Oculus tempestatis || Ethan Du Toit || VFX Sketchbook

This post aims to serve as a ‘sketchbook’ that I shall be updating on occasion, documenting my antics over the course of my VFX journey. It will begin at the beginning of my learning process up to the present, at which point it shall become a journal of sorts. The name ‘Oculus tempestatis’ (Translated: ‘Eye of the Storm’) refers directly to an Artist’s ability to gaze into the proverbial abyss, and see meaning amongst the noise, To discern and create meaning, emotion and beauty.

Yes, I am extremely dramatic.

Born in the UK and having lived 99% of my life in South Africa, I’d like to say I’m from an area not so well acquainted with VFX as an industry, stylised/real-time least of all. That said, the amount of learning I’ve been able to do is nothing short of incredible. Thanks most of all to VFX Apprentice, who have single-handedly kickstarted every single VFX-related learning path I’m on or have been through. Without the help and guidance of the mentors there and people I met through the program, I wouldn’t be the man I am today nor do I think I’d be in a good place. To say they have changed the course of my life for the better is no understatement, and I do not say it lightly.

Did I mention I’m dramatic?

That’s the name. I’m an incredibly ambitious individual with absolutely no sense of how difficult something is in reality, so I would very much like to hope that mine is a name you’ll be seeing around in the near future. I went through school as the quiet kid, reserved and very to-myself. That I am here in the entertainment industry is nothing short of a miracle, since it is the exact scientific mathematic polar opposite of where I thought I’d be a few years ago. As of today, I have graduated with my Bachelor’s in Digital Design, and I’m looking to specialize in VFX for games and film. Up to this point I’ve met many amazing people, many of whom are from the Agora animation community. I have of course learned much and more from them as well.

I hope you enjoy your stay :sparkles:

I mentioned ambition right?

Yeah my dream studio is Riot Games. Pretty high up-there for a 22y/o-just out of uni-mostly self-taught-industry-newbie but hey, a guy can dream right? The visual clarity and style in these games, primarily Valorant and its media, is nothing short of incredible. Certainly a worthy skill level to aspire to. Although the dream specifically is to get on the MMO team (I’m a little bit of an FFXIV nut) I would honestly love working on anything and everything. A recent foray into Guilty Gear has given me newfound interest in Project L as well.

I believe my biggest obstacle at this stage (aside from location) is likely my style, in that at this stage I don’t really have one. I have done 2D and 3D animation as well as exercises in all art principles throughout my student career, but haven’t yet implemented these in my VFX work. At this stage, I’d describe my VFX as extremely competent in the shader/tech department, but a bit lacking in art direction.
This shall be rectified immediately.

At this stage, I’m not quite sure. I know the path for the craft (Learn, Practice, Feedback, Repeat) but actually getting there is gonna be a challenge. I think in this regard, all I can do is improve to such a degree that I make myself an extremely hirable artist. For this, I need to level up a thousand-fold. Luckily, I have just the right community to turn to whenever I need assistance. Their input has been invaluable up to this point, and I think without them I’d be a hundred steps behind where I currently am.

Here’s my plan…

Get that demo reel lookin Spicy
Become proficient in both 2D and 3D animation
Learn everything there could possibly be to know about particle systems
Create my own hookups and mechanics to showcase effects

In no particular order of course.

I think at this point I’ve typed enough, so thank you for sticking with me during this introduction. Works and progress shall be included from this point onwards.

I recently found a Twitch streamer who I really enjoy, and his logo has a very unique shape to it

Find him over at Twitch

From this logo, I had an idea to create a healing AOE effect inside Unreal Engine, a great excuse to learn Niagara and a bunch of shader tech. I have extensive shader experience from using Blender for literally half of my life, but this is the first time I’ll be using them in a different program.
After chatting a bit and getting his permission, this will officially be my first effect!

I began with a very quick concept sketch to capture the general feel of it.

And once done, I began to work on the textures I knew I’d need.

The Kanji displayed translates to ‘think’ and I believe it helps add to the overall idea of the effect, pun intended. By beginning the effect with the symbol’s formation and then transitioning downwards to the main AOE, it gives the impression of an ‘idea made real.’

After about a week or so of making it all up as I went, I have arrived at this:

Throughout this effect I learned how to use:

Camera-facing cards
Particle forces
Dissolving shaders
Additive materials
The Niagara sequencer

I would call this a success

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I spent the next 2 or so weeks practicing my brush confidence in Krita, the first time I’d picked up a digital pen in a good long while. The practice casually devolved into ‘different flavors of lightning’ and naturally I had to include a test with Neon, who I rendered in Blender to paint over.

We also can’t forget the obligatory ‘Fist-meteor’ that I made for… some reason.

Original name, I know. I watched Tangled earlier that week (Best new-Disney musical, I will die on this hill) and really loved the Sun motif, and its association to life and warmth.

I began by creating the textures:

These were then used to create this circular AOE, once again designed to heal.
I modelled a flower petal in blender and unwrapped it in such a way that I could make it ‘grow’ from the center by scrolling a texture along the positive Y-axis.

Overall, I would rate this as less of a success than the prior effect. The idea was decent, but the execution left much room for improvement, both artistically and technically. Instead of revising it, I decided instead to move on an iterate from then on.


I watched Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood recently (ABSOLUTE must-watch if you haven’t) and I really enjoyed the various way they showed the transmutations from one material to another. I particularly enjoyed the alchemical arrays and how they act like mathematical equations to cause a transmutation.
Following this, I decided to make one of these arrays as a massive-damage dealing AOE. I created a simple facsimile of what could be considered an array, and used it to frame the area within it.

Using additive shaders (to avoid those funky sorting issues) I have created this extremely noisy, very violent-looking no-man’s-zone.

I arranged it as a sort of tower, allowing the ‘energy’ to appear from a point and clearly travel in a set direction.

I would call this a success, but definitely another step towards a ‘shader comfort-zone’ which I’d like to avoid. I think to avoid developing complacency, I need to crank up my art-direction by orders of magnitude. Here’s to a ton of flipbook creation!

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I’ve spent a decent while now practicing textures, concepts and drawing. A lot of it I can’t post here since down the line I intend to sell large libraries of textures as packs, but I have been creating bespoke assets for each and every effect I’ve made. These range from meshes to textures, and all have proven to be useful and easy to modify and reuse. Having used Blender for the better part of 11 years, it was fun to learn about effective UVs and normals, which I hadn’t interacted with before to a proficient degree.

Feel free to download and use the two constellation spritesheets, a gift. I’m not sure they’ll work right off this page but if they do, enjoy :smiley:

Texture painting and mesh creation has been a refreshing learning experience without a lot of pressure (outside of constantly referencing objectively superior work) and has left me with a sizable library of assets to use and modify as the occasion demands.

Stuff: Learned.
Progress: Made.

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I really love the way you talk about your progress and the motivation you have on every VFX, I’m too newbie on this world so probably my words means nothing but I know you’re going to become such a big VFX Artist on Riot Games cos you have the strengh for that!! So keep working that hard and I hope both we get our dream work in the industry. ^^

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Likewise I wish you the best. I hope your journey is a good one, and I look forward to seeing your work.
Best of luck, and I’m glad this post was worthwhile :fire:

In February, I joined a discord known as ‘Agora Community’ to pursue the first of my great interests; animation.

I wish I’d known at the time how much these people would help me, since at the time I wasn’t in the best of spaces. Since then I’ve made friends and learned so much, I have no viable way of repaying them outside of using what I’ve learned to improve myself and my craft.
They have taught me all stages of character animation, as well as workflows and logical ways to operate. It’s remarkably inspired and not at all as daunting on a surface level as I’d thought, although it has a myriad complicated levels above it. I’d describe it as easy to learn, hard to master, and requires a great deal of practice.

I drifted away from Character Animation as a vocation since committing to it would mean forsaking the other stuff I’d learned along the way in favor of purely motion, and it was this that led me to VFX as it is the ONLY profession that uses EVERYTHING.

Since then, I’ve been assisting them with the occasional VFX need. They run a monthly animation challenge, and by pure chance the one in February was partnered with Riot Games.
I have since added features to the Blender rig of K/DA Akali, aiming for a stylish look that runs in realtime. In conclusion: mission accomplished.