9 Popular VFX Tools you Need to Know

Sneha Zacharia

08/04/2022

9 min read

Post-Production

9 Popular VFX Tools you Need to Know

The best VFX is something that you cannot even tell is VFX. Have you ever wondered how Avatar was made or The Lord of the Rings? Well, it’s all through the magic and aid of visual effects. Deathly Hallows, the final movie in the Harry Potter series, had some of the most notable and latest visual effects and CGI of its time. The visual effects and CGI of Deathly Hallows, while beautiful, was aided by its enormous budget. District 9, a Sci-fi film released in 2009 had a small budget. This alien movie achieved a lot from its cinematography, script, and the way it humanizes aliens is truly amazing.

What is VFX?

Visual effects (VFX) is the process by which imagery is created, altered, or enhanced for live-action media. This is media that could not be captured during filming due to costs, danger, impracticality or improbability.

VFX allows for the integration of live-action footage and visual effects to create cinematic magic. Though used interchangeably VFX, CGI and Special Effects are different. Special Effects are captured live, without the aid of a computer. CGI is anything that is digitally created. Visual effects (VFX) are created by using a combination of digital imagery and live-action shots.

Steps in the Visual Effects Process

Tracking

Tracking is the method by which a point or a series of points from frames in a sequence are automatically located.

Modeling

In visual effects, A modeling artist is given a brief from a concept artist in 2D or 3D form. Based on the brief they could create and design characters, animals, plants etc on a computer in 3D form.

Rigging

The technique of rigging involves using a series of interconnected digital bones to create a skeletal animation that represents a 3D character model design.

Animation

Animators use rigs to create animation ‘frames’. When these frames are put together sequentially they form animation.

In VFX animators must ensure that their animation moves in a realistic manner. This is not just limited to characters but also machinery, vehicles etc.

For certain films, motion capture is used. An actor wears a special skin-tight suit with motion trackers. This motion is captured digitally and transferred onto a different looking character animated model.

Animation in VFX involves animation design where 3D objects are animated as dictated by background film plates. These film plates consist of footage and set camera positions that animators must work to.

Texturing/Shading

In visual effects texturing is where texture artists create surfaces that seem realistic on CG3D models. An example of this texturing design process could be putting feathers on an animated bird’s body.

Shading depends on texturing. There are two important shader types; surface shaders and displacement shaders. It is the art of defining the properties of the material of an object. RenderMan Shading Language is the most known shader language in the film industry.

Simulation/Particles

3D Simulation is a technique in computer graphics. This technique allows artists to create realistic visual effects like smoke, fire, destruction and other particles in scenes.

A Particle is a piece of data that has several attributes. These attributes are used for particle description. Editing these particles in VFX involves manipulating these attributes and creating material to draw onto the screen.

Lighting/Rendering

Lighting is probably the most important part of any film. This also plays a very important role in visual effects.

“One of the beauties of lighting is this visceral response when you’ve made the last piece of the puzzle fit” -Jordan Thistlewood (former Lighting Artist)

Using practical lighting onset is an important tool in every cinematographer’s arsenal. This lighting helps sell composites in post-production. Visual effects and lighting in a film are just a single part of high-level trends in the industry.

In visual effects (VFX) and animation; rendering is the process where the data in a 3D scene is converted to a series of 2D images. These images are from the point of view of a digital camera.

These renditions are moved to a render farm when completed. A render farm is a computer system that specializes in the calculation of computer-generated images. (CGI)

Compositing

Compositing in visual effects can be explained in extremely simple terms. It is a process of combining two or more images together to create one single picture. Compositing is best used to create worlds that otherwise couldn’t exist and using it well can make you seem like a pro.

VFX tools, though plenty, have various unique features that make each one worth knowing. Here are some of the most popular ones that we definitely recommend.

1. Autodesk Maya

Maya is a 3D animation and visual effects software. It can help you create expansive worlds, dazzling effects, complex characters, and environments. Maya stands to be one of the most popular and user-friendly software. It has amazing features and tools that allow artists to create 3D models, animation and is also great for rendering

Autodesk Maya

Maya is available to more than 30+ countries around the world. Students and teachers can get Maya for free. Businesses are offered the free VFX software for a trial period of a month after which they have to pay for a subscription.

Maya uses the Arnold rendering engine, which makes good use of the CPU and GPU. The software comes with various templates and features to create lifelike creatures and visual effects animation. It has been used by professionals in movies like Harry Potter and Kung fu Panda.

2. CineSync

The CineSync software was developed in 2005. Almost everyone who works in visual effects has heard of Cospective’s cineSync.

It is an approval and review tool. An example of this could be; a director in LA reviewing a shot being worked on in Mumbai. CineSync enables both parties to view the same frame of the video or videos at the same time.

CineSync Pro

This software also has robust security features. This means that any creation shared on this creative cloud is encrypted. At the end of the review, the encrypted data is deleted from the guest device.

3. Adobe After Effects

Adobe After Effects is a VFX software with some amazing features and tools available around the world. Adobe has great resources for all your post-production needs. Whether you’re a pro or a beginner, adobe allows you to add visual effects to as many videos you like.

In its release of Adobe’s After Effects Version 22.1.1 before January 2022, adobe added new features. This VFX video editing software version included new features such as a universal text engine and a C4D R25 update.

After Effects

Adobe After Effects is mainly used for video compositing and manipulation. Its software advantages lie in keying, animation and interactive motion graphics. Superheroes falling from the sky, gunshots, and dust storms are just some of the special effects that adobe offers.

There is also a free demo video and tons of tutorial videos available on various websites including their own. Artists can get in contact with tech support on both desktop and mobile apps as adobe offers both. The technical support is available by chat or you can also email customer support about its cloud and tools.

4. Cinema 4D

With an intuitive UI and a wide variety of tools, Cinema 4D can cater to both a beginner and a pro.

It’s one of the best production tools available for 3D artists, and its software integrates well with Adobe After Effects and Illustrator if you’re looking to work on them simultaneously on your creations.

Cinema 4D

Artists can get creative with their extensive collection of presets. It brags advanced features like UV mapping, scene manager, etc. However, the software is also quite expensive, the creation of an id and getting an annual plan works out cheaper.

5. Blender

Blender is an open-source software with tools used for animation, rigging, compositing etc. Easily one of the best free softwares for artists and 3D creations. It is constantly coming out with new updates and tools. These updates mean that it’s constantly improving and so provides absolute ease when it comes to usability.

Blender

Blender also manages to output high quality renders. Its render engine uses low power and memory. Since blender is open-source, you can customize your plug-ins. That is if you’re not satisfied with the abundance of plug-ins already available.

The community is reliable and helpful and the software can be easily integrated into other 3D ones in the market. It’s the best place to be, especially if you’re a games developer. A con would be that it has a steep learning curve, but once you clear that, it’s easy peasy lemon squeezy.

6. Nuke

Nuke features advanced software and tools such as 3D camera tracking and correcting. These prove very useful in VFX production. It has a node-based design instead of a layer type. This design isn’t much of an obstacle once you see how it logically fits.

Nuke

Nuke is an industry-grade software with huge support from the community. Nuke was exercised in films like Avatar and Black Swan. Pro: It’s niche and powerful and can improve your skills as an artist. A huge con though is the price. The complete studio can cost $9000.

7. Autodesk 3ds Max

3ds is another product Autodesk offers, 3ds Max is a software widely used to develop video games. It was used in World of Warcraft, Call of Duty etc. It also played a big part in the making of X-Men, Avatar and more.

3ds Max

3ds Max is also very popular in the architectural modeling industry and is often utilized for interior designing. Max is also known for texturing and rendering so you get quick and smooth results. It also allows you to save your work to their cloud.

8. Houdini

Released in 1996, Houdini by SideFX is still one of the most popular platforms today for VFX. It has various modules for destruction FX, pyro FX, grain, simulating fluids etc.

Houdini

It can be used alongside other VFX software like 3DS and Maya. It is very frequently used by Sony Pictures.

One of its unique selling points is that it uses very little memory while rendering. While Houdini does have a free version, it only offers basic options. The paid version comes at a lofty price of $6995.

9. HitFilm Pro

HitFilm Pro by FXhome is a good software for 3D image synthesis. It works well with 8k video, features 2D and 3D motion tracking, and gives its users access to more than 800 VFX presets.

HitFilm Pro

This software is the industry-leading tool for special effects and can be used by novices as well as professionals. HitFilm Pro gives you full creative control over color correction and edge detailing, making for very real characters. It comes with several plugins and is available for use at $583.20

VFX is what takes us on a journey to escape reality or make it just slightly less boring. It’s an incredible skill to have, and the above platforms are powerful tools to use it. With special effects, you can turn ordinary raw footage into new fantasy worlds and magical realms.

You can use some of these amazing VFX tools on Postudio.

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