If you haven’t already, go and read the first part of this mini-series on Deliberate Practice and Continuous Learning.
Deliberate Practice for VFX Artists
Over the past week I’ve been looking at job openings for VFX artists, mainly in America, Canada, and the UK but I wasn’t very location picky. Here are the assumptions I’ve made based on the criteria they claim to desire.
They tend to split into two broad categories; Software and Techniques, and Personal traits. Because both categories seem to be integral I’m going to cover each in turn.
Software and Techniques Wish List
For any of these subjects deliberate practice is easy to define (relatively). You can start out on each topic by picking up a good textbook or course and once you know enough of the basics you can set up a plan to practice those daily while you experiment with new things on the other side. There are hundreds of tutorials for each (or at least a few) and plenty of resources available.
Because its less of a challenge to figure out how to get started I’m going to keep this part fairly simple. Here’s a list of techniques and pieces of software that came up during my research.
- 3D Studio Max
- After Effects
- Python (scripting)
- Unreal Engine (mostly with games)
- Mental Ray
- Mel (more scripting)
- Particle Effects
- Composite Layers
- Rendering Optimisation
- Light Rigs
- Roto Mattes
- Blue/Green Screening
- 2D Painting Skills for Mark-ups
- Integrating live action with miniatures or CGI
- Use textures and 3D meshes in effects
- Performance and Resource Management (games again)
- Fluid Dynamic Particle Effects
- Graphic Shaders
- Procedural Modelling
- Real Time Particle Systems
- Stylized lighting and Mood Lighting
- Traditional Art Skills
- Digital Image Manipulation
- Stereoscopic 3D
Quite a list! I’m going to go through most of the techniques on this blog in the next few years, and probably some of the different pieces of software.
Traits of a Perfect Employee
These are, in general, much harder to practice and develop. Personally, I think this is because defining them is tricky; how do you cultivate being proactive, for example?
Hand on heart, I don’t know if any of this will actually work. Yet. I’ve only tried out deliberate practice on a couple of them and even on those I’ve tried the progress is slow (though noticeable). I’ll list my translation of the traits I found (you’re welcome!) and then I’ll go into depth on one for an example. If you’ve been practicing already, or you’re really good at some of these, drop me a comment and let me know how it went for you.
- Understanding of Light, Colour and Composition
- Demonstrate you’re a team player and can get along with multiple disciplines and backgrounds (I’d recommend building connections for this part)
- Be able to talk about different types of art, your preferences, and why you like one style vs. another
- Build change into your workflow and try not to flip out when things change last minute
- Show you’ve improved your skills over time (*cough*Continuous Learning*cough*)
- Be proactive and take initiative
- Take direction from peers and supervisors with grace
- Keep to schedule and deadlines
- Create quality work
- Perform well under high stress (or, presumably, manage the stress so that it never reaches ‘high’)
- Communicate well within the team
- Problem Solving
- Spend time consuming projects from your industry (Different types of games for games, TV programs for television, etc)
Keep to Schedule and Deadlines (my example)
Anyone that knows me, knows I struggle with this one. Not because of bad time-keeping but because I have this habit of taking on far more than I can achieve within a specified time frame.
In fact, and I’m not proud of this, I don’t think I finished a single practical project in my degree year. Fortunately my ideas and paperwork were good enough that I passed anyway – that didn’t make it feel much better to me. After a month or so of not doing anything at all (ok, maybe two months) when the course finished I finally dusted myself off and decided to do something about that.
I found a project management solution that allowed me to time myself doing tasks, create milestones, multiple projects, and anything else I needed. I also went through the Personal Effectiveness Program book; some chapters were more helpful than others but I’d recommend giving it a read and following through as much as possible.
Armed with those tools I set up projects, learned quickly that everything creative was taking longer than I’d estimated and a lot of the other tasks were taking far less time to complete. The next time I scheduled a task similar to one I’d completed, I looked at the difference between estimated time and actual time and adjusted it accordingly.
I learned that I wasn’t nearly as productive as I’d thought initially and scaled back on the work I scheduled for each day, prioritising the tasks as I went.
This was my form of continuous improvement; I’m still not very good at it but I’m more accurate than I was and I’ve gone from 1-2 hours of solid ‘real’ work a day to 2-3 (sometimes more) on average. Since I can see just how ambitious every idea I come up with is now I can allocate enough time to work on them (one of the benefits of setting your own deadlines for your own ideas) and the failing to learn process is much simpler.
To summarize the steps in a general way, here’s what I did:
- Identified a problem in my skill set
- Set up a method to track why there was a problem
- Using the information gathered from tracking, determine what my ‘basics’ were (For this example those were estimating accurately, allocating work coherently, and paring back non-essential tasks)
- Practice those basics every day and track improvements
Once I reach a point where I can successfully take a project from start to finish without extending the deadline then I can start to be more adventurous in how I practice. Yes I’m aware that sounds terrible (this would be a good time to point out that I can work on other people’s projects to schedule easily enough).
Your Next Steps
Have a look at that huge list and decide which part is most relevant to you. Then comment below saying which one it is, and I’ll respond with how I would start to work on it were I in your shoes.
That way, we can start together. Get the ball rolling with your comment just now (I dare you).