Creating Poison Projectile VFX in Houdini, Unity & Unreal Engine

Pawel Margacz told us about the working process behind the VFX Poison Projectile project, talked about the differences between working in Unity and Unreal Engine, and shared some tips for beginner VFX artists.


My name is Pawel Margacz. I started creating the game VFX in 2011 when I began my job in the game industry. Before that, I studied game design at university, where I've learned the basics of various disciplines and decided to pursue 3D modeling and VFX as I wasn't sure which one I enjoyed the most. I worked for various studios throughout the years, including Hi-Rez studios, CD Project Red, 505 Games, and now I'm contracting for People Can Fly.

The VFX Poison Projectile Project

I run monthly polls on my Patreon, and the community decides what we will be creating from scratch for that month's tutorial. The idea is to provide a list of possible tutorials people would like to see next month, and they vote for the VFX that interests them the most. After the vote, I have about 15 days to create VFX and record my process from scratch.

In the first few days, I usually go to Pinterest and Google Images to find interesting shapes and get some ideas. The first week is usually experimentation and getting the timing right, which leaves the next week for polishing and adding the remaining details to the VFX. I like testing my skills and exploring different elements, like frost, fire, and arcane, which I hope I will be working on in the coming months.


I've implemented Substance 3D Designer permanently into my workflow, mainly because of its procedural nature. It was time-consuming to understand the pipeline and nodes initially, but now it's faster than the old methods I've been using. Going back to the old workflow is not an option.

I use a lot of nodes but mostly, I keep using Perlin noise with cross-section to extract the trail shape, Warp for distortion, Shape Mapper if I need circular textures, and Bevel and Threshold to achieve a stylized look in my textures.

Working in Houdini

I tried to switch from my main 3D app at the time to Houdini as it was recommended to me due to its procedural nature. I stopped using it after a month but then kept returning to it, and eventually, I decided to go all-in and learn the basics of it using very simple nodes. It was frustrating initially and my workflow felt slow, but after a few months of using it, I started to get more ideas on how to create meshes and what nodes I should use to speed up my workflow. Now I'm trying to share what I know about Houdini on YouTube to get more people interested in this fantastic piece of software.

Unity VS Unreal Engine

My workflow is similar in both engines. I start by making materials first. Unity and Unreal have a node-based material editor, and there are many similar nodes in both. The main differences are in the VFX particle editor, especially now as Unreal has a new VFX system (Niagara). It might be difficult for newcomers trying to learn both engines. I'd pick a few intro tutorials and try both to see which one feels more suitable for me. I worked on a few projects in each engine, and the workflow now seems quite similar. I think Unreal Engine feels a bit more out of the box and more artist-friendly, but it's a personal preference.


I will leave some links below, but I think the resources for beginner VFX artists depend on a person's learning style. I like YouTube videos, courses, and mentorships. Discord channels and forums might seem a bit hostile at first, but once you start asking questions, I am sure many people will try to help, and it might be your favorite place for either sharing your work or seeking feedback. Try different options and see which one suits you best.

You can try the Real-Time VFX website or Discord channels: Realtime VFX, New Tech Artists, Asher's Tech Art Chamber, and Think Procedural.

You can also check out my works on Twitter, YouTube, Patreon, and ArtStation.

Pawel Margacz, VFX Artist

Interview conducted by Arti Burton

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