Visual-effects artists and supervisors create special effects, animation and do visual clean-up for feature films and commercials. One day, you may be supervising a shot of film extras so they can be digitally duplicated into a scene. Other days are spent in front of a computer, creating an entire alternate universe—like that used in “Avatar.” Workdays are usually at least 10 hours long. Deadlines are high-pressure and rarely flexible. Many artists say they work through the night to deliver a project on time. Visual-effects artists bemoan that there is no union representation to regulate hours and working conditions.
Artists and supervisors employed by post-production companies are usually on the payroll and receive health care and retirement benefits. Free-lancers can receive insurance via the Visual Effects Society, an industry association. Because of the late-night work required, meals are often billed to clients. Travel is also a regular part of the job. And in some cases, artists can see movies before they are released to the public.
Animation and visual-effects programs are offered at a number of universities, but a degree or certificate isn’t required. More important is an eye for artistic detail, such as light, shadow and texture, says Mark Tobin, managing director of The Moving Picture Co.’s Los Angeles office. “You can teach the technical knowledge, but you can’t teach a great eye,” Mr. Tobin says. “The key is getting your foot in the door.”
Newcomers usually enter the industry through internships and apprenticeships—sometimes unpaid. Expertise in software such as Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop helps. A strong reel (a short video showing clips) is critical. Since it’s a tight-knit industry, networking is also key. Employment in the industry is cyclical and tied to film studio budgets and appetites for films with extensive special effects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for artists and related workers is expected to increase 12% through 2018—on pace with other occupations. However you do need to complete a VFX course.
Visual effects artists create imagery that is either impractical or impossible to film. The majority of this work is currently done via computer; other kinds of effects are now largely relegated to niche and specialty situations. According to The Wall Street Journal, visual effects artists are responsible for creating special effects using computerized technology. This work can include creating animations or fixing up details for television shows, commercials, feature films, and other film media.
VFX artists often work on tight deadlines due to theatrical release dates and other constraints related to working in the film industry. The job usually involves following instructions from a client or supervisor and may not allow for the possibility of much personalized input. However, some professionals in this field may gain satisfaction in knowing that their work contributed to the completion of a major media project.
Students need to have a firm understanding of standard software tools of the industry, such as Houdini, Nuke, RenderMan, Adobe CS5, mental ray, and Autodesk Maya. Although a degree is not necessarily required for jobs in this field, a bachelor’s degree is standard, and completing a certificate or degree program can help signify qualification to work as a visual effects artist. Associate’s, bachelor’s, and graduate degree programs are available in relevant fields of study, including computer animation and visual effects.
Visual effects artists produce computer-generated animation and effects for films, television shows, and other media. Degrees range from certificate programs to master’s degrees, and knowledge of industry software and the ability to work on a deadline are advantageous in this field.