Question: Who are we?

I would have to disagree with you disagreeing with @mkalt0235 on that one. Its really not about “getting rid of unnecessary bulk”. Different situations call for different methods. Different methods create different VFX artists. Imo, what should really be taught instead is what method to use when a certain problem is called for.

There really is no core “foundation” or else everyone else would be blindly following a tutorial and getting their desired result of “explosions and whatnot” and trust me many people already do that but never end up learning a thing. Trial and error with exploration of different options, sometimes even combination of multiple. The best way I “describe” FX is through silly sounds and hand gestures. You really don’t have to be able to describe it to be able to understand it or teach it.

Maybe it is a matter of rephrasing. So it’s not about polishing more than other disciplines but the attention to small details as in… we’re kind of like the drummer in a band. You’re not the singer (=the character artist), not the guitarist (=env artist), you’re the drummer. The discreet guy in the background which is heard mostly when he’s missing.

Obviously, this is a shortcut because when we make things explode or put a whole level of fire, we’re pretty much in the foreground, there are different aspects to the job and in my rock band metaphor I’m missing 80 % of the staff in a games company.

I just mean that sometimes we can spend time on small elements and details that can seem minor on paper. (think about the leaves on Battlefront).

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I think your disagreement was a misinterpretation of what I meant. You are most certainty correct about that in context of the professional job. We’re problem solvers. Yet remember, the context/source thought of this thread. …

Let’s just throw away the minutia for a second. Method, theory, foundation or what-have-you; if the knowledge is a tool in solving a problem, then it’s a useful thing to know. Yes. Learning to think VFX. Amen. Yet that shall come in time if a true interest is formed. Hence “getting rid of unnecessary bulk” and I’ll add “for now”. What I’m advocating is simply to not overwhelm and scare off those who we are trying to help or show that our profession is an option for who they may be.

( I should note, I speak with the idea that these persons has a base generalist know how. A little code here, a little art there. Results may very, because duh of course they will.)

Example: A Node editor, how to Alpha Blend, how to UV distort, and Photoshop. Make the best fire (or whatever) you can. Then do it again.

I would also hope the teacher understands those things well enough that if there was a problem, that there could possibly be an exploration on what was going on or could be figured out and learned from. If that is truly impossible for VFX, well… I myself am not there yet.

(Side thought: Plato’s Cave.)

You started somewhere, and thus there is a foundation. For all of us in fact, varied as it may be in ultimate style. I’d bet (if I did such) that there are still some universal things regardless of style. Something basic. Your tutorial point is much like your “method” point and I’ve said my piece with such already.

I’ll finish this post with this, that to describe is a skill in linguistics and understanding your craft as much as one can. I get that sometimes we may go “what happens if I do this”, yet if that’s something we need to teach, that person might not be meant for our craft.

To paraphrase the Simpsons:

‘Too technical for artist-town, but too much of an artist for programmer-town’


This is a slide from a presentation i give on day 1 of my vfx course showing how i think about our role in the industry - on the Technical to Artistic scale we’re the most technical members of the team, still working in engine, before you get to tech art and programmers, who work out of engine in the codebase. Obviously we’re still artists and care about storytelling and visuals but our tools are blueprints and simulations, not paint brushes or 3d sculpts.

While i totally agree that there’s a lack of awareness about what games vfx is, i also think one of the biggest hurdles students have to get into vfx is that it’s just really hard! If you’re more of an artistic person you can do concepts or environments and not worry about getting too technical, if you are more technical, then just learn to code and stay away from Photoshop and Maya etc. All of the in-between disciplines (vfx, sound design, UI etc.) are such a combination of artistic and technical skills that you have to really love both types of work and have that drive to learn.

In terms of pure numbers - out of the maybe 60 students I’ve help teach there’s maybe about 3-5 that have the desire and drive to push to be vfx artists. The others are either just more interested in environments or characters, or are scared off by the more technical math and simulation work in vfx. This is one of the reasons i think a lot of VFX artists come through the ranks as Env Art (or similar) first - they learn the tools of that trade first, then stagnate in their progression slightly and VFX is a good way to continue on the self-improvement learning path.


I’m a bit late coming into this talk (7 days, hah, oops), but I felt like I should probably give my own little piece since I myself still feel like a ‘student’ or at the very least an Intern level, if that.

So I should probably start with what drove me into VFX, cause I feel like the reason a lot of people outside of the VFX area dont really get ‘why’ and one of the points in the Edit actually already has one of the two points I want to mention, creating the ‘spectacle’. For me I’ve always been sort of maniac, I really reeeeeally like making stuff thats bright, fiery and exciting. Especially explosions and fire. Since I’ve loved games for basically my entire life, I thought that I may as well as merge my love for big bangs with video games. (Mainly cause I probably wouldnt be able to make explosions outside of fireworks in real life. Sadly.) The second piece for me was actually a visit from someone in Riot Games, Peet Cooper. He visited the university I graduated from, Full Sail, back in around July 2017 and he was questioned about VFX. Before then, I hadnt really known much about VFX because if I have to be honest, its rarely ever even talked about. Hell, throughout my entire time at Full Sail, VFX was barely ever brought up unless I asked about it. When I heard him talk about VFX, it inspired me to drop my focus on prop and environment creation and spiral down the steep, terrifying ladder of VFX.

I myself wouldnt consider myself exactly a generalist, more of an opportunist. I have a weird obsession with trying to learn a lot of different things all at one time (which honestly is probably not a good idea), mainly because I really want to learn as much as I possibly can as quickly as I can. Primarily out of my own excitement for VFX and the love of the industry.

You got me on the imagination part. I’ve always been a nature lover, that mixed with my adoration of fantasy (specifically medieval) and you can expect my little head to constantly be spiraling with weird spells and charms. Nature and stuff like Lord of the Rings has been my inspiration for more than just VFX, its inspired basically everything I’ve created as I find the boxy creations of Humanity to be rather lack-luster and boring. When I look at I gun, I just see a box with branching boxes. But when I see a interesting branch with a vine around the bottom end, I see a wand in a druids hand, ready to cast spells with the flick of his wrist. Weird, but, hey. Nature is rad, okay?

But onto the more personal stuff, I got into VFX primarily for one thing: versatility. I’m the type of person that likes working with many little bits of something rather than one giant massive piece and VFX fits that nearly perfectly. The layering workflow of VFX, adding one bit on another bit which attaches to another bit, thats the kind of thing I love because I can see something that starts out so small become so huge and incredible. Watching something that was once just a small puff of steam move into a scene that fits, like say a sauna, fills me with glee cause its just that one little detail that gives motion and life to a whole scene.

I absolutely live for giving not only myself but those around me that “Holy shit” moment, where they look at something and just drop their jaw. Not because of pride, but because seeing other people happy makes me myself happy.

Like I said, I’m still just an intern-level artist at best so I dont really know how much weight my opinion or voice has, but I thought it be nice to help contribute. I hope I wasnt a bother, I’m glad to see many others have the same kind of mindset in terms of what drives them with VFX. Hope to see more comments soon.

So much of what you’ve said is so good. It’s fantastic to hear from someone so freshly introduced to VFX. In all the comments you’ve said, you’ve touched on the 4 points that seem to be recurring themes for most of us. Very cool.

I love your chart! We certainly do tend to fall in the middle. My only thought to add here is that our community spans from “2D FX Artist” all the way over to “Particle Artist” (and even beyond to “Simulation Artist”). Maybe if there were a lot more of us, we’d split these communities, but even then, I think it’s healthy to cross-pollinate. Heck, I myself am both! In one day, I might paint up a concept for an effect in Photoshop, draft a rough frame-by-frame mock-up to nail down the timing and motion, create the textures and meshes, wire up a material, build the particle system itself, then tie it into a scripted event so it plays in game.

Pitching that whole spectrum of work might be exciting for some students, but in my experience, it’s generally more overwhelming to a newbie than not. The approach I’m starting to take is to meet students where they’re at, and where they’re interested, whatever the point on that spectrum is. Then we build out from there in both directions until eventually they’re as versatile as they need to be to move forward into their ideal job. And heaven knows, after getting into that position, they’ll be on a never-ending journey going deeper and wider in their skills! I see no end to my growth in this craft–and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.

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I am just beginning my journey on learning real time VFX, coming from environment art. As such, take what I am about to say with a grain of salt. I think one of the major obstacles I have personally encountered, and would not be surprised if others have encountered it, is locating an easily understood resource to learn from. For example, I don’t think I would have started learning VFX if it had not been for my recent discovery of this very website. However, this website (that should be the central pillar to learning about real time VFX and connecting with other artists) is still confusing to use and could be off-putting for someone not as well-driven to learn vfx. Case in point, I watched an on-demand workshop at The Gnomon Workshop (Jeremy Griffith’s Introduction to Visual Effects for Games in Unreal) that really began to solidify my understanding of how rtvfx in Unreal works. Without that on-demand workshop, I don’t know that I would have had enough desire (augmented by new knowledge) to continue, despite having access to this wonderful community. My point being, there is a need for more easily accessible information that is not readily apparent to artists that may have an interest. An on-boarding process of sorts. It doesn’t have to be paint-by-numbers easy, but it could be easier then what I believe it is currently. That is the first issue that I think still needs work.

The second issue is, as you said, “who are we?” My response to that question would be “We make the connective tissues between the world and its characters.” An environment artist can design buildings, props, foliage and trees; a prop artist concentrates on crowbars, etc; a character artist makes characters, a rigger rigs and an animator brings life to characters, but what makes all of those work together is the connective tissue of vfx, without which the environment and characters would be dull and boring. That’s just my 2 cents.

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This has to be some kind of visibility issue that might need addressing. I wrote up a not-so-small post for people just getting into, or having an interest in real time vfx. Keith even turned into a wiki and pinned it to the top of the Resources section, so it would be the first thing new people saw. I cover and provide resources for everything from software, hardware, where to start, fundamentals of vfx, and even a link to the other thread I wrote up on my perspective of what it was like to start out as a junior/associate fx artist with no prior industry experience. I didn’t make either of those a step-by-step guide on making particle systems and fx from scratch, but I included every free resource a new fx artist could possibly get their hands on.

The entire point of that post was to help guide new people so that they didn’t need to struggle to find info like myself and anyone else who started since ImbueFX’s website closed down. I don’t mean to sound like an old man yelling at clouds, but there is probably 2-3x the info and resources in there than were available to me when I started.
Maybe it needs more exposuer? :thinking:

I had read the thread you’re talking about. I should clarify though that reading a thread to identify resources is more difficult (at a glance because I anticipate referring to it while learning) versus reading a well organized table or wiki (for example). I admit I am bad at wikis, so it could simply be that I either missed it and/or didn’t realize it was a wiki. No matter, love this site and community.

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It’s a wiki in the function that everyone can edit it, not just myself. A few people have added things here and there already. I could break it out and list everything in it, but then it would just be a wall of text (or a much larger wall of text than it already is)

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Nah, it’s a good thread already. If reading through a post like that is too hard it’s a good indicator that the person is not a good fit for vfx. Yes, we want fresh blood into the industry, but our main job is after all problem-solving which includes figuring things out and learning new things daily.
I’m not trying to gatekeep, I’m trying to save people some time. If their interest is so weak, reading a forum post is a deterrent, they are not interested enough to make it in the industry.
It’s not an easy job that can be done by only kinda wanting to.


I’ve got mixed feelings on this perspective. My professors challenged my drive and interest many times, to mixed results. Yes it’s valuable to remember that I CHOSE the challenging road that is my career, and I can leave any time (so no whining! I remind myself). But the fact is, sometimes I don’t have much interest or motivation to continuously learn new things I’m not currently good at, every day for years on end. Typically, I burn out.

It comes in waves for me–periods of time when I’m on fire with passion and energy and excitement to learn and do it all, and other times when I don’t even want to look at a computer. Seems workable, except those periods of time sometimes last for months!

Fact is, I always (eventually) get back to feeling passionate because I’m just too stubborn to choose a job with a lower mental load. I’d much rather consistently stretch past my mental limit than languish in boredom. Sure there’s a happy in-between, and I find it from time to time at the peak of each new challenge. Then it’s down the slope and on to the next mountain of learning.

To clarify, I’m not outright disagreeing with you. Just stating that some days, reading a forum post to learn just one more thing feels like a massive deterrent for me.

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I’m closing in on 20 years, but I’ve never been a dedicated VFX artist. I’ve been the only VFX artist for the vast majority of titles I’ve worked on, sure, but not dedicated to that one task. This was how it was for all of the early VFX artists I knew except those few at very high profile companies. Even then it was far more likely there was a graphics programmer who worked on the tech, and an artist who helped on the side. Few companies cared enough to dedicate the time to writing tools, so most VFX artists were more programmer than artist.

This so much. No one starts out as a VFX artist because part of being the person that can be in the middle is having enough knowledge from both sides to be in some ways capable of either side.

These days you can open up Unity or Unreal and start making particle effects with nothing more than a basic blurred dot and make amazing stuff. You don’t need an artist’s hand or a programmer’s brain, just an eye for what looks good and the persistence to keep messing around.

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There are two common, and conflicting “issues” that I see people new to VFX fall into.

The first one being the perception that there is an bottomless pit of knowledge that they need to learn before they can even begin making effects.

The other is they discount a lot of game dev topics they could learn because the topics “aren’t related to VFX”.

These are both fallacies because almost everything you can learn is in some way useful for VFX, and while the pit truly is bottomless, there’s no requirement to learn all of it to start. Also no one knows everything, and there’s no one true way to do something. It’s one of the things I love seeing with the competitions here on the forums. The number of different techniques people use to accomplish the same goal is astounding.


I am really enjoying this thread. :grin:

Both of these were things I fell into once I went from VFX as an Impossible aspiration, to VFX as “I can do this as a job”. The problem with being a…

… is that, for me at least, coming into this matrix blind meant I wanted to learn all the things before I got started. I didn’t know my options, and not for a lack of trying. I didn’t know I didn’t need to know certain things right out the bat to make an effect. Nuance tends to be lost on beginners, and I was no exception to this. In fact, seeing all the ways people were making VFX was a deceptive burden, as it then become “Oh I have to learn this too to make VFX.” Monkey see, monkey do. Even though I knew better not to push it, my… obsession… it has been written here, pushed me into that traffic anyway.

If Niagara is any indication, then this field is only getting more complex as we find ourselves with more control. This is why I’ve advocated as I have in this thread and elsewhere for some base fundamentals to start from. If who we are is as cut and dry as this thread would imply, then it is imperative for the next generation of VFX artists to have some sort of a direction, lest some shall fall into the same time-sucking pit as I did. Something to help show by hands on example you don’t need much to start making great looking VFX. It’s really hard to see that sometimes. As complex as all this can get, which I probably can’t even fathom right now as I write this, I’ve found that in essence there is a beautiful simplicity to Realtime VFX creation that’s not being shown, or… at least showcased often. It gets drowned out among all the bells and whistles. And… It’s a big internet.

If you don’t know anything about a field, how do you know what to choose? What’s important?

(Sidethought: VFX techniques should also be a RT VFX Contest Subject.)

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Can only use additive particles!
Force you to think about overdraw, avoid blowing out.

Only unlit, untextured sprites & meshes!
Motion and shapes will be king, lots of fun vertex shader magic.

One quad!
Basically Shadertoy … but with more custom textures.

No camera facing quads!
Modeling skills can shine.

Actually, I want to touch on this topic for a moment. I feel like this thinking belittles the creativite solutions of the best programmers, and the logical thinking of the best artists, or the often equally mixed role of the designer, audio person, or UI artist. I believe a balance of the so-called left/right brainisms are a key for any good game dev in all roles but maybe the most extreme fringes. (You don’t necessarily want your company’s bookkeeper to be especially “creative” in their job, be it for good or evil.)

I’d focus more on the cross discipline nature of VFX artist, and the breadth of knowledge across those disciplines. I also think the game design aspect of VFX is often overlooked. It’s not a 2d scale between just programming and artist, but a multi-dimensional hypercube which we float somewhere inside of. VFX / Tech Artists tend to speak multiple “languages”, in that they can talk to an artist, a designer, or a programmer and have each understand what you’re saying when you’re talking to them individually, even if the others don’t. And we can pass on information between the disciplines without loosing significant data.

To clarify, I’m not outright disagreeing with you. Just stating that some days, reading a forum post to learn just one more thing feels like a massive deterrent for me.

Sure, but if that’s enough for one to disregard a whole profession, I think being a VFX artist is going to be extremely challenging. I’m not advocating that you need to be able to write a dissolve shader without using google, or profiling a multiplayer level on Xbox to be allowed into the club. All I’m saying is that if reading a forumpost is too much work even when ones motivation is low, you might not be cut out for the problemsolving that lies at the core of our profession.

I’ve only ever been a dedicated VFX artist. It is in fact the only real job I’ve had (not counting a few summer jobs as a kid). I have of course helped out with other things, but through my career I’ve always been on a dedicated VFX team. Though, I’ve just passed 10 years in the industry so I can’t speak for the early days of the profession.

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Yeah, dedicated VFX artists have been a lot more common for the last 10~15 years than any time prior to that in the game industry. Between 2005~2006 the company I worked for went from having a handful of part-time VFX artists (as a side task their primary duties, usually programming, including myself where my title was Level Designer), to me writing tools and shaders for the team of 6+ dedicated VFX artists, most of whom this was their first VFX work, and certainly the first time for them all that it was their primary role. I knew of other teams around 2003 who had dedicated VFX people, like Epic Games, but before that I can’t think of any I knew of who weren’t considered graphics programmers, or just “an artist”.