New technologies and innovative techniques are always making their way into the animation industry, which means learning never really stops. That’s why it pays to invest in books that will help refine your skills as a visual effects artist. You could always search for resources online or sit through video tutorials but VFX books are handier for artists who prefer to expand their skill set the old fashioned way!

Thankfully, so many VFX books will help grow your skills as a designer. Here are some of our favorites:  

Lighting for Animation

VFX books
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Of course, we are starting strong with TDU’s very own book, Lighting for Animation. The book, which was written by our co-founders Jasmine Katatikarn and Michael Tanzillo, features the main philosophies and core concepts utilized by industry professionals to achieve the perfect lighting in visual effects and computer animation. The book outlines all the approaches and techniques that will propel your career as a lighting artist. Lighting for Animation covers the following topics:

  • Creating mood and storytelling through lighting
  • Using light to create visual shaping
  • Directing the viewer’s eye with light and color
  • Gathering and utilizing reference images
  • Successfully lighting and rendering workflows
  • Render layers and how they can be used most effectively
  • Material properties and their work with lighting
  • Compositing techniques essential for a lighter

The book also outlines different lighting scenarios, including character lighting, environment lighting, and lighting an animated sequence. It also features beautifully shot examples from a variety of movies to help you make better creative choices. Lighting for Animation also comes with a host of light exercises, challenges, assets, and other resources to hone your lighting skills. This is the perfect book to get if you’d like to expand your skill set and elevate your work. By the time you are finished with this book, you will learn how to use lighting as a storytelling tool.

Get the book here.

Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation

VFX books
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Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation is written by multi-awarded visual effects artist Pamela Glintenkamp. The 360-page book feature 35 years of groundbreaking innovations developed by a small team of creatives who pioneered analog effects during the production of George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1975. Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Innovation is a must-read and you will love its rich iconography.

The first chapters are centered on the main changes in the visual effects arena after the team developed technologies for the Star Wars movie while the rest of the chapters highlight the challenges that the Industrial Light & Magic team faced while creating different movies, many of which became instant classics.

The book also covers the successful careers of the Industrial Light & Magic team members as well as the major advances achieved by the studio. The final chapter outlines all the awards and movies that the ILM team worked on.  

Get the book here.

Acting for Animators: 4th Edition

VFX books
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This is a terrific book to add to your collection if you are a budding animator and could be used as a reference if you are a seasoned VFX artist.

Ed Hooks, the bestselling author of Acting for Animators: 4th Edition, has been in the entertainment business for 30 years. The guidebook presents all the classical acting disciplines that Hooks used in his three-decade career in animation, explaining everything from character analysis and physical movement to facial expression and scene structure.

Acting for Animators has become an essential guidebook for artists in various animation fields, particularly in gaming creation and movie production. In fact, Hooks has taught for major animation studies including Blue Sky, Disney Animation, UbiSoft, Sony Games, Epic Games, Dreamworks, and Microsoft.

Get the book here.

Illuminated Pixels: The Why, What, and How of Digital Lighting

VFX books
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What is the secret to great lighting? We all know that lighting is one of the most important elements of film production. But this book delves deep into the many purposes of digital lighting, helping artists achieve the effect they want by applying knowledge of real-world light.

The book goes beyond highlighting the properties of light in a theoretical sense. Illuminated Pixels seeks the answer to the why, what, and how of lighting. It outlines all the digital tools you could use to hone your lighting skills. It also shows how computer technology, artistry, and real-world physics could be combined to achieve the aesthetic intent of the image.  

All the skills and tips that were presented in the book are non-software-specific. Illuminated Pixels is an amazing book for aspiring digital artists and digital lighting professionals alike.

Get the book here.

Matchmoving: The Invisible Art of Camera Tracking

VFX books
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Matchmoving is a technique of inserting computer graphics into live-action footage. To achieve seamless, realistic results, you have to pay close attention to the graphics’ position, scale, orientation, and motion.

Written by veteran VFX artist Tim Dobbert, Matchmoving: The Invisible Art of Camera Tracking outlines professional techniques needed to achieve successful match moves. Dobbert has worked in big-budgeted films including Avatar and the Harry Potter franchise. Matchmoving: The Invisible Art of Camera Tracking also comes with pages of examples and step-by-step tutorials to perfect your technical skills for seamless match-moving.

Get the book here.

The Art and Science of Digital Compositing

VFX books
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Published in 1999, The Art and Science of Digital Compositing present a complete overview of the artistic and technical nature of digital compositing. The book, which was written by one of the founding members of Sony Pictures Imageworks, R. Brinkmann, covers the basics of image creation, representation, and manipulation, as well as advanced compositing techniques to achieve hyper-realistic results.

The book features 17 case studies of compositing work done on films like The Golden Compass, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, The Incredibles, The Chronicle of Narnia, and Spider-Man, just to name a few. The Art and Science of Digital Compositing also include sections on 3D compositing,  High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging, Rotoscoping, and so much more. The Art and Science of Digital Compositing is an essential resource for novices and professionals alike, particularly lighters, compositors, and anyone working with digital imagery.

And because new VFX technologies are always created, The Art and Science of Digital Compositing has been updated with new techniques and expanded with 400+ all-new, full-color images.

Get the book here.

The VES Handbook of Visual Effects: Industry Standard VFX Practices and Procedures

VFX books
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The VES Handbook of Visual Effects: Industry Standard VFX Practices and Procedures is an award-winning guidebook that presents industry-standard techniques, technologies, and workflows that are being utilized in the ever-evolving world of visual effects. Now on its second edition, the book covers everything from stereoscopic moviemaking, color management, facial capture, and the Digital Intermediate to detailed chapters on animation and game creation.

In addition, the book was updated by 50 new contributors, presenting tips, tricks, and shortcuts that were earned through real-world, hands-on experience.

  • On-set stereography
  • The Academy Color Encoding System (ACES)
  • Whether to shoot or convert to 3D
  • Virtual productions
  • Editorial workflow in an animated feature
  • 3D matte painting
  • General geometry instancing

The second edition of The VES Handbook of Visual Effects is a vital resource for anyone working or aspiring to work in visual effects. It’s a great guidebook for all VFX artists because it covers everything from pre-production to digital character creation, compositing of both live-action and CG elements, photorealistic techniques, and so much more.

Get the book here.

Masters of FX

VFX books
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Written by Ian Failes, Masters of FX presents a rare behind-the-scenes look at some of the most iconic movies in the entertainment industry. This book is worth checking out if you’d like to know more about the history or industry of contemporary VFX.

The book features interviews of VFX grandmasters, highlighting the most memorable film sequences ever produced and the shift from practical to digital visual effects.

Masters of FX features the following visual effects pioneers:

  • John Bruno
  • Chris Corbould
  • Richard Edlund
  • Scott Farrar
  • Paul Franklin
  • Karen Goulekas
  • Ian Hunter
  • John Knoll
  • Robert Legato
  • Joe Letteri
  • Dennis Muren
  • John Rosengrant
  • Phil Tippett
  • Douglas Trumbull
  • Bill Westenhofer
  • Edson Williams

The book also depicts shot breakdowns and detailed explanations on how some of the classics and big-budget blockbusters were made, including Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The book also featured iconic films such as Ghostbusters and the Terminator franchise in a beautiful, full-color spread.

Get the book here.

The Digital Matte Painting Handbook

VFX books
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The Digital Matte Painting Handbook is a how-to guide on mastering the technique of digital matte painting. This book features the “seamless integration between an artist’s painting with live action film footage.”

Author David Mattingly will walk you through the process of creating a matte painting, starting from making rough sketches to adding light, shadows, and textures to make the illustration come alive. The book outlines all the tools, principles, and techniques that will enhance your skill set as a digital artist.

The Digital Matte Painting Handbook also comes with helpful step-by-step instructions, beautifully shot images that depict the entire process of creating a matte painting and everything else in between.

Get the book here.

Physics for Animators

VFX books
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Rounding up our list of the best books for digital artists is Physics for Animators.  Achieving realistic motion in animation requires a deep understanding of the laws of Physics. Life-like movements are required to achieve hyper-realistic animation while movements that defy the laws of physics are used for comedic or dramatic effect. To achieve the desired effect, big studios would hire physics consultants for such tasks. Indie animators, on the other hand, do not have the budget for this kind of job.

Physics for Animators offers a compilation of simple yet powerful solutions to apply for realistic physics in animation. All the scientific concepts are laid out in simple, easy to understand format. Complex mathematical concepts are broken down into clear steps to solve any type of animation problems quickly and easily.

Physics for Animators will help you gain mastery over physics tasks like character motion, light and shadow placement, explosions, ocean movement, and outer space scenes to create scientifically accurate scenes. This book has all the information you need to fix problem spots, create proper motions for animation, as well as bend the laws of physics for CG special effects.

Get the book here.

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