Introduction to the Visual Effects industry
Almost every time I answer “Visual Effects” to a “What do you do for living?” kind of question, I rush to add: “It's much less cool than it sounds”. Indeed, there is a strong halo of magical appeal around it paired by a lack of understanding the techniques and processes involved. People think of what is commonly shortened to VFX as some kind of a black box, so myths like secret tools, one-button solutions and sensational incomes are born even among artists working in the neighboring fields (like I used to be myself).
At the same time most of the techniques, procedures and mysteries are already unveiled and publicly available. The only thing required is to find a proper reading, which I am daring to suggest here. In two flavors:
First one would be the closest thing there is to a Bible for VFX – The VES Handbook of Visual Effects, published by the Visual Effects Society just a few years back. Contributed to by a plethora of renowned practitioners, it covers all stages, processes and techniques from preproduction to fur rendering in a systematized manner. It is a kind of VFX version of American Cinematographer Manual, if that helps. Of course, the Handbook is not application-specific and does not get down in details to particular buttons and software tutorials (it's only nine hundred pages after all). Still it tells you pretty much everything there is in the field. Amazing. A long time needed must-have for everyone dealing with creating or manipulating moving images. Get it.
This was about how things are done. As for the second flavor of information, I suggest reading White Paper - July 2013 - The State of the Global VFX Industry 2013. This document, issued by the same society, is a follow-up on the VFX Town Hall on Pi Day. It addresses the problems (not technical or artistic, but rather business and careers) the visual effects industry is facing right now. Things are quite opposite to the glamour idealistic pictures a lot of us would have in mind when picking a career path. I know it's a bit of a “yesterday's news”, still believe this information should be spread as wide as possible.
And my last (but surely not least) suggested reading would be the Effects Corner – a blog by visual effects veteran Scott Squires, where he is covering both topics listed above (he actually contributed to both aforementioned publications as well). A great place to start, especially if you don't have access to the Handbook right now (for this particular purpose it’s worth reading the Effects Corner chronologically).
Have a nice reading and good luck to all of us.