Travis McCallum - VFX Sketchbook

I would like some feedback on my work. Please be ruthless as it is only my 5th week since I’ve decided to pursue VFX as a career. :smile:

I am starting with the element of fire. I want to make fantasy and science-fiction games.

  1. Fireball Charge-Up.
    After @Partikel gave me a dose of VFX reality, I finally figured out how to attach a particle to a static mesh. I was going for a unique stylized look, but I’m starting to think for a beginner its better to just replicate other designs first.

I created a follow-up particle system as a projectile, but am still trying to figure out how to attach it to the Fireball Charge-Up. I’ve been following Virtus Learning Hub RPG series and I think AI/Player BPs are the way to go.

The Fireball Projectile is an adaptation from the Infinity Blade template. I think my mesh material is awkward, maybe not opaque enough. I am really trying to avoid using sprite sheets at all costs for simplicity sake.

  1. Campfire.
    I think I did a really good job with this one. I used Julian Love’s idea to keep emitter count low by combining 2 of the same texture with different panning speeds and masked the opacity with a cloud texture. The sparks, smoke and light really adds some realism to it. I’m concerned the flames themselves may not be realistic enough.

  1. Torch Fire.
    This one looks good, but I honestly don’t know-- I feel like I’m cheating using a GPU to up the particle count. I’m trying to develop a style of simplicity and low particle count in my shading and emitter designs. (Whoops, I forgot to add a light module!) :face_with_hand_over_mouth:

One thing I want to ask:

  • How do you guys record your particle footage when showcasing it to others?

Finally, here’s a reference to a fireball I plan on replicating from the WoW Mage

Thank you all for your consideration. I’m trying really hard to solve problems on my own. But having a community to help isincredibly invaluable. I’m making an effort to network here in the DFW area so if any of the guys here are at IDSoftware or Gearbox or any other of those studios, hit me up for a free lunch / drinks!

I’ll be working on my water effects next and refine fire based off your feedback/advice.


First off, welcome! It’s always exciting to see new faces around!

OBS and fraps are my go to for recording. They both allow you to record a single screen, making it easy to capture anything cleanly without needing to edit in AE.

I think the strongest piece you have is the last one, because it gives off a realistic falloff of light, with a bit of glow and the colors fading into that nice red from pale yellow. Looking at the first 2 pieces you don’t have as much of that nice natural color falloff. With your second piece, I see a bit of repetition in the shapes. If you give your particle a bit more random scale variation, random color variation, velocity variation, etc it can help it feel a lot more natural. Like Julian Love says in his talk, it gives it that feel of a campfire, where you can look at it forever and never really spot the repetition.

Last thing I’d say would be to just keep going! Keep looking at really cool effects (from real life, or other artists) that you like and mimmick them to the best of your ability! Look at their shapes (are they small, big, sharp, soft), value, hue, saturation, motion, and anything else that make them how they are! Have fun with it, especially when your just starting out! Looking forward to see what you cook up next! :fire:

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So it’s been a hot while since I’ve been able to sit down and learn VFX. But now I’ve got a schedule giving me financial peace of mind :). A continuation of learning fire…

  1. Is a simple torch fire. I built a 4x1 UV from stock footage in photoshop, created a shader using ImbueFX’s class (UV Distortion, UV Macro, Panner Speed and Contrast Randomizer Dynamic Parameters).

  2. Is my attempt at a candle using GPU system. Looks more like a flamethrower really… I cut out a candle with stock footage and added an alpha channel in Photoshop. The shader was basically a particle color multiplied in emissive and opacity. Do you think candles should just not have any Z velocity? Struggling with this one…

  3. Is a campfire using a new set of Fire UVs I replicated the ImbueFX Fire Tutorial on. For this one I included 2 sets of flames at 50 for each. One has a lower velocity and smaller location contained in the cylinder to give the body more meat. I liked what I did with the embers, especially the secondary emmitter for burst… but this smoke!! oh god the smoke. How does one make a giant smoke cloud without fluid sims? All my particles are clearly visible. The smoke is set on GPU at 500 spawn btw.

All the help on Discord, Facebook and onwards is very much appreciated. Seeing everyone else’s work progress is also very inspiring. I do want to improve so I’ll continue iterating on fire until it becomes muscle memory. :blush:

P.S. I used the UE4 sequencer in the video so if the camera angle seems weird, it is because it is!


Hey Travis, welcome back!

  1. I’d say embers are too big (and do not spawn from the fire), smoke too bright, smoke+fire too hard edged
  2. One particle is plenty for a candle flame, subtle flickering/wobbling can be done in a shader, or with a flipbook.
  3. This fire is very purple/white and has a lot of holes in it - go for less & bigger particles and refine the motion. The random rotation of the flames isn’t working well, it needs a convincing upwards roiling motion.

Overall grab some reference to follow, and compare!

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So I’m a bit of a wreck figuring out how to combine my particle systems and present them. Over the past week I’ve been experimenting with different approaches… I can’t help but feel like I’m making things WAY harder than they need to be for a beginning VFX artist.

The effect I was trying to get off the ground was a fireball. It had 3 main elements:

  1. The cast state
  2. The fireball itself
  3. The impact explosion

I then tried 3 different methods to combine them.

  1. Character Blueprint

  2. Static Event Tick Blueprint

  3. Sequencer

Here are the three different versions combined in a single video to show off the effect.

Blueprints are a complicated lot. But so is this effect I decided to make. I know the effect itself needs polishing to “look” well but I am still trying to wrap my hand around the actual presentation of an effect. I recently read up on using UE4 Cascade vs Blueprint and the consensus for a beginner is to strictly focus in on mastering Cascade (soon Niagara) & the Material Editor.

Someone recently encouraged me to use Sequencer, but I found the timing for the effect is super awkward when controlled with keyframes. I think this may be the best path now.

I know I want to be able to create magic spells, and I will need them for my demo reel, but really struggling how to combine them and present in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. I keep thinking about what @Travis said about what effects to focus on making.

  • Fire. Torch fire would be simple, camp fire or oil fire is more complex and I recommend shooting for that.
  • Magic. Something abstract; anything from your imagination on this one.
  • Elemental impacts. Think bullets hitting various materials, ex water, glass, dirt, rock/concrete, wood
  • Realistic explosion. Showing you understand elements and can layer complexity and timing in your systems.
  • Blood splashes.

There’s certainly lots of ways to approach a problem and presentation. I think it comes down to what you’re trying to show.

More specifically though your question about blueprints, there was this thread a while ago

Worth reading, getting the files and breaking it down.

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You have a lot of elements overlapping. But there is major hurdles in trying to present them in a way that’ll feel good because its very robotic right now in the way they move and layer together. The casting/Building part especially. It serves as an anticipation but move at constant speed, then hold without enough motion for a while before a projectile is thrown. The biggest problem is not in the presentation right now. It’s in the motion.

Get familiar with this.

This will help you more than any “how to demo reel” will.


I made my first attempt at a demo reel.

Feedback welcome, especially on the cinematic shots!

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Great first reel, getting rid of the blank page is the hardest part. As you continue to refine this will really come together.

A couple of suggestions for consideration perhaps

No camera moves unless the camera is part of the action. The free camera pan seems to be the Hallmark of student reels. Framing the effects in the context of how it would be seen in the game and or used will help.

The shots can be shorter in general.

Increasing the lighting in the last shot and adding some range in overall lighting will help illustrate an understanding of creating effects at different times of day.

There’s a good range of effects here. I would personally play with the colour palette, add layers to give more range again.

Hope that helped, great work though. Keep at it :slightly_smiling_face:


Hi guys(gals), I had to get my feelings out about my life. I just really want to share with you, in case any aspiring artists are feeling the same way… know you aren’t alone.

Very proud of all the hard work I’ve put in a proper fireball after several weeks. Huge thanks to the RTVFX Discord & individuals for helping me with some concepts and critiques.


My latest ArtStation piece.


Hi everyone, recently I created a brand new tutorial for VFX artists. This is my first one and I didn’t know if I should create a new thread, so I decided to just post in my sketchbook. I think it’s useful for artists looking to add their effects in game. Enjoy!