Is VFX Easy to Learn? From 0 to 100: The Complete Guide

Author
Izaan Ishaq
Izaan Ishaq
Published
October 27, 2023
Updated on
December 10, 2023
Photo-of-a-real-city-skyline-at-dusk-realistic-and-vivid-VFX-elements-like-glowing-flames

Introduction

Yes, VFX is easy to learn if you’re familiar with video editing. The early stages are a piece of cake if you have the right knowledge and persistent efforts, which I’ll share here, but the learning curve gets steeper down the road. Do you remember the first time a movie scene left you in sheer awe? For me, it was watching a city fold onto itself in “Inception”. Behind these breathtaking moments lies the art and science of VFX, and the curiosity of making these visuals bypasses that steep learning path.

Image of confused and clear mindset

Is this VFX Guide Unique or is the same content repeated?

This guide is not vague or repeats the same content but has been crafted specifically in terms of having the beginners in mind. I created this by making it as simple as possible without just stacking everything in it. Still, just the necessary elements to start with so people can easily grasp concepts of VFX easily, and it’s my ultimate goal here.

Many guides out there give just completely vague or unstructured content and tell us to work hard, be dedicated, etc… Obviously, everyone, even a child, knows that, but they don’t focus on the intent of the person who came to their content which is to get some practical knowledge as he’s a beginner. So, I will try my best to cover that by sharing with you the information gained through my personal experiences.

What is VFX in simple words?

Before starting, I want you to analyze the below image as it will help to connect the dots better as we dive further into our learning.

Image of structure of VFX

There are 2 main things:

Recorded Video or Footage

Recorded video, which is actually called footage, is any piece of video to which you want to add visual effects.

Elements on Top

Here, elements refer to anything you add on top of your footage, for example, fire, water, dust, particles, cars, monsters, dragons, or anything you can imagine.

Compositing | The Heart of VFX

If you don’t know what is VFX compositing, it simply means merging or attaching two or more things, which is what visual effects are, too. I have written it as the heart of visual effects because when you break the process of VFX to basics, compositing is what you are actually been doing, i.e., compositing multiple elements onto your footage.

Example of Compositing

Here is an image showcasing a fire element being composited on the video/footage.

Image of Compositing in VFX

Which software are used for VFX?

For visual effects, you will need compositing software, and there are many in the market. I highly recommend going with Adobe After Effects (my personal favorite, which I use) as it has many benefits over others, including:

  • Very powerful, nothing you can’t do
  • Has the biggest number of tutorials and materials than others
  • Once learned it for VFX, you can easily use it for motion graphics and much more
  • There are so many plugins available that cut down many of the tedious tasks

After Effects is a paid software, so if you’re wondering about a free alternative, you can use Davinci Resolve or HitFilm.

No matter which software you use, everything you learn applies to all of them; just the procedure with each tool will be different. So don’t stress over the software decision and focus on the concepts.

Structuring your learning path

Now you are here for how do I start VFX journey? Let me share the structured guide I created with you. It is designed with the beginner in mind and outlines the learning path that I believe would be most effective for someone starting.

Using YouTube for self-learning visual effects

Instead of communicating theoretically, here are the practical steps first, which I used and also help you grasp the method much more quickly.

  1. Search on YouTube for this “vfx [your-software-name-here] “ example “vfx after effects”.
  2. Now select & watch any video that fascinates you and has a “tutorial” word in its title.
  3. First, watch the complete video, then rewatch and replicate the same steps in the video. Make sure you are trying to understand what the person is doing in the video instead of replicating stuff mindlessly.
  4. Repeat at least 10-25 times.

It’s the best method for learning VFX online on your own at home easily without a need for any institution.

Using paid courses for self-learning visual effects

This method is paid but not better than the previous YouTube one except for the fact that you will get well-structured videos on them. If you are to use this method, then I would highly recommend going with SkillShare or any other subscription-based platform where you don’t have to pay for each course but monthly.

Tackling VFX’s learning curve

While VFX might initially seem complex, breaking it into smaller tasks can help. Dedicate specific hours each day, even if it’s just 20 minutes. Consistent practice, rather than inconsistent efforts, makes a difference. You will see that your mindset will eventually start developing, and you will figure out everything as you venture.

When you lack motivation or are unsure of your next step, search “vfx breakdown” on YouTube and watch the videos that appeal to you. These videos show the layer-by-layer breakdown of how a shot has been made from scratch to the final shot. In doing so, they offer valuable insights, inspiration, and motivation.

How do you grow from beginner to pro?

The journey from zero to beginner is the only thing that can be structured and curated in a way from A to Z. After that, there is no A to Z way of doing things. You have to learn and improve by experimenting with things yourself and learning bit by bit from content scattered over the internet. That’s one of the best ways to grow in VFX industry.

Next, I will share what VFX artists do for this.

Learn and master how real-life lighting works

The best thing you can do after learning the basics of visual effects is focus on improving how you blend or composite different elements in the scene. VFX isn’t just about cool visuals; it’s grounded in science. Understanding physics, especially how light behaves and objects move, can take your work to the next level. For example, did you know that the way light bends when it goes through water (called refraction) is what makes those stunning underwater scenes look so real?

I would recommend watching some Photoshop compositing tutorials.

[Recommended YouTube Channel: Benny Productions]

You will learn how shadows, mid-tones, and highlights work in addition to light-wrap, ambient lighting, depth creation, and much more. You will be able to get way better-looking visuals after learning how to use lighting realistically.

Use forums as your social media

Go to forums like reddit, Blender Community, Art Station, and Behance. Join the VFX-related channels or groups where you will see like-minded people collaborating, experimenting, and helping each other. You will learn tremendously. Engage there and showcase your work, get feedback, and connect with professionals.

What skills do I need to be a VFX artist?

These are the major and vital skills that play an important role for a visual effects (VFX) artist:

  • Composition and light
  • Mechanics and Movement
  • Real-world observation

VFX and Other Things: Making Sense of It All

If you’ve reached here and are wondering, okay, now I know what Visual Effects is but are confused, what about other things you’ve heard of, like CGI or 3D animation?

Now is a good time to learn about these things, too. This way, you won’t get mixed up, which might have happened if I explained this earlier.

What is the difference between VFX and CGI?

Movies are filled with amazing things that make us wonder, “How did they do that?” There are two main ways filmmakers make our favorite scenes come to life: VFX and CGI. Let’s break it down.

Image of comparison between vfx and cgi

VFX (Visual Effects) is all about adding cool stuff to what’s already there. Imagine filming a scene with an actor, and then later, we add a rainbow, some birds, or even a spaceship flying by. It’s like putting stickers on a photo. The actor is real, and the spaceship is the sticker we add in using VFX.

CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) is making cool stuff from scratch on a computer. Before anything is filmed, artists might create a talking dog, a magical castle, or a friendly dragon on their computer screens. Then, this made-up thing (like our talking dog) can be added to a movie. It’s like drawing a picture and then placing it into a story.

In short:

  • VFX is adding cool elements to what’s already filmed.
  • CGI is creating those cool elements from the very beginning on a computer.

The next time you’re watching a movie and see a fairy dancing or a robot talking, think about how it got there. Was it added in later (VFX) or made on a computer and then put into the scene (CGI)? Knowing this makes watching movies even more exciting!

VFX Career

Building a long-term VFX career

The VFX industry has witnessed substantial growth, with the global market revenue predicted to climb from $26.3 billion in 2021 to $48.9 billion in 2028, according to the following report, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.9%. This growth is attributed to the increased demand for advanced quality content among consumers worldwide and the introduction of new technologies in the VFX market. The industry’s dynamic activity includes acquisitions, expansions, and the establishment of new facilities in various parts of the world. Continuous upskilling remains crucial, and platforms like SIGGRAPH and VES continue to offer valuable insights into the latest industry trends.

Understanding VFX salaries

Salaries in the VFX industry can vary significantly based on factors such as:

  • the size of the studio
  • project budgets
  • geographic location

Major VFX hubs like Los Angeles and London often offer higher pay but also have a higher cost of living. The industry’s growth and globalization have led to the emergence of new VFX hubs, such as India, which has become a significant source of global VFX production. As the industry evolves, salary structures may shift in response to changing market dynamics and regional developments.

Conclusion: Taking Action

We’ve explored the methods of learning and the impact of visual effects. Now, let’s get straight to the point:

  • Actionable Insights: Start your projects today. Create animations and effects using simple apps.
  • Connect and Learn: Join online communities and watch YouTube tutorials to expand your skills.
  • Your Mini-Movies: Make your short films by taking inspiration from the internet and make at least 2-3 for a better understanding of the workflow of how things work. I made 3 short films in a year when I first learned basic vfx using After Effects.

Now, go ahead and apply what you’ve learned. Create, connect, and innovate. Your visual effects journey is just beginning; the world is waiting to see your creations.

Happy creating!

uncanny valley detection graph in CGI
Is It Real or CGI? Tips on Telling Uncanny Valley
Updated on
In our digitally-driven world, special effects have become so advanced that differentiating reality from computer-generated imagery (CGI) can be a real challenge. From breathtaking landscapes…