VFX Series Tutorials

The aim of this Student Primer is to list the core skills that are universally used across all VFX departments, companies, and specialisms. It will dispel some of the common myths and give you advice on how to keep your options open and how to improve.

These 24 points represent important information and guidance to carry with you and consult regularly as you study VFX and start on your VFX career.

    If you are searching for a VFX career, it’s a good rule of thumb that the bigger the company you want to work for (and you have done your research, right?) the more specialist the job roles are. Smaller VFX houses or commercial departments tend to require generalists – people who can model, animate and light, and can cover a range of functions to get the work done. Larger companies may be looking for people who have more specialist skills – a real talent in a particular area. It’s not a cut and dried distinction of course, but it’s a good idea to think carefully about where your strengths lie along this spectrum.

Larger VFX companies will often complain that they are wary of seeing a lot of generalist showreels that haven’t got the depth in any particular area to be useful, or that they betray a lack of understanding of how teams work. VFX is a team sport – so it is important to remember from the beginning that you don’t have to excel at every aspect of VFX production.

Students tend to instinctively shy away from specialism, believing they need to dazzle prospective employers with a wide array of skills, thinking this gives them a greater chance of being employed. Most fall flat. Displaying strong narrative filmmaking and cinematography skills is great, but if your work lacks the bedrock of decent modeling, animation, texturing, lighting or compositing skills it means you end up pleasing no-one. Don’t let a showreel of a personal ten-minute pet project film you created all by yourself highlight your weaknesses and smother your real strengths!

If you are a student interested in VFX try out different roles and specialisms across the whole pipeline whilst at college. Find out what you are good at, what your strengths are and where they are on the VFX spectrum. Get the breadth of experience, but also taste the depth of specialism. Another way to think about this spectrum of talent is from the recruiter’s point of view. The easier you can make it for the employer to know which particular area you’re good at and whereabouts you are on the spectrum, the better the chance you have of being hired into the right role in the right company. Relax, no-one expects you to leave college as an expert specialist, but it is useful for you to show larger companies which kind of work you may be best at. Are your skills more 2D or 3D, for instance? Employers like rough diamonds that have a little bit of shape already.



VFX TutorialTo try out different specialisms, teamwork is the way to go. To be able to show evidence that you are a team player who has tried different roles is a powerful statement at any interview. Chances are you’ll have a better visual product for employers to view, (a word of warning – be aware you’ll need to explain clearly your contribution – it’s quite possible the recruiter has seen other members of the same team, so will be keen to get a good idea of who did what – so no exaggerations please!)

VFX is created by a large team of individuals. A team player attitude will win you, friends, very quickly. As a member of the team, you need to do enough to any creative asset to ensure it is passed on to the next person to a standard that enables them to work efficiently and creatively too. Depending on the facility’s size, there may be a dozen or more people working on a single shot, and each one of them brings something of their own creativity to it. Get to know the rest of the people you’re working with, and understand what they do and how you fit into the bigger picture. Discuss the work with them, particularly with the people you’re handing off to; what could you do to make their lives easier? 



To understand the VFX industry and its operations, you have to understand the necessary need for efficiency in image and data that is essential to making successful VFX. When you create images or assets you need to complete the task to specification, not perfection. Perfectionists only slow the process down, because they can’t let go. Frills and extras may get you noticed but will only be appreciated if you have the time to complete them. Think ahead; in most VFX work it’s important to get the overall foundations of the problem worked out and get some feedback on what you have done, before getting carried away with fine-tuning tiny details, or adding superfluous polish.

It’s important to understand the detail and amount of work needed to successfully fool the eye and get the job done. This often means finding appropriate solutions within the parameters you’ve got, and not using technology for the sake of it. One example is that there’s no point in using a processor-hungry particle system for a shot that features fog in the distance if shooting dry ice with a video camera will do the job. And there’s no point in creating a complex simulation of a simple building falling down if a crafty animation will do the job more data-efficiently.

Keep in mind that it’s not about reproducing the real world in 3D but mimicking it. Cheat creatively where you can to save processing power and rendering time, using 2D images, painting, baking lighting and occlusion into textures, or rendering separate passes. There is no need to model the back of objects if the camera isn’t going there! Work with simplicity in mind – you need to recognize that people often try to fix problems by adding more complexity. For example, if your CGI lighting doesn’t work, it’s tempting to add another light, but this may have negative repercussions later down the pipeline. Being able to plan effectively before beginning a project is a skill to develop no matter what software you are using.  

This is the first of a series of tutorials for VFX and CGI Animations and creating hyper-realistic characters. Stay tuned for the continuation of this article.

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Infographics by Sergio Hualde
Article Source: creative skillset