The big picture
The UK has a particularly strong and vibrant Visual Effects (VFX) industry, certainly the biggest in Europe and possibly the second biggest in the world at times.
VFX is a technology-led industry, driven by audiences who constantly expect new and spectacular visuals and a small group of major studios who demand inventive solutions within tight budgets.
It’s within this environment that the UK industry has won a reputation for quality and efficiency, winning Oscars for its VFX work on Gravity, Inception and Ex Machina in recent years.
The UK’s VFX capabilities are now a major draw for Hollywood’s big budget films and they have helped drive inward investment in the film industry to $920m in 2010. Part of the attractiveness for Hollywood is the ability of several UK companies to work on the same movie.
A mobile and flexible workforce
The high turnover of films means a mobile and flexible workforce is needed, with VFX studios crewing up for film projects that can take a year or more. Some VFX professionals move from project to project at the same company, while others may (like so many in the film industry) hop from one project to another with gaps inbetween. As skillsets are often similar, some will spend time working in motion graphics or games companies too.
VFX across the creative industries and beyond
Whilst films are the most visible part of the VFX industry, it would be a mistake to think it is the whole. British VFX success is not limited to film. The UK has long been a global post-production centre for commercials. Commercials are filmed both in the UK and around the world and then transformed into slick films by British VFX studios. VFX is also playing an increasingly large part in the programmes we watch on TV, from Doctor Who to period dramas.
VFX skills are often invisible, like in a variety of TV dramas where sets might be digitally extended, actors brought together by green screen techniques or colours digitally manipulated to enhance the director’s vision.
VFX is diversifying. Skilled professionals are finding their talents are needed in architectural visualisation and scientific or medical simulations. 3D VFX skills are also proving useful in the construction of VR (virtual reality) content for systems such as Oculus Rift – a new growth area.
It would be a mistake to think that the skills the industry needs are wholly technological – that software and hardware operation is of central importance. Art and business skills are needed as well. The VFX industry needs different blends of technology, creativity and enterprise to maintain its attractiveness to clients from across the world.
Creative Skillset’s VFX employer panel highlighted that 61% of company respondents were experiencing skills shortages. This figures is significantly higher than the 4% average across the wider UK economy.
So where does the industry get its skilled workers from? Overwhelmingly they come from universities and higher education institutions, which reflects the level of skills needed. Those courses can be BAs or BScs in a wide range of subjects, from art and media to engineering and the sciences. However, if you haven’t been to university, or you’ve decided on a career change, there are still plenty of ways to succeed.