Hi, I'm Aaron Estrada. I have worked as a C.G. artist, C.G. supervisor and VFX supervisor for over 20 years. I started my career as a C.G. generalist where I could fill almost any role including character animation. After 10 years doing generalist work, I specialized and narrowed my focus to lighting, rendering and compositing. In the last few years of my career, I finally had the guts to call myself a VFX supervisor. For years I have taught C.G. part time also. Several of my students have gone on to get jobs in the industry at a very high level, working at studios like ILM, Frame Store, Sony, Oculus and Apple. Most recently, I have shifted my focus to building cloud tools for VFX artists and animators.

I'm happy to answer your questions about career development, C.G., VFX, and animation in general.

Ask me anything.

Proof: truepic.com/zlmukm6r Old-ish Demo Reel: vimeo.com/143781803 Websites: www.metapipe.com www.learnvfx.com

Comments: 743 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

TireurEfficient414 karma

Hey ! I'm more oriented towards gameplay programming than CG programming, and I haven't worked in the video games industry yet but it's a long-term goal for me.

Apart from gamejams & students projects I don't have professionnal experience in video games, do you have any advice for a beginner like me who would like to enter in the industry ?

lordtangent821 karma

Pick a specialty. Focus on building your demo reel from day one. Game jams, student projects, whatever you work on... every project you do should be focused on making new work for your reel. It's better to do a small amount of really ambitious work than a large amount of crap. So pick your projects well and focus on excellence rather than volume of work.

EDIT: corrects typos

BiggerBangTheory290 karma

first off... as a proud bearer of beard... that thing's awesome.

second, what piece of work are you most proud of? and what finished product came out better than expected?

lordtangent486 karma


I think Kung Fu Panda is probably the project I'm most proud of. I lit nearly an entire sequence myself and the movie was really entertaining.

Also, I worked on Over the Hedge for nearly 3 years. I wasn't quite as proud of the final result on that one but what I AM proud of is the fact I actually worked in TWO departments over the course of that film (Rigging and Lighting/Comp). They only let me have one credit though :-(

lndianJoe134 karma

When learning about how videogames were made, it feels like graphic artists and programmers often had to work hand in hand and use a lot of clever tricks to get the max out of a system. Nowadays, it feels like everybody relies on the power of the hardware and only a few softs are really optimised. Is this really true ? Do some still get stuff thought to be imossible out of current gen hardware ?

lordtangent191 karma

Game stuff ALWAYS needs to be optimized. If you want to see what un-optimized assets look like, look toward feature VFX. They could learn a thing or two from the games side of the industry.

ejcrv117 karma

How long do you think it will be until we see at least close, to photo realistic video games? Also one stupid question. Is the demo video on vimeo.com of movies you've really worked on? Very interesting stuff by the way, thanks!

lordtangent204 karma

We are pretty much at the point where photorealism is possible in real-time. Now it's just a matter of scaling so it's more than just a demo, but and entire game. At this point, I think the hard work to make that happen is more related to the really fine points of the craft rather than the technology per-se. By that I mean, "uncanny valley" type issues of properly preparing art assets, rigs, animation, texture, shaders, etc. Last 10% stuff. The tricky part there is that getting all those details just right amounts to a disproportionate portion of the effort needed to complete a project. The cost of AAA titles is already through the roof so I think what It's going to take to get there at a reasonable cost is mostly improvements in the authoring apps more than anything else. Perhaps more standardization would help, then there could be more asset sharing from project to project. We need to make the labor on pushing that last 10% more efficient so it's easier to do at scale.

The demo reel on Vimeo are films I worked on with my own hands. The only part of the reel that isn't 100% my own work are the people in free fall. I did a few of the shots with my own hands and supervised the rest.

When I say 100% my own work, I mean the reel represents my work as a lighter/compositor. Other people contributed to the shots in their departments. (Making work at this level is a team effort!) The reel in the link only represents my VFX work. I have an even older reel with a lot of my cartoon stuff on it here: https://vimeo.com/21271209

EDIT: typo fixes

dogememe64 karma

What are your thoughts on the increasingly data driven workflows that are emerging? Like motion capture and now deep learning animation based on mocap data, photogammetry and other 3D-scanning techniques, HDRi lighting, finite element simulations, particle simulations, etc. Is there gonna be a need for an artist in 20 years?

And bonus questions: What job does the industry need the most but most people don't know it exist or have the required skills? Also, do you have any personal passion projects that you have done or are working on?

lordtangent155 karma

I'm a big believer in the whole Singularity idea, meaning I believe that eventually a strong general purpose AI that can fully emulate human level intelligence will be invented. However, just after that invention, everyone will be out of a job. If you are familiar with Ray Kurzweil's predictions, you know that about 20 years from now is a reasonable event horizon for such a development.

IMHO, in order to effectively automate most of the tasks required to fully replace a human operator would you would need a strong general purpose AI. I think over time we may get some narrow AI tools that will help us be better operators but at the end of the day, the human touch and eye will be required up until the point that strong AI becomes available.

All this is to say, high-level creative and artistic jobs are probably some of the most resistant to disruption by automation. Once strong general AI is finally invented tough, all bets are off though. (For everyone...Hopefully the robots don't rise up and kill us all.)

The nice thing about having strong AI make all your entertainment is it would be super easy to create nearly unlimited entertainment and it could be narrow cast to specifically the audiences who would enjoy it most. Taking that to its logical conclusion, entertainment could eventually be completely customized to an individual and produced on-demand in real-time for that single viewer.

Let's see... rare skills... I think the industry could always use more high-level developers. Basically, people with really deep STEM and CS skills can basically write their own ticket in this business. I'm talking about people who can work on renderers and write new simulation and rigging systems from scratch. I'm talking about high-level software developers who also have the esoteric specialty of computer graphics. Folks like that are exceedingly rare. This holds true for games since you'll be able to implement new tools that aren't already present in the off-the-shelf game engines. Even moving down the scale in terms of technical chops, people with computer graphics related domain specific expertise in IT and CS are somewhat rare. They are not quite the unicorns the renderer and tools programmers are but if you know how to build and maintain infrastructure for C.G. production you can build a pretty steady career compared to a production artist. (your employment is typically linked to the facility and not the project)

There are a lot of scut work type jobs people might not know exists like character finaling and paint fix and paint/roto. Character finalling is a step where the animation created by the animator is touched up to correct technical flaws in the deformation of the character. It's a hack for doing shot-by-shot fixes on the rig rather than trying to create a perfect animation rig (which is next to impossible) Sometimes the character finaler will do certain character FX tasks also, like run the hair and cloth sims. Really, for this task more than anything you need to have a good eye and an extraordinary level of patience.

Paint Fix is a special case of typical paint as seen in VFX shops. Basically, you are painting over renders to fix glitches and messed up stuff. It's not as common with the newer renderers since now that we are getting away from shadow maps and scanline rendering, the types of glitches they would fix don't happen as often. Brutally boring job. Basically, you need to have the same skills you would need for paint and roto.

Paint and roto. Most people know what roto is but they may not be aware of "paint". The paint department cleans up plates by "painting" out stuff that's not supposed to be there. The techniques they use are all over the place, up to an including painting out stuff frame by frame. The amount of clean up they need to do can be ugly sometimes. I frequently amazed at how well a good paint artist manages to do their job. The skills you need are pretty diverse since often you need to resort to advanced techniques to get the job done, like 3D camera projection. That means you not only need to know comp but also enough 3D to manage the projection setups etc. You also need a tool bag of manual tracking and paint tricks that are kind of like guild knowledge. (I mean, I never encountered some of the tricks except for professionally, when other artists would show me.) It's a tedious but important job but as the end result is super critical to how modern VFX are done. The paint and roto department is the unsung hero of modern VFX in a way, since they make the crazy plates that production turn over usable for the next stages of VFX work. Nowadays a lot of paint and roto type work is outsourced to less expensive markets but there are still domestic shops that manage to stay afloat.

One job people might not be aware of are general pipeline TDs. They are like pipeline all-rounders who do a number of tasks from ingest and publishing of plates and assets, to writing simple tools to help make production more efficient. Some of TDs specialize in fixing specific parts of the pipeline, while others have the skills to help people in every department with debugging of rigs and setups and just troubleshooting in general. The best background for a pipeline TD would be a strong generalist with a good CS or programming background.

My current passion project is a blockchain backed critter simulator called www.landrace.io It allows people to collect and breed virtual 3D pets that they literally own on a blockchain token. (Still settling on which blockchain exactly but right now we are leaning towards Ethereum or EOS) I'm really excited about this project since it mashes up two things I'm very passionate about: 3D graphics and cryptocurrency. The breeding system also has a neat feature which is nothing like anything I've ever done before which is procedural generation of creatures. I'm looking for people to help us test it when we launch. If you sign up I'll give you a free pet so you can help us test it.

jasons212146 karma

Hello! My question has to do with your work in videogames. I have little experience in the field so I was wondering how does animation and the actual games code come together to form a final product? I recently started learning c++ and so I familar with the coding side but im unclear as to when the two areas meet. Does a single program like Unreal Engine just throw the animation ontop of a skeleton of code?


lordtangent23 karma

I'm even a little fuzzy on this part myself. (I'm an artist, not a developer)

From what I have seen, the assets tend to be ingested into the engine and then exposed as structures or objects.

The details are probably very engine specific. Back when I was doing games, licensed engines were still super expensive so we used our own custom engine. Things are probably quite different now. If I were you, I'd just do the quick start tutorial for whichever engine you are interested in.

EDIT: Typos

throwawayA0K43 karma

What's an animation feature that is too computational expensive right now but you hope will show up in the near future (when computers are better)?

lordtangent62 karma

Pretty much nothing. From this point forward it's just going to be about bigger and faster.

RabidFroog2 karma

What about ray tracing

lordtangent2 karma

It's not considered terribly computationally expensive by today's standards. Most renderers are basically full time path tracers these days.

Grey165325 karma

What’s been the most helpful and useful tech development that has helped you in your field? (Your job sounds amazing! Congratulations on finding a strong passion and making a life out of it)

lordtangent32 karma

There have been a few.

First of all, tablets with pressure sensitive pens. They have been around a long time and they are almost a requirement if you are going to be doing any painting. I can't imagine working without one. Even if you don't paint much, they are still great for sparing your wrists from RSI if you switch back and forth between the tablet and the mouse over the day.

Physically plausible renderers. By that I mostly mean full time path tracing renderers. It's much nicer to use a renderer that accurately models light transport.

Linear Light compositing. It's pretty standard practice in the industry now but was pretty revolutionary when it first hit the scene. If you still don't understand linear light, learn it. love it, live it. It will make your life much easier.

Grey16539 karma

Are there any bottlenecks in production that are solely down to a limitation in the physical hardware? The software always seems so good, but are they hindered by the physical tech?

lordtangent27 karma

I would say the single largest bottleneck, even to this day, is still the networks and storage.

There are tricks you can do like caching to kind of mask some of the issues but IMHO, the speed of networks and shared storage is still probably the single biggest hotspot. There are very slick options for storage like scale out NAS, parallel file systems like Lustre and object storage that theoretically keep the logical storage topology from becoming a hub and spoke but it seems that in practice, many studios still end up with that sort of topology anyway. Even if they have a slick storage back end like Lustre, they might still end up with hotspots in their network switches.

Most studios use pretty vanilla Ethernet as their main network. 10Gbe is still kind of new and the perceptions seems to be it's expensive per switch port, so most studios are still on 1Gbe. Considering the speed of modern SSDs, that's pretty slow by comparison. Back when everything was still spinny disks, 1Gbe was almost as fast as the local disk. So basically, the storage technology has continued to pull ahead of the network technology, yet we are still mostly suck with the slow networks. (I'm talking about the last segment to the workstations and render nodes) The other issue is that just switching to a 10Gbe physical link layer is not a magic bullet. It still typically requires a lot of tuning to reach its full potential.

Rendering can still be a bit of a bottleneck. Nowadays, pretty much everyone is using path tracing and ray tracing full time. So while computers are getting faster, the rendering is becoming computationally more intense at the same time. Scene complexity is also increasing. So basically, render times haven't decreased over the years. It seems that in practice, they never decrease actually. Even as computers improve according to Moore's Law, it's like render times are perpetually stuck at 2-8 hours with the occasional outlier that goes as high as maybe 24 hours. You can throw more hardware at the problem but then the network and storage might become the bottleneck. I've seen scenes that take a much as an hour or more of load time before the renderer can even start rendering. I know it sounds nuts since even if the data the renderer needs to load is multiple gigabytes, it should still be able to load it over a 1Gbe network faster than that. But there is often complications due to many tiny files needing to be loaded, or pre-processing by the renderer that takes a lot of time. The interaction of the application and the network are often complex and nothing like synthetic benchmarks. It's really disappointing when the system doesn't seem to live up to the raw benchmark performance of the network. But once the variable of the application having some poor behavior has been eliminated as a possible root cause, the only suspects left are the network and storage. The types of workloads we produce in this business seem to be Kryptonite to network storage.

Bad load times can really be a killer on interactive work too. Say an artist needs to load a complex scene to do a tweak and it takes an hour to load up. If the artist doesn't have multiple workstations at their desk, they may have nothing to work on anything while they wait for the slow scene to load. Good pipeline tools should help circumvent naive loading of massive scenes when certain assets loads could be differed. But in practice sometimes it really is necessary to load huge setups and there is nothing you can do to "cheat" those load times. When and artist is sitting around waiting for a load that's just straight up waste of the most expensive kind. Assuming everything else is working right, the network or storage are always the prime suspect for the slowdown and the only thing that could done to speed things up is address the problems in the network and storage.

Some day computers will catch up, but until everything is real-time and we stop thinking of things to load the computers up with, everything will still feel like it could be faster. I'm not saying that most tasks feel like bottle necks. Very few do. But as an an operator, it seems like things could always be faster. The faster you can get feedback the faster you can make decisions and turn around changes.

TorpidNightmare8 karma

Even if 10Gb to the desktop was more cost effective. You still have to deal with the slow protocols that desktops talk over currently. A single data stream using NFS or CIFS will never reach line rate on a 10Gb connection. It will hit 3 or 4Gb with the right tuning, but you won't see 10.

lordtangent10 karma

Exactly. There is a lot more to it that just changing the wire speed. If you want top performance you need to upgrade the layer 7 transport protocol.

masterfrage21 karma

Is it as fun as people think?

lordtangent16 karma

It is for me at least. It took 10 years before it just felt like a regular job to me. Even to this day I'm still a huge fan of C.G. and I follow all the new developments.

BubblTea16 karma

Do you have any advice for finding free lancers to commission visual / motion graphics work? I'm a music producer who's interested in having their own visual production to share with VJs when it comes to live sets and I find it difficult in finding the right people. Also any idea what the median pricing should be?

lordtangent21 karma

Realtime and projection mapping type stuff is a more rare specialty than regular CG stuff. I'm really not too familiar with where those folks hang out. Maybe go to places where they talk shop like the Touch designer forum?

A really good resource for figuring out market rates is the annual wage survey the Animation Guild does. https://animationguild.org/?s=Wage+survey (Don't worry, nearly EVERYONE makes more than the union minimum so it's not like the union minimums throw off the rates) Another good resource is http://www.vfxwages.org

calculatordisco14 karma

Did you start letting the beard grow to it’s maximum potential before, or after you went bald?

lordtangent20 karma

After. I have been bald for decades.

ArLab13 karma

How did you survive that long?

lordtangent21 karma

I left LA.

jayhawx864 karma

where did you go?

lordtangent8 karma

New Mexico. But I was answering in a more existential sense. You don't go to NM if you want to work in the VFX or animation business.

Igmanige10 karma

What are working hours like in the gaming industry when it comes to animators/designers? Do you feel it's a good future for people interested in that sort of thing?

lordtangent18 karma

Long. If you like work/life balance, the entertainment business is probably not for you.

burn_and_crash9 karma

Not sure how much this applies to you, but what's the current state of 3D modelling? What are the biggest pain points for artists?

lordtangent12 karma

3D modeling has been pretty awesome for years. If you are just talking about regular sub-D modeling, the tools in the old standby modelers have improved to the point they aren't horrendous to work with and newer packages like Modo have really reset the bar in terms of usability, including the ease of making UV maps.

Then there are the sculpting tools like zBrush, which really shift the entire paradigm of what "modeling" used to be. Building incredibly detailed models is much easier than it used to be.

Luckboy289 karma

Hey there!

There's been a lot of discussion recently about why some games have such large installation footprints (80-120gb). Do you think this is due primarily to the size of the textures used, or does engine optimization play a larger role?

For example, World of Warcraft has an enormous number of assets, but the install footprint is smaller than ARK: Survival Evolved, which has a tiny number of assets by comparison.

Any thoughts?

lordtangent2 karma

Making a more visually rich game requires higher resolution models and textures. The cost of that is more disk space usage. Even with optimization, the overall size of the install will still be higher than a previous generation game.

It's not like disks aren't getting bigger, RAM cheaper, GPUs more powerful and CPUs faster. If the games weren't getting more computationally intensive people wouldn't see any benefits from their newer hardware.

AMillionMonkeys7 karma

Do you have a sweet SGI Indigo?

lordtangent2 karma

Believe it or not, I never used an SGI professionally. By the time I was working in features the studios had switched to Linux. Before that I used Amigas, Macs and PCs.

I have played around with SGIs and I am a huge Linux fan though.

SpecialOops7 karma

I want to learn 3d modeling but it's been tough a tough learning curve. Without any modeling background and just proficient at Photoshop, Think 3d has been the least stressful as compared to AutoCAD or solid works. For a beginner, what program would you recommend? Do you have a favorite modeling program? I have yet to print out my first object.

lordtangent9 karma

Modo is my current favorite. I've heard that Silo is also pretty good if you just want to model.

MarkG16 karma

What's your favourite breakfast?

lordtangent8 karma

Pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon.

Breakfast burritos are also pretty good, with red chile.

Juriga6 karma

As someone who is currently studying 3D modelling and programming I have found that 3d modelling is more for me however I don't consider myself very good at art.

Would you say I need to be a good artist to become a 3D designer and break into the industry?

In general how hard would you consider it to get a job as a 3d designer, I assume there is a lot of competition and I have recently finished my first year of a college course in game design but am anxious about my chances of reaching my goal.

lordtangent13 karma

My brother Marc , who also works in this business, is a great case study for this question. He is a brilliant traditional figurative artist. One day he came to me and said "Aaron, I think I want to do what you do for a living." He needed a job and I can only imagine he figured that if I could do this for a living, it can't be that hard. (joking). Anyway, within roughly a year from that conversation, he had a killer modeling reel and a job offer to work at Tippet Studios, which is a really well respected feature VFX studio.

That is not typical at all.

My only conclusion has to be that his skill as a traditional artist made the transition easier for him. He'd already done all his dues paying while building his skills as a traditional artist. All he had to do when moving over to CG was master a new medium, which is actually the easier thing to learn.

da_2holer_eh5 karma

Are you the reason Ryan Reynolds hates his Green Lantern outfit?

lordtangent10 karma

I did quite a few of those suits and some full CG Green Lantern shots but I can't take credit for the design of that suit or the decision, for whatever reason, to do it as full CG.

President_Camacho5 karma

Do you need to live in California to have a successful career, or are there other markets where there is enough depth and breadth to the VFX industry? Is New York City the only other rival?

lordtangent22 karma

It kind of depends on where you are already. Is there any cluster at all there? Like, do you have even a single studio in your city that does high-end TV or feature work?

You don't have to move to a cluster city have A career. It just might not be the career you want. If you are a good sales person, you might be able to attract solo freelance work. Most big studios won't allow you to do high end work remotely due to their security requirements. (It's out of their hands. They often have upstream contracts that prohibit them from working with remote vendors that don't meet the same security requirements they do.)

Let me tell you little about my own journey. After cutting my teeth and breaking into feature animation in LA, I moved to New Mexico to work at Sony Imageworks. I did so quite intentionally to take a break from California and really ended up loving it in NM. It's just so easy to live there. The sky is crystal clear and the sunsets are spectacular. The seasons are really mild. I felt like I could be a human. Sony was a great place since it was basically just a satellite of the main studio and we had all the same stuff. Unfortunately, there was not a single other studio of the same caliber in NM. I also worked for Rising Sun in Adelaide Australia for a while. Same deal. Working in single studio towns creates a very different dynamic than what you see in a big cluster city. In a bigger cluster, talent is treated like a total commodity. In smaller markets they treat you like less of a commodity. That's how it felt to me at least. (assuming you are competent and get along with everyone.) They know that replacing you is going to be more pain for them, so they try to keep you happy enough you stick around. I also feel that at studios in smaller clusters or non-cluster cities, you have a better chance of working your way through the ranks. But the risk is... if work dries up and they have no choice but to furlough you or lay you off entirely, they are the only game in town. You have to decide if you want to be working constantly or if you are comfortable having down time. I know some folks that completely thrive on having that down time. They have very low stress personalities and just take advantage of the time off to travel and stuff.

If you want to have easier access to other employers you would want to stick to the bigger clusters like. LA, Vancouver, London, Montreal, Sydney, etc.

The path you should choose really depends on what kind of lifestyle you want. Some people don't mind moving to a different city every few months or years. They actually enjoy it. Living in a large cluster reduces the chances you might need to move to a different city but keep in mind your commute might still be horrendous. That's what ultimately turned me off of LA. The traffic and grind of the daily commute was sucking the life force out of me.

President_Camacho2 karma

Thanks so much for that counter-intuitive answer. I had expected that a VFX person in a smaller market would be in less demand, and would be exploited more.

lordtangent8 karma

YMMV. Do keep in mind, by the time I was working in those smaller markets I was already considered a Sr. level artist.

zSplityy5 karma

This is an obvious question and may be somewhat dumb....but where did you get started? A certain program, video, book, or schooling that really helped you get your first initial dive into the industry? I am trying to teach myself to code at the moment but am much more interested in game development.

lordtangent7 karma

You just start. It many ways it's easier now than ever since the Internet makes the world so much smaller. It's much easier to connect with people that have the same interests.

I'm completely self taught. If you aren't something of a learner and autodidact you won't thrive in this business. There is something new to learn on every project and tools change constantly. It's really part of the reason I enjoy it so much. It rarely gets boring, especially VFX type work.

EDIT: corrects typos

ICEMANJ714 karma

Any advice for an almost 47yo that wants a career change and has always wanted to do this type of stuff for video games?

lordtangent5 karma

You didn't say what you background is. Do you already have any CS or CG skills?

ICEMANJ714 karma

i am currently a machinist. I have always played video games. recently getting into modifying xml files and trying to learn using unity. other than that no i don't.My employer does pay for schooling.

lordtangent5 karma

That's awesome. You can get them to pay for courses you can use to get more up to speed on CG. Heck , you could get better at CAD/CAM which would also level up skills that are directly related to what you already do.

CAM is actually an area that also fascinates me. I just haven't had the chance to work with machine equipment since high school. I did learn TIG welding like 15 years ago though.

BiWriterPolar3 karma

How do you get the motivation or discipline to work at what you do every day?

Honestly that's my biggest drawback, and I'm impressed at how much you've done.

lordtangent15 karma

For years, CG was just about the only thing I could even imagine doing every day. I was completely obsessed with it. I've lost probably thousands of hours of sleep (my OWN time) working on improving my own skills and learning.

People often use the word "talent" to describe a person's level of skill in a particular area but I think in some ways that sells the person being complimented short. "Talent" is the intersection of an almost fanatical obsession with mastering a particular skill and a certain inborn knack for picking that skill up maybe a little faster than other people. The final ingredient is a shitload of work. As a fanatic, it doesn't feel like work though.

Having said all that, I'm not "disciplined" like some people who have strict routines. I have routines but they aren't nearly as structured as a lot of type A people. In the case of learning and doing CG, it just boiled down to not being able to stop myself from doing it.

Number one tip for regaining time to work on important stuff: Turn off the TV. TV is the ultimate time killer. Maybe just consider putting the TV in the closet and take a vacation from it. ( If video games are your Kryptonite, turn off the game console. )

EDIT: Corrects Typos.

Bad_brazilian3 karma

Tabs or spaces?

lordtangent7 karma


And you do know you can set any good text editor to make spaces when you hit tab, right?

Raarsea3 karma

Hey man, I'm a 17 year VFX-feature animation veteran. Character TD and CFX is my specialty. But I am trying to work towards CG supe with the goal of vfx supe. Any tips?

I assume it means mastering lighting and compositing. Seems like all VFX supes come from the 2D background. Any amazing tutorials you know of to get me started?


lordtangent4 karma

Learn how the classic VFX techniques work and how they relate to CG. By that I mean, become a student of the technology at all levels (not just CG). this will put you miles ahead of the button monkeys who can only think CG and believe their CG package of choice is some kind of all singing all dancing magic bullet.

The reason so many VFX supes come from a comp/2D background is because 2D and in camera techniques are the bread and butter of making a shot. It all goes back to classic techniques like basic line ups, matte paintings and foreground miniatures. Once you understand all that stuff, you start to realize how CG is just an extension of those techniques.

I can't tell you how many times I've had to talk students down from elaborate and over-built ideas about how to do a shot with CG when then could just do it all in camera or with a little bit of monofilament and some roto/paint tweaks.

RageQuitFPS3 karma

I have some questions about career development. My career so far:

  • 2.5 years as a gameplay programmer for a game studio
  • 5 years as a graphics programmer for a training simulator company with modest graphics needs (no PBR or anything cool like that)
  • 3 years as an Android app programmer

Sometime during the graphics programming job (2011), I went back to school (physics major). Graduated in 2016 (part way through my current job).

I found the graphics job market in my area to be very small and stagnant. The Android app company offered me a 50% pay increase, and I took it. So basically, I sold out.

However, physics / math / graphics continues to be my passion and I'd like to break back in somehow.

Is there anything that a person who has been out of the field for >3 years do to rehabilitate their cred as a graphics programmer and land a cool job?

Is it the sort of field where only a few cities (e.g. LA, Austin, Seattle) have a bustling job market?

I sort of feel like, with Unity and Unreal, realtime graphics programming is essentially commoditized.

Also, I hear that quality-of-life tends to be terrible at places like Pixar and Disney. Is that true? Do you think it's possible for a company in this field to have a good work/life balance, or will scheduling concerns / artistic ambitions always override that?

lordtangent4 karma

Employers in the entertainment industry are impressed by skills they can clearly see. It's like they need to be able to see things to believe they are real. If you did a demo or piece of software that demonstrated skills relevant to what they are doing, that would impress them. I realize that's a tall order. It's one of the painful catch 22s of getting a break in the industry. You need a demo to get work but it's really hard to make an impressive enough demo entirely on your own.

As for work life balance, it typically sucks if you compare it to a "normal" job. But working on the software development side of the studio, you won't have the same stupid hours production artists and TDs usually have to live with. Pixar is known to be cheaper than Disney. Pixar was the nexus of the whole wage fixing lawsuit actually. Disney is union and aside from some cultural quirks, is generally regarded as a really nice place to work. Really, most of the larger studios here in the states are good places to work for. Even though the hours can be long, the overall compensation and benefits packages are better than what most people get in their "normal" jobs. You'd typically need to be working at a pretty good corporate job to get a similar package.

lastfire1232 karma

How should I start learning animation? I've self taught myself after effects and want to be more proficient with it, but my college doesn't have strictky animation classes, and I don't believe my transfer university had either, should I brute force my way to learning AE or or am I thinking about this all wrong? Do I even need classes?

lordtangent3 karma

If you want to do character animation, you will need some kind of formal training, even if it's just videos. Teaching animation is down to a science at this point and you'll just be wasting time by not learning the canonical concepts that drive animation theory. I'm not sure if Lynda has animation courses but you can start with cost effective videos like Lynda (or some other) and expand out to more expensive master classes with a mentor if you feel you want to continue.

Gatecrasher262 karma

How pumped were you when VGA got enhanced to SVGA? So many colors!!

lordtangent4 karma

I was using Amigas back then. They crushed the VGA stuff on the PCs at the time.

cvogt122 karma

Have you ever worked on a project that everyone KNEW was total crap? How do you stay motivated for something like that?

lordtangent10 karma


I find paychecks have a strong motivating effect.

turtley_different2 karma

What is your favourite computational 'trick' that is used in C.G.?

(In case that's not clear, I'm imagining stuff like cube-mapping reflections instead of ray tracing. Cool, elegant solutions to bastard problems.)

lordtangent3 karma

Tile Worlds and projection mapping. You can build pretty robust virtual environments with nothing more than a bunch of photos and rough geometry.

Alextherude_Senpai2 karma

How did you find your motivation to do what you do?

I'm a 20 year old college sophomore that jumped aboard the college bandwagon as soon as they graduated from highschool, and now I'm trudging along for a Computer Science degree. I hate it, since all of the "lessons" are just the professors parroting the textbook.

I have virtually no motivation to study other than to get passing grades, and it kills me because while I like playing games, I want to make games, but I get immediately discouraged when I compare myself with indie devs and other big shots.

How do you do it?

lordtangent3 karma

If you want to make games as anything other than a game artist (which is a hard earned skill itself) you need to learn enough CS to program games.

Since the goal is to make games, why not just make games? Find a local group and do game jams and stuff. You need to practice or you will never build the skills to be a big shot yourself.

lordtangent2 karma

I realized I didn't actually answer your question.

I wanted to do computer graphics since I was a kid. Tron and the Voyager 2 Flyby of Saturn animation by Jim Blinn and Charles Kohlhase made a really strong impression on me early on. I saw a TV special where they talked about the stuff in Tron. I also saw mainframe computers doing basic computer graphics a few years later at my dads office. After seeing that I wanted to do that myself. Many years passed and I kind of forgot about computer graphics. I'd already graduated high school and was going to college. I kind of struggled with the same lack of purpose it sounds like you are struggling with. Then I discovered this thing called the Video Toaster. It was this all singing, all dancing desktop video production computer that included a 3D program. I realized I could actually use it to follow my childhood dream of doing computer graphics. My motivation came from a deep seated desire to make cool images with computers. Nothing could stop me. The goal was to make cool images and I just learned whatever I had to learn to be able to do that.

School still seemed tedious but I had my computer graphics study to keep me stoked. I was also studying photography and video production. It helped keep me stoked also. (I'm still a student of photography and cinematography since I not only enjoy it, but it's part of my professional development as a lighter/render TD)

I would say, the number one thing you need to find is a reason for doing all the boring textbook stuff. You need to focus on outcomes. What kind of project would you like to apply the CS knowledge to? Then the purpose of all the textbook study becomes more meaningful since really all it is at that point is preparation for the project you want to do.

Funtron50002 karma

Over the course of your career, what changes in hardware helped to make better lighting, texturing, and shading? Or maybe better, at what point did you feel as though the hardware wasn't the limitation to what you wanted to create?

lordtangent3 karma

Once processors had integrated Floating Point Units, it was just a matter of time for them to get fast enough that using path tracing full time was practice. The algorithmes existed for years. It just took a while for the CPUs to be fast enough for them to be practical for production work. The next big milestone was 64 bit processors and Operating Systems. We take that for granted nowadays but have all the extra RAM that 64 bit allows you to address really opened things up.

Having said that, I have been using ray tracing for years, even before it was cool. I would routinely use ray traced lights even in the face of outright band on them from supervisors that didn't understand their relative merits compared to other options. Raytracing and scan line rendering have different strengths. Some naive operators think that ray tracing is universally slower than scanline but the truth is more complicated than that. At this point, practically every renderer runs in a ray trace or path tracing mode full time. Even hybrid rendering is often slower than using ratracing for stuff like primary visibility. It kind of depends on what acceleration tricks the particular renderer uses.

ShikukuWabe2 karma

In Israel the market is rather small and mostly focused on Arch-Viz, there aren't any real game companies (that don't make facebook/mobile style games) and the few studios that do meaningful work mostly work in TV commercials (mostly 2D/2.5D with After Effects and stuff) and they are completely full with experienced talent, There ain't much work for 3D Generalists or VFX but the main problem is the TV industry simply doesn't understand '3D artists' as a concept, at best they know animators

Most of the big talent goes abroad (they can be found in all major studios)

Any recommendations on how one could maneuver professionally in such a market?

lordtangent3 karma

If you want to work on more high-end stuff you often need to move to where the work is.

guruscotty2 karma

How much do you miss video toasters? That may even be a little before your time.

lordtangent2 karma

I did my earliest profession CG work on Amigas, Toasters and Lightwave.

I don't miss the Toaster much. The frame buffer was pretty cool in it's day but we have so much better stuff these days. It's crazy to think you can play back animation from RAM even at resolutions like 4k on pretty bog stock PC hardware nowadays. When I first started in this business, the implications of Moore's Law really hadn't sunk in for me. Things moved along way faster than I expected.

stashtv2 karma

Is net rendering still heavily in use? Many years ago I had built small rendering farms, and I was curious as to how much its in use today.

lordtangent3 karma

Render farms are still used as much as they ever were. A new-ish development is using public cloud for rendering. At the pace that transition is going, I wouldn't be surprised if cloud based rendering mostly replaced local render farms for all but the largest studios over the next few years.

Datenegassie2 karma

I got rejected from the VFX department of a film school, based on my portfolio. (Admittedly, I did have more animation than VFX.)

Any tips on what VFX stuff I could make that would fit in such a portfolio?

lordtangent3 karma

If you are a strong animator you could focus on VFX shots that allow you to showcase that skill. Robots? Zombies? (trying to come up with ideas that don't require killer modeling and rigging skills to pull off)

B3nny_Th3_L3nny2 karma

what was your first project?

lordtangent4 karma

It depends on how you count. I did work on Rock-A-Doodle over one summer while I was still in high school. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0102802/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast

I'm a lot older now!

LoneGuardian2 karma

Quads for hard surface? Yay or nay? I find it really hard to get good looking geometry and avoid pinching with subdivisions.

lordtangent3 karma

You should typically strive for quads whenever possible but it really depends on the sub-D algo you intend to use. (I'm assuming you are using Catmull–Clark?)

Really, a triangle here or there isn't going to spoil everything. But more edges just means more chances to get "poles", which will only make your pinching problem worse.

Necro1382 karma

Why are so many computer models non-manifold? Is it a time to develop issue, computational efficiency, something else?

lordtangent3 karma

The need for making models manifold is really use-case specific. Many renderers don't require that objects be manifold so it's not really an issue most of the time in production. You can often create a more efficient model by NOT making it fully manifold, so there is very little motivation to make everything manifold.

Perhaps there is a reason why models need to be manifold in a particular pipeline, in which case, it really would save everyone effort if models were just properly built from the get go. When building a pipeline for a project you really should make sure that the requirements for details like whether models should be manifold or not are well defined. Then make sure that information distributed to the entire team and everyone understands the reasons WHY they need to conform their models to the standard. Best practice would be to take things one step further and strictly enforce the technical requirements for pipeline assets. That would typically take the form of a tool that can preflight assets to make sure they meet all the technical requirements of the pipeline and flag assets that don't meet the requirements so they can be corrected.

dredawg12 karma

Hello, I have been working over the last decade learning 3d modeling and simulation for serious games and real world applications. Can a person with almost no real practical experience in gaming development switch careers in thier 40s and earn a living wage for a family of 4? Keep my dream alive....lol.

lordtangent2 karma

Yes but you will need to get your first break. And there will likely be sacrifices. You didn't say what you do for a living at present.

yikeo1 karma

how can i get started in animation if i have no experience?

lordtangent3 karma

Just, start. Part of the process is just learning what you need to learn, and you have to start somewhere. There are enough free tutorials out there you can get your feet wet and see if you want to go any further with your training. If you are a full time student, you can get most commercial software for free of cheap. OR... there are tons of options for totally free software like Blackmagic Designs Fusion (free) and Blender (Libra/FOSS)

My advice to most newbies is to first determine if this is something you actually want to do 60+ hours a week professionally... THEN, once you are pretty sure you want to continue, immediately start trying to figure out what you want to specialize in. Once you have picked a specialty, work hard to make yourself world class in that specialty.

Once you have committed to learning more, there are tons of great paid tutorials and master classes you can subscribe to. You should look for courses where the teacher is an industry person who can also act as a mentor to help you level set. Just remember that your journey is totally driven by you. No one is going to hand you anything on a platter and you will need to drive your own progress and work your ass off. My top 5%-10% students were always the most motivated in the class and it has paid off for pretty much all of them. I'm incredibly proud of how many of them are working at really great studios now. They totally earned it.