Prof profile: Amid Rajabi

Amid Rajabi has been teaching courses at fxphd for the last several years, including his recent three part series Look Development with Maya, V-Ray and Nuke (Part 1, Part 2). Mike and I first met him years ago and were impressed with his work, especially considering the challenges of the vfx industry in his home country, Iran. He was the first Iranian to become a Nuke Certified Trainer, though due to international sanctions is no longer able to be listed on the Foundry web site.

His passions not only includes visual effects but also photography and teaching. We thought you might be interested to hear a bit more about him and the challenges facing artists in Iran. Here’s an excerpt from an interview we recently did with him.

How and when did you get your start in visual effects?

My story goes back to the years that I was a little kid at the age of six or seven and I was madly interested in computer games and consoles like ATARI, COMMODORE 64 and SEGA GENESIS. These games and the magics behind their creations, just put me in an unknown world and made me to think how these scenes or this type of images were made. I always questioned myself what grade of education can lead you to make this type of imaginary scenes. How the creatives, producers or artists of these games think in a way to end up making something like this.

I have to add movies were played a very important role in our family too, I watched them all the time with my older brother and sometimes my father joined us too. We had no such a thing like rating movies in our house and I remember when I was 8, I watched Terminator II by James Cameron and it was mesmerizing. I was so wondered by the fact that those types of robots could exist and the world would go beyond the fact that robots could do anything. So, the same questions that I mentioned above were spinning in my head again and again. Actually both games and movies were so crucial to push me in a position that I am today and helped me to live and create in this amazing world.

Amid Rajabi

Matrix by the Wachowski brothers was a turning point for me at the age of 14 and I have to say my life changed since then. I seriously thought that if I had to have a job, that would be both film making and visual story teller. Then, telling a story and making scenes that can open the mind and the heart of its viewers to a new concept will be my path to fulfill my dreams. On that time, Ali, my older brother introduced me to some 3d softwares.

3ds Max was the first one, which I installed it on my low-performed primitive computer. I started practicing 3ds Max from the age of 15 and it was really hard to go on, since there were no good sources or tutorials by my native language. The only source that was so helpful and could solve my problems was the help section of the software. As I knew English language since my childhood, there were no issues of reading English sources, so I started learning 3ds Max from the document files that Autodesk provided for the users.

After almost two years of using 3ds Max, I heard about a software that big film studios using it for making their best visual effects which included my favorite one like Matrix and Lord Of The Rings trilogy and the name was Maya. I was so impressed when I heard giant companies like ILM and WETA are using it as their feature (main) software. That was the time I switched to Maya and after few years, I could manage to work in the animation field and made some of my first commercial works. As my favorite field was movie visual effects, I shifted my career and started making special effects for short movies and trailers and that was my first experience as a VFX specialist.

Since then, I’ve only been working in this field to this age that I am 36. I’ve also taught thousands of students and visual effect lovers so far and also lead so many VFX in short movies that I have made myself.

What skills have you concentrated on?

I have to mention I was not aware of the many aspects of this field, so I thought I had to learn all parts of the software. That’s why I started learning all the skills from modeling to look development, texturing and even rigging, animation and dynamics. After some years passed and I dominated all the skills in general, it was the time to focus on one major specifically and learn that properly in order to work in a team and to be efficient.

As far as I was truly interested in lighting and rendering, I began to learn some renderers, such as Mental Ray and RenderMan. I bought lots of books in this regard and started reading and testing in various softwares. Indeed, I have to add that it was really frustrating and complicated to find these renderers inside Iran, but I never gave up and tried to use the demo version of the programs to learn and practice.

Render by Rajabi utilizing Maya, Bifrost, Arnold, and Nuke.

Through this path, I realized that to create super realistic images, I need compositing software, so I started to learn Shake first and then Fusion. The next stop which I had to do to get the job done was to eagerly learn about Nuke as I put my whole life into it afterwards. If you ask me in what field I work as a specialist, I have to say Look Development. I work deeply well with Arnold, V-Ray, Nuke, Maya and RenderMan and as you can see all of my tutorials and courses in fxphd are in this field as well.

Was it difficult to enter the field in a country that has a smaller visual effects industry?

Yes, It is really hard to enter this industry in Iran. First and foremost the main reason is the short number of companies and film productions that working with vfx and just a few film studios need vfx to make their stories. Unfortunately I have to say there were lots of directors who didn’t believe in using visual effects in their films. So, this is a tough trajectory for people who would like to succeed in this world. That’s why me and many of us put an effort to make a lot of changes for this situations through all these years and made a better opportunity for the people who love to enter this industry.

One is to prove that the VFX can ease the ways for making all the stuff and then to prove that artists who live in this part of the world can also create the large scale of productions like the way we see it in international productions.

Render by Rajabi utilizing Maya, Bifrost, Arnold, and Nuke.

The lack of proper educational sources in Iran was the other obstacle and I have to say our generation made a lots of sacrifices to improve the learning situations for the learners to reach the professional levels and pass the roads easier than the way we used to pass hardly in the past decades.

For me and my mates this major was amazing enough to tolerate all the hardnesses through all these years to improve ourselves and learn all the stuff that is beyond the international standards and also be able to cooperate in both Iranian and foreign productions even work in foreign companies either in visual effects or professional educational fields to the international level.

What are some of the challenges for artists in Iran who wish to be visual effects artists?

If I want to be honest there are a lot, a lot of challenges for the vfx artist in Iran and I’ll try to explain the important ones here.

Some of the main challenges that learners faces these days are the lack or shortage of proper education and professional tutorials in Iran and more critically is the very difficult access to the softwares. I have to add there is no support or domain of the software in Iran. Most companies do not support the artists here based on lots of international obstacles (such as sanctions)….that’s why the progress in this field is really harsh in Iran.

The ones who have reached big stages in Iran to work with big companies and even make their own movies or make big works to the scale of international standards have taken a really hard road and passed the hardest challenges.

What have you been working on recently?

Since the last few years I’ve been busy with my own short movies to participate them in international festivals and fortunately my movies had been shown in various and important film festivals such as in Argentina, Mexico, Greece, Portugal and Iran which brought a lot of valuable experiences to the person who considers this major as his everything.

Of course I’ve had lots of good friends through this like Mashhoud Mohsenian and the other that each of them are amongst best in this field. Also I’m in the middle of setting up a lot of tutorial projects that each can help the learners specifically. The last ones are the projects that I have prepared for fxphd and has valuable advantages even for myself. According to the huge and successful experiences that I gained from my previous movies I’m now making some longer movies in which I need to record them in other countries.

Photograph by Amid Rajabi

You enjoy photography. The craft has a great synergy with being a visual effects artist.

I have to say as an artist who is working in look development, lighting is one of the most important facts in this field. So photography plays an important role that any artist needs in this field.

Photograph by Amid Rajabi

Photography has always been a big passion for me, It is a huge and important experience for attaining everything as an artist, such as aesthetic, light, learning the constituents of imaging, either from artistic or technical point of view and to me, if there is somebody who likes to work with renderers, has to know the technical aspects of photography, because photography will teach all your needed things to work with the renderers cameras in a very executive way.

Photography is important to me in all the aspects as a filmmaker that filmmaking is my main goal. I go to photo trips a lot and even remember that I went on trips countrywide to do a photography project for fxphd. This was a valuable and worthy experience for me. Everybody who is interested in this field must learn and do photography. I strongly believe that they will see the impacts of photography on their projects.

You are the first Iranian to become a Nuke Certified Trainer, you have your own training center, and you publish tutorials on the web. What drives you to teach?

Teaching has always been a part of me and it still is. Learning all of these contents and materials in the past 20 years was really hard and when I am looking at it, there is a lot of trials and errors that I wish I had somebody to teach me. Although after some years Mike Seymour and John Montgomery via fxphd have helped me a lot through this path to move accurately in this field. I learned a lot from these two masters that we have to help the others to the highest extent that we can and I did.

After a while, I realized that I have to take bigger steps to help the others, specially for the learners in my own country who has missed a lot of professional international tutorials. So this became a powerful reason for me to establish a Persian online training center for the Iranians to help them with the highest quality contents and tutorials, which I think I have been successful in this regard and helped thousands of people to reach what they wanted.

The other benefit of these tutorials was the challenges that I had to solve and tried to make the best solutions in the quickest way possible. I have always been enthusiastic to provide the best and useful lessons to the others. One of the most important issues that I had was the mistrust of the others in Iran with this big question that if these contents are enough accurate or not?. To pass this obstacle I thought I needed to be approved by the top-notch companies in the world which I succeeded at the first step, I became the first Nuke certified trainer in Iran which was a remarkable achievement for me and I never forget October 26th, 2012 that I passed the final exam and received the certifications from the Foundry through fxphd.

There were four major levels to reach this estate, consist of the two theory exams, one project to deliver and one demo teaching in front of one of the best tutors in the world, Matt Leonard. I never forget how stressful I was when I was teaching in front of him and after 45 minutes Matt told me that I was teaching pretty well and actually different, in the ways of talking and stressing on words. This compliment on that time gave me a lot of energy and motivation to move forward. I gained more confidence that I could become a fxphd trainer afterward which is really an honor for me.

What do you enjoy about teaching other artists?

Teaching the other artists is really exciting for me, especially when I see they reach a certain level of professionalism and achieve what they always wanted. They mostly thank me for training them well which is so enjoyable to me. I can confess that watching my trainees using my tutorials and becoming successful makes me happier that the times my works succeeded. Of course I have to say that teaching is a very hard work as I have to go through lots of preparations and sometimes I have to go months for some recordings to provide the best for the learners. I have to say again that helping the others is the one of the most enjoyable feeling that I am doing in my life.

You have worked on several films that have been shown at festivals around the world. Can you tell us about them?

Actually I have learned lots of softwares and contents related to cinema in order to enter the this industry. Since 2015 with my friends and colleagues we started to make short films in order to participate in prestigious movie festivals in the world and we tried to make a big progress.

Amid on set during production of MATE

I have to admit that making these films was really hard based on the budget and facilities that we had. But the important part that helped us to reduce the cost of production was all the skills and specialities that we had such as writing the script, Directing , VFX, Editing, Sound Editing and etc where all of the done by our own team.

The first film that we made was Solace which went on the screen on the Iran’s Image of The Year festival and gave us a lot of positive feedback to make more movies. The other films based on the order of production are MATE, SELFLESS and TRACE that gain lots of success not only in Iran’s Image of the Year, but also in other film festivals such as Santa Cruz (Argentina), Pachuca film festivals (Mexico), Cinalfama (Portugal), Anatomy Crime and Horror (Greece) and Digital Box Office (USA).

This was a great honor for me not only as the creator and producer but also as the VFX Supervisor and the films and the full cast entered to IMDB. That was an important start for us to progress with more energy and motivation. All our movies are in Horror genre in which I have had an interview with Mike Seymour on fxguide. At the end let me share one of my wildest dreams that is to get the Oscars and I have done lots of hard work and have faith that one day Im going to make this dream come true.