I've been learning Real-Time VFX for a 45 days, and here’s what I’ve realized

How long can a person study if they have a completely free schedule, no financial or household obligations? 9 hours a day, maybe even 12, I thought to myself.

The reality turned out differently: 3 hours and 37 minutes.

I bought courses with a one-month time limit, motivated to squeeze the maximum information out of them.

“Hah, I sat through 7 hours of school and university classes, did homework too—how skilled I am at learning! Over a decade of experience! I must be a master at absorbing knowledge,” I thought, but my assumptions were shattered on the very first day of practice.

1. Self-learning is not like school lessons or university lectures. It’s an entirely different model of perceiving information:

I choose the lesson myself, and its importance is obvious to me. The lesson isn’t imposed by a teacher; unnecessary information (of which there’s little) is skipped instantly.

During university lectures, my brain often rested. I realized with surprise that out of a 45-minute lesson, there were about 7 minutes of important information (15.5%). In my 7-minute video on manipulating UVs in the shader editor, every second of the 7 minutes was important (100%). Videos are about 6.5 times more effective, causing my brain to work at its limit, using up all concentration resources.

Hence, it’s clear that it is not going to work like it did at school and to expect 7 hours of work plus homework is unrealistic.

2. A different form of learning required different behavioral habits.

Trying to understand HLSL for 45 minutes without a break and with no programming — a bad idea… By the 10th minute of headaches, motivation drops: another 35 minutes of suffering ahead! It became obvious that the learning patterns acquired in school and university needed to be reworked.
I started using the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of activity, 5 minutes of break. On the fourth 25-minute session, a 20-minute break. In total, 100 minutes of work and 40 minutes of breaks. Frequent breaks turned out to be the golden grail with countless benefits:

A) During the break, I still thought about the task, so technically it’s not even a break but a change of work zone. The work continued.

B) Thanks to physical activity during breaks, like standing on my head, blood circulation improved, boosting work performance and extending work duration.

C) Returning to the task after a break, I often found solutions that had previously stumped me.

D) Doing several sets of squats daily made my already beautiful glutes even more attractive.

In short, breaks are essential. Without them, thinking time over a task extends from 5 minutes to 50, not resting is simply unprofitable. The main thing is to rest, not look at a phone screen (which I sometimes sinned by doing). This isn’t rest; it’s an additional load on the CNS.

3. Focus on tasks, not hours.

In the end, I did 2 cycles. One cycle (4 sets of 25 minutes of work + rest) = 140 minutes, 40 of which are for rest. After the second cycle, I often started a third with thoughts like, “I can push through, I’ve only been working for three hours!” and realized I didn’t understand anything anymore, making further learning pointless.

It ended up being 3 hours and 33 minutes of work. And those same 4 minutes of the third cycle when I realized it was time to stop.

I thought I was working too little. This was my behavioral trap. What’s the use of 10 hours of work if I understood nothing? No, it’s not about the number of hours, but the number of things truly understood.

Mastering new information and reproducing already known information is a completely different level of mental load. In a rush, I did spend 12 hours at the computer when I knew what and how to do, finishing the video reel attached to this post. But it’s impossible to sit effectively for 12 hours mastering new information effectively.

Learning is painful. Doing what you know is pleasant.

This perspective genuinely cheered me: just 3 hours of daily learning (which seems quite realistic) over, say, 5 years—and I’m a VFX genius.

But reality again shattered all fantastic plans…

4. Burnout without days off

I began to notice that even though I rest effectively, my productivity declines throughout the week. My 3 hours and 35 minutes turned into just 3:15, and by day nine, it was… 2:25! My genius plan for “a month of learning without days off” failed. It became clear that at least one day a week needs to be gadget-free to maintain the ability to learn. I grabbed my running shoes and went on a 9-hour night hike in the mountains (Yes, there really are mountains in Ireland).

5. The best VFX artists are farmers.

So, here I am: a 25-year-old young man, sporty all his life, 10 years of judo and a year in the gym. And my hiking leader: a 60-year-old Irish farmer, an ordinary-looking grandpa. Our conditions are unequal: I slept in and even lay in bed beyond the norm, trying to nap during the day because we were going on a night hike, and I didn’t want to fall off the mountainside. However, my leader woke up at 5 a.m. to take care of the livestock. He worked until 5 p.m. (all 12 hours), and at 7 p.m., we started our 9-hour hike.

I bet you guessed that I barely kept up with the farmer grandpa. No, he’s not a superhuman with special genes, he’s just been working 15-hour days without weekends for about forty years because farmers don’t have days off. He has completely different habits and internal attitudes. Didn’t feed the chickens—they died. Didn’t milk the cows—their udders exploded, they died. Didn’t harvest—now you’re dead (a typical view of farm life from my perspective as a city boy).

What was his secret? He took longer and more frequent strides. I could physically take longer and more frequent steps, but the internal sensation of pain significantly slowed my pace and stride length. I realized that this sensation of pain is learned. I was used to thinking that a slight burning sensation in the muscles was bad and that feeling such meant I must stop.

But this is just an illusory block, an artificial limitation fostered by the social environment. In the environment where the farmer grew up, such feelings weren’t considered “deadly,” so in his 60+ years, he leaves me far behind (and he’s only been hiking for four years).

Surely each of us has tried to do some phyical exercise, say, 10 times. We set ourselves a limit of 10, did those 10, and then decided to go for the 11th. And immediately felt that after the 10th time, our strength seemed to vanish because we had agreed with ourselves on a smaller number of reps. Our artificial limit constrained our strength. It functions similarly not only with physical exercise, but also with our cognitive work tasks.

Thanks to the farmer and the hike, I reconsidered my behavioral patterns regarding learning and realized that, for example, I could extend the limit from 3:35 to 5+ hours if I take a long two or three-hour break in the middle of the day (important—without looking at any gadgets, TV, etc., just sleep or physical activity).

6. Sleep as the base of adequacy.

So, we’ve learned to take breaks, have days off, and rest effectively, but there’s one factor without which all of the above won’t work—sleep.

Staying up until 2 a.m., I go to bed and wake up at 11 a.m. My day is ruined, my head hurts, and I’m completely unproductive. The whole day is needed for recovery. Repeating this mistake many times, I made it a rule not to look at any screens after 10 p.m. Once this time comes, my eyes belong to the real reality, not the virtual one.

To summarize:

  1. Effective self-learning requires re-evaluating behavioral patterns regarding acquiring knowledge (artificial settings, habit parasites, false goals).
  2. Rest is the most crucial part of effective work (breaks, days off, sleep).

“So, did you learn anything about VFX?” you might rightfully ask.

Of course, ladies and gentlemen. I often noticed that I spent 20 minutes deciding, “Which Sprite Scale parameter looks better: 12.65 or 12.74? Which Velocity looks more attractive: 505 or 512?”

The main thing I understood is that there’s no point in changing any value in Niagara by less than 30% when working on an effect, otherwise, I fall into the trap of the black hole of perfectionism, from which only a break can save me.

Thank you for reading, and good luck with your boom-pfshh-things!:boom:

My results in 45 days

P.S. I’ll add a picture so it displays nicely in the general search menu :slight_smile:

12 Likes

Lovely story!
And really important one. Glad you started with figuring out how to actually be productive and not burn out in VFX as it’s something I’ve been working on for years and it helps a lot to know it! Especially with resting.

You did pretty well for that time :slight_smile: Can’t wait to see what you will be able to create in the future!
Also as a tip, make sure to always credit a tutorial/course (in this case 1mafx) you are following if your portfolio pieces are heavily influenced by it. VFX Art is a very small community, so people know each other here and it’s not nicely seen if people don’t credit each other :smiley:

I hope you will not stop on 45 days :smiley:

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I’m glad that you like it🪵

Thanks for the advice! I will definitely credit the authors in the future. These tutorials are by 1mafx @pamar , and I really enjoyed learning from him. I’ll also mention his very affordable pricing for the courses.

Additionally, I created a hole in the ground using parallax textures based on a technique from a project I downloaded from Simon Chrebits Gumroad @simonschreibt. I also learned some technical aspects, such as creating collision events, from the CGhow YouTube channel.

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Really good resources!
I would avoid CGHow like fire though. He teaches lots of bad practices and also he steals lots of content from other VFX Artists. Definitely not worth putting money in his subscription.
Other than that all others you mentioned are amazing to follow!

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Yup, cghow show shows a dirty way of doing stuff that shouldn’t be used in any studio. His methods are not performant, usually dirty as hell and you really shouldn’t learn his behaviors.

I did that mistake at the begining of my journey.

I am not a VFX Artist with 10 years of XP, but after some years in the game dev I can really agree witth Manus

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Heard you, thank you for the advice.

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Great post here, I want to ask you (and everyone else) how you stay motivated? I technically started learning VFX about 2 years ago but after a week or so it fizzled out, then a year later I gave it another go, and stopped again after about a week, now suddenly it’s 2024 and I’ve gotten nowhere…

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There are 2 things:

  1. Having fun! = You need to convince your brain that it’s how you want to spend your time. It takes a bit of time, but when you do you just want to sit to the VFX instead of doing anything else.
  2. Small consistant progress = Try to do something daily. Even if just for 5 minutes, opening Unreal and that’s it. It’s already a success when you do that step as you build the habit and in many cases when you already open Unreal, you will want to continue. Getting yourself to start something is the hardest step.
    I did exactly that with drawing and learning Japanese. For past half a year I’ve been doing it almost daily, even if some days I didn’t really do too much. Now I just do it automatically.
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My life principle is to work only on things that I enjoy. I worked in commercial wall painting (using aerosol paints) for about five years. One morning, I woke up and realized that I no longer wanted to do it. I started searching for a new activity over the course of three years.

I would like to say that, as a smart strategist, I conducted a deep analysis of my talents and preferences, made a list of potential activities, created a strategy, and started trying new things. However, that was not the case. I only had a vague idea of what I liked (drawing, communication, doing various activities within one field). I very slowly tried out development, stand-up comedy, 3D modeling (which I started doing quite by accident and was not even part of my plans), and eventually VFX. I abandoned all of these pursuits. However, I returned to 3D modeling three times (each time for two months).

When I gave up 3D modeling for the third time, I tried VFX, which I abandoned after a month. With a slight feeling that I had been getting no results for a long time. One magical morning, just as I had stopped wanting to paint walls, I suddenly wanted to download Unreal Engine again. The puzzle in my head came together—3D and VFX were the only things I had returned to so many times. This means that, at the very least, I genuinely enjoy this work.

So for now I have been studying VFX for a total of 4-5 months. I don’t know what advice to give you, but if you keep returning to this activity, you probably like it. It’s worth spending some time learning it to overcome the barrier of discomfort, where nothing seems to work and everything is unclear, making you want to close UE.

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In my case it was obvious. I wanted to change something in my life. Before starting my master’s, I decided to give myself 2 years to start working in the game industry, if that wouldn’t work I would work in the study-related direction. Monday-Friday I worked full time in the coffee shop as a barista, and at weekends I studied at university, so I tried to learn the engine and vfx’es in my free time, I remember when I was tired and I fell asleep on the keyboard couple times a week, but there was nothing better for being motivated than improving quality of life and… it was worth. :slight_smile:

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I was barista too XD I guess it’s a natural career path

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Gastronomy->Gamedev, legit 100%

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This was all great advice thank you guys :handshake: