Review: Visual Effects for Directors

I have to admit that I was wary of reviewing Hollywood Camera Work’s Visual Effects for Directors. When the package arrived, I groaned. Seven DVDs. All about visual effects. “Great,” I thought. “When I get bored, I’ll watch paint dry instead.”

How wrong I was.

VFX for Directors, it turns out, is actually fun. Although densely educational, the material makes sense—and more importantly—it feels relevant to the art of digitally enhanced storytelling. Every chapter had me saying, “Oh, so that’s how that works.”

Smarter Directors = Happier Productions

The overarching goal of the seven-disc series is to empower visual effects artists and filmmakers in general to make sound decisions so that post-production time can be spent creating the best visual effects possible. The course is aimed at newcomers to the world of vfx, but it doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to technical details.

Touching on the history of visual effects and CG imaging when necessary, the course delves into the “how” behind digital image-making. The result is a richer understanding of vfx—it’s no longer a “black box” or a magic wand. And that means that in addition to making smarter decisions, directors can also be more efficient (and less annoying) when working with others in the post-production chain.

Depth and Breadth

If you’re looking for step-by-step instructions on how to model a Tyrannosaurus rex in Maya, this isn’t the series for you.

If, however, you want to understand everything it takes to realistically pull off a shot of a Tyrannosaurus rex trudging through the forest before munching on a squealing paleontologist, then you’ll be more than pleased with what VFX for Directors has to offer.

The creators of VFX for Directors literally spent years working up the tutorials, and you get a sense of their commitment right from the start. Countless live action and CG shots are woven into the instruction with nearly 1,000 examples of digital effects in total.


The CG samples are mostly rendered at draft quality, since it’d be cost prohibitive to fully polish each and every shot. This doesn’t get in the way of the instruction, though. In fact, it helps isolate the topic at hand, highlighting only the necessary aspects of a given shot.

The series covers a staggering array of topics, including sexy stuff like the simulation of massive swarms, crowd replication, virtual set creation and digital stunt doubles—to touch on only a few. (See Hollywood Camera Work for a full list.)

Because the series focuses primarily on the underlying principles of vfx, the in-software instruction is relatively timeless. Most of the software packages used in the series are familiar—for example, Maya (for 3D and particle systems), Fusion (for compositing) and BodyPaint (for texturing)—but the coverage is broad enough that it can be generalized to any major package for any part of the vfx workflow. Again, you won’t be going step-by-step, chasing cursors through the UIs, but you will learn, for example, what a Merge node does and why it’s important.

You’ll also learn loads of practical on-set information, like how to properly light a cyc or how to shoot for planar tracking. There’s even a section on building your own cyc from scratch. (Note to self: stop by Home Depot tomorrow.)


It’s hard to find serious fault with VFX for Directors. Hollywood Camera Work knocked themselves out to create a practical, comprehensible course.

My only small criticism has to do with the direction of the narrator. While professional, the narration is very staccato, with slightly too-long pauses after each sentence. In defense of Hollywood Camera Work, this does allow for easier digestion of new concepts and terminology.

Bottom Line

Whether you’re working alone or planning a larger project, Hollywood Camera Work’s Visual Effects for Directors provides an excellent base for understanding visual effects and directing appropriately. Currently the course is offered for $329. Considering the amount and quality of instruction you get, that’s an incredibly good deal.

You might want to go deeper on select topics, but I can’t imagine a more comprehensive introduction to the general subject. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in visual effects and filmmaking.

The entire course, by the way, is available as a box set of DVDs or via download. Nice to have that option. See Hollywood Camera Work for more information.

As with all reviews on Motionographer, I was not compensated for this review. I received a copy of the course, which was used for the sole purpose of writing this review.

Tags: , ,

About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



Fusion and BodyPaint are not part of the Autodesk “family” … yet.

Justin Cone

Oops. Got carried away there. Thanks!


As much as this collection of DVDs looks interesting, the post looks more like a sales pitch than the objectivity I would expect from Motionographer. That discount on 3D avatars thing in the quickies already felt out of place a few days back. I hope Motionographer is not slowly turning into all-ad blog, it would be a shame.

Justin Cone

Just to repeat:

“As with all reviews on Motionographer, I was not compensated for this review. I received a copy of the course, which was used for the sole purpose of writing this review.”

I got zero compensation from this. I’m not even keeping the DVDs.

Having said that, I don’t think we’ll be doing many more reviews. They take a bit too much time, and I don’t think they’re really appreciated by Motionographer’s readers.


I appreciate it – I am suggesting we get this for the office in fact – thanks for this.

Hey Nikko, get off the soapbox, what difference does it make even if it was sponsored, can’t you make up your mind for yourself.

jonny plummer

please keep up the reviews


I thought this was helpful as well, and will be asking my school to purchase the set! Personally, I enjoy the reviews, and think ones like this are beneficial to anyone looking to understand the craft from a conceptual standpoint before the technical.


I too appreciate the occasional reviews. This site and your opinion is a trusted source for me. Knowing the influence of money is not a motivating component means there can be real trust; something that’s not so easy to come by these days.


thanks for this justin :) looks good.can’t wait to get a copy.


I bought it, and is exactly as Justin describes. For me, this box set was money well spend. A+

I really like reviews. Specially if they are for great products.
Keep em coming.

Lydia Baillergeau

Hey Justin!

Please don’t stop posting reviews. I found this extremely helpful and I am recommending that my College Library purchase a copy of this box set. The reviews are great. Thanks for your time and effort.

Keep up the good work!


The guy who made Hollywood Camera Work’s Visual Effects for Directors is the man! I bought his other Hollywood Camera Works DVD’s and there are superb! I’m going to save some money then buy this new set of DVD’s ASAP!

Comments are closed.