3 Skills Every FX Artist Needs!

Its no mystery that creating captivating effects is an extremely technical role. It requires complex problem solving and a studious lifestyle. An effects artist requires a lot of skills but here are 3 skills you should have in your arsenal.

learn a programming language

Photo by serg3d/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by serg3d/iStock / Getty Images

When I mention I learned to program before I learned Houdini most artists cringe. "Wow, I could never do that!" or "Isn't really hard?" are common responses to programming. Knowing 1-3 programming languages, in my opinion, is not only important its a requirement in order to produce more complex effects in your career.  

Attaining a programming language teaches you to look at problems and challenges with a vastly different perspective. You learn an essential lesson from programming that I believe makes any problem manageable by teaching you to break down problems into simple steps.

Knowing how to program, as an effects artist, is like walking into a toy store as a kid. You can’t believe what is available and you have know idea where to start! Effects you used to think were complex, suddenly become understandable. You begin to look at your application of choice ( Houdini, in my case) in a very different way. You will begin to understand aspects of your tools that you never dreamed of!

Where do I start? 

What how many languages should I learn?

  • Start with one, the cool thing about programming ( like learning a 3D Application ) they are all basically the same. Once you learn one very well you get the others (almost) for free.

What language should I learn first?

  • Python. Houdini, Maya, Nuke, Modo, and Blender all implement python and allow you to do some amazing things! Python is super easy to use and the support online and in studios is very vast! Later I recommend, if you are an Houdini Artist, C++ and VEX. For Maya artists, MEL and C++.

All these videos and books teach me how to create stupid terminal programs, how is this useful?

  • Remember your first effect or animation? Most likely a bouncing ball. Programming, like effects, is a discipline. Keep in mind that its going to be dry in the beginning but you need to stick with it, these skills will make you a guru, but not over night. 

Where am I going to find the time?!

  • We all have responsibilities and needs that take our time, part of being successful is learning to make time. Try setting aside 3 hours a week for learning. Is 3 hours too hard? Then 30mins. Consider all the time you spend watching TV, playing games, browsing Reddit, or drinking. Trust me, you have time. Make it happen.

I still don’t understand why I need to learn it, isn’t that why people programmed Houdini & Maya for me, So I didn’t have to know how to program?

  • True. However, that attitude limits your growth. Learn for the sake of learning.

 

Basic Maths and Physics:

Photo by buchachon/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by buchachon/iStock / Getty Images

This one always gets a good moan. Artists run at the sounds of the “M” word. They way people react to my love for physics & math you’d think I just hit them in the face with a golf club. If you are someone who truly doesn’t get math or really really has a strong hatred for it I urge you to seek consoling. Fact is this, EVERYTHING we do in effects is MATH. That simple sphere is created using math, your fluid simulation is obviously math. 

Now that we have dealt with you gag reflex. Let me just say I understand you are probably not going to have the same admiration I have for physics and math. For me, it just made sense and I understand for some people its like watching paint dry and listening to the "Friday" song on repeat. You do not have to become a mathematician or physicist. Just start with the basics:

  • Trigonometry and Geometry
  • Vector Math
  • Basic Physics

Thats it. And you do not need to be an expert. There are plenty of resources for you and I highly recommend you give it a go!

Where do I start? 

I have never understood math, why should I bother?

  • Most likely, the last time you were learning math you were in grade school, things have changed and so have you, your mind is better equipped now!

Math is boring and dull.

  • Remember that bit about programming? Try using math in your application to create cool effects! There are plenty of people out there using math to create art! Sometimes seeing the result makes it easier to understand! Math isn't just about equations on a chalkboard, it actually is useful and fun!

I want a challenge!

  • For you over achievers and dreamers, go out and get yourself a “Beginning Calculus” book. Start reading and as soon as you hit a part you don’t understand follow these steps:
  1. Search it
  2. Learn it.
  3. Practice it.
  4. Move on

Any books specifically for our field?

You don’t have to remember it all, and no one is going to test you on it. Learn what you can and do it for the sake of expanding your knowledge. The key to learning is understanding its application. Make that your goal and you will find some really cool things out there you can do with your effects! As you use it, it will sink in, so don’t stress. 

 

Computer Graphics

If anything else, gain a knowledge of computer graphics from a technical stand point. I think I have gained more from my CG knowledge then anything. Our processes and tools are the subject of Computer Graphics and learning these concepts ( not the maths) is going to help you understand how all aspects of our processes work. One again strive to gain a basic knowledge and you will find it extremely helpful. 

Where do I start?

How much should I try to learn?

  • As much as your able to, learning anything about Computer Graphics is going to help you out!

Any books your recommend?