We relish the opportunity to speak with fellow VFX industry leaders, and we recently had the honor to speak with Jason Keyser, Founder and CEO of VFX Apprentice. VFX Apprentice is a leading educational institute featuring veteran artists from all corners of the gaming industry, including Jason. Their mission statement is to pass on the skills needed to the next generation of talent who will leave their mark on the gaming industry and shape its future. With an established and supportive community, the team has been doing an incredible job of uplifting fledgling artists for years.
Speaking with Jason proved to be an insightful conversation where we learned about his start in the industry, his work at VFX Apprentice, and how he sees the industry developing.
Jason spoke about how he always loved to draw but didn’t know anything about the animation industry until he got into college. After being unqualified to enter an animation program during his first year in college, he saw this as an opportunity to “dive into practicing my art skills day and night. I filled up many sketchbooks that year, and landed somewhere in the middle of the pack of 15 students that were admitted to the program the following year.”
Taking a step back from video games afforded Jason the time to focus on his animation skills and pick up work in local studios. After landing a stable job and working on his first projects, Jason says “The stable job turned full-time after graduation” in 2011, where he had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects while learning about 2D animation, prop design, and VFX. Between this and his freelance gigs, his experience earned him a place at Riot Games.
Jason says “I was able to land a job as a VFX concept artist at Riot Games, where I soon transitioned into a 3D VFX artist. I learned game FX on the job. That experience prompted me to start teaching the way I had been taught over the years, which led to a YouTube channel, and now VFX Apprentice.” Since 2020, Jason has been working at VFX Apprentice full-time, imparting knowledge and training to up-and-coming VFX artists.
Throughout his years working in the industry, Jason has seen major changes in the industry as a whole. Far-flung from his early experiences, Jason cites the technology powering the VFX industry as having made significant strides forward, as well as the community aspect. He says, “We’ve seen massive improvements in tools that make creating VFX a lot easier. We have a community of VFX artists that have found each other and started to share knowledge more openly, where the secrets of how a certain studio made VFX used to be all very hush-hush.” Interest in training and ongoing learning in particular has seen a massive uptick during Jason’s tenure in the industry, which is no small part to the work of the VFX Apprentice.
Speaking of technology, Jason elaborated on its place in the industry and the tools of the trade. Naturally, artists are exposed to and use a huge variety of software to create their magic, and the tools he mentioned were very familiar to Magic Media’s ears! “Of course, Niagara in Unreal Engine and the Particle Editor or FX Graph in Unity are the mainstays, but depending on where you work, it’s likely you’ll be using another game engine.” Expanding on this, Jason mentioned a few more names that were very familiar to us. “So, particle animation itself is done in the game engine, but we create the assets in a variety of other software: things like Krita, Blender, Toon Boom Harmony, and a lot of others. We also use Photoshop and Maya quite a bit, but nowadays, the free alternatives are fantastic.” Jason would also mention a favorite of ours, Houdini, a procedural generation tool.
Hearing Jason speak about the tools of the trade was just like a conversation between any of the Magic Media team members, and without a team to work together using these tools, the best work possible can’t be created. On the subject of teamwork, Jason mentioned, “the greater the need for a collaborative work style. VFX artists on these teams handle a mixture of team-based work, and individual contribution work.” We inherently understand his sentiment. Working as a team, along with any other services we provide, is critical to the success of any project, but there is value in understanding how to work on an individual basis as well. Jason understands the importance of meetings for alignment and sharing progress and providing feedback, which is necessary for working as part of a team. In true creative fashion, the work never really ends for Jason. “Of course, for all the great artists I’ve ever known, work doesn’t end after work, because the creative flow follows you around long after you’ve shut down your computer. I’ve spent countless nights laying awake in bed solving creative challenges in my mind. Then I wake up the next day to see where it all leads!”
We couldn’t put it better ourselves when Jason said, “The future is a hard one to predict, isn’t it? What I do know is that VFX is just getting started. Think of when Frank & Olli wrote “The Illusion of Life,” back in 1981. No such book was written by their FX counterparts. So character animation has a 40+ year history of educational standards, training, tradition, and personnel it has amassed,” on the subject of the industry’s future.
Much like how it was for artists decades ago, it’s impossible to truly know where the future lies. In the industry, there are many different approaches to knowledge, training, and even naming conventions, and Jason hopes to see a more unified foundation for future artists, he says “I hope that as time goes on, the VFX discipline will find its footing and become a well-established, well-defined, and clarified discipline. For now, it’s a lot like the wild west!”
Through the VFX Apprentice, Jason is doing his share of the work shaping the future of the VFX industry and its talent. Jason and the team seek to enable would-be creatives in the world of VFX with knowledge, community, and the tools necessary to succeed. “I noticed a growing need for training because we simply couldn’t hire enough artists. The number of people interested in making VFX was just too small. This is still true today at most game studios.” The VFX Apprentice aims to show the fun of VFX, the hard work involved in the industry, and just how fulfilling it can be.
Jason has a bright optimism for the future of the craft and VFX Apprentice, “It’s been remarkable how these two focuses–studios and students– have given me a much farther-reaching and holistic perspective on what it takes to make impactful VFX animation. It’s a blast, and I never want to stop!” Between their work consulting with studios and educating future artists with the, Jason and the team at VFX Apprentice are making a substantial contribution to the future of the craft.
At Magic Media we are veterans of the gaming, tech and entertainment industries, offering comprehensive services including game development, VFX, animation and full art services! Our main goal is to provide a one-stop solution for any project. We love nothing more than collaborating with creative minds, so drop us a line and let’s create magic!