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Everything you need to know about VFX

Nowadays, effects are used everywhere. VFX artists either work with a studio or freelance; make their art from cinematography, music videos and ads, to videogames and virtual/augmented reality projects.

What Is VFX?

VFX means Visual Effects and helps in the creation of environments, objects, creatures, and even people that are not part of the on-screen imagery or even don't physically exist in real life. This type of effects allows filmmakers to manipulate the picture and create the desired final result in post-production. VFX often combines different visual effects and techniques, including CGI, Chroma Key (green screen) and other tools.

The difference between VFX and SFX

SFX means for Special Effects and mainly refers to the mechanical or optical effects, used to create the illusion of the environment.Unlike VFX, SFX is used in the process of filming, not in the post-production stage; examples include moving props, pyrotechnics, physical rain, snow or clouds, animatronics, destruction processes, etc.

While SFX are applied during the filming process, all VFX are added after filming in post-production. SFX came around much earlier (in 1930s) than VFX, but are still used in many projects, including television and ads.

3 Main types of Visual Effects

Each visual effects studio has a team, specializing on a particular technique and specialty.Most types of VFX fall into one or more of the following categories:

CGI: Stands for computer-generated imagery and means digitally created effects added in post-production. CGI is the creation of any object, creature, effect or surface. This technique is widely used to create a model for an ad, or object that don't exist in real life; enhance the picture with additional elements and effects (like a big army in an epic movie, or a crashing plane);

Compositing: stands for combining different visual elements together in a complete picture. The artists use a green screen which is later replaced with graphics on post-production stage. This technique is also widely used in movies and ads. Can be also combined with the SFX technique called Matte Painting;

Motion capture: Is an action reference and used for creating a CG model from a real actor or object with help of a motion suit. Each movement of an actor is digitally recorded using motion markers and then transferred into a model. Apart from movements, this technique can be used to record facial expressions (for example, to create a realistic creature).


Examples of using VFX: 

CG product models, objects or creatures; motion graphics of virtual objects or reality; effects in music videos and many other post-production things. This type of effects equally serves marketing needs and cinematography production.

For example, Puma marketing surveys say that target audience is 9% less likely to stop watching a video with visual effects in comparison to an ad without VFX.

There are also types of SFX:

  • Matte Painting: Matte painting is the SFX technique, in which technical artist uses physical background of the environment along with the props. It helps to make a recording process more realistic and you can usually meet Matte Painting in old movies (close-up of driving car with moving backgrounds)
  • Stop Motion Animation: Stop Motion reminds creating of the cartoon. Animators and designers use objects, 3D models or puppets to capture each frame separately and unite them in the full moving sequence. This technique also can be applied to filming real actors (and called pixilation). Stop motion can be used to create the characters for computer games, as an alternative to CGI
  • Prosthetics: Prosthetic makeup is used for enhancing character's looks, and adding extra details like scars, blood, unnatural detail, or any other physical element needed for the setting. What is interesting, prosthetic makeup goes much further than tv, or music videos production, and can be used in many task in real life(undercover intelligence agents).

 Physical effects such as pyrotechnics, fake weather effects, sound support to actions (punches, hits and other), moving objects, physical explosions and other technical effects. With the help of this group of effects, you can also create different optical illusions, for example, make a tiny object look big with the help of miniatures created for the set.

What VFX artist does?

Visual effects are created by the whole team, where each artist does a very particular job, depending on his skills and tasks. Usually, VFX team has such artists: 

  • Generalists, who are responsible for the concept and create a pipeline for other artists, help the team bring all the digital effects together and create the scene
  • Modelers, who create 3D models, props or assets
  • Texture artists, who digitally paint assets and work on specific or realistic textures
  • Lighters, who ensure assets are properly lit
  • Animators, make assets or characters move and rig them
  • FX artists, who create complex and dynamic simulations of the real world, like water or an explosion.

Teams of artists differ greatly from company to company and from project to project, but these are usually the main roles in the effects production team. Depending on budget and requirements, you can meet specialists, like Pipeline TD, who overwatches the process, consistency, speed and quality of creation; Previsualists, who create a 3D animated version of the project or movie, and other.As you can see, the main idea is to do each part of the process professionally and in the team. If the project's budget is low, the same artist can do modeling and rigging, FX artists can create simulations and object textures, etc.

VFX Software

Depending on different tasks, you can use software to generate visual effects. Among your options to create CGI, effects or animation will be:

  • Adobe After Effects
  • Unreal and Unity Engines
  • Audodesk
  • Maya
  • Cinema 4D
  • ZBrush
  • Blender
  • Substance Painter
  • Marvelous Designer
  • Apple Motion

The range of good software, used by world's biggest studios, is great and depends on particular tasks - whether you need to create 3D models, textures, animations or effects. We've made a detailed list of the best motion graphics software you can choose from.

How to become a VFX artist in 2022

Pursuing a career of VFX artist means you are creative, handy with software and can tell a visual story. There are many different roads you can take in the VFX industry.As in many other creative paths, you can start from attending profile courses or getting a degree, which will lead you through all aspects of digital creation and will give you a strong hand of assistance from more experienced artists.

This area is highly competitive and in all cases requires a background in design and practicing experience on related projects. If you don't have such a background, explore the direction of VFX you want to go for and learn the suitable software and create your first portfolio projects.

Communicate with other artists and gain their feedback, find your first freelance jobs and gain experience. Step by step, you'll be able to work for big studios and with a solid portfolio, you'll create the world's biggest projects!

In conclusion

As we can see, visual effects are the key, and can not just play a complementary role in the production, but lead to the project's success and give the massive result. Whether it is promotional advertisements and television, computer games or virtual reality VFX artists will be needed in every area and the demand on them will only grow with years.Hope you found this guide useful and it will help you in your future career!

If you want to be an expert of video production, check the guide how to film like a pro.

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