Question: Who are we?

A coworker said there simply aren’t many students interested in doing VFX for real-time media–not enough to fill up classrooms, and not enough to fill up job openings. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what that implies:

If it’s true, the growth of the entertainment industry will be severely stifled indefinitely. Visual effects sit at the center of the action, the feedback, the satisfaction of many interactive experiences. We all know demand for these artists (us) is massive, and still rising.

As an observation, he might be right. But I think there’s a solve here: help students discover that they ARE interested in making real-time VFX; they just don’t know it yet. So it’s on us to help them realize what a VFX artist really is. Which brings me to my question:

Who are we?

I’m interested to hear your responses, because I want to create a sort of “personality & interests profile” that we can use to grow our numbers, maybe in presentations, online marketing, or school visits. I think a big reason many people don’t consider VFX as a career is a lack of awareness. For example, animators have done a fantastic job resonating with students: “I get to bring characters to life!” and other sayings really click in a direct, simple way for some people.

Admittedly, this is reminiscent of marketing strategy: know the audience, and build a plan to appeal to them. Unsure where this might lead exactly. Fire away!

I realize a lot of these traits are shared to different degrees across any creative job (thanks to @Partikel for this observation) So I’ll try to distill some that I think most often occur in VFX artists here:

1 - You are driven to create “the spectacle” that elicits an emotional response from others.
2 - You are a generalist, focusing hard on learning all about just one thing for a while, then switching to a completely different obsession later on.
3 - You have a vivid imagination, inspired by natural or otherworldly phenomenon: how they’re structured, what they’re made of, and how they move.
4 - You are split between logical left-brain and creative right-brain thinking, drifting between the two regularly.

Definitely not a comprehensive list, but I’m curious how many of you can identify.


There is definitely not enough exposure to the general public/ students going into game art that “VFX artist” is even a thing. I didn’t even know about it while I was in a college program for digital art and game design, until I accidentally stumbled into a vfx artist roundtable at my first GDC. Even then, that was because I had nothing else planned for the rest of that day. After having it explained to me what a vfx artist does, I decided to switch from character art to rtvfx. My school and program had no way to support or develop that, beyond me taking a personal study section for credits.

Even after that, it wasn’t until after meeting other fx artists that I learned there were career options for things like motion graphics and things similar to League’s champion login screens for games. I never gave a thought to how game fx were made, or what motion graphic artists did, I always thought they were just specific animators or programmers.


We are the visual equivalent of adding sound to something.
keeps a tab on this thread


To me, being a VFX Artist means bringing to life both abstract (magic, energy, invisible doohickeys) and realistic concepts. Its finding a visual way of conveying vague concepts like form, force, feeling, timing and velocity. I like to use the example of a sword swing/bolt of magic. Asking a non-VFX person what those would look like it their head is a good way of getting people to starting thinking how we think. Asking them to think “Ok now imagine the sword is on fire, what does that look like? What colors do you see?” and so on.

I think VFX at its core is hard to explain because of the nature of the work. Other than things we find in nature, a lot of our work is completely made up of concepts invisible to the naked eye. We work on translating these vague concepts into visual, visceral, personifications of what those concepts represent.

Orrrr, if they can’t seem the grasp any of that I tell them I make explosions and magic. We are Wizaaards :slight_smile:


that’s my goto answer too - “make fire, explosions, spells and sometimes waterfalls in video games”


I’m not sure i have a DIRECT answer to this question, however maybe my exposure to VFX can help?

The main reason I even got into VFX originally, was to make my models look POP,(look better)!
I originally wanted to be a character artist, and I had a friend suggest to me that adding some live fire, would look good on my model, and make me stand out. I eventually got around to it, and got consumed by it. All of that because I wanted to make my model look better.
So I guess one way to explain who we are/what we do, might be.
We make stuff Look better than you thought they could have.

I think the difficulty of this comes from the fact that, vfx is commonly one of those things that people only notice when its bad or absent. So I guess once we get people to start noticing it more, then that might help with the lack of interest. (not sure if that went without saying, but thats my 2 cents).

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If I had to extrapolate a personality trait from your experience, perhaps it’s that we like feeling unique, and possessing unique abilities.

iow, we’re the type of people that enjoy working behind the scenes, doing things few people understand or know about, but having a critical impact on the project.


Oh! I forgot that part of the post. I like getting to do everything. I like that I get to animate and interact with character animations, I like getting to paint (although lately I’ve just been making procedural noise), I like getting to model stuff. I like that what we do is flashy and bright and pops.

I like that what I do is flashy, I like that there is a lot of different aspects to it, and I like all the different disciplines and people within a studio I get to work with.

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I relate to all of this. It’s been my sense for a long time that any generalist or “tinkerer” type is more likely to enjoy being a VFX artist too.

Have a hard time focusing on just one thing? Maybe VFX is for you!


Oh, this is some meaty insight! Personality traits I can extrapolate from your comment:

Thrives in an ambiguous space.
Loves solving open-ended problems.
Vivid visual imagination (see things clearly in your head).
Inquisitive & analytical approach to observing the hidden world.

And as for @pmiller 's comment:

I’d say this implies a personality that enjoys working in the 90-100% range, polishing the final bits of whatever they do to maximum fidelity. This especially makes sense when you consider VFX typically come at the end of a pipeline.

For me the appeal, with vfx and more so with tech art is that we walk that fine line between Art and Engineering. It’s such a weird combination of skills that you just don’t get from some set curicculam/program, there is a lot of self-education and Research involved, I find this field to be a nice mix of Logical and creative thinking. I think that is probably the biggest appeal to me. Also, no two days of working are the same, there’s fresh problems to solve everyday, it doesn’t get monotonous.


For me, being a full-time VFX artist on South America is almost impossible, or really hard to see. At least, I was impressed to see how much people is working as a full time VFX Artist in the industry when I went to the GDC.
I usually spend like 75% of the time programming and the other 25% doing VFX and try to find a more technical approach for them as much as I can.

For what I see on small companies the vfx part of the games are left a little behind and usually somebody will have to handle being a vfx artist as well as a 3d artist, or a vfx artist as well as a programmer. And I feel that’s kind of a pitty cause the times that I was like a full month working only on vfxs I saw totally different results than when I don’t.

As for what we are, I think we’re wizards that gives visual sense and emotion to games, what the player feels (if he should feel protected, in danger, in calm, astonished) or where to go and what to do based on visual feedback. Really similar to turning all the lights off and just hearing the SFX of a good movie, you’ll feel a lot of emotions going through.


I believe I can give you personal experience as a student who got interested in realtime VFX, however since VFX itself can include a broad spectrum of responsibilities I can only give you my end of it.

When I decided to be a video game artist I had to try out all different fields that were offered to me in school and the one I resonated with most was animation and rigging; because it was the right amount of artistic+technical skills. I’ve been an avid MMORPG and RPG player and really loved the magical spells and abilities that came with each class / character. After diving a bit more into realtimeVFX I realized that this could be something perfect for me to do as its just the right combination of tech and art.

As for who we are;
I am crazy for all things shiny and explosive. Having made combat, UI and environmental VFX for a fighting game, I’ll have to agree with Luos when he says we’re the visual equivalent of sound effects. I have realized how limited the game would have been without these because FX is not something you realize is there until its not there. I am happy that I get to model limited FX meshes as opposed to full environments! I believe even the best of games like League of Legends and WoW wouldn’t be as lovely looking without the presence of VFX. Besides giving each champion/ class a personality, FX even gives them a story that can put players through a range of emotions like “Oh **** there’s his/her Ult!”. Every VFX is important, environmental FX bring life to nature, UI and Combat are essential for player feedback. I believe FX to be the love child of a lot of disciplines like animation, tech, math, modelling, texturing, game design etc where you get to do a little bit of everything to make a lovely piece.


In high school, I took a left/right-brain centric career aptitude test, to see what I’d be good at. I tested exactly 50/50. The test was inconclusive… But this seems to be a core aspect of every VFX artist I’ve ever met. You also mentioned aversion to monotony, a hallmark of a VFX artist.

My dad always told me I was somehow simultaneously hyper-analytical, and still made all my choices based on emotion. I guess that’s just more evidence I’m a perfect candidate for VFX animation!

It seems we get a kick out of not just collaborating, but being a bridge for that collaboration, spanning across different focuses, communication styles, and priorities. If I had to guess, I’d say our desire to do many different types of tasks is a relative of working with many different types of people.


Who are we ? The (visual) portal between the devs and the players.

Hence why we’re working so close with other people such as GD, LD, Lighting (and so on). Visual Effects are a form of practical communication like wah there’s some green smoke there, better not go near it! / Dayumn, some electrified fences, better not touch it! BUT ALSO a more abstract way of making you feel involved in the game, like rain or simply walking near a lake at night with fireflies.

You can make a games as pretty as you want but without any visual effects to illustrate what you want to visually express, then you’ll end up with a bland game.

Same for the Sound Design, without it, it’s meh.

I would expect that with all the Rendered VFX artists there are now, that eventually some will jump ship or not need to. Engines like Unreal 4 are getting so good at creating realism that in time things like V-Ray may go way of the dodo because if you can render the same look with out needing to wait for frames, why would anything else be used?

Yes, I know, we arn’t there yet. I think it’s simply a matter of time before all this blends together. The foundations are already being made right now.

This right here. This was me. If I hadn’t of decided to try and mod VFX, I probably would not be here. Furthermore I agree. I think focus should be on interest in the method, the creation of VFX. Everyone loves explosions…

:fireworks::sparkler: :YAY! Fireworks :sparkler::fireworks:

… but can you love the work needed to make it?

We are the analytical animators. A standard animator doesn’t need to think about replicating viscosity or pressure. While biped/mechanical animation is all about subtle locomotion that results from a shift in the center of gravity, what we VFX artists make is basically ordered chaos with purpose.

To create this ordered chaos, we have so many ways to go about it. By hand, computer render, shaders… Our ability to understand the chaos and problem solve with it is who we are.

It’s odd. There are so many ways to go about creating VFX, yet there are so few to do so. I digress.

While I agree there is far less awareness for Realtime VFX, I feel the biggest thing is ease of entry. With standard 3d animation, all I need to know is how to move/pivot/scale an object and how to key that in a time line and BOOM, I can make a simple door animation. From that simple entry it can stack on its self.

Yet the door to Realtime VFX isn’t front and center, its more around the corner down the ally and you need to know the password. There is comparatively alot more prerequisite for VFX. I know I’m not exactly saying anything new here, yet I can’t help but mention this yet again. If there is going to be awareness, there has to be something that’s easy to pick up and play with or I don’t think awareness is going to be enough. I’m aware of Quantum Physics, but I don’t see my self getting into said field.

Side Thoughts: How young is Realtime VFX compared to Animation? Who are our Nine Old Men? What are our 12 basic principles?

Damn. I’ve only had time to read the first post with collected traits and they don’t fit me at all. I guess I’m the odd one out.

I think we are the ones who keep the game alive when the animations stop. Everything else is secondary. We are storytellers, makers of spectacle and bringers of chaos. A good vfx suite is not noticed, but when it’s missing the game looks ten years older.


Personally, I always liked cooperation and complementarity.
When I play a co-op game, I love when every player can help each other by doing tasks that a player can’t do solo, and particularly when players each have their own skillset, because everyone can feel pretty unique and can bring his help to complete the final objective.

That fits well with the “trust levels” stuff in games, and for me it can also be found in work and in group projects, and thinking that you’ll impact your project with your own skillset is for me a real source of motivation.

Also, I think that the “rarity” of people interested in the RT VFX artist job make it a really interesting subject to teach to people that aren’t aware of this whole world, as they practically know nothing about it, so you can customize the approach that you gonna have according to the profile of the people in front of you :

For example; in my school, I’m practically the only student making real-time VFX (I feel quite alone uh), so I decided to teach some people, and make them discover this universe. I can say “Hey, I see that you like animating stuff ! How about making some well-timed explosions ?” or “You have great skills in photoshop, you could paint some awesome magical projectiles textures !” or even “If you have a more technical profile, why don’t you try to make some cool shaders ? I can show you how it works !”

And that’s working ! They often make some VFX stuff aside their main specialty, and eventually, some of them will convert into VFX artists in one or two years :grin:

To recap, I believe that my love for complementarity helped me (at least a little) to go into the VFX way.
I could also say that I like to understand other people’s specialties, and VFX cover a wide range of domains, you can make art, you can animate, you can dive into some gameplay/game design problematics, and you can even code. With this knowledge, I can try to help & assist people in their own work, I find this point fantastic.


Haven’t read the whole thread yet, but I would guess the reason why VFX get less exposure / aren’t taught that much is that it’s harder to put your finger on it. We interact with many disciplines, our range of technical skills can vary a lot (as in pixel art to fluid sims and everything in between), there are a lot of variations on the thought pattern / where your involvement lies (regardless of tools) depending on what you do (env or combat/ your camera angle etc.)

In short: hard to describe = hard to teach and sell.

Fidddly is probably a trait. Originally I wanted to get into typography which would have worked well for me because I like to get into very specific details. And VFX suits me too for that exact same reason.

Also, we are the cool factor, I mean have you noticed when the highlight is in a trailer or what takes up 80 % of the space on many commercial screenshots? VFX.
We bring an added sense of satisfaction, we are the awesomeness glue that helps tie in the experience.

And maybe be persistent as well? Similarly to animator, when you work on something that lasts just a second you’re going to watch it over and over again.


Woah, that’s crazy to hear! I mean, it makes sense that every personality is different, but I’d figure at least some of the personality tendencies would overlap. I’ve been reading a ton on this thread about “what we do” and even a bit of “why we do it,” but perhaps it’s going too deep to suss out “who we are,” since there may be little correlation between personality and job description. My intention was to discover common traits to start identifying those that would make great vfx talent. Just curious: what connection do you see between your personality and your profession, if any? In other words, what in your core personality drives you to make VFX?

This is a great question. We seem to be a fair ways behind animation, for a number of reasons. We’re seeing a lot of effort by a lot of folks in a lot of areas to grow the craft. Partially because it’s a widely challenging subject to learn about (as you mentioned), and partly because we have our heads in so many places just to perform a single effect, we’ve not been able to establish a monolithic central source of truth (probably won’t ever happen, given the nature of this type of work).