Over recent years, TikTok has become home to many artistic communities, especially during the time of a global pandemic. Among these communities is the filmtok community. And among them is VFX artist Alain Bui. For Alain, the COVID quarantine gave him an excuse to step away from his pre-med studies at the time and get back into his true passions: VFX. Alain's VFX TikTok journey has led him to working in and being a part of the professional film industry. Today, The Global Spotlight talks to Alain about all things VFX, meeting your heroes, and the importance of following your passions.
When did you first get into VFX work?
I’ve always been interested in doing VFX since high school. I would be the person who would go all out for a video project and spend less time actually studying. But then college came around, and I had to focus on studying to get into medical school. Even though I would still enter film festivals in college, I had to put learning VFX on pause indefinitely. Once I graduated college, I was still on the premed route, so I became a full-time medical technician.
Even though my heart wasn’t fully into the medical field, I continued to push through, because I felt that was what my parents wanted me to do. However, when COVID happened, I used that as an excuse to put my studying on pause and instead started diving into learning VFX and 3D animation on my own. As I learned more and more, I realized VFX was where my passion was and has always been. In the span of two years, I’ve had opportunities to work with people like Jason Derulo and JVKE with my VFX work and, currently, I’m trying to make it a career.
I believe VFX is incredible because it gives you the ability to create any idea that comes to mind. That’s one of the main reasons I got into VFX. I always had so many ideas for so many different videos, but was always limited by the skills necessary to make those videos. But now that I’ve become a little better in VFX, I feel that limitation ending and ideally, I would like to get to the point where I’m only limited by my imagination.
How do you come up with the ideas for your TikTok videos?
One of the things I try to do for all my videos is to make sure I’m creating something that will help me practice or learn new techniques in VFX. So, when I’m watching tutorials on YouTube, I’ll see a cool effect and think to myself, “That’s so cool… How can I incorporate this effect into a video?” And then, from there, I’ll try to see what is trending on TikTok or Instagram and come up with an idea that combines the trend along with the effect. For me, that’s always been the best way to learn and also have fun while doing it. It also helps to keep my videos different as I’m always trying to use new effects or techniques for stuff.
Additionally, I’ve always been a huge Disney fan. I probably know the lyrics to Disney songs better than most people, so I’m always trying to incorporate Disney characters or franchises into my videos if possible and crossing my fingers Disney doesn’t come after me one day.
Have there been people who believe the stuff in your videos to be real? Before the tutorial is posted, of course.
Oh, 100%. My most recent viral hit was the Spider-Man hitting the building at Disneyland video, and that one fooled tons and tons of people, including several news websites.
It’s always a cool feeling being able to make something that convinces people that it’s real. However, it’s always been a double-edged sword in a way. In terms of social media growth, those videos usually don’t do as well because, if I do it right and it fools people, usually people don’t care too much to follow the person that just happened to film something cool, haha. At the same time, it’s always been the ultimate compliment to have people believe my stuff is real.
So, definitely pros and cons to tricking people using VFX, haha, but I love it.
Your videos remind me a lot of the videos Vine legend Zach King would make. Speaking of Zach, I saw on your Instagram that you were able to meet him this year. What was that like?
Yeah, so I’ve been following Zach since the Vine days so he has definitely been a huge inspiration to me. Almost exactly a year ago today, he was one of the first influencers to comment on my TikTok and at that time, that was a huge milestone to me. And now a year later, I received an email from Zach one day that was like “Hey, your special effects are so good. You should come visit the studio some day.” And that’s how I ended up meeting Zach and hanging out at his studio.
Meeting Zach was really cool. Zach’s journey to where he is now is definitely something that I aspire to follow so being able to talk with him and pick his brain was such a meaningful experience. It also helped that Zach is incredibly down to earth and it felt like talking to a friend who had the same passion in VFX and video making that I did. It was also really cool to see the behind the scenes of how he does his videos and the brainstorming process that goes behind each one.
Additionally, while I was there, Zach King offered me a full time job to work with him so that in itself has been absolutely surreal. So hopefully soon, I will be leaving the medical field for good and doing VFX full-time.
Why are you wanting to learn things such as videography, 3D animation, and photography?
I’ve always been huge into expressing myself creatively and I always have tons of ideas whether it be for a new video idea or a photoshoot. In addition to that, I’m always constantly inspired by those who are doing these things exceptionally well, so that pushes me to strive for the same level of quality in whatever I do. There are so many incredibly talented people out there and they’re constantly showing me that there’s something more to learn or get better at and that keeps me motivated to learn as well.
Also, I love the process of learning something new and then implementing it in my own idea. There is definitely a huge sense of accomplishment when that happens.
Additionally, now more than ever, it’s been amazing to see others who enjoy the videos that I make. When I first started, I was constantly inspired by others and so it’s always humbling and crazy when people tell them I also inspire them to be more creative. That has also been a huge motivation to keep me learning and striving to get better.
Are you hoping your TikTok videos can help you get a career in the VFX industry?
The crazy thing is that it already has haha. For the past decade, my dream has always been to make a living being creative and making videos that people enjoy and through TikTok, that dream has become a reality. It’s always insane to me that a social media platform can change someone’s life like that, but it has for me and I am so incredibly grateful for the platform because of that.
In a way, TikTok has shown me that as long as you’re passionate about what you do, people will notice eventually. Hard work and passion really does pay off!
What is by far one of the hardest video editing or effects techniques you’ve learned so far?
Definitely Houdini. Houdini is the industry standard program for VFX simulations such as explosions or water simulations so most of the time when you’re watching a movie, if there is a huge explosion or some crazy destruction, it’s probably made with Houdini. So although it’s an insanely powerful program, it also has one of the steepest learning curves.
I think I’ve been learning it on my own for about a year or so now and I still feel like I have only scratched the surface of it. And one of the biggest drawbacks of learning a program like Houdini is that there aren’t tons of tutorials for exactly what you’re looking for because it is so specialized. Therefore, a lot of times, I’m watching like 10 tutorials and piecing together information from 10 of them to get to the effect that I want haha.
But although it is the hardest program I have ever touched, it’s definitely the most satisfying to use because of the amount of effort it takes to learn. In addition to that, everything you make from Houdini just looks so cool so that’s a huge plus haha. I feel like Houdini definitely helps to set my work apart from a lot of other VFX creators because not too many others use it.
What moments in your videography and TikTok journey have been your favorite?
Oh man, there have been so many haha. I think one of the my most favorite things that has come from this journey has been just being able to connect with so many other people with the same passion as me. When I first started getting serious about VFX, none of my friends were doing stuff like that so it was difficult learning on my own and really having noone to talk to about it. But now I’m able to connect with people from all across the globe and bounce ideas off of them or ask them for advice when I need help with something and that has just been so incredible and has really helped me to grow as an artist.
In addition to that, my mom has always been pretty strict on me pursuing a career in the medical field. I remember about 2 years ago, I had told her that I wanted to make videos for a living and she nearly kicked me out of the house when I told her haha. But recently my mom has seen my work getting more attention and opportunities and now she finally approves of my career choice. I feel like anyone that comes from a strict household can relate to being pushed to pursue a career your heart might not be fully into, so the moment when I was able to finally convince my mom that I can make a career out of my passion was definitely an incredibly meaningful moment for me.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED SUPPORT. WE LOOK FORWARD TO BRINGING YOU THE VOICE OF MORE INSPIRING ARTISTS AND CHANGEMAKERS IN 2022.