8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a VFX Artist

8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming a VFX Artist

June 27, 2023
David Lugo

Learn the benefits, challenges, and strategies for success in becoming a VFX artist, and get resources for learning and networking.

The visual effects (VFX) industry, expected to reach nearly $18.02 billion by 2028, is attracting many to consider becoming a VFX artist.

Benefits of Becoming a VFX Artist

Visual effects permeate digital media, from commercials to Hollywood films and AAA games, creating numerous job opportunities for VFX artists. With the right skills and experience, you could earn a six-figure salary as a VFX artist. Additionally, VFX is an industry where working remotely or freelancing is almost easier than finding a position as an in-house artist.

Arguably one of the best perks of becoming a VFX artist is that you can basically learn the craft for free. For example, it’s not always necessary to have a degree. Thanks to the many online VFX tutorials and personal-use software licensing options that make professional applications completely free for beginners, you can start your creative journey with little to no investments at all. 

Challenges of Entering the VFX Industry

Just like any creative endeavor, being a VFX artist is an exciting journey full of challenges and opportunities. It's true that creative blocks and burnouts can occur, but they can become stepping stones to growth. For example, when you immerse yourself in resources like the ArtStation library, you can draw inspiration from other artists. The competition in top-tier companies is intense, but it's also a testament to the dynamic and thriving nature of the industry. 

Instead of feeling overwhelmed, see the challenges you face as a chance to continually improve and push your boundaries. Remember, every artist's journey is unique. It's not about being better than others, but about being better than you were yesterday. As you embark on your VFX journey, here are some strategies to keep in mind to maintain your confidence, motivation, and love for the craft.

8 Strategies for Success as a VFX Artist

1. Failure is Fine

As you learn how to become a VFX artist, it’s important to remember that it’s called a learning curve for a reason! Progress is not linear, and mastering any craft takes time. Excellence as a VFX artist comes from learning, failing, correcting your mistakes, learning a bit more, and continuously improving.

Don’t ever be too hard on yourself, especially in the beginning. Imperfections are inevitable but they don’t mean you are not a good fit for VFX. Don’t be afraid to show your work to fellow VFX artists and ask them for advice. Additionally, don’t shy away from posting your art on social media, and don’t stop learning and advancing.

Watch some of our own VFX artists reacting to their early composites:

2. Start Networking 

Approaching other VFX artists is not as intimidating as you might imagine. Even if they have years of experience at top-tier production studios, they all started somewhere just like you. Most of the time, pro VFX artists are happy to help those who are beginning to navigate the world of VFX production. You can connect with VFX artists on ArtStation, LinkedIn, Instagram, and other platforms. As long as you are respectful, networking should not be an impossible task. 

However, remember that bombarding your favorite creator with friend requests and sending follow-up messages every 24 hours will only get you blocked. Contact them on one platform, start with a neutral opener, explain why you’d like to connect with them, and just keep it professional. Who knows, maybe this little chat will eventually turn into a life-changing job recommendation!

3. Never Stop Learning

Though you might be tired of hearing this one, it’s especially true for VFX artists. Part of learning how to become a VFX artist involves understanding that the learning process never stops.

As you probably noticed, software for digital art advances at enormous speeds and every day, there are more updates to keep up with. With so many new tools and features to explore, the learning process never stops. Plus, when it comes to advanced apps like Houdini and Unreal Engine, mastering its built-in tools is really just the beginning. You can get even more functionality out of them using coding. If you get comfortable with scripting, you might even start writing your own tools for VFX production at some point! 

There is no limit to what you can learn as a VFX artist, so if one day you feel like you pretty much know it all, think again!

4. Learn How Cameras and Colors Work 

Color theory and the technicalities of video recording might not sound exciting, but knowing how colors work in different lighting setups is crucial if you want to create top-notch visuals. If you are not sure how colors behave and interact with each other, your effects are going to look weird and out of place. Same goes for knowing your cameras. Because the goal of any digitally-made visual effect is to make it seem like it was recorded in real life, studying the filming process is a must. You need to develop a good understanding of camera angles, perspective, image distortion, and other nuances of capturing live-action footage on camera. 

The best way to get familiar with the ins and outs of camerawork is to take a camera and film as many different scenes as you can. Shoot videos in broad daylight and at night, film crowds and empty spaces, capture moving and still objects, experiment with angles, etc.

Here is an example of how on-set environments impact post-production work:

5. Study References

There is a fine line between referencing and tracing. There’s nothing many digital artists despise more than tracing, which is copying a picture exactly, without learning or creating anything new. Although tracing seems easy because everything is already figured out, it doesn't help you grow. Instead, a better way is to analyze the element you wish to recreate, try to understand the physics behind it, and figure out how to imitate the same effect digitally. There are many good reference photos and videos online, or you can take your own. Train yourself to spot these references and use them in your future projects.

6. Start With What You Have

Waiting for the perfect moment to start creating can be harmful for anyone becoming a VFX artist. Having top-notch equipment like a powerful PC or high-end camera can boost your work, but it's not essential for beginners. Premium workstations for VFX are costly, and hardware quickly becomes outdated. While it's tough to do VFX on a low-spec laptop, you don't need to postpone your creativity because a tech blog recommends another PC.

7. Be Open To Feedback

Sometimes it is incredibly hard to put that ego aside and let others criticize your work. Being open to feedback, however, is essential for professional growth and becoming a high-quality VFX artist. We rarely see our own mistakes clearly - instead, we see the time and effort we put into making something, we confuse the sentimental value of an artwork with its actual quality. If you want an honest and insightful evaluation of your progress, ask a fellow VFX artist you look up to for feedback. And if you’re feeling courageous and think you’re ready for some unfiltered criticism, you can submit your works for online contests and art challenges. This way, you will receive tons of comments, both from casual art admirers and professional artists. 

At ActionVFX, we love seeing creations from VFX artists who are just starting out! Don’t hesitate to share them just because they’re not top-notch. Our Discord community is a great place to connect with other artists and get constructive feedback on your creations.

8. Watch Non-VFX Movies

While it may seem counter-intuitive, hyperfocusing on VFX can limit your creative vision and lead to fatigue. Watching films with minimal CGI can be refreshing and educational, offering insights into practical effects and how they differ from digital ones. This can help you discern when to use CGI for best effect. Exploring Hollywood classics can also expose you to pre-CGI special effects techniques like stop-motion animation, rear projection, and forced perspective.

Becoming a VFX Artist

If you are interested in becoming a VFX artist, there is no better time than now! As you advance as an artist, we encourage you to continue learning, failing, and improving based on your mistakes and feedback from others.

A great place to start is by downloading some of our free VFX stock assets. You might consider an annual ActionVFX subscription to get 80% off our library of assets. At ActionVFX, our mission is to be the undisputed best and largest library of VFX stock footage in the world, and we love assisting new VFX artists enter the industry!

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