Seeing the World Through Procedural Eyes, by Woodkid


Introductions

Hello, my name is Yoann Lemoine. I’m also known as Woodkid. I’m a film director, graphic designer, CGI artist, musician, and singer. I started as an illustrator and animator and made a lot of CGI visuals for my music as Woodkid.

How I Got Into 3D

When I was an animator, I felt the need to work with live-action, so I bought a camera and started to make my first music videos. I started working with more and more artists and ended up directing music videos for artists like Drake, Rihanna, and Lana Del Rey.

In the meantime, I tried to inject more and more CGI into my work. I then felt the need to apply my own music to my videos, so I started to create my own music. I developed this video called Iron, in which I was the singer, the producer, but also the filmmaker.

The video is a lot about compositing as it was filmed on green screen. It was an instant success and started my career as a musician.

Inspirations as an Artist

My inspirations are very diverse. I would say that images inspire me more than music actually. I love scenography, dance, reading poetry – anything that has to do with emotion. I’ve never considered CGI and motion design just as a technical tool, but as a way to express emotions. I easily get bored by CGI visuals when they don’t tell a story or convey emotion, and that’s what I try to do with my work.

The power behind CGI is to recreate alternative realities or tell stories with tools you wouldn’t have in real life. For example, to be able to film as close as a micro millimeter, or as wide as the size of the galaxy. Also, to be able to work on light, which would be very expensive with live action. I always see it as an extension of reality somehow.

Using Substance

I started to work with Substance Painter mainly to re-project high-definition models that I work with in Houdini into lower-resolution models. Quickly, I got interested in Substance Designer, as my process was already very procedural with Houdini. It really helped me to develop my brain to see the world in a procedural way. Now, I consider Substance Designer and Substance Painter as part of my creative process.

Goliath

Goliath is a video about scale conflicts in the world, which are environmental but perhaps also emotional. I discovered these excavators in Czech Republic, that are the size of a building and devour the ground. I thought they were equally frightening and fascinating at the same time. I was inspired by the sense of trouble and confusion I felt when seeing those machines.

I then developed a whole story around it: the image of a fake company that would exploit the minerals, in order to somehow create the idea of a monster. It’s of course a big metaphor of a system that we as humans are individually and collectively part of, and to which we sometimes feel powerless.

The CGI for the monster in Goliath was developed in my studio. I worked on a very simple model of a monster that I then developed in procedural growth with Houdini. I reattached the bones through Velum with rather flexible constraints, working on the inflatable and retractable values, which helped me to create a dynamic envelope around the monster, making it feel like it was made of a very organic matter.

Even if the animation is very simple, the whole tissue of muscle and material around the monster is very dynamic, always reacting in a rather bouncy way.

I then gave the whole animated model to Firm, who started working on texturing and rendering.

Firm Studio

Firm Studio: we were in charge of the creation of the final monster. We worked very closely together, to find the design, in making 3D sketches. Once the form and process of creation of the monster was found, it went on quite easily with Substance.

Finding a strategy to be able to create UVs to use Substance was a second step: a .vdb form that changed all the frames implied for us to create several classic models, and this is the way we took advantage of the power of Substance. We did several tests with UVs at the start/in the middle/at the end of the animation. We also used UDIMs, as Substance had made a lot of progress for us to work with. We did some shading in Houdini as well to liven up the textures. The tools and speed of work in Substance are unbelievable!

3D and Artistic Expression

Woodkid: I think CGI opens a lot of emotional ideas, especially in a procedural way. Houdini has really helped me develop my brain in a very specific way, allowing me to work on the idea of textures, abstraction, and how the movement and dynamics of texture can create some form of strangeness or emotion.

This combined with real-time rendering or IPR in Octane and Redshift has really helped me to see CGI through the lens of a camera, in real time.

I really want to develop the relationship between Houdini and Substance. I want to explore how the procedural dimension of my Houdini models can be complemented by the procedural texturing in Substance Designer. I really love to watch the world, see it through my procedural eyes, and explore how it could be recreated and reinterpreted with the Substance tools; I really want to push that.