can you give us an insight on the process, the goals of the project and the difficult parts?

That was a long time ago and I can't remember much. I had worked with Shake and Maya, done many different, but rather small things on this project. Cloth simulations, lighting, rendering, modeling, composites. Working on CG arrows, ripped flags, birds flying, wire removes, etc.
Do you still find time for your own projects? What do you have up your sleeve for future projects?
I have some small ideas, but it's difficult to find the time to work on it. Between two jobs I rather have a holiday and travel, visit friends. Most projects could become quite tiresome at the end, especially when the deadlines are closing in.
Which design do you believe was the most difficult to achieve? (How did you do it?)

There are many designs I can think of, but it's hard to choose just one. The flying envelopes in Going Postal were tough at first sight because I haven't had experience with such a task before and I was alone on this. I had tight deadlines and I had to run long simulations. Basically managing my time efficiently was the biggest challenge in this job. Anything you can imagine can be done in 3D, but achieving the best quality within the given time frame will always be a tough challenge. Sometimes we have to take risks to reach a next level, but that's part of the game.

If you had the opportunity to spend a day with anyone from this industry, who would it be?
 Ed Catmull. The first computer animation he ever saw was his own. That's pretty rare. :)