How VFX Gives You The Chance to Animate a Dragon on a Budget With Fractal Artist, Julius Horsthuis

WITH VFX Artist, Julius Horsthuis

Fractal Artist

How VFX Gives You The Chance to Animate a Dragon on a Budget With Fractal Artist, Julius Horsthuis

Episode 24 – Kino Society – VFX Artist

Have 3D movies taken advantage of technological advancements or is 2D even better? Julius Horsthuis knows the answer better than anyone. He is a digital artist, specialist in VFX and fractal art, and worked on the Oscar-winning movie Manchester By The Sea, and on several Dutch films such as Nova Zembla. From the age of 12 he was already in love with movies and tried to recreate his favorites with an old VHS camcorder. After high school, Julius worked on various movie sets as a sound recorder, clapper loader, and focus puller. Once he had enough experience, he assumed the creative supervision of the film with the most visual effects in the Netherlands: Koning van Katoren. In 2013 he began experimenting with fractal environments, creating his film Fractal Time, a unique combination of abstract and cinematic animation, which was recognized by Forbes as one of the 35 Best XR Experiences of 2019. 

Here is what you’ll learn:

  • Starting when he was 12 years old Julius recreated his favorite movies with a VHS and knew that he wanted to dedicate himself to the cinema and create spectacular visuals.
  • How do you create a dragon without a budget for Game of Thrones? At Koning van Katoren they had to do 850 visual effects shots to get it done.
  • The two main branches of visual effects; one who tries to do everything possible in front of the camera and the other who uses the latest digital effects.
  • The importance of technical knowledge, but also creativity to achieve great visual effects.
  • 2D vs 3D. Which is better?
  • Why it’s important to use visual effects to do something new and not try to replicate something that has already been done. 

To learn more about Julius, follow him on Instagram, or visit his website.

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How VFX Gives You The Chance to Animate a Dragon on a Budget with Fractal Artist, Julius Horsthuis



Owen Shapiro  00:04

Welcome to Kino Society with Owen Shapiro. In today’s episode we have Julius Horsthuis, digital artists. He worked for several years for different post production companies Revolver, Carbon and Hectic Electric. He took creative supervision on what was the most VFX heavy film in the Netherlands, Koning van Katoren. Welcome to Kino Society Julius, thank you very much.


Julius Horsthuis  00:36

Thank you for having me.


Owen Shapiro  00:37

So why did you choose to have a career in digital arts or just film in general.


Julius Horsthuis  00:44

I was always fascinated by film ever since I was a as a small kid, I was very much into really like the visual effects type of, you know, like visual effects, heavy films. I think I’ve watched like Back to the Future to and Terminator two, like a million times and always try to recreate it with an old VHS camcorder back in the 90s. And I actually I think ever since I was like, about 12 years old, I think I knew I wanted to do something in film I wanted to direct I wanted to, to just be there. So it’s just something that some people figure out later in their life. But I figured out pretty early in life that that I wanted to, to make like cool looking visuals. And I thought film was the way to go with that.


Owen Shapiro  01:33

So what’s a regular workday like for you?


Julius Horsthuis  01:36

Well, right now it’s, it’s, it’s completely different. I went a long way from working in film, first, on to film sets, and then later in post production, visual effects. But now I didn’t, I no longer work in film. I am a visual artist specializes in fractals. And I see fractals very much as if they were scenes from films or environments or sets, rather. So a regular workday for me would be I get up, I check my renders for the night. Because I’m always constantly rendering these fractals, it takes a 24 hour render work, you know, it’s a lot of render, checking. And seeing if I can composite something with it. And a really, really, really depends on the the kind of type of project that I’m working on. It can be an exhibition, it can be something else, I could be doing something for my social media, or I can be doing like some design work for films, which I’m which I’m still doing. So it’s really, it’s very varied. It’s really varied.


Owen Shapiro  02:52

Doesn’t seem like it would be affected by COVID. Too much was it?


Julius Horsthuis  02:57

I was quite lucky with that. Yes, I was affected a little bit. I also did a lot of sort of like exhibitions and also for events, doing visuals, and those things all sort of, you know, like year ago in March 2020, everything sort of, you know, stopped. The world stopped spinning. But it it very quickly, I got other things that I could that I could do indeed, everything is online making music videos, for instance. Yeah, working on on films, all from home, of course, or my studio, which is in my house. Yes, that all continued. So with that, that was super easy to to just continue with that.


Owen Shapiro  03:36

So you’ve also worked in several countries. And for very different kinds of films. Yeah. So what is the difference between the filmmaking in different countries and the way that just generally they make movies?


Julius Horsthuis  03:50

Yeah, so I, I’ve mainly worked in the Netherlands on film sets. I did indeed work on an international film, like Manchester by to see, but this was all post production work. And this was all done remotely, so I was not on a set of that film. So the most things I’ve done when I was working for film and visual effects were in the Netherlands. But now I am doing more and more. I’m working sometimes as you know, design with American companies. The difference, of course, is and this is just really a difference between the Netherlands and the United States that I notice is the Netherlands is just a small country, the budgets are lower. And there is just a little bit of a different How would I say that a different kind of attitude, I guess. I think the Dutch are kind of maybe this is because I’m Dutch myself, but they’re easily satisfied with something whereas in in the United States, it really has to be it really has to be top notch. It really has to. So you feel more when you’re working with, with with Americans, you feel much more motivated to really get get the best out of it. This is why I think it’s much more interesting to work for international type of things. And we’re here with the Dutch, they have been quite small projects, usually, even when there are large projects, they were still relatively. I mean, they’re relatively large, but they’re small, if you look at the if you would compare it with with international productions.


Owen Shapiro  05:34

So do you have any common creative conflicts with any other people involved on your projects? Like maybe director?


Julius Horsthuis  05:43

Have I ever had creative conflict with someone? I don’t think I’ve had creative conflicts, I’ve had conflicts that were more like, How much time do we allocate on a specific scene like that kind of things, or maybe just a bit like a different vision, like how I was when I was doing the film, you mentioned coning fanca tour, we had to do 850 visual effects shots for relatively low budget was still high budget, but I mean, it wasn’t, it wasn’t great, I mean, for 850 shots, so you need to sort of adapt a different kind of attitude. In order to make that happen to me in order to, like, you could just, you don’t have the time to polish, you know, each shot to perfection. So you have to sort of find a way to still do it, that it doesn’t matter that people will be forgiving in a way that, you know, the, and then that. And that was sort of sometimes creating some conflict, some people wanted to just make the best shots. But if you want to make the best shots, you can only, I don’t know, you can only deliver 100 shots instead of the 800 shots that you need to do. So that kind of conflict happened but not creatively. But that’s usually because as a creative person, I usually work alone, there’s nobody to, to conflict with. Yeah.


Owen Shapiro  07:03

So how do you think visual effects have evolved or changed over the years?


Julius Horsthuis  07:09

How visual effects change over the years, there is, obviously, if you look at yours, when it comes to visual effects, it started a lot in in sort of special effects on screen effects. Those were great miniatures. Then there was the big digital boom started starting maybe with Jurassic Park in 19 9093. things getting a lot more digital, and everyone thought that you could make everything with digital. And I think now there’s a sort of like a backlash, you know, people are going back to doing to doing visual effects, using, you know, special effects using using in camera effects. Because they’ve realized that, you know, you can make perfection with can’t look at make it look really, really realistic with purely digital effects. Now, that’s one side that I think, you know, people realize. And then of course, with digital effects, you can do things that you just cannot do in miniatures, you know, things that aren’t supposed to look realistic, you know, like other other kinds of worlds, those are things that you can make with digital effects. And this is also something that I have sort of, that’s the avenue that I’ve explored a little bit we know with, with fractals, doing things that are just impossible to do not just very expensive to do in real life, but just impossible to do. So there is I think these two big branches of in visual effects, one going back to trying to do as much in camera as possible. I mean, if you look at all the Christopher Nolan movies, they look amazing. He’s trying to do everything real, and then really sort of innovative, cool digital effects that are just that are just specific to what a computer can do. I think those are the two main interesting things that I’ve seen that happen over the last, let’s say decade or


Owen Shapiro  09:00

so more about fractals. Do you think that’s working in film helped you quite a bit? With fractals?


Julius Horsthuis  09:12

Yes, absolutely. There is not. I think, um, there’s not many fractal artists that have a background in film. And this is something that I’ve sort of brought to the table a little bit. When it comes to that with fractals, you can very, you can it’s very abstract, it’s they can make the you can make all the colors you can do. It’s 3d fractal. So you can, you know, do lots of crazy camera work, etc. And I, what I’ve learned over the over about a period of about 1617 years working in film, is I’ve learned to, to, to to work with lights with cameras with editing. And what I think is interesting is when you go to this sort of really just this this abstract dimension of things that people have never seen They’re the kind of weird kind of alien looking shapes that people have never seen is that you try to frame it in a way that people know from filmmaking. So you know, use the language of cinematography, use the language of lighting, where you put the camera, how you frame things, how you edit, it’s like what kind of, you know, cinematic music, you play with it, all those tricks from filmmaking, sort of applying them to this really abstract world, I think that is that that is the angle I’m bringing to it. And that is something that, that I could have not never done. Had I not been trained in film.


Owen Shapiro  10:33

So you think the VFX are closer to an artistic, like, you need more artistic talent to work in VFX? Or is it a bit more heavy on the technical side,


Julius Horsthuis  10:45

I think you really need both. It’s it’s very much both. And I, when I was working in visual effects, I was the person who was really doing more creative stuff than technical stuff, I was able to do some of the technical stuff, but I found most of it boring. And I would try to always bend the rules in order to sort of get something creatively and and sometimes, you would skip a couple of, you know, necessary technical steps, just because it would take too long, most people in visual effects are much more on the technical side, I noticed they want to do it perfectly, they want to sort of have a nice workflow, a great pipeline, they script a little bit on the side so that their tools do exactly what they what they need them to. You really need both. I don’t think that visual effects, you know, it’s it’s really Ying and Yang, it’s like I would want to see more creative visual effects. For sure, knowing that just people creative people isn’t going to solve that, that problem, you’re gonna you’re really going to need both.


Owen Shapiro  11:52

So something I hear a lot in modern day is that VFX can pretty much if you had the money, it can pretty much do anything that traditional 2d animation can do. Any everything can be a live action, if you have the budget, do you think that’s true?


Julius Horsthuis  12:08

No, that can’t be true. And it can’t imagine you’re talking about like all the all the all the remakes of all the Disney, you know, the Lion King and all these kinds of things. It can do what 2d animation can do, but it cannot bring the looks of 2d animation. It cannot, you know, dirt There is something about 2d animation that that is specific to that medium, or that technique that you can replicate, then you shouldn’t want to it’s it’s a different thing. It’s like saying, you know, a theater can do everything that a book can do. Like it might like you could literally read you know, the book on stage, but it’s a different experience. It’s a different I don’t think you could compare the two. And there will always be a place for 2d animation. There’s, there’s there’s, you know, today, you know, people working on on old school techniques with doing incredibly imaginative stuff with traditional or 2d animation techniques that won’t go away. I don’t see that.


Owen Shapiro  13:07

Very definitely, hopefully agree. I don’t really know why people are even bothering to watch. I call those Disney remakes. They just don’t make sense to me.


Julius Horsthuis  13:16

Like you can remake something. But you need to do something different with it. You could say, well, you know, it was an interesting, interesting aspect. You don’t try to replicate the thing with the exact same emotions. You try to you know, I’m not against remix at all. I think you tourists It was amazing things to do. But you need to give it something differently, like the Lion King and deed, like, really didn’t do that. But there is the risk potential if you do it right.


Owen Shapiro  13:42

You can definitely agree with that. Or do you work with a cinematographer for visual continuity?


Julius Horsthuis  13:48

Why rarely, in fact, the films that I’ve worked on, it’s quite, I was surprised by how little the cinematographer or even commercials work more I think I did more commercials, then then films surprised how little the cinematographer is involved in the in even a little bit of the post production process. So you would have, you would have a camera man who filmed the entire show, and then one shot would be visual effects and it needed to be seamless, it needed to be completely believable. And then the first thing I would think is well, I need to talk to the cinematographer to cameraman who you know, because we need to what lenses did he use what kind of very rarely would the producer and a director sort of facilitate that communication at least in in the Netherlands, that wasn’t the case, except for decoding funkita film that I did. I did spend a lot of creative time with the cinematographer. And he was involved in the entire post production process was a great collaboration. His name is Rainier from bimala. And he he’s he’s really very creative camera man doing amazing things, but in my country. Unfortunately I thought I thought That was that was quite rare. Maybe I didn’t get to work on on the right shows where they do do that right now doing fractal art. I do work on films. Not that often, but I do. I do some design work and some other work. I don’t think I’ve been really collaborating or even discussing things with the cinematographer, it’s usually just a direct.


Owen Shapiro  15:22

What’s the most challenging visual effects you’ve ever worked?


Julius Horsthuis  15:25

That probably must have been in the indie, indie coning, funkita film, very creative kind of things, they needed a monster, they needed a dragon in that film, this was the film where the budget was limited. The one we had to do 850 visual effects shots through us in the book, this was also a remake from a book and there is this this this monster, Dragon monster and and that is sort of created by pollution. It’s like a metaphor for pollution, you know, people he had to fight pollution. But did, they had to fight a dragon, the director wanted to be the dragon to be made out of, of pollution. And because we couldn’t really make a real realistically great looking dragon Game of Thrones style, just the budget wasn’t there, we sort of looked for creative ways. And we sort of ended up with a sort of a monster that was made up out of, you know, old oil barrels, and garbage, basically. And it didn’t look specifically like a dragon, it didn’t have a head or any eyes, it was just this, this big blob of oil and dirt. And this was a great fun thing to explore. But also the whole creative process by getting there like how do you, you know, if you don’t have a budget for a dragon? How do you still get something that’s interesting, and it’s sort of menacing and dangerous with a budget that you can do it. So that was a really, really great project. And it was challenging for sure.


Owen Shapiro  16:48

So are there any particular genres or kinds of film that you enjoy doing most? Like any, just any preferences?


Julius Horsthuis  16:56

Oh, yeah, what I would like to do as an that would like now, I don’t do visual effects supervising anymore, because I’ve really focused now on on fractal art as a visual artist. So I wouldn’t want to be involved as a VFX supervisor on a film anymore. But if someone would ask me, do you want to make fractals for a specific film, then then there was definitely some genres prayer I would like to be involved in. I’m a big fan of like, let’s say intelligence, Thriller type types of film. I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan. So films like that would would, would be would be great to work on. But of course, you know, when it comes to that any kind of sort of big budget film is interesting because they would have the kind of budget to create these otherworldly looking environments. So I’m not a big the superhero films. They’re interesting, but definitely, just very imaginative films. I think Christopher Nolan’s is a great, great example of them.


Owen Shapiro  17:56

So do you have any favorite movies or directors?


Julius Horsthuis  18:00

Right, so yeah, I mentioned Christopher Nolan. Other favorite directors would be, you know, when it comes to sort of big budget films, James Cameron, for sure. David Fincher and when it comes to sort of other films that I really enjoy, I’m a big fan of Richard Linklater, who did before sunrise and boyhood, and a big Tarantino fan as well. So I think that’s the sort of those directors are definitely they’ve they’ve influenced me a lot in the past and and and still today,


Owen Shapiro  18:30

but would you say to someone who wants to enter the world of cinema?


Julius Horsthuis  18:34

Yeah, this is hard when I wanted to enter the world of cinema and I was 100% sure about it. I applied to film school three separate times when I was once I was 18. I think when I was 21, and maybe again when I was 22. And I got rejected all three times. Never said specifically why. So that’s when that’s when I just started working on the film set just to learn the things on the job. If you want to get there and you can just start doing it for me it wasn’t even it was just automatic like okay I want to do film I need to be you know, even if I was just doing just you know, cable carrying or whatever like the most mundane or even like traffic you know holding the traffic or something that’s the you know, the very first types of jobs that you can get on the film set. Yet I mean, that is something that’s extremely important to you, you need to understand the language you need to understand all the all the different etiquettes on the film set and everything. So that is something I would definitely you know, say some people when it comes to visual facts or that kind of stuff, they they’re they’re working on their show reels everyone needs to have the best show reel and my advice is just to do a lot you know, it doesn’t feel manager show reel, your show will will reflect what your work is like is you know, regardless, of course you need to have a good reel, but What you want to do is you just want to work. Just understand it, do what it’ll do different things. Don’t try, you know, do what everyone else is doing think this is in visual effects, especially, you know, when everyone is doing the specific part thing, and it looks great. So you want to try it, and it’s good to learn, but try to is the moment that you think, Oh, I could do something a little different. Or try something that other people aren’t trying try to sort of develop your own skills. And this can be on the film set as well, I guess. I mean, this is when you want to do something creative? For sure. I guess this applies to lots of creative things. But, uh, yeah, you just got to make your hours, you got to have your 10,000 hours, you know, at some point, otherwise, you’re not going to succeed, I guess you’re not going to be you’re not going to excel, I should say,


Owen Shapiro  20:49

Well, what would you say to someone who’s interested in doing fractals,


Julius Horsthuis  20:53

same thing, I would, I would say exactly the same thing. It’s, you want to just play a lot with the software. Or maybe if you don’t like, for me, I’m just a software user. But other people are interested in fractals, and they can code so they might want to write their own fractal software, get something you know, get your own specific Luca at some point, but before you’re you’re there, you should probably just try and do many different things. But the key to all of it is the enjoyment. Like if someone is enjoying it, you’re going to do it automatically. I mean, you shouldn’t tell yourself to go to every you know, get, you know, to do it. It’s just something that happens if you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it and find something you know that you do. And if you enjoy it, you’re probably going to do a lot of it anyway. So that I think is important.


Owen Shapiro  21:46

Do you have any current projects? For sure I Yep.


Julius Horsthuis  21:50

Well, currently, right now I have a an exhibition. This is like a digital exhibition that projects 270 degree, almost 360 degree projection, super high resolution 16k projectors. It’s in our tech house, New York City. It’s at the Chelsea Market in Manhattan. And it’s open till till September. And this is something where people can enjoy fractals being immersed in fractals. This is a project I’ve worked on for the last year. It was an extremely challenging, but great project to do. And I’m working on on other exhibitions at the moment. I’m working on fulldome projects, so cinemas that are you know, 180 degree domes like planetariums. That is and that is that is what I’m doing. Mostly.


Owen Shapiro  22:42

Yeah. So less than at least How can my listeners connect with you?


Julius Horsthuis  22:47

Yeah, so best place to it’s very difficult to talk about my work if you haven’t seen it, but best place to see it is on my website or on my Instagram or on my Vimeo and they all there all, easily. You can find them easily by just googling or typing my name anywhere. My name is a little bit difficult. It’s Julius. And then it’s Horsthuis is itsHorsthuis that is and I’m on all the other kinds of social media. And so that’s that’s that’s how you find me.


Owen Shapiro  23:18

That’s all for today. Thank you so much for being on the podcast. Don’t forget, you can subscribe to Kino Society on iTunes and Spotify.


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