Exclusive: Senior VFX artist Jason Keyser bares his heart about why he quit Riot Games and his life’s calling

The Covid-19-induced lockdown has nearly hobbled many industries but — gaming sector has not only remained unscatched, it has thrived during the quarantine with game jams and tournaments hitting an inflection point in the landscape.

With the majority of the population stuck at home, many educators and organisations have taken to the internet to teach aspirants the craft of animation, game development and visual effects.

Recently Senior VFX artist Jason Keyser quit his dream job at Riot Games to  pursue what he calls his life’s calling— teaching students online. He believes that the demand for professional visual effects in games, VR, AR, and film is growing exponentially, and “we simply don’t have enough artists to get everything done.”

In his quest to train an artistic army to create digital magic for games and film, he has devised a plan of re-calibrating the fundamental strategies and design of the classroom.

I quit my dream job today. For six years at Riot, I’ve been honored to work alongside some of the most talented artists and developers in the business. It’s been a wild ride! But through it all, I couldn’t stop thinking about my deeper passion: to teach and inspire other creatives towards their own deeply-fulfilling career in visual effects, and help elevate the landscape for VFX across this industry. Last September I launched VFX Apprentice, an online learning platform where hundreds of you wonderful VFX artists (newbies and pros alike!) have gathered from around the globe to take your skills to the next level. I’ve already put my heart and soul into this project. Starting today, I’ll be putting all of my time into it as well. Clearing out my desk at Riot Games marks the end of an era, but I’m excited for what the future holds. VFX Apprentice is going to be rapidly rolling out new courses and new collaborations with some awe-inspiring developers! I’ll also be making more time for coaching, consulting and speaking engagements at studios, schools, and conferences — wherever I’m needed! For all the wonderful folks who got me to this point, thank you! I can’t wait for you to join me on the journey ahead! – Jason Keyser

According to him, in the times before, ”apprentices honed their skills alongside master craftsmen” His company VFX Apprentice harnesses the power of that model, delivering professional visual effects training across the globe, on-demand and entirely at a student’s pace.

His education model is simple. “I want to rapidly level-up your skills without wasting time. That’s why each course in my training library is built by professional artists, full of top-tier assets, and fueled by a peer network committed to helping you succeed,” shares he.

He bares his heart in an exclusive interview with AnimationXpress. Here are some excerpts :-

Tell us about your experience at Riot Games.

I was at Riot Games for six years, starting in 2014. When I joined, the company was rapidly growing from the success of League of Legends. I think there were around eight other VFX artists on the project. By the time I left in 2020, I believe there were over 30 across the company. Hard to keep track with everything going on. It was amazing watching and being a part of such a massively successful project. The team was all very driven and incredibly talented. Especially early on, I felt outclassed by my coworkers. Funny thing: a lot of other people felt the same way. We all wanted to do work that was worthy of the Riot reputation. Definitely a self-imposed pressure.

So with that drive, and the help of so many talented mentors around me, I grew fairly rapidly. After three years i was up to a high output of skins and champions. Then i transitioned over to R&D working on unannounced projects for a couple years. That was a huge learning experience, where I got a better understanding of building a game from prototype through pre-production. There were some tough lessons in pipeline and style development, which are invaluable to me now. Learning in the moment can be painful, but i wouldn’t trade those two years for anything.

I finished my last year back on League of Legends, as a culmination of all i had learned previously, bot on League and in setting up new projects. I was involved with the launch of Team Fight Tactics and the Rise of the Elements update to Summoners Rift.

What role does VFX play in gaming? Is the demand for VFX artists in the gaming industry growing?

VFX is completely central to games. It is often the primary way a player gets feedback for their actions, whether it’s satisfying match 3 gems shattering, or a fully upgraded battle spell, visual effects are the payoff for playing. VFX also play a big role with immersing the player. Torches in towns, shimmering water, or magically glowing weapons all enhance the sense of wonder and believability for the player. In short, if it’s moving, and not a character, then it’s up to a VFX artist to bring it to life.

What led you to quit your job at Riot Games?

For the past five years, I’ve been fostering my passion for teaching others how to home their skills. I was mentoring new artists at Riot, publishing YouTube videos, and tinkering with different online mentorship models. Eventually it became clear that this is my next calling in life, and i needed to start focusing on my students full time. As much as i had loved my time at Riot, I knew I would love this even more.

Tell us about VFX Apprentice.

VFXapprentice.com is an online learning platform covering everything an artist needs to know yo get a job in effects animation, and hone their skills to a higher level. We offer quality content built by professional artists in Unreal, Unity, Photoshop, and other software. We launched the first class in September 2019, with plans to add more in 2020. As of now, we have well over 300 students enrolled. The content is go-at-your-own-pace, with many hours of video content. We provide all the source assets, too, making it easy to see how assets are built, and study them up close.

We’ve heard you speak at IGDC and VFX event in India. What are your views on India’s gaming scene and students?

It was such a pleasure meeting the developers of India. I really felt the drive and enthusiasm from everyone. And it’s great to see the progress being made year over year.

What drives your passion for mentoring and training? 

I like making art that I can be proud of. But what’s even more satisfying is teaching someone else to make art they can be proud of. My passion is helping others express their passion. Sounds cheesy, but honestly there’s nothing better for me.

If you had to give one piece of advice to the budding artists, what would it be?

 I would say, you get what you put in. If you timidly chip away at honing your craft, you will get meager success. But if you put in more effort than those around you–if you do things beyond what they do, putting in more hours, studying more topics, seeking more mentorship–you will get extraordinary results. I mean, you’re already chasing a dream job. No use being practical and cautious. Go all in; dedicate yourself completely and you will love your life.