Proposed Curriculum for University RTVFX programs, and training here

Hey gang,

One of the interesting topics at this years VFX roundtable was the idea of this group crowdsourcing a curriculum for universities to train upcoming vfx artists with. There seems to be close to 0 programs that offer a programs that will put out students with the qualifications we are all looking for, so lets discuss it on this thread. What would you like to see all students exposed to.

Secondarily… if we can come up with a curriculum, the idea of seeding each of these classes with tutorials and material on this site, created all of you… so that teachers that aren’t experts in this field have some material to jump off with, was discussed. It would be killer to identify individuals in this group that are area experts for each topic, and have them generate some training material on that topic, or aggregate existing material.

Discuss! What would you like to see the perfect vfx student coming out of school, already knowing?


I’ll kick it off…

2 classes for hand drawn animation.
2 classes Life drawing.
The artistry, history and critique of vfx.
Modeling, textures, materials.
Intro to real time particles.
Creating textures for rtvfx
-rendering fluids
-compositing via AfterEffects or Nuke
-photo bashing
Introduction to programming.
Introduction to rigging and animation.
Stylized vfx.
Realistic vfx.
RTVFX Physics (Havok)
Basic Destruction. (props)
Advanced Destruction. (simulation)
Advanced programming, Tech Art.
Intro to Houdini
Advanced Houdini
Advanced rtvfx.
-vector fields
-flow maps
-load balance
Final - Reel development.

-Which of these are full classes, or part of a class could be debated.
-A strong balance of both artistic emphasis and technical chops.


Yes! Thanks for starting this DJ. I’ll kick it off with design and animation principles. @Keyserito and @hadidjah had a great talk at the bootcamp looking at the design of an effect. I think all students should start with basic design principles (colour theory, etc) and then see how they apply to vfx. This should be done in a software agnostic way so that students don’t associate a tool with the result.

Secondly, principles of animation as they relate to vfx. Jason has some great stuff on his YouTube channel and 2d vfx are a good start. I’ve done a couple quick tips for rbd sims and I plan to do some more. The elemental magic books are obviously a great resource.


Is asking advanced programming from, lets say, an art school realistic? Im just imagining the discipline split by 2nd year into tech art heavy or 2d/3d art exclusive (Imho)

  • adv shaders; node based, CG code and optimization

@Keyserito and I started some class outlines last year if anyone is interested in continuing to contribute and build on them - they were set aside for quite a while while we worked on our talk, but I’m looking forward to getting back to working on them. The goal of these outlines is, quite simply, to be able to easily propose particular courses or sets of courses to schools, and to have somewhere to direct interested teachers to.
(It’s also worth mentioning that these ones are not necessarily software-agnostic, although at least some should definitely be added that are. I’ll try to get docs started for those soon.)

Something that I’ve personally been focusing on so far when working with colleges is convincing them to have a single VFX elective or class section as a sort of ‘trial’ - this is about as low-risk as they can get, it opens the doors to extending classes and refining curriculums, and (I think) most importantly, it makes students aware that VFX is even an option. I don’t have a huge number of data points right now, unfortunately, although I’m sure this is another thing that Jason could speak to as well since he’s been working closely with AAU (as opposed to my scattershot of working with a variety of teachers and schools). Since these have been art schools/game-centric degrees so far, it also leaves the courses so far a little more free to touch on pre-existing art principles in the context of VFX and then get the students straight into making things.

Hopefully at least some of these tests eventually become colleges offering a series of courses up into advanced VFX, but that’s been my focus so far. :slight_smile:


Hey man, don’t be telling universities how to make VFX artists or we’ll have competition! It’ll drive our market value down. :smiley:


Here are a couple of super rough class ideas I came up with today that maybe like a first-year student at college could have as options. Going to put some more thought into this when I get home but I figured I’d share these. Took some of @undertone 's ideas and worked them into what could be some starter courses along with some thoughts on what some projects could be for those courses.

Intro to Real Time Particles
- Photoshop for making textures
- Basic shader production
- Basic SubUV creation
- Where to find good photo reference
- Project ideas: Create a campfire and a torch light, what differences are there?, Create a magic missile, Create Muzzle flashes, Create a hit effect
Intro to 3D Modeling
- Maya/3DS Max basics (whatever the school’s preference for software is)
- Unwrapping UVs
- Basic texture creation (painting and photo ref)
- Bringing your model into a game engine/Marmoset
- Modular model making
- Project ideas: Create a box/barrel, Create a common tool (i.e. screwdriver, hammer, etc), Create a modular Sci-Fi Hallway segment
Intro to Photoshop for Game Production
- Learn the program
- Hotkeys
- Layer Blending and what it is
- Photobashing
- Tiling textures
- Project ideas: Photobash a character concept together, Photobash a creature concept, Add decals to a vehicle picture, tile a cobblestone image
Anatomy for Art / Life Drawing Lab
- Gesture Drawings
- Figure Drawing
- Learning the basic shapes, form and function of the human body
- Proportions!
- Other stuff you learn in art class
- Project ideas: Anatomical studies of figure poses, gesture drawings, going to figure drawing sessions, draw multiple poses
Intro to Animation
- Learn the 12 principles of animation
- Practice those principles with exercises
- Keyframes and You
- Project ideas: Walk cycle, Run cycle, Jump animation, character punch/kick, character gets hit, animate an object

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This is simply awesome!

I’m not sure if this will help in any way, but I had started to write a VFX course a few weeks ago. Sadly, I’ve been super busy (and sick) recently and haven’t been able to keep working on it. I had laid out most of the ideas I had.

Here it is:

Here are the main contents I had in mind:


1. Chapter 1 - We can do this !
1.1. Introduction
1.2. Scene Setup
1.3. Basic Shaders (Alpha and Add)
1.4. Our first Materials
1.5. Basic Particle System
Challenge 1: Simple Hit
1.6. Basic Trails
1.7. Texturing Tricks: Edges Safeguard
1.8. A bit of scripting
Challenge 2: Simple projectile
Challenge 3: Directional shot

2. Chapter 2 - A whole World to toy with
2.1. VFX Philosophy
2.2. Basic Timing
2.3. Basic Meshes
Challenge 4: Frozen Crystal and smoke
Challenge 5: God Ray
2.4. UV Editing
2.5. Main Shader: BlendAdd
2.6. Basic Shader: Fresnel
Challenge 6: Simple Magic Explosion
Challenge 7: Heal Effect
Challenge 8: Sword Slash
Challenge 9: Souls Escape

3. Chapter 3 - Embrace Progress
3.1. Layering
3.2. Referencing
3.3. Gameplay Clarity
3.4. Lens Flares
Challenge 10: Sparks, Smoke and Lens Flare
Challenge 11: Simple Black Hole AOE

4. Chapter 4 - I will make you Beautiful
4.1. Colors and Color Schemes
4.2. Gradients
4.3. Shaders: Masks
Challenge 12: Crystal Reflections
4.4. More Trails
4.5. Shapes Understanding
4.6. Values
Challenge 13: Fire Trail
Challenge 14: TRON Trails
Challenge 15: Laser Beam
Challenge 16: Energy Wall Spell
Challenge 17: Hologram

5. Chapter 5 - Ashes, ashes, they all fall down !
5.1. SubEmitters
5.2. Collisions
Challenge 18: Fireworks
Challenge 19: Rain
Challenge 20: Shield Hit
5.3. Sprite Sheets
Challenge 21: Tesla Coil
Challenge 22: Explosion
Challenge 23: Fire

6. Chapter 6 - Oblivion awaits !
6.1. Advanced Shader: Parallax
Challenge 24: False Window
6.2. Advanced Shader: Dissolve
Challenge 25: Portal
Challenge 26: Dissolving Object with particles
6.3. Texturing: Ground Cracks
Challenge 27: Powerful Ground Impact (with cracks)

7. Chapter 7 - I decide what the Tide will bring !
7.1. Advanced Shader: Tessellation and Vertex Displacement
Challenge 28: Water Ripples
7.2. Basic Shader: Depth
Challenge 29: Sea and Waves
Challenge 30: Storm Clouds
Challenge 31: Lava
Challenge 32: Winston Shield

8. Lexicon
8.1. Abbreviations[/details]

The main idea was to explain the theory, then make a practical effect step by step to explain how to use that theory.

Those were oriented towards Unity, and they don’t go in “too deep”.


True, I don’t think an art school is going to teach advanced coding. Though, this curriculum could keep in mind three different program types. 1) Art school like CalArts, where they may not be technical staff. 2) University Game development programs like UCLA where there will be programming courses, but perhaps not gaming focused. and 3) Dedicated gaming colleges like Digipen where students could easily jump tracks and get some C sharp or python experience.

My aim for including programming is to prep the student to function in some ways as a tech artist. If they could pull off a data exporter from Max/Maya/Houdini, Parse and manipulate a text file, write a MelScrip/MaxScript to automate something, that is the objective. Whether it’s via a paired basic/advanced class, or just one course, etc… is open.

We don’t require vfx artists to dig into our game scripts, as some of our guys are not as technically savvy, and are more on the art side. But those who wield both artistry and tech tend to be quite deadly.


Professor Leroy, teach me your ways! This is simply amazing. What format were you planning on publishing this in? It’s just the sort of thing that could live on a “Getting Started” page.

I’m in the same camp as @alimchaarani on developing the resources for VFX education primarily in our hands, similar to what Animation Mentor has done with the character animation discipline. It’s great for schools to be teaching this, perhaps even as a full-blown curriculum emphasis some day; and I have no doubt many of us will make careers teaching VFX at schools. Even so, it’s prudent to start empowering students directly. Online options can be implemented much more rapidly, and force-multiply our efforts to countless students in the long-run.

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Thanks! I was planning to release it as a simple pdf file. Didn’t really think of anything else. I’d like it to be as simple as possible. Just a repository of techniques and thoughts people could access at will. :slight_smile:

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Along the lines of keeping a lot of this in our own and student’s hands :

I think @Freddy_Hoops mentioned something like this during the roundtable, but I overheard someone else as well discussing the online classes that they had made (for audio, not VFX), where they had some fairly complete downloadable courses, and these came with access to a Slack (or whatever) channel where he and other people taking the course hung out. It seemed like a pretty smart way to take the accessibility of online tutorials/classes and add a layer of guidance to it without the potential massive time sink of a traditional mentorship or online class.

Might be an interesting expansion on typical video courses/tutorials until something more formal could be cooked up.

I’ve actually been working with Escape Studios ( for the last couple of years, helping to develop the VFX component to their Game Art Masters degree and I’m currently in the process of rewriting the curriculum so this is all super helpful!

Here’s a break down what’s been taught the last two times:
Animated Materials - Everything from Panners to World Position Offset to Dot Product to Depth buffers - anything interesting and exciting you can do with a material. (1 Week)
Particles - Intro to Cascade, CPU/GPU/Mesh/Flipbook particles, Vector Fields etc. etc. (1 Week)
Blueprints - Proceedural Animation, Triggering, Logic, Variable Types etc. (1 Week)
RBD and Cloth Simulations (1 Week)
Sequencer, Looping Flipbooks with After Effects, Worked Examples (1 Week)
Project Week and Q&A (1 Week)

It’s a lot of content to get through in 6 weeks, and the students have just done 12 weeks of learning Maya, ZBrush, Photoshop, Substance, Unreal etc. so they’re already pretty blitzed with new software and skills but so far it’s worked alright and produced some good student work.

Currently I’m in the process of converting the content into more worked examples and slowly increasing complexity which is harder said than done…

A lot of the ideas here (Houdini, Life Drawing, Programming etc.) would be great to include but there just isn’t time in the course sadly.


I was working with a small group of underrepresented folks in South Africa to teach them tech art (in the form of vfx and shaders). My impression was that I was far too ambitious, having not taken into account just how much prerequisite knowledge is actually required (art fundamentals, some familiarity with a 3D package, a 2D package and general painting in PS, familiarity with a game engine, and some scripting given that we were typing out our shaders in Unity with the intent that the scripting experience would make them more tech-art-like).

I recorded the material in the form of video tutorials, so I thought I could just cram as much info in there as I could because they could just go back and re-watch the material. But I think I may have put too much in there, so that after only a couple of weeks they were getting pretty overwhelmed; and I only had a chunk of my time assigned to them (so I couldn’t just slow down and take longer to do things). Even preparing the video took way longer than I expected, and I left the experience pretty burnt out. Of the ~9 people who enrolled, only one person managed to finish the material, and only 2 others got half way through (so I’m pretty sure it was my fault rather than theirs). Two of those three were already had years of game industry experience under their belts too. I’ve since thought a lot about how much is “too much” to teach in a fixed period of time, and how I can cut down on things that I feel can be learnt on-the-job.

In particular, in my experience (at a mere 3-4 game studios, granted), I’ve felt that we’ve been willing to hire artists who have great art eyes and a good attitude, but with only basic familiarity with the tools and software, because we’re confident that those can be taught in a relatively short amount of time. In contrast, we’ve been hesitant to hire people who have intimate knowledge of the software, but who are poor artists, because the time it’d take to train that part up is unknown (but lengthy). It’s been my partial experience too, having had some 6 years of Unity mobile/indie experience, and still having been hired at Epic [edit: despite no Unreal experience]. (And while I do have a tech art background and wrote text-based Unity shaders for years, I’d never had to touch a vector field, work with flipbooks in AE, or even do a fluid sim!)

I really like the outline that @hadidjah and @Keyserito have so far, and I’ve been really impressed with what they’ve been able to do in their games with relatively simple tech, given strong art fundamentals. I’d think that a course that had a very significant focus on art fundamentals, teaching only just enough of the tech that their art can be implemented in a game engine, would be the bare minimum. Teaching scripting and making them more tech-art-like is a bonus, and is something they can develop further as an elective or on-the-job if they show interest.


I think animation should be two classes worth, or at the very least have an entire class on the principles of animation. Timing is something I still struggle with, and is incredibly important in what we do, so I think it deserves just as much attention as hand drawing and even more than life drawing. Color theory and implementation in VFX should be in there somewhere as well.

This already has more content than my entire degree did though, so I think the list is awesome so far. Shoot, I’d go back to school just to learn half the stuff on this list

Oh hey! This is near and dear to my heart since it wasn’t too long ago since I graduated (June 2015).

@hadidjah: That’s some great stuff! And yeah. An elective or a single class is probably the best most colleges will be able to do. Redoing a curriculum is tough business and can take a long time to develop and get approval. SCAD was working on redefining the Game Development curriculum while I was there and I remember it took a long time to finalize and get put on the books.

Looking back, there are a few things I would suggest:

1: Animation courses.

I didn’t think anything of it, especially since whenever I hear animation I thought characters and was very naive about it. By the time I figured I could do effects for games and learned that animation was much more, it was too late for me to add a course without adding to my ridiculous student debt.

2: VFX track.

We had a Visual Effects minor, but that didn’t cover everything I needed. If a college has a wide variety of courses that would be enough, they should consider an effects for games track.

3: Introductory VFX for games course.

Along with the track, there should definitely be a some sort of wide-reaching introductory course that exposes the student to all the possibilities of effects for games. Particle systems, shaders, animated sequences, etc. Nothing too technical. That way the following courses have some context for what the student would like to do.

I could probably ramble on for a while on my experiences, but I should get back to work :stuck_out_tongue:

Holy potatoes, I love love love that so many of us are already working towards making RTVFX a more accessible career path. One thing that would be great for us to talk about is what skills should the candidate be equipped with at the end of the course. If we can (even loosely) align on that then we can better flesh out the curriculum, and understand how it could best be structured.

My suspicion is that we won’t need a four year course to get candidates to a hireable level. There is an ever growing need for more FX artists. It might be more efficient to see how effectively we can equip interested parties in a short time.


I second what Elyaradine says. Hiring people that know the buttons but not the fundamentals of art and animation is not ideal. I would also rather get someone who has a great eye, and can draw and animate… and teach them the buttons. Any curriculum we put forward should definitely have art fundamentals up front. The program that I went to didn’t have us even touch a computer for the first semester. It was life drawing, traditional animation, history, etc… and I’ve always appreciated that approach.

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That’s a good point @ShannonBerke. I had a similar thought. Instead of expecting a student to know everything, get them to a level that they are competent and then get stuck into production work where they will learn a ton anyway. At the same time the job will identify weaknesses which the new hire can improve on through self study (referring back to this amazing thread). Maybe that’s expecting too much.

What we’re getting into now is what do we expect from a reel. If it’s a junior role we’re looking for a strong foundation. I want to see 3 or 4 different vfx. Maybe a weapon effect, character effect, impacts and an explosion. I’m looking for a good sense of timing and weight. Strong design/readability. Preferably in context of a game. If the student reads through the curriculums listed here then she can also identify areas that need improving and can communicate that during an interview. I want to know that a candidate is aware of their own weaknesses.

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I don’t know if this is helpful / a good way of organizing things, but since I love lists, I made more lists! Possibly a more consolidated version of the many many good ideas tumbling about this thread:

Skills Needed for an Entry-Level VFX Artist
What do you want to see in a reel?
Ways to Teach/Spread VFX
VFX Course Ideas

As the titles say, these are specifically for spitballing ideas - we can flesh out specific ones as they gain momentum, or people can start running with something and prototyping or whatever. Add stuff, comment, vote in favor of something or argue against it, whatever! (Just please don’t delete anything that isn’t your own.)
I’ll also try to keep them updated with stuff that comes up in this thread so that people don’t need to worry about double-posting if they don’t want to. Just… not right now, on my lunch break.