Specialist vs generalist and all in between

How many different softwares are you comfy on? And are there some softwares that are just a must know? I think about this a lot. I’m very comfortable in Flame and syntheyes, I can wiggle my way around in Photoshop and AfterEffects, but I’m a true novice in 3d softwares (Maya, Houdini,etc). I’m not trying to be a 3d artist, I’m perfectly happy compositing, but I suppose the real question is, how much outside of your specialization do you need to learn? I know any amount of knowledge is advantageous, but it becomes a balancing act of how much study to devote to compositing itself, how much study to devote to understanding what you’ll be compositing and how it was generated, and how much time to study what elements you might be able to generate yourself outside of a compositing software that will greatly aid your own composites. I’m just curious what people are dipping their toes into, diving into, or can’t live without and the reasons why.


Great question.

I make my living on Flame. I can prep some art in Photoshop, but barely. Illustrator, I can open and copy and paste into Photoshop. After Effects? No thanks. Premier, I’d use it more if I didn’t have to restart my machine for it not to crash. I can track in Syntheyes and PFTrack and do my image modeling and texture extractions there. I can track and do a tiny about of roto in Mocha. I can steal someone else’s python script and MAYBE make it my own.

I used to work in fine dining but I’m more of a short order cook. I focus on being on the best at my particular niche, and have decided not to spend time that takes me away from that niche.

Great question.

1 Like

I can’t stand after effects either. I got into this field thanks to nepotism (Love ya Dad) and have only really ever used node based compositing. It is obviously superior to layer based and it’s just hard to find the motivation to figure out how to get a null assigned to some layer for tracking…



father and son???

1 Like

Yep! Literal 2nd generation flame artist (post anniversary edition)! If I have it my way, and my partner has plenty of thoughts but you know, there’ll be a 3rd generation hahaha

1 Like

That’s amazing! I never connected the dots. We may have another father/son duo here on the forums. One day I’m looking forward to father/daughter and mother/daughter duos.


I’ve spent the last few years playing footsie with Cinema 4d, and in the last year I’ve devoted a lot more time to getting comfortable with it, and while the jury is still out on whether that time has been well spent, I’ve very much enjoyed the questions it’s forced me to ask myself, and the aggressive discomfort it’s triggered.

Also, and this is weird, but it’s been a fun thing to be bad at.

The best tangible outcome is that it’s given me a tremendous sense of empathy for the CG folks I work with. It’s also broadened my understanding of the post workflow in general, and given me a fun new way to think about how I approach 2d problems. Not always productive, mind you, or efficient, but still intriguing.

Along the way I’ve attempted to learn Maya (someday, it may open up to me, but for now I find it incoherent), Zbrush (designed by crazy people, and one of the few pieces of software that I’ve become worse at the more I learn how to use it), Substance (cool, but of limited utility for me), and Houdini (also cool, and probably the closest to what I need a CG package to do from a practical standpoint, but SO COMPLICATED, and to really use it to its fullest I feel like I would have to fundamentally change, like, as a person). The frustration has been fun though, and the occasional, tiny a ha moments are pretty gratifying.

Every once in a while I build something in Cinema, put it in a comp, and a client buys off on it and I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

And if I may offer a tiny plug: there’s a modeling app called Moi 3D that is kind of a joy to use. If you, like me, are super intimidated by CG modeling, it might be worth looking into.


I feel this quote about Houdini soooo much… “SO COMPLICATED, and to really use it to its fullest I feel like I would have to fundamentally change, like, as a person).” Yes. Yes. Yes. Jesus wept, how are these fucking cg people doing it?


I used to cut reels for discreet/autodesk, and my boss there, known to some people here, fancied himself a sort of older brother/bully in my life for many years. When I told him recently of my 3D experiments, and trouble with Maya, he simply said “well, you don’t have the brain for it.”

Which, yes, but that’s what makes it such a worthwhile exercise. And it’s why c4d is so much fun. I can actually make something functional without really knowing much about what I’m doing, and the incremental progress is a lot more rewarding. The c4d tutoriosphere is a lot more accessible too, I find.

I think the person who is good at Houdini is probably wired differently than I am, but I could say the same of Henry artists (just ask your dad!) That doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying to get the hang of it.


Well I believe you can learn anything well if you really have a passion for it.

I too see myself as a Flame generalist because one day I’m editing a promo piece for social media and the next day I’m building a 3d logo resolve.

Love it all!


The feeling of being new to a field of study is both vehemently thrilling and intensely horrifying.

One of my favorite words is tyro. A tyro is someone that is new to a field of study. Doyen, or doyenne, is a well regarded expert in a field.

My brain works in mysterious ways and I have a hard time deciding what’s important to spend and turning it off. So I need to feel like a doyen but also a tyro all the time or I get…well…cranky.

1 Like

Ha! Yes, it’s true. And we’re having a great and productive time working together. When Britt was a child, he thought I was a magician and he knew my colleague, @DannyYoon, as “The Wizard.” Now he knows it’s mostly “cheating.” Almost 5 years years working together and I’m sure I’ve learned more from him. I highly recommend working with young artists with a passion for learning and proving themselves. It’s too easy to get complacent. If Britt wasn’t my son, I may have felt threatened at various times. Instead, he’s inspired me to be better and keep learning. Proud and grateful!


I am a Generalist-Generalist-Generalist :smiley:

Born as a Computer-kid (dad is a windows/Network sysadmin and I rebelled by going Linux)

Started out as a photographer, so photoshop was a given and then moved to shooting and editing music videos, documentaries and event videos while going to school for Media-Engineering, building Drones and through BTS filming jobs of commercial shoots moved on to a commercial production company with inhouse post, mostly doing AE , Avid and Premiere and learning Resolve and Nuke as well as doing shoot-supervision and DIT/VTR work.

Then moved to a VFX company as a VFX Editor/Compositor/SysOp and there I picked up on the whole 3D thing, maya, houdini, blender, 3Dequalizer, Colorscience, pipeline, python and Flame. Flame actually came rather late for me.

Now I am currently CG-Supervising my first Unreal Engine Project, I cant think of annything that fullfills me more than learning new software and Tools, Its not only Job but also my Hobby and I probably put in at least 80Hrs a week between working and learning new things/experimentation currently knees deep in the whole HDR thing. Probably will need to wind down a bit on time spent though… beign locked in my cave for the last year hasnt helped though.

I know I will never be a specialist, I get bored of things as soon as I understand them, I dont feel the need to become really good at something I just want to fully understand how something works. I couldnt do just Rigging everyday but I have absolute respect of the people that can.

That said I still think that any experience doing something different will help you shape you into the unique person you are, knowing a bit of houdini or any 3D program, learning about how to judge topology, polycounts how to UV something, fileexchange , rigging e.t.c all really helped me beign a better compositor for sure. My advice would be to just learn whatever you want to know, not what you feel like you need to know, life is long. something that can never hurt though is math and physics. Lots of that.

1 Like

I really dig this thread! Awesome input, thank you everyone! but also some great kind of origin stories, it’s very fun (in a very geeky way, five stars to Henry references) to read into these backgrounds.

@Quinn what kind of particle systems are you setting up? And do you have any recommendations of tutorials to get going on Houdini???

In the past I wanted to know everything and was doing tutorials in, Maya, 3Dmax, Premiere, AE, Photoshop, pftrack, Nuke, Shake, Combustion, Cubase, ProTools, Mocha, you name it haha. But as soon as I started to become more a Smoke/Flame artist I decided to focus only on that.

At office Flame and Photoshop to prep artwork delivered by clients.
Recently I used Blender to import a free 3d model, animated it and used it as alembic particle in flame. that worked really great. I would love to spend more time learning Blender. Also I can use After Effects, but never needed it anymore, except sometimes rendering out or changing something, if a client only delivered an AE project… And it takes me more time to recreate it in Flame.
Outside of work I use Davinci Resolve for editing and grading personal projects.

1 Like

I started off in graphic design so I learned Photoshop and Illustrator. Then I got into 3D animation and knowing vectors from Illustrator proved fundamental for modeling. Then Henry came along and it was super cool, compositing and editing. Then I learned Softimage 3D but that learning curve proved very steep, fascinating as it was. Enter Flame, and I never looked back. Having the 3D background was great for using the camera, lights and the 3D aspects of Flame. Learning After Effects was an added comfort for me. Quick 2d comping and some great plugins. No harm knowing that, ubiquitous and cost effective for personal projects. Linking nulls: awkward but not that hard really. I tried C4D but found it expensive for just dabbling so Blender is a great resource. Just as user friendly as C4D and very cool.
As much as I’d like to have CG as a tool for myself, fully learning 3D is a very deep rabbithole and you’ll never cover the whole thing. Learn only on a need-to basis or kiss your life goodbye,
In any case, my advice is always: the more tools, the better

1 Like

I started out at college learning chemical photography and editing. Got heavily into sound. Hated film editing but loved video editing. Left college, Avid and photoshop were taking over and I thought fuck it, I’m going to bum around the world on an overdraft instead.

After 19 years at The Mill, I think I know how to use smoke, flame, flare. Pretty good on Photoshop (5.5), After Effects (4), can muddle through nuke with lots of cursing, can muddle through pftrack and mocha.

Illustrator I’m familiar with but not fast and was inspired to try vector drawing in Action using gmasks which is not as easy as illustrator for sure.

Scratched my head a lot with Houdini but wouldn’t mind getting better.