VFX Art Tests - What does a great experience look like?

Hello VFX buddies, long time no see :partying_face:

I’ve been heavily focusing on supporting my new teams thus the SUPER long absence. One part of my new role is providing a round of feedback to candidates on their VFX art tests. Now, I’ve done lots of this over the years so I’m no stranger BUT as it’s a larger focus in my new role it’s got me thinking more deeply about the holistic candidate testing experience. So! Where better to ask than here? :slight_smile:

From a candidate perspective what does a great VFX Testing experience look like to you?

Some questions that I’ve been mulling over as a place to start:

  • Respecting NDA’s, what are past prompts you’ve enjoyed and why?
  • What has been something particularly frustrating about past tests you’ve done? What would you do to solve this?
  • If you had to pick one thing, what would be a MUST HAVE as part of a test?
  • Feedback during a test - what was something you found particularly helpful?

If there are other burning thoughts or preferences please let me know as well. My goal is to use this information to improve the testing process across the board at Riot. Perhaps it could be useful to other companies as well. In that vein if there are questions others would like to ask please feel free! I see a lot of value in having a more uniform understanding of a good testing process.

Thanks for your time! :octopus:

11 Likes

Heh , remember the one that i’ve gracefully failed…Btw , here it comes :slight_smile:
vfx_test
The whole task was : to make an effect for two simple spheres…since i knew what my potential project looked like, i decided to find the scene from it and roughly re-created it’s environment , so that it won’t be just a blank scene…then it took me a day or so to make an effect itself…since there was nothing specific about it’s scale and level of “awesomeness” i should strike for, i just sent a project and…was told that result was way too simple and that they expected some kind of creative explosion from the candidate :sunglasses:
So getting back to your quiz , i’d say :

  • No NDA of any kind before job offer , cuz…you’re not even working there yet
  • A bit of a descirption would be great , like : “We want to see what you can do within a week , no limits , go ahead and impress us !”
  • I think any fx just has to look right in general , so there have to be: well read composition and proper timing , everything else is optional…i think
  • Feedback during a test : i think it may vary for the company / candidate…but it looks like in the most cases studios are looking for a self-driven artists that can take descissions on their own and won’t disturb its’ leads for any reason ( may not be true for junior positions though ).
5 Likes

No idea with the logistics of this, but-

Paid art tests.

Just speaking from personal experience… when you’re in that application process, as all of us at some point have been (and I’m assuming the art test is for a junior or fresh student out of school or similar scenario) you’re often at that point living paycheck to paycheck, maybe working 2 jobs, paying off students loans if you’ve been out of school long enough etc.Taking time out of your week to make art tests that you put a lot into, with a high chance of ultimately being denied, can be understandably tough.

A check upfront on completion of the test, even if it’s a no, would not only set a very good tone for who the company is, but be helping fix the upside down world of costly education and the financial instability of the younger generations in this industry. A couple hundred bucks is nothing for a big company, but could mean a lot for somebody producing work for one. I’d be elated if this was normalized. (I don’t know what Riot does but I believe I’ve heard of this being a thing at some companies (?))

4 Likes

I agree : art tests feel lopsided to many candidates/colleagues

  • they all feel it is zero risk to the studio to just hand them out
  • zero reward to candidates… there is no second place

Paymeny maybe? – I find ^ and one more issue which I think can be helped

I appreciate and find that art tests (imho a must have) a majority of the assets are provided by the company e.g. 75% of what is provided, +1 of your own to match the style and add to it. I got surprised recently, I had to start from scratch, no relevant assets at home

I imagined a cooking competition show…

  • someone has house loaded with supplies and tools
  • someone has nothing

I felt setup to fail before starting, incredibly pressured, I didnt even feel like I had time to be an artists as I raced to just have stuff - I probably should have dropped, spend 3-4 weeks make/gather geo/shaders/textures/assets

1 Like

Totally resonating with this. The stress which comes from student loan is an engine but also a guillotine, even a small compensation would mean the world when getting out of studies! :slight_smile:

  1. I’ve really enjoyed prompts that have a strong direction for the effect’s theme or composition, but are open ended creatively. EX: “We’d like to see a tornado that starts up from nothing, loops for a while, and then quickly dies out. We would like the effect to be non-photoreal.” The artists knows that they want a tornado, the effect should have at least 3 distinct parts, and can be made out of anything. It could be a magic tornado with a black and purple color scheme, it could be poisonous or swirling bone, or even just dust, but the artist knows it should stray away from realistic in its look. Another good one is reworking some effect that has already been done in your game, but with a different theme or direction. Like making an effect for a champion’s skin that doesn’t exist (pajama guardian Mordkaiser Q, Pool Party Pantheon ult, etc.)
  • You know what the effect’s base should be, you have a defined and strong direction to work in; you’re not going to second guess if you’re missing what the studio is looking for
  • Artist still has a lot of creative freedom within the defined direction.
  • There are defined parts to the effect so you know what’s expected of the effect as a whole: build up from an empty scene into the main filled out effect that loops, blends from the main loop out back into the empty scene again.
  1. Frustrating situations from personal experience:
  • Prompt too vague (make a magic effect)
  • Style and level of quality not defined. If your IP hasn’t been announced or released, provide more refined direction on the look you’re expecting, even providing reference to the candidate.
  • Multiple effects required for a single test.
  • Lack of flexibility or understanding if you don’t hit any specified timeline (no time extension or additional consideration because events delayed your progress or prevented you from making the deadline)
  • Prompt start and deadline is established before I was ready. Ex: “We’d like to move forward with an art test. Here’s the test, you have a week, if you have any questions let us know, good luck.”
    ** I had questions, and it took more than a full day for the recruiter emailing me to get back to me with the answers. That was a day lost in the seven days that I had.
    ** Don’t assign an art test, and a deadline for it, right before a big holiday weekend. If you expect someone to sit inside all weekend and work (for no pay and no employment guarantees) while their friends or family are out having fun, that’s a bit mean. Let the candidate know roughly how long they’ll have for the art test, and ask when would be the best time to give them the prompt and start their timeline.
    ** If you’re going to give a deadline, give the option of an hourly deadline. There may be someone with kids, or two jobs, etc. who can only put in 2-3 hours a night, and given a week or two may not be able to make something on par with someone who can work on the test 5-8 hours a day for that one or two weeks. Give them the option of something like “40 work hours” so even if it takes them a month, the artist will have had just as many hours to work on their test as someone else who may have the flexibility to work more hours in a single day.
    ** If you are going to ask for breakdowns of the effect, breakdowns of the assets made for the test, all the assets to be included in submission, multiple angles of the effect, etc. All of that should be excluded from the deadline the artist has to make an effect. You should not expecting all this extra work to be done in the time you give them to complete the test, especially if they only have a short amount of time to begin with. They should be able to put every minute of that deadline into the effect itself, not cutting themselves short because they need to start taking screenshots of their materials or recording wire frame and shader complexity passes.
  1. My one “Must Have” for an art test is actionable feedback. A really solid list of quantifiable things that the reviewer(s) would like to see improved or expanded upon that the artist can act on decisively. Vague feedback like "It needs more ‘Oomph’ " or “Add more life to it” are too abstract, and may lead an artist in the opposite direction. Timing feeling too linear, too many elements happening all at once, colors not working well together, needing more lingering elements at the end, etc. seem to me like feedback that can be acted on. “Oh, I had A, but you would like to see B instead” kind of thing. You don’t need to spell out every detail and explain how exactly you want to see it, but using abstract language like “It just doesn’t feel squishy enough” is not only unhelpful, but could even lead the artist astray and hurt more than help.

  2. I really like having an idea of when I should submit for feedback expressed somewhere in the art test prompt. Encouraging an artist to show their progress when they feel they are 50% or 65% with the effect is great, and can help you re adjust early if you start to veer off course a bit. I had a great experience where I checked in some early progress, and got some feedback that I was getting a bit too much tunnel vision on part B of the prompt, and they wanted to see me put more imagination and effort into part A instead. This changed my entire direction for the effect (to a very positive response on my next submission). It would also be nice if the studio considered providing an additional round of extra feedback. If the applicant’s submission wasn’t quite what you were hoping in terms of direction or quality, but you feel like they are really close, point out a few stand out areas and give them another day or two. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stared too long at something I was working on that I thought was done, took a few days break and got some last minute feedback on, and then was able to really pull it together with that feedback.

Another thing I found incredibly helpful in the feedback area was getting positive feedback on all the things the reviewers liked. “We really liked the initial wind up, and the lingering bits at the end were a great touch” can help an artist apply much more focus on the feedback for improvement, and spend less time reworking the entire effect. This can also keep them from ruining bits you felt worked well in the first place, and can give an artist a reference for things they already did well to apply to other areas.

3 Likes

Also have to agree with NateLane, RandomStroke and Torbach’s input too.

Per NateLane, some kind of compensation would be great. If you’re working multiple jobs or have student loans, doing work for free is tough. If you’re unemployed (layoffs, let go, etc.) it would be very difficult to be spending so much time (most likely doing multiple art tests and interviews) while your savings burns out and bills stack up. If you are trying to leave one job for a better studio, but you have kids 'n such, I’d imagine it would be hard to spend any free time working on something and not with family just to have nothing to show for it.

Per Torbach, art tests absolutely feel like you putting up everything for potentially nothing. Almost every art test I’ve done required me to not only submit the video of the effect, but all the textures and meshes I made for it, and sometimes even my shaders, or a breakdown and explanation of my shaders. There has always been language in the agreement for the art test that anything I make for the art test becomes the property of that company regardless of an employment offer… Really? If I’m already working for free, I now have to give you everything I made too? If you can’t just look at my effect and know exactly what material tricks I’m using to make it, then that seems like I have a value I should be hired for to find out what my secret sauce is. I’m find providing small thumbnails of my textures, but to give up the full sized texture assets I spent time on for free? That’s asking a bit much imo. You’re also asking candidates to constantly re-invent the wheel, which costs them time.

That kind of goes along with what RandomStroke mentioned: No NDA. I can understand not giving away the prompt the studio gave you for the test; don’t want people cheating the system and pre-planning for an art test. But unless a studio is providing the material/shader, textures, meshes, etc. you shouldn’t get to lay claim to whatever we use in our art test if we make it ourselves.

I really like Torbach’s idea of the studio providing the assets and seeing how the artist uses them. Plus, a lot of people spend most of their time making art at their job, and they may not have all of the infrastructure at home to dive feet first and start creating on day one.

1 Like

I think the idea of having payed Art Tests is a bit of a double edged sword.
Some of the tests you will get are usable for an actual project, others are just not usable at all.
That being said, it also depends on the role you’re hiring for. Honestly, most of the student works you’ll get are not usable, whereas if you hire a lead, it might even be better quality than some of the artists in your team can pull off. This might sound a bit harsh, but finding a job is not a charity. Work hard & work smart and then you will find a great job. The realtime VFX discipline is incredibly forgiving/easy compared to e.g. Concept Art, which is super overrun. I do belvieve you have to work hard for what you want to achieve.
On the other hand, the applicant is investing a lot of his free time into this specific test, which I understand can feel like a big burden (loss of money even, if you have multiple jobs).

So in my opinion, the art test should not be paid, but layed out in a way that tests specific skills quickly & efficiently. Ultimately the test is there for the canditate to show off their skill and how well they fit into a specific company/project, but also for the candidate to evaluate whether or not they want to work for said company (as the art test is a representation of the company in a way).

So important points for me would be:

  • Test not longer than a weekend, or even just time limited (10-20 hours)
    -> The time/amount ratio highly depends on what kind of artist you’re looking for. Do you want the artist to perform really well under presure? You probably overload the test with work for the amount of time given. Do you want the artist to best express themselves and be more creative? Then a smaller, more polished test, with more time. This also highly scales with skill level. A senior is probably 2-10x faster than a junior
  • Test date selection for applicants, so they can choose when it’s convenient for them
  • Test focuses on very specific skills that are needed within the company (e.g. hand-painted magic effects, realistic blood effects etc.), preferably with assets provided by the company (e.g. character with animation, small environment scene etc.)
  • Clear goals as to what to do. These goals in production are usually set by another discipline, so maybe explantion as to who might be affected by the fx test, e.g a designer or an animator or an environment artist
  • No test of social skills (that should be in the interview)
  • Feedback half-way through the test is a great idea. If you have a lot of applicants it could just be a few sentences, but it makes the test more personal & also closely resembles reality. Also it’s nice to see how candidates react to feedback & it’s nice for the candidate, as they can improve upon the critque given
  • I think NDA is fine, as long as the artist can at least (if not hired) take the art test as a portfolio piece

It’s been a while since I had a bad interview, but that’s just my 5 cents anyway :smiley:
Oh and, interviews is a whole differen story. Some companies’ interviews… puh

One very important component to answering these types of questions is succinctness. So in that spirit:

  1. Asking me to create the narrative around the effect (really appealed to my game design and writing sensibilities)

  2. A lack of clear vision from the developer about what their game is and everything that goes along with that. Even in a secretive situation you still have to be clear about the art direction for the effect(s) for the test to be of value.

  3. Fun. Jk. Seriously though, give me some reference. Artists, as much as you want it to be like this, most of the time you are being asked to create stuff ‘in the style of’ something that you may not even like/prefer, but it will help you grow tremendously.

  4. Simple, concise bullet points that show they have as much passion for it as I do.

I’ll also echo those who are asking for paid tests. And I’ll take it even further (even though currently this isn’t really feasible). Long time ago I applied for work at a guitar manufacturer, and they give you 5 paid days in the factory to show them how you learn and see if you were a good fit. It was motivating to get to see where you could be and what you’d be a part of, and really gave you a sense of who you’d be working with and their culture. At the end of it they gave you a call and let you know. It was nerve-wracking, and the first time I did my test days, they actually picked someone else. Then the next day another one of the managers called me up and was like ‘I really loved your work ethic man, could you swing by and let’s talk?’. That ended up being an even better situation than if I’d gotten the first position! Funny how life works out sometimes.

There’s also the other side of compensated art tests. I get that people want to be compensated for their time. But an art test is usually handed out mostly to unproven artists to see if it’s worth taking a risk with them. For someone who has already shipped a few games in the style they are after, it’s much less of a risk to hire and no art test would be necessary. So if art tests starts costing the company money, they will be less common and the company would simply hire the sure bets, the seniors with a proven track record. It will be harder to find someone with this narrow search criteria, but getting companies to spend money on content they won’t use is even harder so I think I know which would win in this scenario. This would raise the bar of entry a LOT!

2 Likes

That’s a fair point. However, with juniors being cheaper hires long-term do you think a studio would rather invest in more expensive senior artists than shell out a comparatively (I’m assuming) small sum on art tests and hire the juniors?

I do see your point that somebody hiring might think they don’t want to waste studio money by requesting these art tests and just hire more senior, but it would be interesting to actually plot out at what point it wouldn’t be worth the money.

How many art tests do studios send out on average to find one junior candidate? (Im actually curious. I don’t know).

Having fought for headcount budget before, I’d guess that many companies would just demand more from junior roles so the art test isn’t needed. There are supertalented people out there that’ll still get the jobs. I’ve hired a junior without arttest after having seen work online already. The arttest is a way to test the waters in edgecases.

Not saying it WILL be like this. It’s just a guess based on my experience.

It’s similar to internships. In Sweden you can get an internship while you are studying (meaning you get money from the government). That means the company can take a risk on someone who isn’t good enough for a junior position yet, but it seems likely that they will be after some mentoring of a senior artist.
The company “wastes” senior artist time with the hope to hire a good artist in the end.
The intern “wastes” time in the hopes of boosting skill and experience level and in the end land a job.

If one was to say that unpaid internships would be banned, the artist would simply be jobless instead as his skillevel wasn’t high enough to be hired outright.
(Of course this changes in places where students aren’t paid to study and do internships)

1 Like

I’m pretty against tests (and unpaid internships). As an applicant, if a company asks me to do one -especially if it’s unpaid-, I see it as a red flag that it’s a company that has no respect for your life outside of work.

The only test I have agreed to do, was compensated for, and involved coming to the studio and working with the other crew for a short period to see how I would fit into the team. It was a trial more than a test. It was valuable for everyone I think, and I ended up turning down the role when I might have otherwise accepted it.

As someone who has seen many other people do tests, what I find frustrating is that it toys with the personal lives of the applicant and their family. It puts people with a family at a disadvantage as the other members need to take on extra work too in order to provide the applicant the time necessary to jump through hoops.

Thank you everyone for your perspectives so far :slight_smile: I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness put into each response and have gleaned some observations from them that I wanted to share back. Before I get into what those observations are I wanted to take a moment and highlight two topics that may benefit from some additional clarity: NDA’s and WHY a test might be given.

The WHY of art tests. There could be a quite few reasons but predominantly it’s for the candidate and the company to:

  • Evaluate where the craft competencies of the candidate are.

By craft competencies I mean: hue, value, cohesion, consistency, timing, creativity, readability, etc.It isn’t always easy to tell where someone lands especially if:
A. A reel is old
B. The consistency isn’t there between various FX
C. The context of FX in the reel don’t match the product’s needs

Note: This isn’t “Candidate didn’t meet senior level timing expectations, can’t hire them”. Everyone has gaps! EVERYONE. The information from the test helps the company gauge what a strong support plan looks like for that individual to level up those gaps. Sometimes there are too many gaps for the needs of the role OR the company cannot provide the right kind of support for that candidate resulting in a pass.

  • Evaluate if the candidate enjoys working in that style

A test isn’t JUST for a companies benefit, it’s for yours too! This is a time to learn if working within this style is something you’d be passionate about for one, five, maybe fifteen years! It’s also a great method to demonstrate your most up to date skills. Not everyone can show the last thing they worked on quite yet so it’s great to have a means to flex those new skills.

NDA’s! Caveat - I am not a lawyer! I do not have extensive, detailed knowledge in this area so I encourage you to do your own research if you’re looking for more information. An NDA is a common accompaniment to a test because typically the candidate is working within an IP. I personally have never heard of VFX test assets used anywhere outside of the test. I hear you on that concern. That sounds like something to confirm with the company ahead of the test if it’s in question. Additionally if you are testing for an unreleased project there are likely to be stricter NDA rules to adhere to the confidential nature of RnD.

Now that we’ve talked a bit about WHY an art test might be asked and NDA’s:
I see there’s some polarizing perspectives around the possibility of the compensation aspect of art tests. It seems to stem from a desire to fairly compensate for the value of the artist’s time. There is a lot of nuance when it comes to monetarily compensating someone for their time. Contracts, work visas, currency exchange, budgets, and so so many other things ~ Because of this in all honesty I don’t see a silver bullet solution here.

Observations from this thread on what makes a great VFX Art Test:

  • Transparency to candidate on what specifically they are being testing for
    • Clear project descriptions of FX output including power level of effect
    • Style indicators via existing reference or concept art
  • Provide startup assets
    • What would be helpful here?
      • Basic scene setup
      • Blueprint/sequencer/etc
      • Basic shaders?
      • Any textures you MUST have as part of the test
      • Common textures, flash, glow, sparks, things that would be pulled from a common directory vs remade
  • Flexibility on time
    • Not a massive ask on individuals time
    • Mindful of other obligations (work, home, or otherwise)
  • Feedback
    • Highlight what’s working
    • Actionable, non abstract feedback

Again, thank you for all who have posted so far! You’re all helping to make a better experience for those who participate in the testing process. If I left anything out please let me know. I’d love to keep the discussion going if anyone has additional thoughts or would like to answer my original questions in the first post. Thanks buddies! :octopus:

8 Likes