Introduction & Context
(Note: If you are still learning English – go to my second post! That is the one below this one! Thank you!)
To start this, I simply should state how spoiled I’ve been in my fairly recent years when it comes to learning. If you are someone who frequents this forum, who’ve read my posts, you’ve likely seen the mentioning of my schooling, modding, self-path towards Realtime VFX. You’ve likely come across the mentioning about how I’m basically new to the raw creation aspect of all this Realtime VFX stuff, and yet I know a lot about a lot. You may have even come across the many questions where I’m just trying to figure out… well. I guess we’ll be getting to that. By the end of this introduction, you’ll have a total context for what I see and possibly, of the why. And yes, I’ll also be repeating myself a whole bunch here too. Redundancy and repetition can be quite a teacher. zzzz-T! Redundancy and repetition can be quite a teacher. Redundancy and repetition can be quite a teacher. Redundancy and repetition… zzzz-T!
( Sorry. Couldn’t resist. I guess you could say it was futile.)
I guess I should also start this by mentioning that I’m a rare(?) breed of newcomer, who seeks to jump into the Realtime VFX side of the industry head on, instead of the casual(?) eventual travel towards Realtime VFX so many of you had. Yet, that path may be my path too. I don’t know. I do have other realtime interests such as lighting, that I feel I would enjoy as a daily paying job… and yet. I don’t know. One of the blatantly big topics I see echoed among you all is of how few new Realtime VFX artists there are. Not just new, but good VFX newcomers. Skilled VFX newcomers. How most of ya’ll are an ol’ group with years or decade(s) under the belt. How do you attract new blood, new potential Realtime artists to VFX?
(Cough MODS Cough Cough Ah. Excuse me.)
All this is to say that my current approach to this profession is quite possibly different then many of you had. An experience you don’t understand, as it wasn’t yours to have. Many of you, as far as I can tell, didn’t really have the internet to learn or build from. Just yourself, the slow build of the local ranks in your team & finally when you could globally; Each other. Part of this rant will in some way mention a need of this too. As Realtime VFX grows to be its own thing, so do the requirements. It will be important to not leave the beginners behind. Buried in your excellence.
As I climb, the mountain builds.
I don’t know what the future holds in this journey of mine or how I’m going to do it. Perhaps this is cliché, but ultimately this post isn’t about answers, it’s about questions. Questions that I hope can bring some answers, if not just for me. It’s about my observations and my concerns that I have gathered over these last few months in my attempt to understand the truth of the job I so dearly seek, and am seemingly running out of time to realize.
A little-bit of what I had to say leaked out recently. It was “squeezed” out of me because, well… learning this stuff is hard, but it’s not. It doesn’t need to be. I’m posting this here to let you know that in your attempts to help said newcomers, you may have in your process also inadvertently hindered. I say this, in whole, in the most general sense I can. I know what I point out does not apply to ALL. I say that again; I know what I point out does not apply to ALL. I ultimately feel I can help more by speaking in the most general sense. I do this in the hopes of sparking your internal analysis; be it of a tutorial you’ve made, want to make, or simply how it is you learn.
It’s a funny thing about most disciplines, in my observation, where as simple as it seems they should be, is how complex they really are. Such as teaching. We all learn in our own way, but it seems to me not all possible ways have been met per format.
The weighting feels uneven to my current purview. Enough so to merit… wow… ALL THIS! Eleven pages and at least 5100+ words, with the necessary formatting text included. Gee-wiz. Why couldn’t I do this in collage?
I, myself, again as mentioned many times with much reason, have been very fortunate in my being able to get hands-on teaching by industry pros in a school setting. A place where my learning was concentrated and swift. A place where my every day was a carefully constructed river rapids of knowledge with lessons made to prepare for the next day. Actions made with experience and understanding as a guiding hand. If I was lost, all I had to do was raise my hand, and together we solved problems in understanding within an instant. I guess in a way that’s part of what I’m doing now as this is written, I’m raising my hand. Trying to solve problems in understanding. A place where I could make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. I could do without fear of it effecting others in their work, as in most cases, no team was at risk. No bottom line got hurt. I knew that watching a video online couldn’t possibly compare to being IN-THE-ROOM with an expert whose job is to directly teach. Yet, in these recent months it has been evermore prevalent, retrospect being what it is, how big of a deal it was that I was able to get such an experience to accelerate my learning. I in part feel it’s why I can speak to you all with such a degree of intelligence(?) and confidence, as if I was already officially part of the industry already.
So in these recent months, as I’ve consumed hour-by-countless-hour of applicable video tutorials, of every scrap and granular bit that has grabbed my attention; I’ve tried very intently to teach myself VFX through the internet. Even though I’m a silly-slow learner starting off, I know that once I could get it, I get it. I’ve had those successes before. Yet, for Realtime VFX… well; Could it be that just a few months in a scattered random sea of topics might not be enough**!?** I’ve had to do alot of self directing. I had figured that combined with my generalist skills and internet instruction that I could cobble together a much needed success in my long smoldering goal. To get from enhancing my awareness of Realtime VFX, to truly knowing Realtime VFX. To sit down, take a task and just – MAKE. That’s the dream anyway. To breath fire without an inhaler. To cast magic without a book or wand. To bend the spoon without the bending of myself. All in all – Effortless.
I suppose I’m not the only one here with that dream. For me, I just want to be able to at least breath the basics.
Of all the time used, in all these actions made, I’ve noted possible flaws. I can’t know how true this is, as I speak in reference of myself, in both the first and third person in this instant. Teacher & Student. I’ve always been an alarmingly insightful person, so all I can do is hope what I have say is of quality and not of a misunderstanding on my part. Student & Teacher.
I know this much. What I have to say here will require a coordinated effort to lower the skill ceiling of things to learn that I feel has so unintentionally been created and to better inform those who seek to learn this art, regardless of background, so that what is learned in full can carry over into a professional setting, if possible, with the true realities of the job.
The Lone Climb
At this point, in a former draft, I would have mentioned the sheer overhead of skills, both artistically and technically, it appears is needed for Realtime VFX. The basis of the removed text is now linked (in “leaked”) in the intro above. It was to be a side note to the full set of thoughts I wish to convey here, yet I felt it was still important to note, even now in this (apparently ) truncated paragraph. After all, it’s the knowledge of these tools we use that is the first step in actually creating Realtime VFX. If there is anything that requires the most focus on behalf of Realtime VFX, it’s of our use in the tools we use. Our style of wielding. It’s the first place that should be considered for “learning” “efficiency”, a truth that is correct regardless how you say it. Which essentially, I should note, is what all this text in total is all about. What could be more important than the first steps for learning? Which moves this thought to the next point.
Most tutorials out there aren’t with Realtime VFX in mind, so I have to use my judgment to consider how applicable what I learn is. Yet it can not be assumed that everyone who watches said tutorials, who wants to be a Realtime VFX artist has that educated base such as I. Right now the choices are slim.
On the technical side, you can learn everything about a program, which is a definitely the best option in the generalist long run, but woefully time consuming. Or, to somehow figure out what is used the most by Realtime VFX artists (such as Fluid Sims), and try to self manage what is learned by self correcting things that are probably not true for Realtime. It’s doable, but prone to sloppy results depending on the amount of guess work needed on behalf of the user. Especially if what is being watched is dated by a few years. A “now you use this module to do this”, yet that module has been renamed or no longer exists, so you have to find an alternative method while at the same time re-learning the process you are trying to learn in the first place!
(I could rant a WHOLE page or two about this, it can be very very disheartening. It can stop the flow of learning in-it’s-tracks.)
On the artistic side, there seems to be a lot of side talk borrowed from other disciplines, and understandably so. Yet, in doing this with a broad brush, we lose a degree of nuance. Little subtleties of the profession that only(?) experience in Realtime VFX can point out. Do the 12 Animation principles differ in some way for Realtime VFX? How ‘bout color theory? The importance of silhouettes? Does any of the core artistic basics have any particular uniqueness in Realtime VFX? I would think so, but if there is – there is little talk about it online! When there is, it only seems to be an overall mentioning, before returning to more technical tasks. The basics are shown to be only a side note, and presumed already known.
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Of course, the day before I had planned to post this…
… this got posted. Jolly good show!
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To which brings me to my next thought. It’s a pitch with this all this context in mind.
I dream of a Realtime VFX Wiki. Where if it is relevant to Realtime VFX, it’s in the wiki. Maya, Max, Houdini, Unreal, Unity, Plug-ins – so on. Techniques, Good Practices, Bad Practices, Animation, Shapes… what have you. Even if it’s nothing more then just a set of links to official documentation and lessons, it would be a dedicated map, starting point, or continuance of learning. A consolidation of knowledge (White background warning! Shield your eyes!). When you put in “Realtime VFX”, what hits to the top?
If you take nothing else from my post here, take this idea here. It is sorely needed. If it’s already been pitched and I missed it or forgotten about it or whatever, think of this as another push for it. Yes, this is something that is needed and it won’t be done overnight. I should note that Polycount does have a VFX portion of their wiki, but it is rarely tended to. It seems an after thought. If we don’t make one here, perhaps we could Co-Own that portion of the Wiki? Adopt it to a loving home, perhaps? I know this idea will require much more discussion, but I wanted to get it out. It is needed.
Knowledge of the natives is often needed for the lone climb.
The Hobbyist & The Professional
There are some truly excellent excellent VFX tutorials that have been made by those of you who frequent, or at very least, have registered to this forum. I can say without reservation that I HAVE learned, BUT there is something sorely lacking in some of the lessons made. That being; How to think out the VFX process. With my professional goal in mind, some of the tutorials feel more like they are for the creation of hobbyists, instead of the creation of professionals. Perhaps they are! I don’t know.
All said though, of the many methods to do things VFX that I’ve seen, there are only a minute (as in small – ‘Cus English!) amount of tutorials that I’ve been able to find on the end to end process of making Realtime VFX. From rough stick figure concept, to final shippable asset that shows these actions as a journey, not a destination. Instead, what can be found is a stunted narrowed version of this very process. Where due to format, due to how it has been presented, how it has been made; once the tutorial ends, I’m aware of how to make that ONE THING; The thing showed. In that ONE WAY. That ONE SINGULAR METHOD.
This is in most learning scenarios a hindrance, as it shackles upon ignorance. By ever-so-directly thinking 100% for the viewer, you risk “this way” being the only way, for lack of a better way of explaining it.
Well… maybe I can explain it better.
To those of you who have (survived) toddlers, have you ever noticed how in the preschool programs that they very rarely directly state what they teach end-to-end? It’s…
… “What’s this!!?”…|A|… “That’s RIGHT! - It’s an A! The first letter of the English alphabet!”
Why do you think it has been designed that way? Then after they speak of the initial letters and their sounds, they speak of how these sounds blend together to form out different words to speak of language. Hint Hint. They don’t just go “HEY BABY! SEE THIS WORD! IT’S SQUIRREL! YAY! YOU CAN SAY SQUIRREL NOW!”
For some reason that example was a Drill Sargent. Goodness, what a thought.
Anyway, as a result of this overall how-to-recipe style of tutorials, a VFX learner currently who seeks professional know-how beyond just “How to make X”, needs to watch multiple HOURS upon HOURS of scattered videos that are… seriously y’all… meandering quality around the net to get a scatter plot of an idea of how all this Realtime VFX magic works together. I, myself do it because I already care. I already WANT IT. Plus I’m fucking desperate to learn what I need to learn so I can get hired fucking PLEASE!…
Oh! … I apologize, that got a bit too real for a second. Where was I? …
Ah! Right, so I’ve already allotted my time to do this digging, but that is in all likeliness not going to be true for others. Ultimately such a style basically turns what is recalled to be much like the game pick-up sticks, depending on preexisting awareness and skill of the learner.
So how to fix this? Well, seek to teach with a goal of teaching a SET of things in the end to end teaching, not just “Here is how you make X effect”. Realtime VFX is ultimately recursive. It’s about connections. Note the detours. Take a journey, instead of a path. Be it for the programs used, a technique, tips and tricks, things to look out for, how you could apply this lesson elsewhere in VFX… so on. The creation aspect and the problem solving aspect is part of the fun! And there is still so much to teach.
Speaking of X – you are at the half way mark. Thank you for getting this far! I hope I haven’t bored you to tears or desecrated your virgin eyes with my sudden bout of uncensored profanity. Here… will this help?
I mean… there is no thread in this forum that can’t be automagically improved with an explosion emoji right?
Obviously. It is known.
After all, a little folly, now and then, is indispensably necessary. Especially when it is to contrast…
… deeper fears.
The Speed of Knowledge (Side A)
Another factor I’ve noted in a number of tutorials is how quite obviously the tutorial is being made by those of you who already know what you are doing. Now how is this obvious factor a bad thing, you may be wondering? Well! What I mean is, I can see you know what you are doing and you have not considered (enough) that your audience doesn’t!
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW?!
I’ll watch a person click around in the speed of knowledge, because they know where everything is already and why. Meanwhile, I’M going – HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT!? What dots in your head connected you to that point? The fix to this is simple. Speak-your-thoughts-as-you-do-them, as you think them, as they can help! I remind, there is a difficulty in self teaching, and anything that you can do to help the learner in the process of learning, to keep a direction of which is learned, gets said learner that one step closer. It gives something more to hold on to if what is seen is not enough. It gives the lesson more teeth.
Furthermore, I ask to those of you who teach your skills upon the net, to self reference your incite. We were all new at this once, and it’s surprisingly easy to forget what that is like. That doesn’t mean start holding hands, but be mindful your audience.
I say this knowing that you (per the purpose of this post) would only see a camera and/or a screen. That what I ask may require some educated guessing, and I admit it may be right hard to figure out. Yet that’s where your personal experience and incite comes in. Tweak as you feel is needed. If you have a skill of audience in mind, declare it (some of you already do), and make sure you are clear in your meaning. What does “Intermediate skill” mean for VFX? I don’t know! I’m blind here! I need context!
Despite what video games show us, we don’t come with an absolute readable skill meter.
The Speed of Knowhow (Side B)
If I said – Make a Sand-drift Effect …
… I have no doubt that a number of you could right now type out the numerous ways you would or could use to make said VFX effect, to get at least the basics. Be it photo manipulation, simulated, drawn, coded, or a mix of them all. How ‘bout make a Mine Explosion in Water? How ‘bout flesh that disintegrates with bones and all? So many of you here have the know how on the general steps you would need to take where you have enough of an inkling that you could begin to iterate your take from it. You know how to create your foundation and build from it.
For those who do this, again please ask yourself while you are working this in your head - “How do I know this?”
For me though, and perhaps for others but this example is particularly singular of me to bring up, I don’t even really grasp what my options would be. And it… it frightens me terribly against my goal. In all my want, This. One. Thing.
For now all I know is that in all my questioning and searching and seeking and self discipline that I’ve done, I can’t seem to find this bundle of knowledge that I so dearly seek. This bit of VFX Theory, or whatever it may be to get my brain to FINALLY go… CLICK! There are no (?) tutorials for this “VFX” thinking that I have found. I don’t know if it’s something I can learn online or if it’s an experience thing, or even if it can be taught at all; That it’s a skill you just know from instinct.
I see an effect and I think – Card / Mesh / Shader / Flipbook + Shapes + Layering of said things. I of the day this is posted could, maybe(?) make the most basic form, depending on complexity, yet I have no push or pull with any of these initial creation options in my mind, as if oil and water. There is a struggle to it that I’ve been trying to fix. If I want to make something, short of planning of what I want to do and how I want something to look, I go blank. So I find my self with nothing to grasp in my want to create, even though I have knowledge! It’s bewilderingly frustrating. It doesn’t make any logical sense. It’s as if my knowledge is but Swiss cheese! How is it even possible that I know, but also DON’T know!
How could I in good faith apply for a job if I can’t even currently do it in full, hypothetically in my head? … or do I judge myself too harshly?
Weirder still, I know I can tell you if an animation is too fast, or what doesn’t yet feel right with the best of you (Try me!). I say this in part, as when I read so many of your critiques, you say what I think, 'cept the particular technical bits of course. Perhaps it’s a lack of technical understanding? All in all it seems when it comes to my current state in Realtime VFX, I am, and I am not. Despite my singular intention of this particular point, I bring this up because… well. For all the things I have learned, I find it strange that I am in this confounded state and I wonder if such a state of crossed wires has occurred to others.
I wonder if I have reached the limits of learning VFX on the internet, for whatever my mind needs, and what I can do to solve this problem. Granted, it may be because I am not as young as when I started this path. It may just be that I’m simply thicker then molasses moving up hill in -10 degree weather… with crutches, or that it is indeed a result of the overall VFX tutorials. Maybe in all that has been learned, I’ve missed some sort of foundational structure, as it’s happened before. Maybe, even if it is on the internet, it can’t be learned! Maybe what I need is hands on. Maybe… I don’t know. I just don’t know, and I just hate it.
Heh. I’d make lightning come out of my hands but…… yea.
A Victim of Sanitation
To this final direct point, I note the core issue I see. No one is teaching problem solving in Realtime VFX, for Realtime VFX. Perhaps teaching is the wrong word to use here, but all the same, I rarely have seen a tutorial thus far where – “OH! This didn’t work, I’ll have to do this.” One of the BEST things to see as a learner is seeing the teacher solve a problem. It helps a learner know what things to look for and think for as there was a problem.
It didn’t go perfectly, which is what this industry is ultimately all about! This industry is not about Videogames! It’s about things that should be working not working! Our job (among many) is to fix it so it does.
Why is my normal map showing something weird. OH! I changed the normals in the mesh export, or I needed to invert the normal map. Why are these polygons transparent when this map doesn’t have an alpha on it? Oh! Whoops, I didn’t turn backface culling on in my Mesh Editor, so when I brought it in the Realtime Engine of choice and put a Mat with backface culling on, BOOM – “transparent” polygons. Go back into Mesh editor and flip face. Why is the flip book particle so blocky? Oh! My background wasn’t totally black. Why is “whatever” working on Platform A but not working in Platform B? Oh! OpenGL or DirectX or what-have-you isn’t/doesn’t support “whatever” in this version of the platform… yeah and SO ON.
It all comes down to the sheer polished nature of so many tutorials. In other cases this would be a good thing, as per our training or simple natures as artists. Yet here, this polish can be a detriment to learning. That doesn’t mean your videos can’t look nice and be well edited if need be, but that the lessons to be learned need not be so sanitized. If you made a mistake while making your tutorial, show what you did to fix it! I want to see experts fail, so I can see how they succeed. If I see the same issue again and again among you all – THAT’S A HUGE DEAL! That would mean that mistake is REALLY important to learn, as it’s a common mistake! It would collectively become about teaching the things no one directly thinks to teach, because life ultimately is the teacher.
For example, look at this recent post made by bgolus & Partikel in this thread made by Jaybles.
As a learner reading this, I learned more in a few minutes then I have in an hour of some videos. All from Pros just… griping over things! (Just don’t take it too far!) Nothing ground breaking mind you, but food for thought. Things to consider that I didn’t know to think of. (Honestly the entire thread is read-worthy – but I DIGRESS!)
So what have we learned? What have I asked you to consider? That’s a fancy way of saying TL;DR for those of you who chose to CTRL/Command+F to this point. In brief; Learning efficiency & learning Efficiency. The creation of hobbyists Vs The creation of professionals. The difference between awareness of Realtime VFX, to knowing Realtime VFX.
I mentioned Workflow! Method! THINK VFX!
In Detail; Are you sure when you help, that you’re helping? Even if you are, has the market of this help been already realized? Is there a need somewhere else that is not being taught? Not just in topic, but how it is being taught. It seems very uneven to me. Overall and in a general sense, I am deeply concerned that on top of the lack of Realtime VFX basics & the sheer scope in size for many a professional program; that due to the how-to-recipe style of tutorials, the speed of knowledge displayed without adequate self reference of whom the audience is to be, and the sanitized, perfect, and possibly unrealistic display of said knowledge is making learning about Realtime VFX on the internet harder then it needs to be. That as a result, this affects the very way the possibly impressible newcomers are thinking (such as yours truly), which in turn effects what you may get by those who self teach. Put good in, get good out. This is the general idea that I have attempted to convey and answer.
(Also… Searching for a job is probably one of the worst things ever. Apologies again for the profanity.)
English Too Complex?; I’m aware that I can be quite verbose…er… use really complex words, and that English is not a mother tongue…er… native language for some of you. So, as I noted at the very start, if you need clarification… er… simpler wording, in the post right below this one (post #2) I made an abridged-simpler version. You may miss some fine detail, but the overall idea is there. For those who have need of it I hope it helps.
And that, my friends, is the REST… of the story.
Conclusion & Wrap up
So where ever I may be, where ever you are; I look forward to everyones thoughts of this.
Did I do good?
Is this a quality post?
Did my analytical artists mind see something of merit, or is all this just a bunch of hooey? I admit there is a lot to unpack here, and you may need to give it a second wave and write down notes. Sorry ‘bout that.
I hope that my formatting choices and examples are enough to assist the understanding of my current observations and their declarences. If there is still something you don’t understand of my purview, please let me know. After all… not understanding something kind of sucks! Or… well… so I hear! :sarcasm:
GDC’18 & Thank You
All in all, I’ll be at GDC’18 this year, presuming the heavens don’t play dice with me, so perhaps we can talk more about this there as well. I look forward to it, as it may be my foreseeable last. I’ll see you all at the roundtable.
(I learned my lesson last year. Also: Nice pair of Shoes & an Extra Phone Battery if possible.)
Oh! And thank you for reading all this if you did! This GDC-esk text of mine. I hope you all didn’t mind my moments of candor. I hope I have left you all with intelligent questions you ultimately may not have considered, or didn’t know to consider before. I thank you again and to those of you who can, I hope to see you and collect your card at GDC’18!!