How ActionVFX Elements Help The 'VFX For Motion' Course Prepare You For The Industry

How ActionVFX Elements Help The 'VFX For Motion' Course Prepare You For The Industry

December 13, 2022
Cody Vineyard

The VFX for Motion course teaches you how to use a broad set of VFX tools, techniques, and more.

From keying and rotoscoping to tracking and matchmoving, the VFX for Motion course by School of Motion is packed full of practical VFX knowledge to prepare you for success in the VFX industry. And we're honored to show you how ActionVFX assets play an important role in the course!

We caught up with Mark Christiansen, VFX for Motion Instructor, and discussed how ActionVFX helped make this course happen.

Q: Tell our readers a little bit about VFX for Motion. What’s the inspiration behind this course?
A: You could say that the inspiration for this course is right there in the title. Visual effects and motion design are most often thought of as two separate disciplines requiring unique talents and skill sets. But what about the projects that require both—the ones that integrate live action footage and realistic effects into animated worlds, or the inverse, integrating animated elements into a filmed world?

As it turns out, adding VFX skills to a motion design approach opens doors for the mographer. As soon as you are proficient with bread-and-butter VFX skills, you can confidently bid on design projects that integrate with live-action footage (such as the majority of big-budget commercial spots you see across media today).

Likewise, bringing motion design skills to VFX opens the door to more rarified work such as Future/Fantasy UI (aka FUI), experience design (where design, UX, and the real world meet), and augmented reality. These are forms of storytelling and interactivity that inspired some really fun and artistic lessons in the course.

Q: What tools and skill sets are covered throughout the VFX for Motion course?
A: This is first and foremost an After Effects course. The principles are adaptable to other platforms, but if you are already proficient in After Effects, you have a clear advantage leveraging your knowledge of that fundamental toolset.

That said, and contrary to popular belief, there is more to the technical side of visual effects fundamentals than using automated plug-ins. Matching foreground and background elements is the core skill of the VFX compositor, and there is no automated tool that will outdo what is often called in the VFX business a “good eye.” This is a deceptive term because it sounds like a natural ability, when in fact it is also the result of a lot of trial and error analyzing images.

The supporting core skills include Color Keying (AKA greenscreen), which is most often more than clicking a button or even working with a single layer using a single tool; Rotoscoping, which is animated masking of moving images, which still cannot be purely “done by the computer” at the professional level; Motion Tracking, which requires a technical understanding of the camera and 3D to do well. 

Generation and integration of effects elements like particles, smoke, fog, fire, self-illuminated phenomena (lightning, light sabers) is included, as well.

Q: This course also provides tips on directing a VFX shoot, correct? It’s so great to see practical advice being given that’s behind the camera, as well.
A: We do indeed provide tips on shooting source and supervising on a VFX set, using the shoots that were done for the course as examples. One of the most valuable methods to learn to create the kind of visuals that straddle reality and the impossible is to understand the camera and lighting for photographed images. 

Nowadays, we all have a film camera in our pocket, yet that particular model is designed to simplify, or even take away, some of the decisions that professionals use to perfect the photographed image. The more you get your hands dirty adjusting camera and light settings, preferably on a camera with dedicated lenses and manual controls, the more you can unlock this power on the spot.

On a professional film/video set, the individual directing is generally freed from worrying about VFX in order to focus on essentials like performance, timing, and emotional impact. 

The Director of Photography, Camera Operators, and Gaffers know about controlling the environment to maximize the role of light. The VFX Supervisor needs to be on the lookout for creative and technical decisions that will simplify or augment the post-production process.

This is even more important if all of those roles are being played by one or two individuals, as that in turn implies that there’s probably not a lot of budget or time to “fix it in post.”

Learning to see the environment through the camera as a VFX artist can, in time, give you the ability to evaluate a shot just by looking at the set with your naked eye, or even just by studying the storyboard in a pre-production meeting. It’s a skill that can really influence the result, and not only the quality, but the time and budget required.

Q: It’s so great to hear that the VFX for Motion course uses ActionVFX stock footage elements for compositing. What made you want to include ActionVFX?
A: I wish we had had a resource like ActionVFX earlier in my career! Back in the day, a practical effects shoot—where you film non-everyday images like explosions, glowing fire, and energy with a high-speed camera—was a rare budget expenditure even at a dedicated VFX facility. 

We all ended up reusing elements a lot, even when the scale, duration, angle of view, or plain old feel wasn’t quite what we had envisioned. As for computer-generated elements, those were rarely shared and the ones that were quickly became overused.

What’s more, the ActionVFX peeps clearly understand how these elements are used better than many individual VFX photographers who have never had the opportunity to work with them in post-production. The multi-pass computer-generated elements we were provided gave us a lot of latitude to create the illusion of hard physical elements being exploded, shot, and shattered. All the real-world mayhem that needs to feel real in order to work at all. 

Our visual system as creatures on earth is too easily capable of spotting fakery when it comes to forces that can, in the wrong real-world context, lead to our demise.

Q: ActionVFX does not keep its mission a secret, which is to be the common driving force behind every compositor’s career. What do you want people who take the course to learn about VFX stock footage elements?
A: We want them to know that unlocking the power of these elements is not only satisfying at the level of technical accuracy — it’s fun!

“Kludge” is one word that is well-known to most veterans of technology in general, and visual effects in particular. The Wikipedia definition is pretty good: “a kludge or kluge is a workaround or quick-and-dirty solution that is clumsy, inelegant, inefficient, difficult to extend and hard to maintain.” 

Anyone who has spent any time in mograph or VFX has been there — guessing at how to use sophisticated tools, only to see an expert swoop in and deftly unlock their true power with a fraction of the effort.

Now of course, some mind-blowing mograph and VFX shots have come about via the “improper” use of the elements, simply because the result of breaking norms is that much more compelling. But it most often seems like the artists who are best at breaking rules are the ones who know those rules the best to begin with, doesn’t it?

Q: Many studios and professionals in VFX are leaning on ActionVFX for easy-to-use, high-quality stock footage elements that help them create an elevated level of realism. So in a lot of ways, using ActionVFX elements better prepares anyone who takes the course for the industry.
A: Absolutely. Multi-pass computer-generated animated images are fundamental to the compositing work being done in the most prominent VFX studios around the globe. Current render-engines are capable of creating these images, yet many artists working with those 3D software packages are unaware of the skills behind unlocking the real power of this approach.

Meanwhile, to be a VFX professional also means you understand how to composite fire, pyrotechnics, and other practical effects. Practicals are effects that have been filmed specifically for this use. The ones that are shot by professionals who know what they’re doing anticipate how you’re going to leverage what is realistic about them to start with. Your job as a VFX Compositor is to capture that realism in service of a shot that may transcend realism altogether. 

Q: Which specific elements are used in the course? The variety ActionVFX offers has a little bit of everything!
A: True! ActionVFX was generous in allowing us to share 14 elements of the following four basic types: Explosions, Particles, Spark Hits, and Ground Cracks. We selected a set that was shot (or rendered) to correspond well with the street scene provided, but this number allowed us to provide more than were needed. Therefore, rather than a “color-by-numbers” approach with no creative options, School of Motion artists get to interpret the scene each in their own way.

And this is what I think is really cool about ActionVFX: while a lot of stock footage out there in the world is frankly so uninspired it can actually limit the creativity of the end product, these are all good enough to inspire innovative usage by artists. You could even say this is the sweet spot where mograph and VFX meet: creating realism with a wide range of self-expression regarding timing, placement, look and feel, and story order.

Q: ActionVFX receives many questions about creating VFX reels. Does VFX for Motion cover best practices when creating these? They’re vital in the VFX industry!
A: Absolutely, and in a few different ways. First of all, the exercises themselves climb a ladder in terms of complexity, expression, and what you might call “showiness.” At first, you are recreating the exact keying/roto/tracking/matching result that the exercise demands. Once those skills are in place, you then get the ability to show off, while leveraging a well-conceived and art-directed scene, to which you can add your own personal style.

Second, we speak directly in specific lessons about how to create a breakdown that shows exactly what you did on the shot (since, if you did your VFX work well, it shouldn’t be obvious!).

And finally, the course includes a series of podcast interviews with insight into self-promotion, among many other topics.

The harsh reality of a VFX reel is that the whole thing can be judged by the weakest shot. The flip side? There are many unbelievably great reels that clock in under one minute. Make yours any longer and you risk the viewer fast forwarding through your best work.

Q: To wrap up, tell our readers how they can sign up for the VFX for Motion course.
A: Ah, well that’s an easy one. Just go to

End of interview.

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