Working in VFX
About the VFX Industry
VFX involves the creation of images and sequences for film, TV, animation and games that are otherwise too difficult, expensive or impossible to create on set. Special FX is the name for what is created on set, for example explosions, animatronics and models.
VFX uses a combination of technical and artistic skill, alien landscapes, enormous crowd scenes, explosions, fire-breathing dragons or cute, fluffy creatures can all be created from scratch. Artists also repair and tweak film footage, removing wires on puppets or stunt actors and replacing the backgrounds of green screen footage.
Award-winning films like Gravity, The Dark Knight, The Hobbit, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Guardians of the Galaxy have all had VFX produced by UK based firms and the UK is fast becoming a world leader.
Most key job roles in VFX combine creativity with high levels of technical ability. It’s also valuable to have an artistic eye and some technical skills if you’d like to work in a supporting or leadership role for VFX artists, such as production coordination and producing.
The major occupational groups within VFX are:
Animators create the moving images and effects, utilising assets from the Art & Design department.
Art & Design (12%)
The Art & Design department will be responsible for creating the models and art assets for a VFX shot.
Business Management (9%)
Business Management will be responsible for ensuring a VFX studio grows as a business, attracting new clients and expanding in the necessary departments.
The production team will make sure the project runs smoothly, delegating tasks to team members being responsible for the overall final product. They will also be responsible for sourcing external assets when needed.
Job roles are usually defined by the workflows of individual companies and projects. Some key job roles include Modeller, 3D Artist, Animator, Matte Painter, Motion Graphics Artist, Technical Director, Compositor, VFX Supervisor and Producer.
More job roles are emerging with technology in new areas of the business, like Groom Technical Directors that work with animated hair, and Stereographers that work with 3D imagery for cinema and virtual reality.
VFX companies are currently experiencing skills shortages in Storyboarding, Production Management, Animation and Compositing as well as skills gaps in the use of high-end VFX software including Nuke, CelAction, Storyboard Pro and Maya.
Develop your skills
In addition to academic qualifications and training, companies are looking for skills and experience and will want to see what you can do. Don’t wait until you are qualified to begin building your portfolio or developing a showreel to demonstrate your skills. VFX work is often required on student and short films, and can be a great way to hone your craft. As well as a portfolio, you can create an online portfolio, or build an interactive community as a swarm on Hiive, the professional networking site for creative people.
Out of school opportunities like BFI’s Into Film, Sketchfab and Nesta’s Make Things Do Stuff all offer opportunities to develop and showcase your skills outside school or college.
VFX careers require you to work with others, so working on your team skills and your ability to give and receive constructive feedback are also important in this sector. If you’re interested in production or leadership roles, a passion and understanding of the technology is a requirement, as well as experience in a similar role. This can often be in games, advertising or TV and radio.
An interest in the moving image, creating short films or animation sequences, a basic grasp of scripting and automation, illustration and life drawing will all put you in good stead for a career in VFX.
Facts and Figures
Visual Effects is the fastest growing component of the UK’s film industry, with growth at an explosive 16.8% between 2006 and 2008. The sector is predicted to grow by a further 14% between 2012 and 2022, increasing employment opportunities to around 7,600 employees across the UK.
VFX is not just used in the film and TV industries. Many aspects of design uses VFX including designing new cars, jewellery and buildings. The medical industry also uses VFX for 3D modelling.
VFX is at the cutting edge of new technology. Pushed by creative ambition, VFX productions create new tools and software that are then adopted by other disciplines or industries.