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How to Freelance as a VFX Artist

By: Kseniya Serebrennikova

Dreaming of being an independent FX artist? Check out our tips on how to freelance in VFX successfully.

No matter what professional sphere we’re talking about, freelancing always sounds tempting. You can finally be free from planning your whole life around the 9-to-5 office schedule; there’s no need to attend the never-ending meetings, presentations, brainstorming sessions, and conferences; you can go on vacation or take a day off at any time, etc. 

Sounds like it’s the best way to work anyone can ever imagine, but it has one enormous downside – everything is now on you. You need to take care of everything from promoting your work and contacting clients to maintaining your workstation and doing your taxes. Even if you are perfectly organized and incredibly productive, it can get exhausting, especially in the beginning. With this article, we are going to help you build your perfect freelancing strategy and make sure you are ready to go solo as a VFX artist.

rodeo vfx reel 2022

1) Find Your Niche

This is not an easy step, but every other one is going to depend on it. Knowing what you do best and enjoy the most is crucial for finding exciting opportunities and growing your client base. Plus, if you think that being a universal 3D artist pays better, you are not exactly right. Niche artistry costs more because when you focus on one particular thing, it usually means you have expert-level skills in it. Another benefit of laser focusing on a specific area of 3D is that the competition becomes less intense and you become more valuable as a niche creator.

Focusing on one sphere of 3D production can also help you save time and money. If you decide to become a lighting artist, you will not need to spend endless hours mastering, say, rigging and 3D modeling. If you focus on stylized environments for games, you won’t need to dive deep into compositing and photorealistic rendering. Same applies to purchasing the software you need: if you know you won’t do tons of compositing, there’s no need to splurge on something as pricey as Arnold or Nuke. 

If you feel like there’s too many things you enjoy doing and there’s no way you can settle for just one of them, you can go with the one you are most skilled in. This, again, is going to save you time and money and help you grow faster as a professional. 

2) Promote Your Works Online

Posting your works online can be trickier than it seems, and many artists find this part of being a freelance artist incredibly exhausting. You need to make sure you post enough but not too much, there’s enough versatility in your content but it’s still consistent, your artworks grow in their quality and complexity as time goes by but they still look very you, and so much more. However, when you know what your strengths are and what you are passionate about as an artist, building a strong online presence and establishing your personal brand will feel like a natural continuation of your creative process. Making your works seen is an essential part of freelancing. If you do it right, you will get noticed by potential clients and will be able to land more gigs faster. 

The biggest challenge of promoting your art on platforms like Instagram, ArtStation, and YouTube is silencing your inner critic. Perfectionism is only helpful in moderate amounts. If you stop yourself from posting because your artworks are “not good enough yet”, you’ll only make it easier for other artists to get noticed. It doesn’t mean that you need to post absolutely everything you have ever created – just make sure there is something for your potential clients to see when they look you up online. 

Steven Cormann Env & DMP artist / Art direction / VFX / Design

3) Don’t Be Afraid to Name a Price

The everlasting pricing dilemma is beyond frustrating. As a freelancer, you will always go back and forth between “am I charging too much?” and “I’m not charging enough”. Establishing your own terms and prices is one of the best and trickiest parts about being an independent artist. To get your rates right, you have to do some research. First, you need to know how much freelance artists like you charge on average because a 3D modeler’s hourly rate is very different from that of a real-time VFX artist. Note that your level of seniority as an artist is another important factor determining how much you can charge as a freelancer. If you’re a beginner, it would make sense to set a lower price. If you have experience supervising other artists, leading a team of creators, or overseeing an entire VFX project, you can aim at a higher rate. 

One more thing you need to research before deciding on your pricing is the average rate in your area. It’s no surprise that salaries can be drastically different across the globe in any professional sphere, and VFX production is no exception. It is also a good idea to find out what the average cost of your work would be in another country, especially if you are working with overseas clients. Then you’ll have a better idea of what price they would expect you to name and how much is too much for them.

4) Talk Everything Through

As we all know, communication is key, especially in a professional environment. You need to be sure that you and your client are on the same page at every step of the creative process. If there is even a minor misunderstanding at any point along the way, you need to take care of it unless you want to sabotage your work. Not every client has a clear understanding of what exactly VFX artists do, how they do it, and how much time it takes. Be ready to negotiate deadlines, costs, and creative ideas because sometimes those can be unrealistic. It’s important to explain why you need more time or why you can’t create a certain effect while keeping it simple and polite. 

Discuss as much as you possibly can before signing a contract with your client. Take your time to review every section and suggest corrections wherever necessary. There is nothing more frustrating to both parties than discovering that they had some major misunderstandings halfway through the project. Also, don’t forget to keep in touch with the client along the way: update them on how the work is going and ask for their feedback. This way, if they want you to change something, you will be able to do a quick fix and avoid the pain of redoing a massive chunk of work after everything’s been baked in.

5) Collect Testimonials

What is the best way to earn trust and attract new clients? That’s right, getting positive reviews and recommendations from the people you have already worked with before. Testimonials are just as important as listing the projects you have done VFX for in your portfolio. They show that your clients are so happy with your work, they want to express their gratitude with a personal thank-you note that everybody else can see. 

If a client is not very thrilled about your work, they are not likely to submit a testimonial telling everyone how amazing you are. So if your clients are willing to write one, that’s a great sign! The easiest way to get a testimonial is to ask your clients to submit a recommendation on LinkedIn. You can also create a custom testimonial template to make things a bit fancier and publish them on your website or social media. 

6) Update Your Reel Regularly

We cannot emphasize this enough: keeping your reel up-to-date is vital. Potential clients want to see a selection of your latest creations, not a best-of compilation that includes projects from 8 years ago. Of course, there is no need to update your VFX reel after every project you complete, but if you’re still using the one you made in 2021, it’s definitely time for a new one. 

Remember that if you specialize in several different areas of VFX production, you need a separate reel for each of them. Plus, don’t forget that a good reel has to be short, relevant, and showcase your best works. In a good reel, there’s no room for filler shots that are not too great and not too bad – it has to be consistent all the way through. After all, the viewers build their first impression of what you are as an artist based on your reel. 

7) Never Stop Learning

Even if you have a steady flow of clients and they all love your work, at some point you might realize that you’re stuck doing the same thing for the same price for too long. If you want to get bigger clients and start charging a bit more for your work, you need to keep growing your skill. It doesn’t mean that you have to learn something entirely new from scratch just for the sake of getting a certificate to show that you are even smarter now. You can start by further exploring the software you are currently using. With Houdini, for instance, there are always a ton of things to learn – from using VEX to create advanced simulations to scripting with Python. 

While learning new things on your own is great, completing a VFX course might be a better idea because at the end of it you can get a certificate. These are always a nice addition to your CV or your LinkedIn profile, as they can help your clients see that you are constantly working on perfecting your skills.

While You're Waiting For the Reply

No matter how good you are as an FX artist, you can always learn more and grow your skill. Houdini is one of the main tools for professional VFX artists and learning it would be a major advantage. Whether you know a bit about Houdini or have never used it before, Rebelway has courses for beginner, intermediate, and advanced Houdini users. Learn to create top-notch visuals using this industry-standard tool to make your reel truly stand out. We have specific learning paths designed to help you learn the skills you need to land a dream job in VFX, including your first VFX Internship.

In case you are looking for something different, take our course quiz to find out what Rebelway lessons would be your best choice.

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