FX Animation Barcelona Inspires Artistry

From visual effects to video games, students turn to LightWave to prepare for real-world production environments

Posted: Wed 19 Dec 2012

Xes Vilà, founder and school director of FX Animation, Barcelona, is passionate about his school, its students and the incredible CG they continue to create with NewTek LightWave 3D software. Not only is Vilà the school founder, he is also a longtime LightWave artist who first encountered the software on the Amiga. Now he utilizes the many new features in LightWave 11 on a regular basis.

In this Q&A, Vilà offers insight into the FX Animation School’s philosophy and curriculum, its students, and the tools they use to create their impressive work and the school’s highly successful conversion of students to production studios after graduation.

Can you provide some background about your school? Does it offer any specializations? What type of 3D productions, projects or visual effects programs do you offer?

The FX Animation School was founded in 2006. From the very beginning, it was planned as a training center to shape professionals in visual effects (VFX), character animation, architectural visualization and video games art. Our experience in these areas allowed us to pinpoint which software was best for teaching the many types of production—LightWave was chosen for VFX. Our school is one of only a few in Europe with VFX-oriented careers and we work hard to prepare our students to create pro-quality content for film, television shows and commercials.

Final project created by FX Animation student Alba Perez (see the shot breakdown at the end of the article).

What types of projects do your students create with LightWave 3D?

Our students have produced work in almost every format—from short films like Cargols and documentaries such as canarias 2016, to music videos like Siberia. One special format production for Cambio Climatic was projected in a full-dome planetarium.

How is LightWave integrated into your curriculum?

LightWave represents the backbone of our Visual Effects Careers and Masters curriculum. It´s the first software all our students who have limited knowledge of CGI start with, and rightly so, considering how easy LightWave is to learn. With it, those students quickly start generating terrific content. Even if they end up learning three or four different packages throughout their educational career, they keep coming back to LightWave. One reason is its incomparable render engine. Approximately 80 to 90% of our student’s demo reel content is created with LightWave. It tends to be the source of their most appealing student work.

What LightWave features are the most crucial to your students’ success?

LightWave’s short learning curve and powerful rendering engine makes it easy to get faster, better looking results in half the time of other 3D programs. The VPR (Viewport Preview Renderer) coupled with the Surface Editor grants a lighting-fast shading workflow with near real-time results.

 Are your students currently using LightWave 11? If so, which new features are they currently using in their student work? Which are the most useful?

Absolutely, they are using LightWave 11 and they are having a blast doing so. Instancing and the powerful combination of the Fracture tools and Bullet Dynamics are all features that our students are using for outstanding results.

Image created by FX Animation student Xenia Vinas (see the shot breakdown at the end of the article).

What features in LightWave impress you the most?

It’s fantastic having VPR so well implemented in LightWave. At the lighting and shading stage I can produce content up to 10 times faster with LightWave than with any other 3D software application. LightWave’s default material is also great. Using the regular Surface Editor parameters with some gradients and procedurals not only allows for quick sketches but also for final-looking results too. If you need extra detail or more complex shading, the Node Editor is easy-to-use and powerful.

Radiosity render time improvements and new Bullet implementation, flocking and native instances are great for getting more complex scenes without depending on any external plug-ins or scripts. The render engine never ceases to impress me.

At FX Animation we favor LightWave for its versatility, efficiency and sheer productivity. It offers a high production value, which is supported by the fact that 95% of our graduating LightWave students are currently working in the industry.

What other software programs are used in conjunction with LightWave at your school?

Along with LightWave, as part of our VFX Master course, our students get to use several additional tools like the Jawset Turbulence plug-in (whose developer changed its floating license to better fit our needs at the school). Others are full-fledged apps, such as Andersson Technologies’ SynthEyes for camera tracking. Our students also get a small crash course in Autodesk Maya—the FBX enhancements in LightWave make the current Maya/LightWave mixed workflow incredibly simple and easy to use.

They also receive a small Pixologic Zbrush seminar so their models can benefit from sculpted details—the new GoZ feature in LightWave 11 makes the transfer between the programs much easier.

Afterwards, in our Superior Master course our students complement everything they have learned previously in LightWave with strong Side Effects Houdini and Realflow formation instruction. They are also taught compositing in The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe After Effects so they have experience with both compositing paradigms: nodes and layers.

The range of tools our students have access to is quite broad, which is why we firmly believe in teaching methods and workflows as opposed to button-pushing learning.

Animated short of the Gaudi House in Barcelona--a final project from Miriam Jané Camacho created with LightWave.

What are some of the biggest challenges your students face in the creative phase, and how does LightWave help them overcome these challenges?

Productivity. And by this I mean speed. When our students face longer projects it is very easy for them to lose focus and get lost in the technical details. They need to be able to get their ideas onscreen quickly and LightWave´s VPR is just what they need to make it happen.

How many instructors are in your school? How many students do you instruct per semester?

We employ 10 regular instructors and four freelance instructors. We don´t count our students by semester but rather academic course (or year). Currently those numbers are approximately 250 to 300 students annually.

We consider it a well-balanced student/teacher ratio. Most instructors teach a couple of classes, which allows us to keep the number of students per class quite low (usually five to eight students per class and never more than 10).

Do your students create final projects for graduation? If so, what makes a final project great?

Traditionally the students have created their own projects, but recently we have been opting to replicate VFX shots for high profile productions.

We´ve found that at their current level, having visual goals to work from translates into better results. Other schools push the artistic side allowing for nice ideas that tend to end up with bland outcomes. We push the students’ skill set to achieve results.

Do you offer any additional services to help train artists in 3D software?

We also offer specialized courses and consulting for production houses to make sure they are using the latest possible technologies for the best production quality in their pipeline.

A recent example was an intensive four-week course we did with Ficción Producciones in A Coruña, Spain. At the time, the main software in their production pipeline was Autodesk XSI and Maya. After meeting and discussing the possibility of adding LightWave for lighting and rendering in their pipeline, they were impressed at how easy it was to get beautiful renders with LightWave in about half the time as the other software programs.

The artists at Ficción were also impressed when the characters modeled in ZBrush were imported into LightWave with displacement maps applied. We worked on them using the VPR, and when I started instancing and applying more complex, physically accurate node-based materials over the surfaces, their jaws dropped. In fact, they were so impressed with LightWave’s render engine, stability, and short learning curve; they decided to start working entirely in LightWave.

If you could offer advice to 3D animators starting out today, what would it be?

Stay motívated, work hard and practice your craft as often as you can. It takes absolute dedication to make it in this business.

To learn more about FX Animation, Barcelona and it 3D curriculum, visit the school’s web site at www.fxanimation.es.

Alba Perez's Final Project Shot Breakdown


Xenia Vinas' Mano shot breakdown