I was talking to a recent graduate the other day and I'd referred them to my Student FAQ. I then realized it was horribly out of date, so here's an update to the Student FAQ post. Since posting it I've gotten many more student questions, but a lot of them have been the same. Thanks for asking questions and being interested in real time effects!
I'll be re-answering the previous questions and submitting new ones in the post below.
If you have any questions feel free to ask below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But before answering the questions, I think its important to say this, and I'm sure I'm stating the obvious:
Visual Effects is an art form just like any other art form.
All art forms take a sizable time investment, so if you want to make real time effects, you must work at it. You must be committed to put time into experimenting with VFX so you can have small successes and failures to create a toolbox and confidence in making effects.
Also you need to know a little of everything in the art of creating games to do effects. You'll need to know how to model, create shaders/materials, scripting, physics and of course, animation. By getting a wide base of skills it informs how you solve issues when creating effects.
There is also the issue of perception, it seems that visual effects tend to fall into the category of 'magic' where people think its fast and easy to make effects, which is not the case. Its a challenge to create a convincing anything in a game, and visual effects are no different. All game artists have the challenge of 30fps+ for games and 90fps for VR, so not only are you expected to be artful but you're required to be performance minded.
1) Are there any books I can read for real time effects?
The short answer is not directly. There are books I would recommend reading if you want to become a real time effects artist. Here's a short list:
Elemental Magic volume 1 and 2: You must read these. These books are written by Joseph Gilland who worked in visual effect at Walt Disney Studios. He breaks down timing per element and is a great resource for shape, time, and feeling an effect.
The Animator's Survival Kit: This is a great animation handbook in general, but this book is great for covering animation fundamentals. Its not an effects animation book per se, but its essential for knowing what to do when animating.
2) Where are on line resources for real time effects?
Online resources are there but they're difficult to find at times. You can go to my channel but it doesn't have any tutorials up yet... yet... I have plans on making more tutorials in the future when I get some free time.
By the way, this is not a comprehensive list, but a way to get you into the ballpark. From there you can look into what interests you in real time vfx! For example. I haven't (currently) posted links for real flow, substance, krakatoa, ndo, photoshop, or after effects but those are other searches I'd look for depending on what I want to do or what I'm working on.
Unreal 4 This will get you to the main page which will give you access to the leaning channel and community links.
Real time VFX
Unreal 4: Unreal has great tutorials up on eh... Unreal.
Tesla Dev: Great tuts here for Unreal 4
Jason Keyser: His channel gives step by step effect work for 'cartoon' effects. All around a great resource no matter what kind of effect you want to make.
Autodesk learning channels:
Houdini learning channel
GDC channel: Overall good videos on game development
Siggraph: research and some cool stuff there.
3) What programs do you use for creating effects?
Being an FX artist is a learners profession, meaning you'll always be picking up and learning new tools and techniques as effects problems and new technical benchmarks arise. Any tool that you have a chance to try out or use then use it and try out experiments with them! I've learned the most when I've failed, since those experimental setbacks have caused me to look at my VFX issues in a new light and I come to a solution that is better or new... eventually... haha. Before working with VFX, my background is in traditional and digital illustration, textures, skinning and modeling, so I have a working knowledge of mesh generation, normal maps, specular maps, general texturing, and UVing.
Third party programs depend on what I'm working on. I use Maya/Max for modeling and rendering out simulations in plug ins like fume fx. I'll use filter forge for tiling textures, or create them by hand in photoshop or after effects. I've been experimenting with real flow, kratatoa, bifrost, and houdini to see what else I can create to make game effects.
To create a reel I've been using camtasia or premier to edit footage together.
I use a proprietary effects engine at work but use Unreal 4 for creating real time effects for games. I use it to make materials/shader prototypes, game logic, and simulations for real time effects. All engines have their quirks and strengths. Find out what they are and use them to your advantage.
4) Do I need to know a programming or scripting language to do VFX?
Its always good to have a working knowledge of a programming or scripting language. since it will help you communicate with a tech artist or a programmer. I don't know any languages directly but I've taken the time to learn them enough to talk with others about what I'm trying to accomplish. Real time rendering books are good to look at to get an idea of what is out there as far as lighting, graphics pipelines, and rendering.
If you would learn anything I'd say learn about shaders and materials. Take a look at Unreal 4's material system to get started. Also take a look at scripting in max and maya to help automate some of your rendering processes.
5) How do you do XX effects
Originally this was about flip books, but since then I've gotten more questions about creation since I've released effects on the marketplace. I can't answer that here now, but I will make it a point to post any questions about effects creation that I get and make it a separate entry. I've also gotten requests to make more video, I plan on doing that in the future. There will be posts here and on my Gentleman Fred effects Tumblr and Twitter.
6) How do I break into real time VFX?
This is still a matter of debate. If you're already working at a video game company, I'd make sure the VFX people there know you're interested in VFX and go from there. If you're not working at a company, I'd start with looking at Unreal 4's engine and look on line with the links above to make the beginnings of your effects reel. Then I'd go with versions of the effects onto forums and get feedback from other effects artists. The more feedback you get the better your effects will be! Another thing to do is look for challenges on line and work on your skills within a tight deadline. After that create a reel and start sending it to companies, to see what's what.
There are also programs at schools that can help get a well rounded skill set together. Most of them don't have a real time VFX curriculum but that's slowly changing.
7) What should I put on my reel?
This question is another matter of debate. Before starting, ask yourself a couple questions. What games and VFX are you looking at for inspiration and how do you compare to them? Can I do anything else to my work to give it a little extra polish? What kind of game company do I want to work at?
So what should you put on your demo reel? The easy answer is your best stuff.
I've looked at a lot of VFX reels and talked to a couple ADs on this and generally try to keep your reel between 2 and a half to 3 minutes. Its a good way to limit yourself from going overboard and to edit your own work to a manageable state. As far as what to put on there, if this is your first reel, then I'd cover as many elements as you're able to do. Fire, water, water splashes, full screen FX, environmental effects, weapon and hit effects, explosions... and if you can, cater some of the reel to the company you are applying to. If you don't have all of that then that's ok, but show your best work. Before sending it out, have some other people (instructors, forum peoples) to look at it, getting more sets of eyes on it will help you make informed decisions. Its easy to fall in love with a shot or over work a reel, so getting an outside opinion always helps.
This is a personal preference, but I like to show all of my VFX in context. In game if possible, although I've seen reels with tests from a third party product in them that are good too (like fume or fluids). Usually they transition from the test to in game to show its use. If you can't do all of that, then make sure all of the stuff you do show is worth showing. I've seen long kitchen sink reels that aren't all impressive and short reels that blow me away, so don't automatically think that if you have a lot of footage that its good. Remember to have a call out sheet if multiple hands have worked on the scene or VFX.
This is a little harder but try to treat the reel like a trailer. It sounds hokey, but if you look at it as a trailer with beats, and rhythms then you'll have a more compelling cut and will be more impressive. If anything, start and end strong.
Sure I'd be happy to look at your reel if I have time. It all depends on how tight my deadlines are and if I have some free time to give good feedback.
9) What makes a good effect?
This is a loaded question and there are a lot of different answers to it.
The short version is: It depends.
Its important to know what the effect is meant to do and what's its purpose. Is it a power, a weapon, part of the environment? Is it part of an animation, and does it make sense with the motion? Is it a player controlled effect? How does it communicate the game's feedback loop? Does the effect make sense in the context of the world?
When that is established I rely on the actual look of the effect.
Thanks to Bill Kladis, its a great checklist, and I've added thing to it:
Key Elements to VFX in games
- Anticipation: Does the effect have any elements to lead into the action of the effect?
- Weight/Force: Does the effect have the correct feeling of power and dynamics?
- Presence: Does the effect feel correct in the context of the power/weapon/world?
- Volume: Does the effect sit correctly in 3d space?
- Motion: Does the effect have proper motion? Does the effect support the animation?
- Aesthetics: Does the effect have the good artistry and does it fit with the Art direction?
- Communication: Does the effect convey the correct feedback to the player?
- Staging/Timing: Does the effect have the correct use of attention and rhythm?
Keep working at it. Always challenge yourself. Don't get comfortable. Don't get discouraged.
11) What do you look at for reference?
When I start an effect I look at real world reference before looking at rendered reference, since I want to make sure the physics of whatever it is I'm looking at is real rather than simulated. So if I'm working on an explosion, I look at real explosions first, or find films that used practical explosion effects first.
That's all for now. If you have any other questions feel free to ask them in the comments below. I'll answer them as best I can.