Portfolio VFX - Background or No?

So to continue the discussion without derailing someones portfolio review thread - how to do people think it’s best to display their effects and why?

The 2 main alternatives seem to be in an in-game environment (lit, modelled, textured etc.) vs just a greybox or grid environment.

Obviously it depends on what exactly the effect is but personally i prefer to see things in isolation - if i’m supposed to be looking at the cool effect but i’m distracted by the ground texture then that’s a point against having a textured environment.

On the other hand if i’m working on fx for a game, rather than just portfolio, i almost always build a small fx test level that encompasses the different lighting and backgrounds that you will find in the game to test against.

The main issue for me (and what i tell my students) is time - don’t waste time building a cool environment for your fx just to show them off, a greybox and two spheres attacking each other is fine, but if you have a nice suitable environment lying around then i’m not going to complain about seeing things in context.

At the end of the day i think it’s like music on a reel - great if done well, but can be distracting if done badly, and you’re not being hired for your ground textures / taste in music, so should you really be taking the time to polish that part of your reel, instead of just making more / better polished fx?



I think it’s good to see an effect in context, and most fx artist will probably be rolling in footage of their effects going off in game. For students however, I think both if they are able. Show it in a game level and then fade or transition to the exact same effect in a greybox scene to help isolate it. Unreal and Unity have starter levels and content you can grab and toss an effect in.

Like you mentioned @tharlevfx if you don’t have access to that for whatever reason, it is not worth your time to generate that content yourself; spend that time on your vfx work instead of learning how to hard surface model sci-fi stuff. Students should also be especially wary of using other classmates’ environments and scenes when displaying their work. If the level or environment is bad, has bad lighting, etc, it will draw my attention away from the effect, and you just failed the point of the demo reel.

If you do use an empty “test room” make sure it has some subtle checkering, or something besides a flat solid color. This helps particles with distortion/refraction show up a little bit better.

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They should not spend time polishing a bg imo. But they should borrow a background, throw it on a plane; overlay VFX onto art work they are intended to play within.

I never grey-box vfx at work either but for a portfolio i’d do even more! with the constant new hardware always putting strain on optimization**…what I want to see…

  1. Shown in context
  2. Shown on grey
  3. Show Tech breakdown (emphasis some under-the-hood discipline**)

Very interesting topic! :slight_smile:
To add another level to it, I think it would be awesome to know what your perspective is. Are you in a hiring position? Student? Are you actually William T. Reeves in disguise?

As to what I think is that so far I haven’t seen the need for a graybox showcase. There are too many good free assets for most engines now that you can just throw in the background even if you are a student. At the very least, you’ll learn more of how to integrate your effects into a game.
The use of a graybox in an arttest is another thing, as then you are tasked to solve a very specific problem and I will be actively trying to find flaws in your technique. That’s not the purpose of a reel.

My perspective: I’ve been reviewing applicants for several years and I’ll keep hiring talentad artists going forward.

IMO it depends on a couple of things - like @Partikel said, it matters who’s making the reel, but I’d also add that it matters what kinds of effects you’re trying to show. An obvious example would be weather/level ambience effects - those really don’t make a lot of sense in isolation.

Unity and Unreal both ship with demo environments, so I absolutely agree with others in this thread that you shouldn’t bother with building your own.

If we’re speaking specifically about students, I would highly encourage them to try and collaborate for portfolio purposes - one student builds an environment, another lights it, and the third places effects. Everybody wins!


some really interesting points

i’m not a huge fan of collaborative work from students - i’ve worked with people who weren’t amazing who got hired based on great group work before so i’m always a bit wary that one great contributor can lead to great results for everyone.

it’s a good point about demo levels but it sort of has to match the art style you’re working with, doesnt it? no point putting a big anime explosion in the unreal kite demo level. at which point you’re sort of back to being better off without a background?

i think you’re completely right that it depends on the context and usage of the effect - realistic and environmental effects you need to have that background to see them in context, magic and gameplay focused effects i think you’re more able to get away with greyboxes

How many reels do ya’ll see in a day? I’ve spoken to general game recruiters and I’ve heard of about hundred(s)+ reels a day, but that’s in all of the disciplines, not just VFX. I’m still working on my first real VFX only reel (ugh… English), so when there is a topic talking about VFX demo reels, I take note. For this one though… well…

To quote my inner student; “Aw man. These are all so varied.” :thinking: :confused:

(ಥ﹏ಥ) I just want to make virtual things blow up nice.

I would like to give MY take on all of this. MY observation based mostly on what has been posted here at this point, keeping in mind - yes, of course context. It seems to me right now that the best thing to do would be, as a lone artist, to start the demo reel showing off JUST the VFX in question spun in a round table if possible (cards being what they are). Then show it off in a grey boxed normal mapped lil’space. Something simple and singulair where the effect can be shown as little more dynamic then just - hey look at my effect spawning infinitely in the void. After that the only issue becomes how do I time all this to be quick and sweet in the reel.

I know ya’ll don’t have all day to watch my feeble mortal attempts at magic. :stuck_out_tongue:

Anywho, part of my reasoning in all this, I should note, comes from outside this thread. I have searched for many a VFX demo reel. Most demo reels I have seen involve game play utilizing the VFX in game - Where it matters! So there is a part of me that wants to “monkey see - monkey do” and show off effects in a space where they would live, even though that means I have to put some time into making-assets-of-whatever-complexity-not-VFX for the VFX. Stuff like a teepee style log fire space or ancient egyptian alien staff for a laser effect. Something to plus the existing VFX animation into because, simply put it’s… nice. And we’re artists… eh… of some-sort anyway. In my case, while I don’t necessarily have a game to put stuff into, I can show an effect among objects or a simple environment space. So… all in all, I figure go for the happy medium, and be careful of feature-creep, as always. Just don’t district the purpose of the reel - and you’ll be (I’ll be?) gold.

( * Psst * What do ya’ll think of my observation? Should I do this? :smiley:)

(2 Minute Edit: Apparently while I was making this post, this thread was made as a continuance. I’m going to go read it now!)

If there were hundreds of VFX reels per day, this industry would look very different. When you have an ad out, a couple per week make it past the recruiters and HR scans, if that. There are still not enough good VFX artists out there.

Well then, I hope to be able help by killing two birds with one stone then. :wink:

i think you’ve hit on an interesting point @Mez - trying to find good examples of student reels to draw inspiration from is quite difficult, because until recently Junior VFX roles weren’t as much of a thing and a lot of industry VFX artists would join a studio as env art and then move over into vfx and then have a published game to put all their nice fx in context in their reel. (at least that’s very much what i did). Coupled with the fact that once you’ve got a game or two published you’re going to not show your student work anymore makes it quite hard to find good examples of entry level student work that gets people hired.

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Yep, and I’m actually aware of this too (I’ve spoken to quite a # of you). This is why I’ve been asking things like…

…because I’m currently totally on my own now. I’ve been trying to self-gauge myself with little to no external barring on what would be too far, as I know this is something to look for from experience in my journey to learn. I’ve been in that trap before for things other then VFX. How would I know my drawing is bad, if I’ve done so in the dark?

There was a point at one time where I didn’t know what the basics were. So, without that mental footing, I, like a moth to flame I seeked the flashy stuff as it was the only light I had. Why would I know, or want to know anything about proper edge flow? Or UV Packing? What beginner would know how important that is? SO instead I got caught in a rut of; My reel needs to have GPU particles with vector maps and shaders with … geeze… I don’t know, dynamically oscillating tessellated geo and…ugh. No. Just make fire. Silly. Just make fire. :fire:

A little of that actually shows in the very first thread I linked, mostly since I’m on cloud 9 that I finally have a computer, but I digress.

I’ve had to make intensive self judgements. Since I’ve been wanting this for so long… goodness, it’s probably been an elapsed 15ish years or so. I have an awareness other true beginners might not have. I know the generalist basics, and I know that VFX pretty much has it’s hand in basically every cookie jar. Even for the basics, not VFX, just 3D Basics… that’s alot of stuff. If someone today said “I want to become a Realtime VFX Artist”, but didn’t know a darned thing about “3D”, I’d feel a sense of pitty if they were any older then their early teens.

Geo, UV’s, Animation Principles, Shaders, Blueprints, … How to use ALL THESE TOOLS… it’s a mad house. It’s difficult enough just swimming though these programs, where in most cases there are menus in menus in menus in menus. That’s hella daunting. After all of that - I’ve yet to mention the basics of VFX purely, which as far as I can tell right now, is simply more a cook-book of thinking your tools, more then any other 3D discipline due to the sheer scope to the number of things VFX can be a part of. Weapons Umbrella, Environment Umbrella, Character Umbrella, UI Umbrella, Design Umbrella… and probably some others I missed. All those particular disciplines have needs that I need to figure out how to fit into. I’m going into the cookie jar of the basics, and then making a black anomalous heart on mars. A spell that rises the dead of their souls. A laser that dissolves a mesh starting at the point where it has been shot. Oh! That plus efficiency. That too.

And hey… correct me if my observations are wrong on any of this.

It should also be noted that overall the access to modding has lessened as well too, it seems to me. This is an absolute AWFUL thing. Modding is why I’m here at all, and where I learned some of my most simple of basics.


Did… did I just vent? :triumph: I think I just vented a little. I feel good and I don’t know why. :stuck_out_tongue: LOL.

Sorry 'bout that. I’m posting this anyway (obviously) and I hope it’s insightful all the same. :smile: I do have more, but… well, that’s for another day. :wink: