VFX Artists: Self Teach or Online Education?

We have half a dozen VFX artists working at ProductionCrate, with our education ranging from completely self-taught to entirely curriculum based. For new and prospective VFX artists, there eventually comes a time in your educational journey to choose between taking online classes, or to be entirely self-taught. Our artists are very familiar with this fork in the road, as such we will provide some useful insight to help with your decision.

Benefits of Online Education vs. Self Taught

We encourage all forms of education, and ongoing self-study will be essential throughout your career to stay on top of new tools and techniques as technology evolves. The software will change over time, but fundamental understandings of the craft will be essential throughout your career.


Real-time 3D – Benjamin Oman & Marc Carratala Arce

For artists who are just starting out, or have some experience and need to bolster their skills and portfolio to get a job, the self-taught route can be a great option. This may be the route for you if you are highly motivated, disciplined and know where to find reliable information. It’s cheaper, faster, and you can learn at your own pace. For some, this will be enough to get their foot in the door.

Don’t know which VFX field to start in? Watch the behind-the-scenes featurettes of your favorite movies, VFX breakdowns, and any conference presentations on VFX that you can find. There is no better way to pinpoint your focus than observing and exposing yourself to the possibilities. Once you find your focus, you’re ready to get started.

created by Marc Carratalla

Scouring the internet for relevant, high-quality information can be time consuming and frustrating. It means navigating through a massive sea of tutorials to figure out what you need to learn to get hired. Once you find your VFX niche and begin to teach yourself, there’s limited ability to get professional feedback on your work to know if you’re on the right track, and no one to assist you if you hit a technical hurdle. If you’re asking yourself “Where do I start?” you may excel more in a structured online course instead of the self-taught route.   

It’s important to note that not all online education is the same. Online schools offer varying levels of personalization, support, and interaction with mentors or instructors. Make sure to research testimonials, past-students and any honest feedback you can find before committing. Look at who is teaching the class and what experience they can pull from to help you learn.

We’ve been working closely with CG Spectrum and are impressed with their work. They check the boxes we think are necessary for a worthwhile investment into your education, so we’ll be looking at their model as the gold standard.

CG Spectrum‘s online educational model is highly personalized. Students are matched with mentors (film and game professionals with years of industry experience) to guide them throughout their studies. Students watch lessons in their own time and meet with their mentor online each week for a Q&A call. Throughout the week, they get video critiques of their work from their mentor, and can ask questions anytime. Having an experienced professional to assist you with your specific questions or issues is a game changer. Whether you choose CG Spectrum or another online VFX school, access to mentors will be ideal for your growth.

Getting direct access to mentors who have worked in the industry also means students learn professional workflows, plus tips and tricks used in studios–information that’s not as easy to find on your own. A mentor’s critique means getting feedback specifically focused on your strengths and weaknesses so you can improve faster. We’re still improving our own workflows, and receiving direction from a mentor would have saved us countless hours instead of the “figure it out as you go” approach some of us have taken.

Institutions can be slow to update their curriculum to reflect the techniques, technologies, and demands of the industry; In this regard the self-taught approach may be preferable. Thankfully, CG Spectrum’s curriculum prioritizes up-to-date education, training students on industry-standard software included in the course that may be otherwise inaccessible for most beginners.

Small class sizes (max 4 students, or 1-on-1 private mentorship) allow for the courses to be somewhat customized to the student’s interests or career goals. Traditional education often packs a class with as many students as possible, often at the expense of the specificity and guidance that some students may require in order to succeed.

Find a school that has an active community. Communicating with peers, alumni and mentors who now are working in the industry will keep you inspired and goal focused. CG Spectrum’s online community is a place to collaborate on group projects, network, troubleshoot, hear about jobs, and get feedback on your work. The Technical Assistants are always around to provide support and hold challenges, helping students hone their skills and grow together. Students get lifetime access to this global network and can continue to benefit long after graduation.

Benefits of online education:

  • Structured learning path
  • Curriculum focused on job outcomes and industry demands
  • Personalized support from mentors and other staff
  • Flexible scheduling around work, family and social commitments
  • No travel time/costs
  • Accountability with weekly meetings
  • Mentorship and feedback from an industry professional
  • Curriculum developed with industry input (learn skills studios are hiring for)
  • Learn industry-standard software (software included in the course fee)
  • Supportive community (network while you learn) 
  • Small group classes or private 1-on-1 mentorship (depending on how you like to learn)
  • Additional career services (in-house career development manager, portfolio/CV reviews, interview prep, exclusive events with studios and industry guests etc.)

What to look for when choosing an online education:

  • Who will you be learning from? (Do the mentors/instructors have recent industry experience? Have they worked at major studios? What notable projects have they worked on?)
  • How was the curriculum developed? (Does it reflect industry best practices? Will you learn skills that studios are hiring for?)
  • Who can you turn to for support if needed? (Is your mentor/instructor contactable throughout the week? Are Technical Assistants or other support staff available to help?)
  • What percentage of graduates get work in the industry?
  • Does the school offer career support? (e.g. portfolio/CV reviews, job application help)
  • What software will you be learning? (Is it commonly used in the industry?)
  • Is software included in the course fees? Are there any additional costs?

Hopefully you found this helpful! If you have any questions, feel free to email us Support@ProductionCrate.com. We have an active Discord community and would be happy to point you in the right direction.