Becoming a VFX artist in the games industry - where to start?

Hi all!

TLDR; - Answers to any of the questions at the bottom would help me loads! :slight_smile:

So I joined this community today and there are some amazing resources which I am going to have a great time studying and learning. However I would love some advice from the games industry professionals on here about how to get started getting into VFX in a professional sense. It is great to have fun with this stuff but I also want to structure my learning with the end goal of getting a job doing it.

I have been a QA Lead in the industry for nearly 10 years and now I want to break into VFX to be more creative and do the things that inspire me most about games, in my case I looooove particle effects. Over the past couple of months I have played about with Unreal and Unity systems in order to create some basic effects and to get used to the basic behaviour of particles, the more I learn the more questions I have and the more excited I get about learning… however, there is so much I want to learn (and discovering more every day) it can be a bit overwhelming so I need your help in focusing my learning.

As an idea of where I want to go, I love literally every single effect both in game and UI in Overwatch and that is the level I want to reach.

Here are my questions, and all advice is welcome… even if it is partially dream crushing :slight_smile:

  • Do you need a degree to become a VFX artist? if not, is personal learning enough? or would you recommend online courses in order to build up a portfolio? I am willing to spend money on this but unsure as to what would be the best to invest in in order to learn game VFX.

  • What are the most common programs used by VFX artists in AAA games and how do you choose which ones to specialise in?

  • How do you choose which Engine to focus your learning on?

  • Is it possible to become a VFX artist without having learned an entire scripting language? I have gotten to grips with the basics with minimal coding, but some youtube tutorials involve writing a whole bunch of scripts that I do not understand and the prospect of coding a lot makes me a sad panda.

  • In the industry, do VFX artists specialise in an area like particles? or do they have to know multiple disciplines to be valued?

  • Where do you start? and more importantly, how do you judge when you are at a level to start applying for roles?

I am sorry the post is so long, but it is literally a representation of my brain right now. I have gone from being happy about learning to create a basic aura spell effect to not knowing where the hell to go from there.

Thanks in advance!

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I’m short on time so I’ll just jot down some quick answers.
You don’t need a degree. As long as you have a strong portfolio, nobody will even look for any of that.
Photoshop, Slate and a 3d package like Houdini or Maya. Most effect work is done in engine/editor.
Pick one you like the look of. If you want to do Overwatch stuff, I’d go for unreal. If you want to do mobile games, go for unity.
I knew basic mel when I got my first job and I learned the rest along the way, but it’s not needed. There are plenty of vfx artists who don’t script at all.
Start by checking out tutorials. ImbueFX has some good ones on Youtube. I’m working as fast as I can on a course as well. Keep reading this forum, there are a few how to get started posts with good info.

How to judge, well, compare yourself to the effects in the game you want to work on. Are you close? Apply!

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Thank you for a fast reply Partikel,

That’s all encouraging stuff, looks like I’ll focus on unreal+maya as those are the ones I am most familiar with, perhaps when I get better with them I can try out some others packages and see how it goes.

I will get on the ImbueFX youtube channel tonight and start working.

Many thanks!

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Partikel summed it up pretty well,

For 15+ games I’ve done, all have been in-house engines so from that point
of view it’s hard to say learn this particular engine. Pick one you like, once
you have an eye for making effects, the other engines can be learnt.

VFX artist can be a somewhat generic term too, so yes, there are artists who
only make particles, then there will be other VFX artists who just make shaders or
scripts. Again find what your comfortable with and pursue that!

Just to reiterate Partikels point as I think its spot on, look at games you
like, and judge your effects on that standard. When you feel it stacks up, apply.
It can never hurt for studios to know your name or have your CV on record.

In my experience the Degree gets your CV looked at, the CV gets you the
interview. You and your reel get you the job. If you have a really good real,
the other parts can be bypassed.
Good luck :slight_smile:

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You’re in the perfect place to begin this journey. My #1 suggestion is that you post progress videos of your VFX on this forum regularly. A few artists have a single thread to track all of their work. Makes for a nice documentation of growth over time.

Take the time to get each iteration as far as you can until you’re stuck. Be thoughtful in the questions you ask, and you’ll find people will gladly offer advice on how to sharpen your skills. As others have mentioned, the portfolio/reel is the key to getting your first gig, and this forum is well suited for helping you build one.

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Thanks guys, really looking forward to this. I will upload my progress and see where it takes me.

I really appreciate you taking the time to give me advice! :slight_smile: I look forward to seeing what you guys think in the future :slight_smile:

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I consider myself very new since I’m at my first AAA gig and shipped my first game last fall. I’m also just a couple years out of college (did a bit of engineering before pursing an art degree). So, I might have a different perspective :smiley:

  1. Degree? Not necessary. However, I think most times it’s what HR folks are immediately looking for at a big company. But if you have years of working experience, that definitely warrants a further look. At the end of the day though, your portfolio matters most! Also want to mention crippling debt isn’t fun :’(

  2. Programs…I tend to use a couple as a primary. But depending on the project, you might shift around a lot more. For me: Houdini for destruction and texture creation, photoshop for tweaking and texture creation. I see Maya a lot though.

  3. Engine really doesn’t matter. What matters is the art you put out! Start out by making art without using any advanced features (cough UE4 cough). Depending on the studio, there’s a good chance you might be really limited in what you’ll be able to do. After a while, start adding more features to your repertoire of effects. That way, not only will you be able to create effects with limited tools, but also know what would help if you are able to request features.

  4. Scripting skills aren’t necessary, but they certainly can help! When shit hits the fan, it allows me the ability to implement my own effects rather than wait for someone else to implement them. Or, if something breaks under the hood, I can give the scripter a detailed report which speeds the fixing process up. Outside of particle systems and game engines, it also allows me to build my own tools in DCC apps! It’s a very handy extra skill to have (if you like doing it that is).

  5. I’ve noticed that most effects artists have specializations. Some folks really enjoy destruction work (modeling, animation). Others really enjoy just making particle systems. Some also dive into shaders/materials. Then you have oddballs like me who like to build tools (scripting or full on coding) while also doing art :stuck_out_tongue: Sometimes these disciplines get put into their own departments rather than just being under Visual Effects. As for multi-disciplinary, it definitely helps having skills in more than one area.

  6. This last one is tough to answer. Starting? I just started by looking at online videos (shoutout to Bill Kladis if he’s anywhere around) and just recreating effects. When to apply? I guess whenever you feel confident about your work and can defend why you did it a certain way vs. another.

I’m still floundering my way through, but this is pretty much my experience so far.

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Thanks Shadowist, I am a long way off where you are, but I have made a good start on what I enjoy doing, and I am just abouts to post my first particle to get some feedback/criticism and advice. It turns out that I just love making particle systems and Material/Shaders the most!

I really appreciate your advice :slight_smile:

Also just for the sake of connecting 2 similar topics, I posted my thoughts here: Where to start? - #2 by NateLane

@Kris_Wilkins That’s awesome, man! Looking forward to seeing your stuff!

Hey Petrie!

I read all of your advice, it helped loads! since then I have learnt a lot in Unreal, and I have just posted my first attempt at a half way decent particle effect… I have already received some great tips on how to improve it, but should you want to take a look here it is :slight_smile:

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Hi Kris
My answer consider Polish company base on my experience (14 year in GameDev)
Do you need a degree to become a VFX artist?
No.
What are the most common programs used by VFX artists in AAA games and how do you choose which ones to specialise in?
Photoshop; AfterEffect;Fume and realfolw on 3dmax or/and Houdini, and I use what I need, eg:now UE4 give you support in your workflow if you use Houdini.
How do you choose which Engine to focus your learning on?
Engine is only a tool, you don’t choose it, many of company have there own technology.
Is it possible to become a VFX artist without having learned an entire scripting language?
Yes. You have Tech Art who suport you.
In the industry, do VFX artists specialise in an area like particles? or do they have to know multiple disciplines to be valued?
It is good to know other things but it is not obligatory. You must know the basics of Game Industry like why your effect make to much overdraw.
Where do you start? and more importantly, how do you judge when you are at a level to start applying for roles?
Download UE4, lern to use it from video tutorials. Compare to VFX in games :wink:

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