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Tools and Technology that Animators, Game Designers, Visual Effects (VFX) Artists Use

A photo of cameras on tripods in front of a green screen
A green screen surrounded by cameras

Are you thinking about pursuing a career in the growing fields of animation, video game design, animation, or visual effects? If so, you’ll need creativity, an artistic eye, and a knack for technology. Whether you engineer experiences that put users or players at the center of the action or create effects and sounds for movies and games, you’ll use various tools and techniques like the ones we’ve described here. 

But before we jump into the technology and software, here are some definitions of the types of experiences you might create. 

Virtual Production

Virtual production is where the physical and digital worlds meet. It is an emerging method that uses a suite of software tools to combine live-action footage and computer graphics in real-time using game engine technology. Filmmakers and contributors across multiple locations can deliver feedback across digital or physical environments where cast members are physically working on set. 

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is the real world with digital content added to it. Often using a smartphone or smart glasses, 2D or 3D content is projected into a person’s view of the world. Nintendo’s Pokémon Go app is an example of augmented reality.  

Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI)

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is content that one creates using computer graphics. CGI can be 2D or 3D, moving or still, and is used in film, television, and video games. 

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive 3D digital world. Virtual reality places a user inside of an environment that they can interact with and experience.  

Now let’s talk about the physical spaces, software programs, 3D creation techniques, and sound editing and music creation tools you might encounter. 

Physical Spaces/Tools

3D Fabrication Studio 

A 3D fabrication studio contains all the machines, tools, and resources necessary to create 3D art. An example of a device that produces 3D art is a 3D printer. 

Fabrication Studio 

A 3D Fabrication Studio is a system that involves people, hardware, and software working in sequential order to complete a 3D animation project. This ensures that the production team meets project deadlines. 

Green Screen 

A green screen is a solid neon green background placed behind a subject during film production. This bright screen provides high contrast and makes it possible for creators to replace the green screen with another background. In other words, the video with the actor in front of the green screen and the video of the desired background are digitally assembled together through the learned skill of compositing

A man in Motion Capture suit in front of a green screen
A man in a Motion Capture suit in front of a green screen

Inertial and Optical Motion Capture Suit 

An actual suit that people wear, motion capture suits record the wearer’s movements and apply those movements to a 3D character. There are two motion capture techniques: Optical Motion Capture and Inertial Motion Capture. Inertial Motion Capture suits use built-in sensors, while Optical Motion Capture suits use reflective markers and cameras surrounding the person wearing the suit.  

Render Farm 

A render farm is a network of high-performance computers that help creators produce computer-generated images (CGI). These complex graphics are used in films, television shows, and video games to create visual effects and animations. 

A photo of the Animation Studio in the basement of University Hall
The Animation Studio in the basement of University Hall

Software Programs

Adobe Substance Painter 

Adobe Substance Painter is a collection of apps that includes Painter, Designer, Sampler, and Stager. With these apps, you can paint and texture 3D models, create patterns and materials, and build realistic 3D scenes 


Houdini is a software program that makes it possible for you to create 3D animations and visual effects (VFX). Without writing any code, you can make immersive worlds, powerful motion graphics, and cinematic experiences.  


Used by top feature film animation studios like Blue Sky Studios, Maya is a 3D computer animation, modeling, simulation, and rendering software. With Maya, you can create realistic visual effects—from simulated clothing to explosions.   


Nuke is a visual effects software program that people use to composite images, build models, and more. Its powerful, cutting-edge toolset makes it possible for teams to collaborate easily, side-by-side, or around the globe. Leading studios have used Nuke to create visual effects for popular films and television shows such as Game of Thrones and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.  


Adobe Photoshop is a computer application. Its large selection of brushes and tools helps artists create digital drawings, paintings, and 3D objects. Game artists must know Photoshop. 

Unreal Engine 

Developed by the video game company Epic Games, Unreal Engine is a popular digital software program that creators use to build video games. It can create various virtual reality (VR), 2D, and 3D game styles and allow for development across multiple platforms—from computers to consoles. 


ZBrush is a digital 3D sculpting tool that mimics traditional sculpting techniques in a digital environment. With its award-winning technology, you can use customizable brushes to shape, texture, and paint virtual clay in real-time. 

Other programs 

Many of our classes teach the Adobe Creative Suite, including Photoshop, Adobe Animate, After Effects, Premiere, Audition. We also teach Toon Boon Storyboard Pro and are continually adding new proficiencies. 


College of Art and Design animation student working in a studio.
An animation student working with a model in a studio

3D Creation Techniques

Box Modeling 

Box modeling is a popular beginner’s technique when creating 3D objects. With box modeling, you start with a basic shape, like a cube, sphere, or cylinder. You then add to it or modify it until you reach the form you want. 

Hard Surface Modeling 

Hard surface modeling is the creation of 3D inorganic, geometric objects with smooth surfaces. This method is popular in sci-fi and shooter games to make weapons, robots, machines, and buildings.  

NURBS (Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines) 

NURBS stands for Non-Uniform Rational B-Splines. NURBS use complex mathematical equations to calculate the surface of a 3D model. Used mainly in engineering where high accuracy is necessary, modern 3D modeling software programs, like Maya, use NURBS to create models. 

Organic Modeling 

Organic modeling is the creation of 3D living creatures like people, animals, and plants. Organic modeling requires lots of practice and study to make your subjects as realistic as possible. 

UV Mapping 

UV Mapping is the process of digitally projecting a 2D image onto the surface of a 3D model. (Think of folding a paper cube.) Artists use this technique to give 3D models patterns and textures.  

Sound Editing or Music Creation

Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) 

Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) are software applications specifically used to record, edit, and produce audio. 

Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) 

Musical Instrument Digital Interfaces (MIDI)  is a communication protocol that enables musicians to “play” virtual instruments. When you “play” a virtual instrument (like a keyboard connected to your computer or a simulated synthesizer), that digital device sends data to your computer. This data, MIDI messages, is a language that lets your computer know how you want to create a sound, for example, what note you played and how long you played it. 

Foley Recording 

Foley sound production is associated with recording live sounds using a variety of props and materials to create new sound effects. Traditionally done in real-time in synchronization to a projected film, the term comes from the name of Jack Foley who pioneered methods for performing sounds live in synchrony with a film in the early days of film production when sound was incorporated into movies. 

Synthesis and Sampling 

Synthesized sounds are generated using electronic and digital tools which can be physical instruments or virtual software-based instruments. Sampling involves digital recordings of sounds that can then be used to create virtual instruments for music production or sound-effects.  

Automated Dialogue Replacement (ADR) 

Automated Dialog Replacement, also known as looping, is the process of re-recording the original dialogue of an actor. This process mostly happens in the post-production phase of filmmaking when the original audio of a scene has undesired background noise, or there is a change to the script. 


Like Ableton Live, Reaper is a full Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) used for in-studio recording and editing, music production and audio post-production. It is easy software to use because you can edit your recordings to fix mistakes.  

Ableton Live 

Ableton Live is a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) popular among music producers and DJs. It comes with a variety of effects, instruments, and sounds so that you can create any kind of music. 

Become a game designer, VFX artist, or animator with a Lesley University education

At Lesley University, you can pursue a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) to prepare for an exciting career in the gaming or film industry. Through our hands-on curriculum, you’ll learn to use many of the tools, technology, and techniques we’ve described in this article. And you’ll do it in our state-of-the-art studios and Visual Effects (VFX) facilities.  

Learn more about Lesley’s BFAs in: