The Story Behind the Blog
So…..It’s been at the back of my mind about whether or not to talk about why this blog exists. But heck, I hate lying and holding things back, so here is the story of why I started writing Houdini articles. As well as how I ended up writing about science + Houdini. So stick with me this is a fairly long, and somewhat unhappy story. But all you need to remember is that I am in a way better place now, and I’m doing my best to be happy, and I love my job. :)
Trigger warning for people. All the Triggers happen here. And please understand that I'm saying this because so many women in VFX don't have a voice to say anything. If this is the one statement I have to say for all of VFX, I'll say it. Globally we are a team, and we can evolve for the better. Now vs 3 years ago when I entered the industry there has been sure a huge difference. I am truly, truly proud of it. But..here. we.go.....
I first started this blog back in my last year of college. I was struggling to go into VFX, as the program I was in was mostly centered around animation and video game design. I learned pretty quickly that if possible, I never wanted to animate anything ever again. So VFX was something better, and it was keeping me occupied. It was also my main focus in my final year besides composition and color correction.
I had a lot of difficult hurdles to jump over this year. The main one being I was dealing with the fallout of someone in my program not following a no-contact order I had filed against them for things they had done in the previous year. I won’t get into many specifics, but this person never followed security’s orders to stay away from me. They asked me out 7 times , and I said no. They said that they preferred me on drugs, would walk around to my mentees and tell them lies about me, even when I was teaching them directly in that moment. As well as to the rest of my classmates and the years above us. They showed up to my classes that he was not a part of, stalked me around a program art showcase event, and generally was a threatening presence to me. So I didn’t feel safe for two years. It was hard to focus in class, feel safe in the gym, or even just chill with my friends (now co-workers) without him just trying to find me. I can’t express the mental toll it takes when you can’t escape from someone.
- This person is now in the animation industry. I feel very conflicted about it.
The second one was a bit worse. I had a friend who passed away that year on my residence floor. I was one of the first responders who found him in the hall, and held his hand before one of the paramedic students got there and called 911. In my second college year I also had to do CPR on a friend who OD’d, and for another I would stay up with him till 4am in the morning to make sure he didn’t hurt himself. I won’t say anything else about their stories, because the rest of it is not mine to tell. But It was exhausting. My marks dropped, I felt helpless, and I didn’t really know how to function. I felt like I had failed these people based on some of the outcomes of their stories. No assistant in residence was helping me, and neither were the counselors at the college. I had constant nightmares that would paralyze me , I would shake for no reason, feel lightheaded, I stopped eating, and I didn’t know if I could trust myself to help anyone anymore. I was not in a great place. I didn’t see myself as a good person. That sounds a bit crazy, but I was living with people I didn’t feel safe with, and I was walking into a classroom that I didn’t feel safe in.
On top of that, I was the only person that year who was graduating in VFX, and I was the first woman in the program to do so. So I had no one to talk to. I knew I had to write down everything I found regarding VFX, and find resources for myself. During this time, one of the professors had an assignment to build your own website. So even though I didn’t want to spend $200 on a domain a year on a site, I had to do it. But I found while building this site that it was calming me down and I was actually relaxed while writing my notes. So I did it more. I wrote about everything I was interested in Houdini at the time. These notes were mostly about clouds. :)
And this started to make me happy. It was amazing. Every time I didn’t feel safe, or felt anxious I would open the computer and type. Or open up Houdini and explore. Then the energy would be gone, and I could focus again. Houdini got me out of a really bad mental situation. So I felt obligated to give back as much as I could blog wise to the Houdini Community.
Best $200 I ever spent. Thank you Terry.
But then shortly while I was wrapping up my first ever job in the industry, I had something happen to me I still won't talk about. I'll be honest I wish what happened to me on no one. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, and because it was caused by my first ever VFX contact, someone who I trusted, it changed my perspective of the industry before I even had a chance to experience it properly. The other thing you should know about this vague ass statement, is that the person involved held what they did over my head because they knew I didn't have any other close VFX contacts at the time. But I want to make this very clear...They don't scare me anymore. But they did. And did I try and report what they did at the time? Yes..Yes I did...But I was ignored.
Because this incident happened 2 weeks before I started my first ever Houdini role, it also affected how I entered that studio. I was suddenly expected to walk into a room with a bunch of random people I didn't know, and hope that they didn't get angry towards me, or retaliated for that. Sounds like a stupid fear. But when you're a junior who doesn't know a lot of people in the industry, and you have a bad experience with one, suddenly everyone else looks a lot more terrifying.
So flash forward to late September in the new job, I am still doing blog work, but I’m running out of ideas. I started this job in September 2019, and was doing my best at trying to fit in. When I started the job I had my supervisor say: “Kate likes tutorials, why doesn’t she make some Houdini tutorials for us?” He left it there as a more open ended question, but I jumped on it and was brainstorming ideas. But I was coming up with nothing. Thank you,...You forever unnamed Supie.
Then we moved into a new building and I ended up sitting under one of the most important posters in the Studio. And that was the poster for the 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. I had to sit under this poster every day, in a corner, away from everyone else in the department, and just work. I stared at the poster way too often. One day in January 2020, after feeling more than frustrated with a sequence I looked up and I knew what I could bring to the team. I was going to create a directory for VFX in Houdini, but how to make them better through science. This sounds like a stretch for staring at a poster everyday, but my thought process went something like this:
“Is there any way the Hulk could be improved VFX wise?” > “Can atomic science be represented in Houdini?” > “Atomic science can be represented in Houdini, but what else can?” > “Let’s use science in VFX.”
So I started writing. I got to a point where I had about 23 articles backlogged. I was really enjoying writing them at this point. It was keeping me distracted from some offhand comments that were made at work, and helping me refocus through burnout. And I was about to talk to my VFX sup about it until…..The world shut down. I think everyone remembers what happened in March of 2020.
So then two months later a layoff happens. Between the lockdown and the layoff, I had a ton of life events that got in the way. Moving to Toronto, and some other big things. But I also mentioned to a friend working beside me at this company what I was doing in the background, I wanted to see what his opinion was on what I was doing. Plus, I wanted to talk to someone before I chatted to the supervisor. He thought it was dumb, and pretty much told me to keep it out of the studio. So feeling discouraged I posted a Quantum Physics and Houdini article online And people liked it!
But I still really wanted to help the studio but then….. I got laid off. So feeling a bit bitter, and with nothing else to do, I started posting more of these articles online and writing more. It didn’t hit me until a few months later that I wasn’t coming back, but no hard feelings. I did 213 shots in 10 months, so I think my junior ass left a mark either way.
(I know this number because I wrote down every shot I worked on before I left. I highly recommend you do this as an artist because it can keep your work in perspective for you. Side note over)
So then after posting the science articles online, everything went a bit crazy, and I started to get to know more about the Houdini community as a whole. I met some amazing people this year, and I’m still determined to know more about the software. I’m still pretty new to this game, and there are probably a lot of things I don’t know. But those are growing pains, and I’m not pretending I know everything about the software. I probably should look into CHOPs and VEX more. As well as Solaris and KineFX. Maybe even some curve tools. But I think I’ll probably check those out later this year. Or whenever work says: “Hey Kate, build this thing you have no idea on how to make..”
But these are the reasons this blog will always be free. If anyone needs a creative outlet while going through a hard time, a distraction, the need to look into something new, this blog is for you. And if you enter this industry after walking through a really rough patch or incident in live, you're not alone. You can do great things, and don't let your trauma hold you back. Find an outlet that can give you peace. Regardless of your gender, race, background, sexuality, or previous career you can do anything.