Top 5 Lessons Learned from a Successful VFX Artist

artist cg success vfx visual effects Feb 06, 2021

Offer Value

Before any facility will take you on, potential employers want to know that you have some skills they can utilize while you brush up on your skills as a whole.  This base skill is often not glamorous, and doing something such as roto, paint, or tracking.  If a facility hires you and asks you to do this, then use it as an opportunity to learn on your own and ask questions (don’t pester the artists, but utilize them when possible) to help you on your way.  

Many new artists are anxious to meet the director of a project and work with them one-on-one.  The challenge with this attitude is that you need to be vetted by the facility before this will happen, and that takes time and relationship building.  If that is your dream, be patient and find a way to move up the pecking order by adding more value.

Focus, Then Expand

For those of you who feel you want to be a generalist rather than specializing, the best thing to do is become good at one area and then expand out to other areas.  This will allow you to offer value and learn in-depth without getting too overwhelmed.  Plus you can focus on the area that initially inspired you to get into the industry first, and where there is inspiration, there is passion.  This should be utilized to get as good as possible in your first few years.  

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone

The first time I was given a task on a music video to do, I literally had no idea how to do it.  I had to learn typography and make a Matrix-like text that would then animate downwards and over a musician's face.  

I had to look online and figure out what I was trying to do and I worked until I had something the senior artist could use.  It took several iterations, but my determination allowed me to get through and ultimately learn some new skills.

Find a good mentor (or more than one!)

Almost every good visual effects artist has had a senior artist take them under their wing at a facility.  The senior artist does this because they see a talented artist who is hungry and is ready to take in what they have to teach in their limited time.  Normally, they become friends and that relationship lasts for a long time.

Unfortunately learning from this kind of person can be tricky if one is first trying to get into a visual effects house.  But if you are determined enough, it is usually possible to find a mentor outside of a facility that is willing to help you towards your goals.  This is especially true if the mentor can see that you are motivated to learn and grow.

A good mentor can cut the time it takes to learn something at least tenfold.  The back-and-forth dialogue while you learn adds a lot of confidence and direction that allows you to thrive.   

Take On A Real Project

One thing that every artist needs to learn in the VFX industry is that the art they make for others professionally is not their own art.  You need to be able to detach from your work because it will be changed, diluted, and sometimes even degraded.  You are there to make the clients happy, and the more you can become solution-oriented rather than get defensive the more you will stand out among the crowd.  The best way to do this is to take on a real project for a real client because it will help give you a change in perspective.