What is one thing you'd tell yourself if you'd travel back in time to when you started doing VFX?

What is the most common mistake you see inexperienced artists making? What is the mistake you learned the most from yourself? What piece of advice do you think could help a beginner improve their skills smarter and faster?


Focus more on particle effect composition and timing, instead of materials/shaders. It’s much easier to search material tutorials and cherry pick bits and pieces from them to use for your work, but composing your particle effects and improving timing takes time and lots of failure to understand. Materials/Shaders are foundationally a “1+1=2” concept, but timing, color theory, * thing *-over-life, are all very much a feel that you develop. Even studying someone’s effect that looks good, and trying to recreate it, you probably won’t be able to match it. But you can look at someone’s material and dupe the exact setup and get their exact result.

I think this holds even more true if you are a student, or learning in your free time. From personal experience, trying to develop and improve your effect feel and composition while actively working means you’re either going to be taking way more work hours making something, or you’re going to be spending a lot of late hours at work.

Also, no doubt this has gotten buried, and it needs to be updated, but I put this together a while ago for everyone.



I’ve lost so many good textures I wanna cry :frowning:


Thanks for that advice and your story Travis. I bookmarked your story. That’s a valuable map to have for my journey ahead :smiley:

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Thanks. I’m usually organizing stuff and deleting unused files. So it’s good to have that in mind from the beginning. Wait, do you mean saving all the open files inside Photoshop? Aha, I see, yea I think I’ve had that happen to me too in other fields of design work :sweat_smile:

Record all your effects through all stages, from hit sparks to big flashy things! Record them solo in the particle editor, record them solo in a level, record them in context with the game running. Record them from multiple angles. Double check that every recording opens and plays in basic/standard/default media. I’ve definitely had things where the thumbnail shows up, but the clip doesn’t play or open in anything except VLC, and it was the only clip I had of said effect.

I learned the above the hard way. I didn’t record and save a single decent video file from the first 3 games I shipped. Each project was built in a different version of Unreal with custom C++ patches and tools, so when I was about to leave my first studio for the next, I didn’t have access to any of those projects. And they were all early VR games, so there’s basically no good video capture or playthrough clips of my work :dizzy_face:


Also, maybe do it on the downlow :eyes: but screenshot or video record your setups for things. Materials, BP setups, etc. Especially if you are working exclusively in a work project, and not building your own stuff in a personal project at home. You may change jobs expectedly or unexpectedly and you’re trying to remember how to recreate something you did at work, either for an art test or just for your own use in a personal project and can’t remember how to do it. This can even save you at work too. I just had to temporarily reimplement something that was originally done in Blueprint that got moved to code, but for some reason the code version wasn’t working as expected and we needed to demo the effect. I would have never remembered how we had set it up to use Anim Curves without that screenshot.

Also, if you have to re-do or add on to someone else’s work, you have their original setup on the off chance they want to save it themselves or you keep it in some kind of wiki archive for your studio just in case of emergency.


Both of the above suggestions could also come in handy for something like a GDC presentation, some kind of studio or project documentary, interviews, approved art dumps or break downs, etc.

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This and your previous reply kinda directly answer the “smarter and faster” thing. I can see how it will save a lot of time and trouble in the future, and make solving future problems faster, to document everything like that.

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There was a stretch where I was unexpectedly unemployed, and up to that point I had done all my work exclusively at the studio on work projects. So I found myself sitting at home needing to apply for jobs (and their inevitable art tests) staring at a completely stock Unreal project. No gameplay systems to work with, no animated characters, no professionally made environments, no playable character. No library of textures, meshes, materials or particle systems. I was definitely kicking myself for never having done any kind of small projects or replicated similar textures or effects I had made at work in a project at home.

I’m not suggesting plagiarizing or outright duplicating work assets, but if you found a cool combination of Substance nodes, or were still feeling in the groove of sketching some cool 2d FX you did earlier, try and make something similar for your home library when you have some free time. Even if you have no immediate plans to use them


I’m gonna be doing personal work in my free time only (I have a lot of free time anyway)… to start with, because I’m not sure if there’s a good studio I would like to work at in my city. I’m in Monterrey MX, not too far away from you, I see you’re in Austin. But this advice of yours is still good to know because some good and organized documentation will come in handy in case of losing files, or for future personal or professional projects. And well it shall be a good habit to have eventually if I get hired in a studio or in small freelance work.

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You can try to land a job at CGbot there, they are on remote work and they have a Vfx department. I worked there as a 3D generalist in the past. Sorry if this is no related to the conversation thread

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I’ll check them out. Thanks.

I would strongly disagree with that as it’s just not legal. You can leave a company with things in your mind, but not on disk. Screenshots would count exactly as saving the files directly.
You can thank your old self for not thinking of doing it. :slight_smile:

Studio archive yes, taking it with you when you leave: never.
Staring at it for hours so it imprints on your retina: you can try.


I guess a good idea then is to keep a daily journal at home where you write key solutions and discoveries you found every day. Easier to remember something you did today, than remembering it months or years in the future.

Yeah, I can re-word that. It’s not so much I recommend literally taking work things home to use on personal projects, just more that I wish I had taken notes on my processes for things so I remembered how to do them again at home or on a different project. Taking screenshots and videos of setups is seriously helpful though, like the example I provided that recently encountered

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