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How to Have a Competitive Advantage in the VFX Industry

How to Have a Competitive Advantage in the VFX Industry

Set yourself apart from other VFX artists and land your dream job with these five crucial industry tips.

There’s a lot more to being a great VFX artist than just learning one or two programs or processes.  While there are dedicated VFX departments for digital set design, animation, compositing, etc. - there are dozens of skills within those subsets that are required for talented VFX artists to be successful.  

Seasoned VFX artists can grow to oversee and streamline entire departments when they have a deeper grasp of the intricacies of visual effects, and they’re able to bring a lot more to the table than just a degree or a single certification in VFX software.

Today, we’re going to look at some fundamental skills you need to possess if you want to have a great career in VFX, no matter your field of expertise - as well as a competitive edge at your next interview!

Learn How to Motion Track Perfectly

Achieving pixel-perfect motion tracking can be a pain, but if your VFX assets are displaced in the slightest during the visual effects sequence, your viewer is going to catch it.  Not only do poor motion tracks look unprofessional, but they also break the illusion of your laborious VFX work.  Even if just a frame or two are off, you might be wasting all your other effort if you don’t ensure a smooth track throughout the sequence.

We’ve discussed one of the biggest tips that can make motion tracking significantly easier, and that is to use locked-down shots as much as possible, then add camera shake in post-production.  There are several free plugins that can aid in rendering a realistic handheld camera look to your static VFX shot, but even if you use that technique frequently, you are bound to eventually run into motion tracking for shots that can’t be locked down. 

We’re huge fans of Boris FX’s excellent Mocha planar tracking software that is now even built natively into After Effects, and it’s a best-in-class, award-winning program designed from the ground up for getting that perfect track, even with difficult footage.  It also includes a host of other amazing VFX tools.

There are tons of great Mocha tutorials out there for motion tracking, and this is a great tutorial to sharpen your motion tracking skills during a difficult track with an occluded object:


Learn How to Pull a Great Key (Especially with Challenging Footage)

There are dozens of professional-grade keying programs out there.  However, none come close to the practicality delivered in the tried-and-true Keylight plugin in After Effects.  While there aren’t too many adjustable controls within Keylight, it is important to learn what each one does, and what you need to be looking for as a VFX artist.  

Anyone can use a simple color picker tool and remove a green or blue screen, but to create a perfect key, it takes a lot of finesse and understanding of how all these different parameters interact with one another.

The always-entertaining Jason Levine from Adobe does an excellent job in the video below explaining some simple Keylight techniques that can produce astounding results for your keyed footage - and at the 6:30 mark you can see an epic green screen shot of him, as he talks about how he removed his hair’s “wispy bits.”  As usual with Levine, he’s both hilarious and informative.


Learn How to Rotoscope and Remove Objects

Rotoscoping and object removal have admittedly gotten quite a bit easier as technology has advanced - but there are still so many nuances to pay attention to when doing this kind of VFX work.  Removing wires, tracking markers, and more can take a lot of time, but the ability to do the aforementioned exceedingly well is a tremendous value to any VFX company. 

As with motion tracking, perhaps the best rotoscoping and object removal tool you can utilize is Mocha.  The best choice for this type of VFX work is opting for Mocha Pro.

The best way to learn advanced rotoscoping is to spend a considerable amount of time working through various scenarios, so you get a good idea of how all the different selection tools and masks operate with different types of footage.

The most impressive Mocha Pro feature, hands-down, is object removal.  The in-depth video below shows how you can remove just about anything or anyone from your video footage!  It takes some time, but the results are flawless.


Learn 3D Modeling

Nearly every VFX artist technically works in a 3D space if they’re using video footage.  It may not be stereoscopic 3D, but to make your VFX fit the dimensions of the scene you’re working in, you should have a basic understanding of 3D modeling, and the ability to create customized, textured 3D assets when needed.  Also, creating scenic visual effects with matte painting can make your VFX have a lasting impact.

Cinema 4D is an excellent 3D program to cut your teeth on, and the renders it can produce are fantastic. There are also an array of training resources you can find since it’s such a commonly-used program.

Aaron Sorenson is a senior VFX compositor, and he gave a great presentation at Siggraph 2018 on several features within C4D that can yield jaw-dropping VFX.


Don’t Rest on Your Proverbial VFX Laurels

If you’ve already established a career in the VFX industry, but you’d like to progress in your title, make a habit of watching at least one or two VFX tutorials on YouTube every week.  You’d be surprised how much you can learn when you take the time to follow others’ workflows for just a few minutes, and figure out how they could integrate into your existing VFX routine.  

While it might seem arduous to spend time hunting for new videos each week on YouTube, just subscribe to some of your favorite VFX channels, and only watch what looks interesting in your channel notifications.

When you learn something beneficial, be a team player who is known for helping to develop others in your VFX department that are willing to grow, as well.  You’ll stand out as a leader among your peers, while simultaneously propelling your team to success.  That’s a rare quality that will always be attractive to employers, plus it can easily lead to a promotion or a higher-paying job.  You’ll also be ensuring your job security in the future.
Any VFX veterans out there who want to share their tips for success?  Let us know in the comments!

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