Where to Start as a VFX Artist

By: Kseniya Serebrennikova

Becoming a VFX artist might seem too hard, too expensive, or too unrealistic, but not when you know what you need to get started!

It’s no secret that right now, digital art is one of the most fruitful spheres and even those who have never considered doing it before are starting to learn graphic design, motion design, 3D design, animation, VFX, and everything in between. Of all these, VFX is one of the fastest-growing areas with the number of opportunities for qualified artists increasing every day. 

To give you an idea of how rapidly new openings for VFX artists appear, in our previous article posted a week ago, we wrote that you could find over 4,300 jobs for visual effects artists in the US on LinkedIn – today, there are over 4,600 postings. If you’re thinking about starting your career in the VFX industry but don’t really know what you might need and where you should begin, this article will help you figure it out.

Goals and Motivation | More Than Pew Pew Pew...

Before you even begin, you need to ask yourself a few questions and be completely honest when answering them. Why do I want to do VFX? What inspires me, motivates me, drives my will to build a career in VFX? What are my ultimate goals? If the answers revolve around money, maybe it’s worth taking some time to figure out what you truly want and what career might be a better fit for you.

As appealing as becoming a VFX artist seems, if earning thousands of dollars for making fake fires and explosions is your primary source of motivation, you might get disappointed and burn out faster than the first fire simulation you try to create. Learning VFX takes quite some time and it requires persistence, determination, and the desire to never stop learning more, which can seem excruciating if money is the only factor that drives you.

But if all these sound like the challenges you are ready for and if you are genuinely interested in the art of creating visual effects, you’re on the right path. Try to be as clear in outlining your goals and aspirations as you can, ask yourself additional questions. Do I want to create photorealistic or stylized FX? Do I want to create FX for video games, VR experiences, movies, etc.? The better you define your aim, the less time (and money) you will have to spend preparing for the journey in the world of VFX.

Education | Always Be Learning.

While you are not required to hold a PhD in Arts along with a Master’s degree in Animation and a bunch of diplomas in 3D and 2D art, your level of education is important. The universal basic requirement is a high school diploma. Unfortunately, it can be pretty hard to find a position as a VFX artist if you don’t have it. However, the good news is that further education is not imperative if you want to become a VFX artist – there are many successful digital creators who entered the industry as self-taught artists. Investing in professional training has its undeniable perks, though. 

Firstly, self-tutoring is hard, and it’s not for everyone since you can only count on your own motivation and self-discipline, which often leads to flunking. When you enroll in an educational program, you usually have to study new topics and finish assignments by a specified deadline. Secondly, when you study by yourself, the assessment of your own progress is 100% subjective unless you actively post your works online and receive feedback from other artists. At an online or an in-person school, you will have your creations evaluated by professionals who have been doing VFX for a considerable time. 

Thirdly, when you become an art school student, you enter the VFX community right away and start building connections from day one. As you know, networking is very important in any sphere, especially in digital art. Not only does it keep you inspired and motivated to create, but it can also help you land an internship or a full-time job in the industry faster. Finally, it’s simply good for your resume – it demonstrates that you’re serious about building a career in the VFX industry and serves as indirect proof of the skills you listed on your CV. 

If you’re considering getting professional training in VFX but have no idea what schools offer the best courses, check out our compilation of online and offline schools for aspiring visual effects artists. 

Software Skills | Know the Essential Tools

Knowledge of industry-standard digital art applications is an obvious must for any FX artist. Most of the time being proficient in just one tool is not enough. While Houdini is the primary app of choice for most VFX studios, potential employees are required to have a sound knowledge of a few more applications like Nuke, Houdini, Substance Painter, and some others. And if you are planning to create visual effects for games, you need to learn Unity and Unreal Engine as well. 

If you study VFX at an art college, you are going to learn those apps as part of your degree program. Plus, a huge perk of being enrolled in a university-level course is that normally, you get access to the majority of state-of-the-art software applications through a studying license. And when you’re studying offline, you also get to use production studio-level hardware to practice, meaning you don’t need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on a powerful workstation. 

When you opt for short online courses or self-teaching, the main advantage is that you can focus only on the applications you want to master and avoid spending too much time learning the apps you know you won’t need that much. But in this case, you need to make sure you have all the required hardware and software. This is not as dramatic as it sounds though, because several major digital art software developers offer free licensing options for students, indie artists, and creators who are planning to use their applications for personal projects. Those include, for instance, Adobe Substance 3D, Houdini, Unity, and Unreal Engine. Plus, there is also Blender, which is entirely free for everyone.

Online Presence | Become Known for Your Craft

As you probably know, one of the best ways for a digital artist to get noticed is through social media and platforms like Behance and ArtStation. This is why you need to start building your online presence from day one. ‘Wait, I have nothing decent to share yet?’ Exactly, the key word here is yet – if you keep postponing creating an account on Vimeo, ArtStation, Instagram, or any other platform, you will keep telling yourself your works “are not good enough to be shared online” for ages. You need to understand that no one expects you to take the stage with Star Trek or James Bond-level VFX from the very start. 

Plus, don’t forget that being active online also means connecting with fellow artists, which can result in exciting creative collaborations or even recommendations for future employment. 

Start Learning How to Become a VFX Artist

Are you ready to take your first steps towards achieving the goal of becoming a professional FX artist? Studying Houdini would be a perfect start to your VFX journey. If you are completely new to VFX tools and have never used Houdini before, check out Houdini Fundamentals. Our online course will teach you the essentials you need to know to get started with Houdini, the most exciting VFX software in the world. Check out the course page below, and when you’re ready you can sign up to get free lessons delivered to your inbox on the course page.

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