What is your number 1 tip for VFX?

What is your #1 tip for creating a realistic VFX shot?

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Look at as many reference photos and videos as you can. It’s hard to get realistic results if you’re not following references of what the real thing looks/behaves like.


Reference is king.

For example, looking at footage of real fires or explosions in actual locations - news stuff, not movies - will show you a lot about how these elements react. So, an ActionVFX explosion is carefully shot and exposed to capture detail and make certain nothing clipped. If you looked at news footage of the chemical plant explosion in Illinois, it blows out on camera.

The other classic example is the ubiquitous white/chrome ball on set for the 3D environment/modeling teams. Of course, sampling a highlight of the white ball tells the lighting artist the light color, and sampling the shadow gives you the shadow color.

There are countless other examples, of course. Reference.

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These are great tips! Thank you both!

all of the other answers and…

Never forget that the most believable effects have something based in reality.
That’s why the best monsters have some animal components or at least muscle systems based on real life creatures… vehicles are based somewhat on actual vehicles, etc.

And SCALE… never forget that physics give away SCALE.
Ever see a shot of a burning house that is so blatantly a shoebox burning?
Because 6 inch flames to not beget an huge house fire. (see Troma films, any of them… and thank you ActionVFX for providing us with various sized explosions, flames, etc.)


That’s a great tip! Thank you!

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My tip: always ask for second opinion of your work!
Especially when you have worked on one shot for days, your brain would start becoming biased and lose grip on what the shot is “supposed” to look like. Get some fresh pair of eyes. Ask a friend; they dont even have to be fellow vfx artist, just someone who understands visual language (photographer, graphic designer, etc). You have no idea how much your own brain would betray you sometimes! lol


That’s a great tip Danasa! Thank you!:relaxed:

My tip is keep things organized! When you build all of the controls for the shot, try to make it simple to adjust. I’m a Nuke user but it goes for After Effects as well. Having things like 4 or 5 transform / position adjustments when you only need 1 is a very bad habit. Especially having different scale adjustments that might end up cropping your visual effect. This can turn into a nightmare when trying to fix it. Don’t use 20 color corrections! You will start clamping darks and brights and lose the original color range you once had. Try to seperate your color corrections by what you need. A small highlight control, a saturation control, a black adjustment control and label them! Organization can be key to saving time, being efficient and hitting notes from clients. Some shots you could be tweaking for 40 or more versions! So you want the controls to be as easy as possible.


That’s an awesome tip Gregory! Thanks a lot for sharing!

Getting a good camera track is half the battle.


That is a huge deal for sure! Thanks for sharing!

Ok, so here’s one I’ve found useful.

Often, you’ll only want a single frame to use as a background plate.
There are a lot of reasons for this:

  • people in the shot (that kid skateboarding in your apocalyptic shot isn’t good)
  • more control over moving items
  • just couldn’t nail down the original shot you wanted

But how do you get this single frame tracked?

As usual, it all starts in production:
Go ahead and take a few seconds of footage, making sure to move your camera in all 3 axis (axises, axeez?).
In post, track your shot…
Nest the tracked shot.
Cut that glorious single frame and create a “hold frame” so you can extend this single frame into a sequence of the length you need.

BAM… tracked shot with no camera movement (do that yourself later with “Wiggle” or whatever your software using to fake camera shake).

Hopefully that all made sense.


Perspective, dark/highlight match, grain/noise, color space and tracking. Get those 5 elements solid and you be able to tackle the most pro shots. Also learn quickly what is composting and what is animation. The two are very different tasks in VFX and not all artist can really do both.


These are great tips Matt! Thank you!

Best thing is to learn as much as you can about the entire Filmmaking and also the entire 3D VFX pipeline.

If you happen to be a Traditional artist in the real world… I can tell you from my personal experience that it will give you a huge boost when it comes to shortening your learning curve.

I have a really huge cheat though,… I just memorize everything because I have a Photographic and Eidetic memory. It is how I learned to write and code my own version of Blender in about 3 minutes. Knowing how to paint and illustrate actually really does help though, I know because I’ve been illustrating and painting since I was a year and a half but I usually just tell people that I’ve been doing it since I was three years old which is when my Pre-K teachers noticed what I could do during “Arts and Crafts Time” so they encouraged me to do it more and more every day. This got me into 2D animation big time.
Anyway, having all this prior artistic knowledge makes Compositing alone super… super easy. It makes 3D modelling and texturing really, really fast because it is basically the same thing. And 3D keyframe animations are also basically the same concept as 2D animations.

Assets… do your best to get the most, high Quality Assets that you can get. I never count on anyone else for this and just build all of my own 3d assets which I know will be built correctly and in such a way as to provide me with the most Artistic freedom… yeah, I don’t skimp or cut corners when creating Art.
For sure I can use Crayons to create Art but I’m gonna get better detail from pencils, pens, and paint brushes. Weird analogy but in this case… the Crayons are the lower quality asset which you could consider 8bits and the other drawing/painting tools are 64bit and higher. The better your tools… the better off you’ll be, all you need is the knowledge on how to use those tools to best suit your Art.

The rest is up to you, all you’ve gotta do is practice, practice, practice… and when you’re done with that… keep practicing and keep learning, never stop learning.

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Great tips, thanks so much for sharing!