online store
top of page

How to learn Visual Effects w/ Ben McEwan

My guest today is Ben McEwan who is the Head of Compositing at Image Engine. Together we talk about the skills needed to make it in Visual Effects and as a compositor, teaching philosophies and if you learn by idols or principles.

Check out Bens' website:

Idols vs Principles

There are different ways to learn and become proficient in Visual Effects. One of the most important ones is learning from others. A successful person is the summary of what to do and what not to do to arrive at their position.

Ben's approach is to look at the people who inspire him while trying to mimic them as he approaches similar roles. He asks himself how can he become this person to A) arrive at the same position and B) be as successful in it. Creating idols allows him to look at the person as a whole and to copy their paths and interactions.

"People like to work with good people and that's the number 1 characteristic that I picked up."

On the other side I'm more someone who looks at the principles of my idols while finding ways to include those into my own interactions. The focus is first on the action that I admire and second on the principle of the action to make it as successful and repeatable as possible. We do as our idols do but also understand the why behind their actions for the same impact.

Both are successful ways to approach change and learning. Which type are you?

Are you learning by idols or principles?

  • Idols

  • Principles

Goals vs Directions

When it comes to career paths a lot of people talk about their goals: The studios they want to work at, the projects they want to contribute to, the achievements they want to have. Goals are great but they can also be stifling since they're focused on a particular outcome. It can make them unobtainable when they're in someone else's hands like a recruiter or supervisor. You're doing everything that you should do but still don't arrive where you should be. You're stuck in the to-list phase without any progress.

"It's better to set a direction rather than set a goal."

An alternative is to create general directions for yourself which are based on attributes rather than specific situations or names. Directions give back control of your career path and allow an easier approach to learning. Focusing on what really matters rather than checking boxes like certificates for a facade of expertise. Directions can remove the pressure and allow you to enroll into courses and start projects with the notion of real progress.

70% of the students at Udemy and others never start the course they purchased while only 4% actually compelte them. A lot of people are willing to do the easy parts of their goals. It's following through that stops us from success.

Completion Rate Udemy
Personal Masterclasses with live elements result in more success.


To learn Visual Effects first set a direction, look for exceptional people and start learning from them. In person is always the best but not everyone of us has the access to learn from the masters directly. An alternative are online courses and masterclasses from qualified artists and technicians sharing their knowledge and principles with us.

Make sure to also look outside the Visual Effects bubble to learn from other fields to be more successful. For example photography can give you a deeper understanding of the shot, its layout and light. Finally sign up for our Free 7-Day Bootcamp: Technical Director to dive deeper into the industry.

Thanks for reading,



I'm Alexander, an Award-Winning Technical Director & Coach in Visual Effects, Animation and Games. My skills are solving technical problems, simplifying workflows and mentoring career goals.

For more check out our exciting TD Bootcamp, 21 Artist Show Podcast and YouTube channel.


bottom of page