Frequently Asked Questions
People ask me a lot of questions, so here's some of the most common ones!
How do I get into the Industry?
Of course one approach does not fit all types of situations, but being something that I am asked all the time, here are my honest feelings on this.
- If you're interested in what we would generally call "FX" (explosions, destruction, magic, liquids, smoke, or just the simulation of physical phenomena in general), then I would endorse what has become the industry standard - Houdini!
- Visual Effects overall includes many other disciplines however, which generally use different industry standard software - for example, modeling assets and props in Maya and ZBrush, compositing many moving images into one in Nuke, creating materials and textures for props and assets with Substance Painter or Mari, lighting a scene with Katana or Maya, and so on. Obviously, on this site I focus on FX in Houdini.
- Learning technique from tutorials (like the ones on this very site!) is great, but also do not underestimate the actual manual when it comes to learning the building blocks overall. The Houdini manual in particular is structured very well, and will take you through every single aspect of the program. Plus, it's loaded with example files, and a getting started section! Check it out here (but skip the What's New section).
- Above all, learn as much as you can, all the time in your spare time. Design your own projects, work on them alone or with others, and take them to completion through rendering. As an aspiring artist, development of a demo reel will be the most important. Starting out, I did a cup of beer flipping over, a bowl of noodles, a sculpture being destroyed, etc - relatively straightforward ideas that still required combining effects and showed off a good understanding of aesthetics.
- If possible, work on projects with others and/or maintain relationships you make in 3D related interest groups or school classes. The network of peers you develop in this way will prove invaluable as you all spread out to different opportunities, which will in time prove mutually beneficial when you are recommending each other for jobs!
How long does it take to be good at it?
The short, philosophical answer is that you'll always be learning new techniques and technologies as they come up, so you'll never really be an expert in all fields at once... though I suppose there would still be a level where you would be considered useful on a project. How long that takes can vary!
- Within the world of VFX, I consider FX work specifically the most interesting and challenging because it can be seen as a combination of strong problem solving/technical skills, and a strong artistic eye/aesthetic skills. If you are approaching learning FX from an artistic background or from a programming background, you will probably have a much easier time picking it up versus someone who has neither.
- Of course, how much time you devote to learning in a given week will be a big part of it. Someone who spends a few hours every night even after working all day will achieve competency faster than someone who spends one afternoon every once in awhile. Still, if that's all the time you have available to spend, go for it!
- By focusing on one or two sub-areas of FX at first (say rigid body simulation, and the smoke effects that go with it) you can stand out in those areas quicker rather than trying to understand every single thing you could possibly do. Consider that most jobs are hiring for a particular project, where they will need an artist to perform a specific task - if they need a rigid body person and you learned that better than some other jack of all trades, you'll be a better fit.
- Ask for help! Don't waste hours and days blindly trying to figure out how to solve a problem that many others have already run into. There are a lot of forums out there with a wealth of information (or that you can ask a new question on) - these have proven invaluable to me. And speaking of me - don't be afraid to reach out and ask me something!