Question: Who are we?

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”.

Yeah that’s what I’m thinking. The artist I know that’s been dedicated to VFX the longest must be one and only @Nadab. I believe he went full on VFX in 2003/04.

Exactly. :grinning: :grin:

Art springs forth from restriction. It would be interesting to see how creative we collectively can get, plus the possible efficiency and learning benefits.

(This may or may not be how I’m currently teaching myself. I’ll never tell ! :stuck_out_tongue: )

Spite is a remarkable motivator. I’m pretty sure I became an FX Artist because my professor said I couldn’t. lol

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Year 14 here… They just flew right by… I remember editing particle systems in XML and seeing the results only after building a PS2 build and loading it on kit.

Nowadays what I look for and had most success with in newer artist is looking for the curious ones, those that enjoy finding out how things works. You gimme one of those, we’ll turn them in VFX artist in a jiffy.


I’m giving a talk at SCAD this weekend, and I’ll be quoting this. Wonderful collection of insights.

Maybe this problems solves itself (at least) a little bit.

Before Node-Based systems (Houdini, Substance, Material Editors, …) Artists where basically separated from any logic-work. Scripting/Shader-Code was freightening and very different from the ususal art-workflow.

Now, artists get more and more into Node-Based systems because the entry-barrier is lower, less freightning and invites to experiement - which brings them a bit nearer to logic-work and with that a bit nearer to the technical side of things.

Maybe because of this, we’ll see more artist with a passion for technical things because the transition is softer now.

Actually I can see that at the school where I’m teaching a bit: Since Unity added a Node-Based Material Editor the projects make use of custom materials way more often then before! The artists get curious and try around while before, writing shader code was an intimidating barrier.


VFX is something very attractive and fun to do but at the same time it is very hard to get into.

I am a student at the academy of art university and a year ago the last class of VFX shut down due to lack of students. I had to learns through site like this one or YouTube videos, it helped a lot but the lack of a constant teacher that could give me deep feedback or other student i could cooperate or compete with lacked a lot. A few other student started but got discouraged very fast unfortunately.

Ina way, I understand why very few people want to learn VFX. I believe that if you don’t love it at 200% it is a challenge to really get to it because you need to constantly push yourself to thoroughly work outside of school.
For example I take rigging and concept art classes at school and then when i get home I look at tutorials and work on it to assimilate as much knowledge as if this was my most important class.

but you know, we all said one day " i will do this on my free time" but then things got in the way…
in this case it is very important to push yourself and keep the workflow and trust me at times it is harder than it seems.

I persevered and I eventually got an internship where i could learn a lot from it. :slight_smile:

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This is why I fear no college or university will ever have a physical, in-class, full length course for real time vfx. When I say “full length” I mean there are a number of courses you take from Freshman/Transfer to Graduate that cover every aspect of vfx skills and principles. It just wouldn’t make sense to the university or program financially. We would need to pool all our teaching resources and students across the country, or even the world into one school and one program to get enough students.