A renowned VFX Artist Daniel Magyar talked about being a successful VFX artist, talked about creating visual effects for movies and series, and shared some advice for beginners.
The Artistic Beginnings
Back in 1990 when I was twelve my brother, who was 20 years old at the time showed me the 1st edition of the 3D Studio. He said I mustn't play games on computers and that I have to play with this software instead. Besides the 3D Studio, there was some image and sound editing software installed on that computer. Those were my first steps.
Being a Self-Taught Artist
Being a self-taught artist is difficult. For a while, I had the hope that I would try to keep up with everything. I wanted to learn everything and be good at everything, but unfortunately, I had to realize that this was completely impossible. You can’t play every role, you have to decide which way you want to go, what you like best, otherwise you won’t get anywhere. There is so much new development coming in every day that there is no chance to get to know and learn it all.
Love for VFX
At first, the computer graphics we could see in cinemas were produced by huge studios with unattainable technologies. We just dreamed of working on movies. Then as the software products and the hardware that was available for an everyday person slowly developed, it became more and more feasible to produce quality output. Then slowly, with the growth of the internet, the popularity of video-sharing started to grow and the number of people who dealt with computer graphics exploded. This has been followed by the success of streaming providers and a tremendous fever of content development. These companies are constantly producing more and more content, which also means that VFX and 3D studios are also constantly growing to be able to serve this enormous amount of demand. So VFX has been slowly crawling into my life, at first I didn't care much, but by now almost all of my work is VFX-related, I have so many requests.
First Professional Project
The first animation that I made to order, which is now a cult work in underground circles, was the 2002 drum & bass clip Tension for Troops of Doom, which in its time rattled the European demo scene. This was my entry into the world of CG animations.
Nonetheless, the first really serious work of mine I did was with the AEnima CGS. That was Egon and Dönci, a full feature-length film from 2007, which I did with my brother Adam, he was the director and the mastermind, and I was the art director, lighting, texturing, and the voice of Dönci, the cat. We recruited a small staff of friends and acquaintances and 15 of us made Hungary's first 3D animated film, which was bought by nearly 80 countries. I haven't heard of such Hungarian film distribution success ever since. You can watch the full movie here:
The first real international success, however, was Greenzero in 2011 when we were lucky enough to work with Sir David Attenborough on his first 3D documentary, Flying Monsters, which won a 2011 BAFTA award. It was a great honor and pleasure. In this project, I worked as an Environment Artist.
In most projects, I make artistic and aesthetic decisions. I like to mix and place colors and tones in a way that I can give the viewer an incredibly exciting and unique feeling while still being believable. Most of the time I am an environment artist but many times I also deal with lighting and textures. But since I’m a 3D Generalist, I often do everything, including the animations.
I’ve been in this profession for over 20 years, but I’m still learning something new to this day. What I’ve learned best is that it’s not worth working overtime until dawn and skip sleeping until we’re done. If something doesn’t work until 10 pm it will not work after 10 pm either. One should plan with twice as much time in the beginning and then there'll be no unpleasant surprises at the end.
Pros and Cons of Being a VFX Freelancer
Pros: Freedom. It's priceless! You allocate your time to yourself. There is no boss. When others are in the office, I listen to the chirping birds in a nearby park and think about how beautifully the sun reflects on the surface of the water of the lake and how graceful the way is how plants move in the water. In short, it's invaluable.
Cons: No fixed salary. You have to fight for everything yourself. All responsibility is yours, you can’t point fingers at anything else if something goes wrong.
Working with Customers
Communication is very important. How you talk to the customer, what your customer's feelings are like while they work with you. Going into a restaurant, if the waiter welcomes us politely we feel important. VFX/3D is also a service. The VFX customer wants to feel good too. He wants to feel that what he says is taken seriously and that it's built into the production material also. And if he gets even more than he'd first thought he would, we can be sure that he will contact us regarding his next project. So after a while, we will have enough customers who will come back to us from time to time. The other important thing is the online presence. I can't stress enough how important it is to constantly post our new projects, so over time our work will reach those that we do not know personally. There is a chance that our post will inspire them to contact us.
I never reject a client unless he is not serious enough about our cooperation or if he's got intentions that I personally disagree with (offensive, exclusionary, etc.).
Anyway, I’m open to any kind of job. Right now, if my time allows, I’m working on my own 3D animated short film “The Fortunate Son”. This film isn’t going to be dark at all, quite the contrary it will fantastically positive, with lots of twists and humor. In 15-20 minutes, it's a short movie made in Unreal Engine. A real sci-fi crime show that will include the atmosphere of the ’70-s America as well. Negotiations are currently underway with investors and producers.
In general, I like 3D environments, set extensions, DMPs (digital matte painting), camera tracking, and integrating 3D objects is also something that I can do pretty easily. On the other hand, cleanups and other object removals and roto make me puke, I don't like them at all.
For me, a particular job to be done isn’t hard because it’s too complicated or difficult to do. It all starts being problematic when the time available for the production is too short. So every job is challenging, no two scenes are the same, so it may all be interesting and exciting to do, what matters is whether you have to do one scene in 1 week or 1 day.
In my opinion, this industry has grown incredibly big. There are lots of new studios and production companies. Content hunger is on the rise too, which has even been accelerated by the pandemic lockdowns. People sit at home and consume movies and series. So a lot of people choose this profession, it’s very fashionable, exciting and diverse, so a lot of people want to get into the show business. Who wouldn’t want to work on a new blockbuster? But let’s not forget that this is an awfully complex profession. If you don’t have enough experience then you won’t even be able to start a task, let alone finish it. I've had several requests where I was contacted because the person who’d worked on a certain project before me simply turned down the job halfway and didn’t even answer the phone anymore. He simply freaked out. That kind of thing happens.
Anyway, I consider online instructional content to be one of the best things in the world, I also have a lot of subscriptions. Today, there is no such thing that you wouldn't be able to find out about online.
The most important thing for everyone is to start building their online portfolio and to get to know the digital communities as soon as possible. The more people see our work and hear about us, the more likely they are to reach out for us, hire us, offer us a contract, and so on. In the beginning, the quality of the things we use to market ourselves doesn’t matter much. There is no need to worry if your work is not as beautiful or unique as the work of other professionals. No one is born a world champion.
So don’t bother who does what, do what you like to do. Do it and present it proudly. This is what you can do at the moment. You will be much better in a year.
But love what you do. If you're not passionate about what you do, it doesn't make sense to get into it at all.