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Advice on Becoming a VFX Artist

Want to work in VFX but not sure where to start? We asked our VFX Artists to share their wisdom and advice on the resources available to you to help you get on your way!

Carlo Volpati (FX Artist): Houdini, by SideFX, is THE industry standard FX tool. And Houdini FX Artists are always in much demand no matter what the state of the industry. Most FX Artists have a multitude of skills: animating, modelling, lighting, compositing, scripting, using complex expressions and more…

Zybrand Jacobs (Senior FX Artist): Houdini FX is the best software to learn FX with, we are probably a bit biased :). But it is the only software out there in which you can do all the different kinds of feature film quality FX you can think of, without any plugins needed.

As an FX artist you need good generalist skills because you are working with particles, volumes, deforming geometry and everything in between and to be able to render your effect when you are done. As far as core skills go, FX is a balance between techincal skill and a creative eye, you often have a lot of technical problems to solve and in the end you have to make sure the FX look good as well.

A good understanding of math and some basic physics will get you a long way and the more you can code the better. Python is probably the best general purpose code to learn because it's used everywhere, but just learn any langauge because once you know one it's easier to learn the rest.

There aren’t many training institutions out there that train FX Artists specifically and I come from a design school myself so I can’t vouch for the ones out there. But there are tons of FX training courses online, both paid training and free, fxphd is a good place to start. They have well-structured courses and I have done a few of them myself. And there are free tutorials on Vimeo and YouTube for most software applications, just search for what you want to learn. Not to mention training on the software developers sites - Houdini have a lot of training free on their website.

David O'Brien (FX Supervisor): Houdini is the best 3D FX program out there. You can download a free training version of Houdini from their website. They have a lot of training videos available too. It’s a very complicated program but you can get some nice FX really fast that might inspire new would-be FX Artists. A really good forum for Houdini users is And there are some really good paid tutorials available at cmiVFX.

Liam O'Brien (FX Artist): There's a great community of artists using Houdini sharing files and techniques and answering each others questions on the SideFX forum. They tend to put up their files all the time to download too so you can get a good look at how they’re achieving certain things.

SideFX also offer a cheaper version called Houdini Indie, which is priced at $199 for an annual subscription, which fares quite well compared to the full package which would set you back at least $4,495.

Other than that, you can still do a lot with Maya but you need a lot of third party plugins to get really good looking results for the likes of live-action.

Here at Brown Bag, we have to do a lot of modelling, lighting, rigging and comping as well as FX simulations and the like, so it helps to be a bit of a generalist. So in this case, you’d need to know how to use Maya, (as it's pretty much industry standard too), as well as a comping software package like Nuke.

In a VFX studio these tasks would be broken up though, so people would be more specialised. There would be people just compositing, doing 3D FX simulations, and doing only the lighting so it depends on what you want to focus on. There’s always room to move around though!

Anahita Tabarsi

Anahita is Brown Bag Films' Marketing Director, Digital & Social and drinks more than five coffees a day...

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