Mastering New Software to Build Your Animation Portfolio

Mastering New Software to Build Your Animation Portfolio

SF Film School graduate, Yoon TaeHyeon shares their experience learning a new software to complete their latest animation for her 3D portfolio.

Meet Yoon TaeHyeon, a promising VFX Artist and recent SF Film School graduate. Join them as they delves into their journey of skill development through their latest project and 2023 Rookie Awards entry. If you're eager to master new software for your upcoming animation projects, this article is a must-read.

Project Goal

Seasons are like our lives. When I was creating my portfolio, it was during a difficult time when many people were feeling cold and lonely, much like Winter, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as with any season, the cold Winter eventually comes to an end, and a butterfly heralds the arrival of Spring. And so, Spring arrives, melting away the cold Winter with warmth and splendour, giving birth to new life.

Through the changing of seasons, I believe that just as seasons pass, our lives will eventually move from Winter to Spring. I wanted to express the message of hope and comfort that comes with the arrival of Spring, much like the Spring I depicted in my portfolio, filled with warmth and new life.

The Background and Timeline of the Project

The COVID-19 pandemic caused many spaces around us to become deserted and lose their vitality due to restrictions on gatherings. During this time, I happened to come across a small plant growing in an abandoned place, which inspired me to start working on a project called "Hope." Although it took longer than expected to learn the basics of Maya, the software I used for the project. The entire process from conceptualisation to rendering took about six to seven months.

Planning Stage

During the planning phase, I followed the pipeline of actual movie production as a reference for creating my portfolio. The process involved storyboarding, gathering references and concepts, creating previs, 3D modeling and texturing, simulations, motion tests, lighting, and finally rendering.

Concept Phase

To create a contrast between the cold Winter and the warm Spring, we looked for materials that would fit with the changing seasons and chose cherry blossoms, a tree that represents spring in Asia. Additionally, we used a small butterfly, a symbol of spring, to represent the beginning of spring. For the movement of the tree and butterfly, we researched the movement of butterflies on YouTube and referenced videos of trees swaying in the wind to depict their movement realistically. To ensure that the textures of the butterfly and tree looked similar to their real-life counterparts, we used reference images from Pinterest.

From the early planning stages to the final design

Various materials were used for the tree and butterfly, but the most crucial element was information about the space in which they would appear. I searched for pictures of abandoned spaces through Pinterest and found images of the I.M.Cooling Tower, which we felt was the most suitable space for our work.

During the process, much like the concept, I considered previs and angles to be as important. If the angles on screen aren't good, even great images may not be properly conveyed. Since it was the beginning of the previs work, it took about two weeks to find the scenes that I was satisfied with.

During this time, I checked the low-poly modeling, angles, and the speed of the animation. After that, I proceeded with modeling in Maya, referring to references, and then created basic textures in Substance 3D Painter after UV mapping. However, during the lighting process, I adjusted elements such as material roughness and normal maps.

Following that, I studied Speed Tree to simulate the movement of the trees and petals swaying in the wind. While it's possible to do this in Maya, the program becomes heavy due to the large number of tree leaves and branches, making it difficult to make modifications. Using Speed Tree allows real-time adjustments and simultaneous texture and lighting adjustments without the need for rendering. When I achieved a simulation result that I liked, I generated a cache in Speed Tree and then brought it into Maya to proceed with the lighting.

However, in certain cases, I had to work directly in Maya. To depict growing leaves, for example, I used Maya's Paint Effects because it provided more control over the direction, speed, and values of the leaves growing along the walls compared to adjusting Speed Tree.

As mentioned earlier, while I created simulations that I was satisfied with, they weren't perfect. Aligning them with the camera movement I created in Maya required multiple attempts and adjustments. Still, to work efficiently, I generated playblasts to quickly view the animation results, adjusting animation keys on the already-created tree in Maya, slowing down or speeding up as needed to match my desired animation. If adjustments were not possible, I went back to Speed Tree to make modifications before bringing it into Maya.

Playblasts served as previews, and the final rendering with motion blur might differ, so I used V-Ray's Denoiser feature to reduce rendering times when I was satisfied with the simulation. Afterward, I rendered still frames for each scene, fine-tuning the lighting settings.

Finally, I extracted passes from V-Ray renderings and used Nuke to adjust colours and effects to create the final image.


During my time at SF Film School, I had the opportunity to explore 3D software for the first time. I understand that most of the impressive work in the field of film and the entertainment industry involves collaboration among numerous experts, each specialising in their respective fields. Therefore, I initially thought it would be challenging to gain experience in areas outside of my own expertise.

While we couldn't experience everything comprehensively, attending SF Film School allowed me to directly engage in various aspects of production, including modeling, texturing, lighting, rendering, previs, directing, camera work, sound, and more, all of which contributed to the creation of my portfolio piece, "Hope." This became possible because our instructors at SF Film School effectively taught fundamental skills necessary for video production, even to students like me who were learning 3D for the first time.

The experiences provided by SF Film School helped me discover which areas of production align best with my skills and interests, which is crucial for my future endeavours.

Whenever I encountered challenges or areas where I lacked understanding, the instructors provided hands-on mentoring by demonstrating how to use specific tools and techniques, often using example files. Moreover, they brought in various industry experts for online seminars, delving deeper into the intricacies of each field. They also created educational materials on using different software programs, making it easier for students to grasp complex topics through repeated exposure and practice.

Aside from these valuable lessons, the diverse educational experiences I gained through SF Film School have opened up new opportunities for me as I embark on my journey in the world of video production.

I'm committed to creating high-quality videos in the future, and I'm thankful for the time you've spent watching my work and reading this lengthy text!

Reach out to Yoon and check out more of her work via her Rookies portfolio here.