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Visual Effects Salaries vs Education Cost?

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Let me chime in as this is a difficult topic but I also have first-hand experience.

I´m not as experienced as Andrew in the industry, but I share with him that I was the sole Houdini instructor at FX Animation in Barcelona. I say "was" because I´m now working at MPC as FX TD (I´m leaving the Houdini program on the very capable hands of someone who has been working at MPC for the last 2 years, so it ain´t gonna stop at all).

As you might know FX Animation program is also (along with Lost Boys and a few others) one of the VERY few certified by Side FX and you can check the work both in the reels and in Side Effects latest education reel where those works are very present with several projects and I have been consistently releasing Houdini reels from the school for the last 4 years.

I´m going to begin stating something that Andrew and instructors from other schools might not like but it is 100% true and I have the data to back me up, and that is the country where you learn is what marks the main price difference.

Of course, it would be absurd to try a debate on which program is better. And I´m 100% sure that Lost Boys Houdini program is awesome.The thing is, at our school in Barcelona I was making very similar employment numbers as those shown by Andrew just mainly in London instead of Canada or LA. (The main reason for this London placement being visas, which are difficult to get for America, while working in the EU is free for other EU citizens)

Again this data is verifiable with actual names. When I got hired by MPC, 5 people working at the FX department had been my students, 2 of them the previous year so they went in directly from the school. They are now my work mates...how interesting can life get? ^_^

BUT, and here comes the key difference, education in Spain is WAY cheaper than both London, Vancouver or LA, so our students payed about 20% of the numbers I´ve seen here related to Vancouver, and those London numbers look astronomical, since they are almost double to Barcelona´s program, but FX Animation program duration is 1 year (40 weeks). It´s not that those schools are overpriced. It´s that the economy of the country where you study dictates the price you pay for the education.


Regarding "self-taugh vs school" I completely agree with Andrew in that the school gives you a head start and a huge support. It is perfectly possible to get into the industry being self-taught if you are organized and highly motivated, but it is harder (as with any other career choice, BTW).

And above anything else and most importantly REEL REEL REEL.

Your education should be deeper, but your job-hunting probabilities are as good as your reel. Before studying anywhere check the students reels. Period.


Edited by Netvudu
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Hi Netvudu, great to hear the schools which "do it right" come forward for a thread like this. I think the larger issue here is, is a school in visual effects worth the money; or preferable to self taught. I personally wish I would have had instructors push me and make my work better. Things would have been much more straightforward.

I've known about the FX Animation school in Barcelona for a long time and think they've always had a serious program and do great work. These schools are few and far between .. and quite frankly I don't see them as "competition" they actually help one another. One going notion evident from some of the comments here (hi Heri :P ) is that school isn't worth the time and/or money. This makes perfect sense as a generalization because many schools do in fact simply milk the green-enthusiasm of wanna-be vfx artists, make big promises, and give false impressions via easy grades, sporadic and varied subjects, and night classes without consistent instructors. If learning FX or Houdini isn't one of the hardest things a student ever does .. than they're doing it, and teaching it incorrectly. Taking a few night classes in the Houdini fluid shelf tools; then calling a student industry ready just doesn't cut it, and I fully agree it's a waste of time and money. Those skills can be done via home learning and online tutorials.

The problem comes about when both students and professionals view ALL schools as perpetuating this cash grab.

Regardless of country I fully agree with Netvudu that the quality of the end product, the student demo reels is a great indicator of what the value of a school is. This varies wildly per school. Also check out the worst reels along with the best. If a school only posts the best reels (Lost Boys posts all reels), it's a tell tale indicator that the majority of students were simply paying way too much to sit at a desk instead of getting high quality instruction. Every school will have rock stars that could produce great reels with or without school. It's also important to look at the consistency of reels. This gives an indicator as to what is being taught. Some structure is necessary here .. because once again highly motivated incoming students with bright ideas will probably produce good/consistent work. If structure isn't provided for a learning path for the majority of students, than the people coming in without much experience will produce work with doesn't highlight their skills correctly. Basically, inexperienced ideas will make the best work low quality.

As for cost of a school yes, the US and Canada have a highly privatized education system. The government gives very little or no backing for private and specialized schools. The cost of running a school and finding good instructors is high .. especially in expensive cities. But, as I stated in my earlier response I would still say Lost Boys price is both reasonable and a good value / investment. I teach seminars at schools in Europe every year and the education system is very different there, mainly because of government assistance. This is great for students living within that country or the EU, but not so great for students from the rest of the world without access to either government assistance, or high quality schools in their own countries. We had a meeting last week at Double Negative where some of the highest people in the company praised Vancouver schools (not just Lost Boys) for offering a superior level of vfx education to even London. There's a lot of be said for seeking out the best schools in the most competitive markets.


Edited by andrewlowell

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Hi, Junior of 6month here.

I guess I'll chime in with my 2 cents.
I studied 2 years at Nackademin - digital graphics, a vocational university in sweden . (sadly the course no longer exists).

We were taught 3d on the basis of becoming generalists in maya. Which I guess has Its perks and downfalls.
The perks being that if you have no clue on what you want to do in 3d, you get to test a bit of everything, which is nice.
But, Houdini is something I had to teach myself on my own, no help or guiding there. (thanks goes to cmivfx and Peter Quint)

So If you already know what you want to do, a school is only good for giving you the opportunity to work in groups, make contacts/friends, and getting an internship.

Internship being the most important aspect of those 3. It is during that period that I learnt the most.

If you can get yourself an internship without the need for an education course, I say go ahead.
Sweden has free education, so Its not really a problem, but I wouldn't have done It had It cost 40k$

After my internship I did struggle for a while though, tried finding work as fx-td in Sweden, to no good avail.
Found a job as a bug tester instead at a gaming company.
Spent 4 month there while doing houdini projects at home, managed to do some freelance.
After that I started looking for work outside of Sweden and I am now at Dneg in London.

I think that It's absolutely possible to teach yourself Houdini all on you own, dedication and tenacity is all you need.
And once you find an internship you'll learn a ton of tricks, and get the experience of working in group.

But I'd like to say that It isn't the easiest feat to get a foot in the industry, I think maybe 30% of my class actually managed to find work.
This might be different in other schools, but when I started we were told 75% found work afterwards...

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Hi, 2 year Procedural Game artist/pipeline here,

From my experience and what I get from this topic, at least from other Europeans,
is that if you have schools in your own country, I think its probably worth going.

In at least almost all North-Western European countries all education is state sponsored,
having studied in the Netherlands, my education was not free, but very cheap compared to most North-Americans.
I think prices have increased slightly in the last few years, but I think for college level education you can still get good courses for < 2000 Euros a year.

If you are coming from abroad its going to be more expensive most likely.

If you are looking into a more film/video general art approach, I guess you could try the HKU in Utrecht.

If you would like to try your hand at Game art, the NHTV in Breda is quite good. Having studied there, I will vouch for it.
But I also know a couple of people who went into (mostly 3d) animation from my school.
They are also currently in the process of getting approved by SideEffects to become an official educational partner.

For placement rates, I actually did not check them from my school before hand.
The school supported around 350 new people every year, when I was there.
The course itself was quite difficult,
having to stop it if you didn't managed to pass all courses of the first 2 years in 3 years.
The remaining 60%, who managed that, was quite successful in placing themselves.

In the course Houdini was only a subset of the classes,
where Maya and general Game design methodology were the main part.
But from starting years 2007 till 2010, the people who decided to specialize in Houdini have been placed for close to 100%,
I have to note that not many people (less than 20 a year) decided to take this route (which is actually one of the reasons I did, less competition)
(I do not know many people from after 2010 personally or how many tried to specialize in Houdini after that point)

At the moment the courses are being re-evaluated, to become a bit easier (a bit less broad, which I personally think is not a great idea)
but also to introduce Houdini, earlier on in the course. When I studied, the Houdini part of the course only started in year 3 out of 4.
That said, technical skills that are helpful for Houdini are taught and self-taught in the first 2 years.

In the coming 5 years I expect a steady increase in Houdini jobs for the game market,
so if you start right now you may still be able to benefit from the current Houdini for games wave.


Edited by acey195

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Last time I checked Andrew Lowell is no longer teaching the FXTD program at Lost Boys.

Now they have two instructors - Debra Isaac and a 3d artist named Harrison Molling teaching the FXTD course, even the fees have gone up.

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On 27/07/2018 at 6:59 AM, prtmsh said:

Last time I checked Andrew Lowell is no longer teaching the FXTD program at Lost Boys.

Now they have two instructors - Debra Isaac and a 3d artist named Harrison Molling teaching the FXTD course, even the fees have gone up.

Thanks for the correction prtmsh!

Update from Lost Boys, we are excited to announce that we've recently signed Patrick Schuler, formerly FX Sup @ Pixomondo Vancouver to take over as our new Program Lead in our Vancouver Studio.  Harrison Molling will be backing him up for select lectures as well as at desk help.  And of course we are also lucky to have Sean Lewkiw heading up our Montreal Houdini Program.

From our Newsletter that went out last Sunday, 


Industry/School News
Effects Technical Director (FX TD) Program - Vancouver
Patrick Schuler signs on as the new FX TD Program Lead

Lost Boys is excited to announce that starting this Fall, Patrick Schuler, formerly Digital Effects (DFX) Supervisor of Pixomondo Vancouver, will be joining our team as the new Effects Technical Director (FX TD) Program Lead!

With over 15 years of experience and 26 credits, Patrick brings firsthand knowledge of working in FX and a passion for recreating natural phenomena. Beginning his career in visual effects as a 3D Generalist and Effects Instructor for the SAE Institute - Stuttgart, he acquired the skills needed to become an FX TD at Pixomondo. He rose through the ranks to become Head of FX and later DFX Supervisor. 

Patrick has worked in LA, London, Berlin, Stuttgart, Venice, and Vancouver, helping establish Pixomondo's Vancouver office. He has also worked for Double Negative, Framestore, and Proglogue on films, television shows, and game cinematics. We look forward to seeing Patrick's leadership inspire the next generation of FX TD's, helping us push the boundaries of what students are capable of producing!

6165bd70-0056-44d7-8d8e-01a7bd79c3c6.jpeg"When I heard Lost Boys had an opening for a new Lead Effects Technical Director (FX TD) Instructor, it immediately sparked my interest. Through many years of recruiting I have seen the work and skills that students of Lost Boys bring to the industry, and I believe that level is unmatched by any other school. Not only that; Graduates of the FX TD Program have been consistently equipped with the right insight into how FX work under the hood, beyond just using the toolsets. This is testament to many years of curriculum development and a fantastic job done in distilling the essence out of the vastness of information there is to learn. It is my goal to make sure that everyone coming to Lost Boys' FX TD Program will come out as a savvy, capable FX TD, ready to hit the ground running in the production of the next colossal Blockbuster movie." - Patrick Schuler, FX Supervisor




"We are thrilled to have Patrick Schuler joining Lost Boys.  His expansive production experience, keen leadership instincts, and high standards for the future of Visual Effects education make him the perfect candidate for the continued growth and evolution of our Effects Technical Director Program.  Patrick will bring an essential perspective on current Effects workflows and a firsthand knowledge of what the industry looks for in a Effects Technical Director." - Mark Bénard, Founder/VFX Director | Lost Boys School of VFX

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I hovered around the VFS for some time and went to lots of Annex Pro meetups, Houdini meetups etc and the word was that those 99% placement figures are deceptive. What they do in most schools is that when TD's are out of work, they're given free tuition to courses to upgrade their skills then on graduation from the schools course the school can point at them and say "they got hired right out of the school"


I'm a big believer in the 10,000 rule. If you want to get good at something at a professional level, whether its guitar, piano, drawing and painting, mathematics and physics, you're looking at an investment of time of 10,000 hours. 12 months of going to a school isn't going to make you into a TD unless maybe you're already a pro at C++ or something like that.

That $40k price tag could be better used to just go sit in a corner alone for a couple years of frugal living to study the subject on your own.

One other thought to consider about this industry; Rythm and Hues crew were the best and look how they got treated even as they won an academy award. Look at what kind of lives they were forced to lead and ask yourself if this is really for you.


Edited by Cadmium77

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