Proposed Curriculum for University RTVFX programs, and training here

Hey there :slight_smile:

I have been talking to SuAnne (The Chair of Game Developement) about it here at SCAD to try and add it to the curriculum here at SCAD!

I recommended what you said as well :slight_smile:

but there is also slight introductory VFX class (not required) but is part of the SCAD ITGM department which is the
Tech Art Class, which teaches you the basics and understanding of Particles and Shaders.

In addition to that the Visual Effects major is starting to implement the Unreal Engine into their curriculum :slight_smile:

Thank you again @Shadowist for guiding me down this path ^u^ :smiley:

Wow I’m coming to this a little late. I can’t say how much i love this discussion. Here’s a working list of stuff that I was considering for a curriculum here:

This isn’t a complete list and I was going to have discussions with some educators to organize it. I’ve added some lists of coursework I was looking at as a template. I was planning on adding electives and focuses so take a look see. This is a new doc, and I’ve gutted it since having some discussions. I’d be curious to see what people think. The idea is to teach something approaching traditonal art and design then moving it to a RTVFX set. I was at the point where i was adding workshops and projects and got sidetracked.

I think that there are a lot of different ways to approach this but agree with the idea that having a great eye and working on creating an environment for critical thinking before working on the bells and whistles are essential to creating a great course. I’m still working on getting the list together but it seems there’s a lot of overlap here.

I was talking with @ShannonBerke about some of the importance of design and focal points. Basically saying if the effects aren’t good if they’re simple they won’t be great when you get to making realistic or higher frequency effects. I come from a traditional background so a lot of my opinions will lean toward design and form.

@hadidjah I love the break down in your drive folder. I need to break down my set more. I used to have a training set that I’d do with new hires, and it looked something like that. I heard Ringling might be adding an vfx coursework, but Im trying to get that confirmed.

This thread goes to show that there are a lot of ways to look at this. So excited.


It is super cool to see that there are so many artists thinking about and even planning courses/programs for VFX. I see big potential for some collaboration in here (Ah, it’s already happening). :heart_eyes:

To add something to it; having an eye for what looks good and be able to analyse and see how to improve something is probably one thing that takes the longest time to learn, compared to learning softwares and techniques of creating VFX under guidance(?). That is something that perhaps should be tested to some degree when applying. Art fundamentals.


Neat! So I’m making this post in two parts. My 1st part here is the result of simply reading the idea being proposed in the original post, that’s it. The 2nd part (in a second post) is to be my thoughts of this overall thread after I read the post in full up to, obviously, the post you see here.

So then…

1st part: So I am, in a way, the audience proposed. While I am not a school, I am a student who wishes to learn the light and dark arts of Realtime VFX (Evil Cackling goes here). I fairly recently-ish came out of a school that built its self a videogame creation based program. In fact, due to unique timing and circumstance, my input (as far as I know) helped them decide what they were going to do in their final videogame program, because I had those discussions. As such, I can tell you why they chose to move away from teaching real-time VFX in videogames at that time, which in turn may be why… [quote=“undertone, post:1, topic:1896, full:true”]
“There seems to be close to 0 programs that offer [any] programs that will put out students with the qualifications [you] are all looking for”.
So while I don’t know for certain the overall reason, this is what I got. I hope it helps.

So as I recall, the overall goal of the school I went to (and there for possibly others), was to teach a large swath of skills in a year - year three months time frame. While the timing may be VERY different for different schools, the jest of the overall goal is very likely to be the same. For a student to be hired by a studio, and in working at that studio, for nothing to be different compared to the school with in reason. To get it as close as to 1:1 as possible. Same workflow. Same (potential) hours. Same use of organization, check in check out programs. So on.

For my school, what they concluded (keeping in mind the overall goal,) was that to have any VFX in the curriculum would be too singular in focus. They decided to go for a more generalist approach, so that if someone wanted to go into something with more of a focus, they would have a solid foundation of base skills to draw from; yet they could still get a job in the industry. Modeling, animation, texturing, fairly basic node-based shader work. Very focused on environment art type stuff. Very focused on workflow and organization, particularly in the later classes. So if you would want to break in to those sorts of schools, you’ll have to show how learning VFX skills would be beneficial in other disciplines as well.

With that said, I have questions. Lots of questions. Here are some things that may be useful to consider.

Does the student you are proposing to teach already have a background in the basics of videogame creation? If so, what are those basics BEFORE we get to the VFX? Or is this curriculum going to be made with the notion that the person is absolutely clueless in any aspect videogame creation? Or to put it another way, with all due respect, could you teach your mother?

I get that in this thread it is proposed that those of us here at Realtime (who have actually worked in the industry,) can build a resource so that people that currently teach in art schools can have a educated, in-industry fall back to develop a curriculum. My question is how are you going to present that? Is RealTime going to have a wiki much like Polycount does? Is Realtime going to partner with a dedicated learning/teaching site? Or even with a school/foundational corporate backbone of a set of schools? If the lessons are hosted here, how is that going to be organized? How-or-what is going to be the method of teaching? Text? Video?

Or… why not both? I know. I too can internet. And how would all this be updated? If something is updated, do you remove the outdated stuff, or keep it as a monument to our sins? “This is how we used to do it in the old days! Something something uphill sideways!”

And of all this stuff to be formatted, what is the expected time frame of what you are to be teaching? Learned in a week? Two hours? Not every school teaches in the same time frame. Some schools give two hour classes twice a week, or in my experience, I did 25 class hours every week, plus an extra 8-11 hours on top of each day to work on whatever we had to work on. It should be kept in mind that how you allot your time for each subject, will very likely have an effect on whether a school can use it or not. Geez, I sound like I know what I’m talking about. Where did this come from? I guess it really depends how through you want to be with this idea.

The final thing I would like to point out… does everyone here remember what it was like to be a learner? Yes I know, the early days were nothing like it is now, that’s not what I mean. Yes I know, we are always learning, that’s not what I mean. I mean a new learner. Where even the basics can seem daunting. Can I do this? Why didn’t I go to Blah like my parents wanted to? Am I out of ramen? Heh heh.

It’s scary ya’ll. I mean… it’s exciting, I-can-hardly-wait-to-learn-when-do-we-start! Yet at the same time one can get filled with bemusement and awe where you go, “How in the world am I going to learn ALL this?” I’ll tell ya, the first time I ever opened Maya, for example, I literality had to catch my breath. SO MANY BUTTONS! -> IN BUTTONS! -> IN BUTTONS! Ugh! The question I remember from the earliest days is:

How am I going to learn all this?

(Of course I didn’t need to learn ALL the stuff Maya can do, but I didn’t know that then.) So as you are building your curriculum, try to recall what it was like when you learned the first time, if applicable.

Final final point, I swear this is the last one. I don’t yet have the clout, nor the know-how to say what I would put into a VFX curriculum if I was a teacher. What I can say through, is that my overall goal would be to teach how to think, not how to do. Don’t teach a recipe (How to make a fire effect in 9 easy steps!), teach a technique. It’s the students job to problem solve and use their inherent art skills of whatever they may be, it’s my, your, whoever is the teacher…es job to give the student the intellectual (is that the right word?) tools needed to problem solve.As a student, if I don’t know how to make a flip-book, for example, and that is a tool in your arsenal when you ask yourself “How am I going to make this”, then it may be something worth teaching as it is a tool that helps you in the problem solving process. Another quick example: I may be trying to use a card for an effect, when a ribbon or mesh based particle could be better. If I don’t know about it, I can’t draw from it. All this also includes, of course, teaching about efficiency and the drawbacks that can only be known by experience with a tool… so on. I can problem solve, I just don’t know what’s in the tool box. What are my options?


Alright… I’ll be back for part two after I read the rest of this post.

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2nd Part: I have to say, I like what I see. I am happy to see that some of the things I point out in my first post above, a number have thought of as well. I’m glad to be in such good company. :smiley:

So! Quick (comparatively) thoughts:

I like (as in reading it fills me with excitement the most) the curricular breakdown proposed by @Sirhaian in this post.

Why do I like this one the best? As proposed, it is not all raw data. Play is the fundamental way of teaching, and how this is layered out would allow for play. What I see with my limited knowledge is, essentially theory and follow through. For example:

In these cases you learn what you need to know,THEN you prove that you have learned it by doing, by making. That is what I see.

And yet… @Sirhaian out right mentions a step by step methodology, which I do not concur with. Different strokes.

The post also brings up a question for me; Is it even possible to have these ideas to be engine agnostic? I mean I suppose there is not much of a choice in the end, I’m just curious if that would be an issue when you get to the more advanced things? Not every school teaches the same engine… right?

I also liked @Elyaradine s,@undertone s reply & @Freddy_Hoops posts respectively. (Quick links: 1,2,3)

I bring these posts up as they are just Chock-O-Full of good details. Experience, ideas in teaching philosophy, so on. Which is not to say that all the other posts here suck, just that these are the ones that really jumped out at me. I mean well all! :kissing_heart:

All said, everything looks pretty good already. I - of course, get used to this… have a question. A number of the proposed curriculums mention drawing. Why? With this being so computer based, how does traditional paper and pencil drawing apply to Real-time VFX?

Honestly, with only a day or so in and already there is some pretty good stuff in here. I have to say, I’m feeln’ pretty giddy at the potential this thread already has.


I think Hadidjah’s course list covers it quite well. A couple of extra things that would be handy…

-Crash course in performance/optimization

-Studying actual Fx examples in shipped games. Would be like breaking down a poem in English class…just a way to show them behind the curtains and get them thinking about how the whole effect is created.


Really like this idea! It is a vital skill to develop early, as it opens up new ways to create effects on your own and might give you new tools, or new ways to use the tools you already know.

For the step by step, I forgot to mention that this would only be to create a rough effect. Then, the “student” should develop it further and try to improve it. It would be a starting point, not a destination. Think of it as someone starting a discussion and giving out the necessary facts and data for the student to be able to build on it through his own deduction capabilities. It also allows me to explain a few things that would be a bit more difficult without a solid practical example. :)[quote=“Mez, post:26, topic:1896”]
A number of the proposed curriculums mention drawing. Why? With this being so computer based, how does traditional paper and pencil drawing apply to Real-time VFX?

I think traditional drawing is very important when it comes to creating stylized effects. I don’t think it’s necessary to be a Michelangelo, but understanding the color theory, shapes language, etc, is very important, and I believe it can be applied to realistic effects too. :slight_smile:

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About drawing and why its a part of a number of curriculum. I feel its the easiest way to get practice getting ideas from your head down onto paper, and also being critical about whatever you’re working on without any high commitment. There’s also the satisfaction of creating a document that can be viewed an reviewed to see progress. And its easy to carry around a small sketchbook and a pencil to just doodle. A lot of the issues that come up with any artistic thing is being able to visualize an idea, getting it to an external source, and then acting on it. At least that’s how I look at it, plus I find it relaxing.


Drawing is a really useful way to communicate timing, scale, and color, and get basic approval before you go off and make something complicated. It also is a good way to discover any weird code/gameplay/lore implications (does it need unusual spawn information, does it limit visibility in a way that’s detrimental to gameplay, is the effect consistent with lore and theming?). My background is in animation and storyboarding, so of course I highly value drawing; and while I’ve known many excellent vfx artists that don’t draw much, I would always encourage a student to work on their drawing skills.

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I’ve been going through the various documents and I noticed that principles of design and colour theory are pretty common suggestions across the board. Does anyone have any online references they use? @Keyserito has his fx 2d design playlist. Are there other fx specific resources for design and colour theory or non-vfx resources that would be well suited to vfx?

Secondly, @hadidjah I was reading through your 16 week intro to RTVFX. There’s a lot of stuff in there. I like the fact that there are a number of prerequisites. I feel like as vfx artists we’re also technical generalists and to become that you have to have a solid foundation in a lot of different things. My gut instinct is that there might be too much content for 16 weeks. How many hours a week do you think a student would spend on that course and how many lectures per week would there be? Also, is the intention of the course to provide the student with a general overview of vfx as a primer for future courses or do you think that a student could come out of that course with show reel pieces to start looking for junior positions?

Hey Guys,

It was great seeing you all at GDC again this year, and once again I come back super inspired and humbled by this community. That said, I’ve been trying to keep up with this thread, but have fallen far behind. Again I haven’t gotten to read through this all, but just some general thoughts:

Requirements\Test?: What knowledge\skills should we require coming in? I think having a certain foundation can give us a better idea of how to structure the course. Do we want a test to gauge peoples abilities coming in?

Fundamentals -> General -> Specialize: Breaking down the course into stages with specific goals. We could have classes for Beginners, intermediate, advanced? Rather then creating one course to rule them all, this could be smaller, more consumable and manageable.

Stylized vs Realism: Not everyone cares to do Stylized FX, and that’s okay. I think this is where creating a specialization stage would really help. Those who want Photo Real can focus on that.

I’m super excited to see this stuff happening, and look forward to seeing this take off. Hopefully production here will quiet down soon so I can have more time to commit to helping with this, but for now bare with me. :frowning:



Hi gang,

Quick intro…I’m new to the community and very excited to be here. I teach Game Art at Ringling College. I’ve been a 3D generalist for 20 years. I’ve created lots of effects and animation for theme park attractions over most of those years and have recently been focused on real time VFX for games. I’ll offer up some thoughts mostly from the perspective of an educator.

  1. Where to begin?
    This may be the most important question to answer first. WHO are we educating?
    Are we making a 4 year degree program or are we making a continuing studies type of course akin to Animation Mentor?

4 year program - @Hadidjah has it mostly figured out. The assumed prereqs listed could be the first two years of study. This should not be overlooked. For the average student, it really does take that long to learn the fundamentals.

An important note on this…IF we’re developing a complete 4 year program and targeting high school students, you’ll find that most of them are not ready to claim a specialty like VFX. MOST of my juniors in college are not ready for this either. They’re just getting familiar with all the different aspects of production and are developing preferences as they go through the curriculum. You’d be surprised how many students learn that they don’t even want to make 3D game art because of how technical it is. After the first year of learning basic art fundamentals, they get into my 2nd year 3D class and are shocked at the amount of software and technical learning required to make an image using a game engine. Approximately 25% of them decide it’s too technical and revert back to more traditional skills like drawing and pursue other disciplines. When I think about VFX artists, vs environment modelers, I see the need for a more broad base of MORE tech heavy skills. This culture shock of tech for new students could be a steeper hill to climb for the educator looking to teach VFX specifically and should be a main consideration when designing a 4 year course of study.

1-2 year (grad?) program - This may be more what the industry needs. @shannonberke You’re right, the industry needs artists quickly. The quickest thing we can do is create a program of study that builds on an existing base of skills and knowledge. We can’t take high school students and run them through a quick program an churn out professional VFX artists. I don’t think we want a high school kid to land in this program and JUST create flashy effects. They may develop some technical skills but they need traditional art, liberal arts, some math, critical thinking and some time to mature as a person and a professional artist. IMHO all VFX artist need a strong base in the fundamentals. If we can assume they have these fundamentals @Sirhaian and @Hadidjah, and some others have great outlines that are hitting the needed stuff. The amount of content will need to be massaged into a feasible scope……

  1. Ambition
    Most of what I see in the various outlines for courses is very ambitious. If the student has no prior 3D experience, you have to start from scratch. 99% of my students are here. Below is an outline of my intro level course teaching students basic world building. I know, this is a VFX discussion…this is just an example of how basic a courses outline needs to be so students can get up to speed. Each of the projects listed below is broken down into very specific learning objectives. Almost every day they will learn something new so this list is actually quite long once you look at the specifics but it’s important to keep the overall outcomes basic so you can tell if you’ve achieved them.

  2. Main goal - Students will be able to build worlds

  3. Broken down into project students can wrap their heads around.

    • 1- Preproduction - 1 week - Students pitch ideas for a theme, some research, 1 quick concept image
    • 2- Modular Building - 4 weeks - Students learn the basics of modeling, UV, textures and materials, and modularity
    • 3- World Building - 3 weeks - Students learn to layout a level and use the mod kits to flesh out the space
    • 4- Prop Modeling - 3 weeks - Students practice more modeling, UV, textures and materials
    • 5- Set Dressing and Lighting - 4 weeks - Students learn to set dress levels and lighting. (maybe a week or so of this time is spent going back to previous modeling tasks and polishing)
      This is your outline (5 steps in this example). For those of you that have outlines with 15 items, consider cutting that in half.
  4. The above outline is chock full of bite sized bits, delivered each class, like how to manage smoothing groups on a model. Most of the outlines I’m seeing here are this list.

Your outlines are excellent but may be a just a tad ambitious. The intro outline has almost 16 weeks of content. Maybe not enough time to tinker, fail, start over, critique, experiment, etc. That said, you’re hitting the nail on the head with the ‘Assumed prereqs’. IF the student has these then you’re in the ballpark. I’d just recommend simplifying the outlines a bit so the student can fail on a task, start over, learn and then move forward. I usually save a week at the end of every crouse so the whole class can catch up or individuals have time to go back and polish.

Other random thoughts when developing curriculum:

Focus on learning outcomes. These should have a strong verb in them. Examples from my intro 3D course that focuses on world building:

    1. Students will be able to create modular assets for interactive environments.
    1. Students will be able to create an environment that clearly communicates the function of the space.
    1. Students will be able to analyze complex technical concepts and explain them.
    1. Students will be able to evaluate peer work and give meaningful feedback.

Teach skills not software. Some of the proposed outlines I see have intro and advanced software listed. In the outcomes listed above, the software learning is embedded in the projects. Also, most software developers are teaching the software for you. Autodesk started their education program many years ago publishing tons of material on how to use the software. Use these resources to get that learning out of your classroom so you can focus on skills, concepts and critical thinking. I typically assign software learning for homework and then review in class to clear up any muddy points. Then we can move on to how to use the software to make things (best practices).

Educate the whole person, not just the artist. @Elyaradine your post eloquently touches on this. What good is a hot shot particle wizard if they can’t collaborate, take feedback, give feedback, make it to work on time, deliver projects on time, etc…. This may be done for us if we’re taking the grad program approach. My graduates from Ringling College are hitting these marks and are ready to become wizards!

WOW, big brain dump. Sorry this is so long.
Anyone interested in learning more about teaching hit me up. At Ringling College we have a mentor program where we pair professionals with seniors. The pros provide mentorship mostly in the form of feedback on the student’s thesis project. @freddy_hoops and @keyserito have both been amazing mentors in the program and we really appreciate your participation.

Thanks everyone for this amazing discussion. I’m inspired to cram more VFX learning into our general game art curriculum. It’s a full bag of stuff but I’m working hard to cram more stuff into that bag. :wink:


@hyperjams: Thanks for posting. I think it’s valuable to get the perspective of someone who’s actually teaching in schools. I’ve been quite critical of game-related schools myself (having studied in one taught by someone who was woefully out-of-touch with what the game industry required of me), but I also realise that, until I did my stint trying to teach myself, the pace I was hoping for was pretty unrealistic, and things I thought would be very manageable, at between 2-10 hours of homework per week based on skill/prior knowledge were apparently taking my students significantly longer.

I’ve also started to question what seems like a more traditional way of teaching. With another student (we never formalised this relationship, but it was a sort of mentorship thing), I simply gave them encouragement, and asked questions to try and expand the space in which they might explore (and provide a little bit of direction when they were meandering a little far), and then let them at it, knowing they could ask me questions if they got stuck. I found that very rewarding, in that it required very little of my time compared to when I was recording videos, and I saw them solve problems in ways that I wouldn’t have thought. Not necessarily better/more efficient, but certainly interesting. I was so happy that I bit my tongue and didn’t tell them exactly what to do and rather let them “play” and explore, because even though the method they used may not have been the “right” way for that particular situation, I learnt from it and have something in my toolkit that I might use in the future. I don’t know if this is a more efficient way to learn, in terms of learning to be a great artist in a fixed amount of time, but it kept both them and me motivated and excited to see what they’d try next.

(I learnt that from this video: This method of teaching might be more or less relevant based on whether you’re in a first- or third-world country, but the fact that formal education is costly and seemingly out of reach for many people in the US, it may well still be relevant. The video talks about teaching kids, but in my experience with a sample size of one so far :smiley: the right kind of personality (one that wants to explore and play, rather than being spoonfed set information) isn’t dependent on age.)

Perhaps in the short-term, we should be pushing for more mentor-mentee relationships, with the curricula outlined above as a map for mentees to cover themselves, and with the mentor to provide nudging.

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@Elyaradine Hey Jonathan, thanks for the reply. I agree that teaching is changing. It probably always will. More and more I’m trying to get out of the way and let the students race ahead.
The old way: Hey kids, here’s an 80 page step by step tutorial on how to model this specific thing. Everyone must follow this and achieve the exact specified result.
The new way: Hey kids, here are some vids on how to use the tools, here are some best practices to follow, go model something.

Some recent challenges:

  1. Students want things to be easy and are always surprised at how difficult our art form really is. Making art with computers is not any easier now than it was in 1992 when I started learning (I’m never done learning). the tech is always getting better but productions demand more in a shorter time frame.
  2. Millenials are challenging:
  3. The tech changes at a rapid pace. Don’t bother making videos using the tools. They’ll be outdated by the next semester. Let Epic, Autodesk, SideFX, etc keep making the videos of the tools (Thanks guys!). Educators need to stay focused on best practices, skills, professionalism etc…not tools.
  4. Job roles and descriptions are evolving. Sure, there are still plenty of assembly line type studios that have the same old job roles; modeler, animator, rigger…This mainly exists at the big studios. Small companies and emerging media like VR demand a more diverse set of skills that doesn’t always fit into one of these older definitions. In my experience of placing graduates in the industry. More of them go to medium to small companies that the bigs. And, lately, more and more are taking a risk and starting their own projects. So…relevant to this thread…not only do students need to identify VFX as a specialty, they need to commit to getting that highly specialized job at a specific company that needs that person. The risk is, if the student is too specialized, they may not be able to survive outside of that studio, or they need to re-tool.
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My two cents, I think real-time vfx/ tech art specialization is something you grow into after you bag a few years of experience with cg (be it work or undergraduate studies). So I agree that this would work better as a graduate/specialization course with a prerequisite of some basic CG training. I feel it wouldn’t be something a high school graduate who has never done any kind of work in the field would be able to get into.

For me it felt like it was only after I graduated from college and worked for a year that I actually started understanding the concepts we explore in tech art / vfx. I learned more about CG in that one year than all 4 years of college combined.

Glad to see this being discussed on a professional Forum.

SCAD has a complete BFA in VFX but not in real time

It’s surprising that their program is 180 credit hours. That’s a lot. All of our BFA majors are at 120. I don’t see how you can cram 180 hours into 4 years. Recently we were at 123 and our accrediting agencies made us drop a class to get it under 120. Maybe SCAD is a 5 or 6 year program? Can anyone speak to that?

Regardless of the amount of hours, the SCAD curriculum seems like a good overall collection of courses and should give everyone here a sense of what it would take to create a complete 4 year program for RTVFX.

This could be for an entire year though, and has the students basically taking a shorter semester/term over summer in addition to spring and fall. 15 credits a term, 3 terms a year, 4 years would be 180 credit hours

Ahhh, 3 semesters…that makes sense. We only have 2.

From SCAD.

They’re on a quarter system there. So technically 4 semesters a year instead of 2 + Summer A/B. The primary time students are there are during Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters for 10 weeks per quarter. Classes are twice a week at 2.5 hours a pop (Friday off).

Here at the school I work at…they used to have some class for VFX for the artists, but last I heard…no longer.
Kieth might know more about that though.

I work with the programmers. They make games in a few months for their final.
Here I give them a lecture on VFXs. Since they are programmers, it is less about how to make the look really cool, but more about how to use them. In the end I still show them example of who some of the AAAs do it, just to show them they are not far some your guys, but they just need more time, money, resources, etc…

So I think one of the points that should be taught to students is not just technical making of the effect and how to make it look pretty, but also the “design” side of the game of “when and where” to use them…and making them make sense. one of the main questions I tell the students to ask themselves is, “How does the player know…X?”

At some point…maybe my next iteration of the lecture…I would like to upload it and show you guys and possibly get input.