Visual Effects Artist Job Description
Fans of modern-day sci-fi and fantasy movies and video games are often watching the results of a lot of hard work by visual effects artists. Often called multimedia artists or animators, these professionals are responsible for adding computerized graphics and animated images to movies, TV shows, and computer games. These effects often cannot be produced by live actors or images. Visual effects artists usually work in high-stress environments. Hours can be long – 10- to 12-hour days or even longer are not unusual, especially when production demands that a project be done within a specific amount of time. Visual effects artists are typically creative, detail-oriented, and highly knowledgeable about computer software applications. They can be independent contractors or work for movie studios, TV networks, or video game manufacturers.
Visual Effects Artist Duties and Responsibilities
Specific job duties for visual effects artists vary based on their employer. However, there are several core tasks common to all visual effects artists, such as:
Create Visual Images
Visual effects artists use software applications and computer programs to generate characters and other visuals for a variety of media. They might create CGI characters for movies or TV shows, produce visuals for video games or mobile applications, or insert graphics in websites or videos.
Before the final images are ready to be used in films or games, visual effects artists typically create mock-ups or simulations to be reviewed by directors, engineers, editors, and others involved in the development of a film, gaming product, or other media. Any issues with animation are worked out through these mock-ups so the best art can be used for the final scenes.
To understand where and how animated images are to be used for multimedia purposes, visual effects artists often create storyboards. These tools help the artists understand the timeline of the story told in a film or the action depicted in video games so they understand what images are needed and where they will be used in the final product.
Brainstorm with Artists and Designers
Visual effects artists meet with designers, artists, directors, engineers, and others involved in the development of animated features for video games, movies, TV shows, mobile apps, and other media. They participate in discussions about digital animation concepts, make pitches for gaming ideas, and report the progress of current projects.
Visual Effects Artist Skills and Qualifications
If you’re an artistic, creative, innovative thinker who can meet deadlines and adhere to strict project guidelines, you can make a career out of being a visual effects artist. Once we reviewed several job postings, we found that employers tend to seek candidates with the following skills:
- Computer skills – a thorough understanding of software applications, computer operations, programming languages, and graphics and digital animation programs are essential for visual effects artists
- Drawing – visual effects artists must often make sketches and drawings to explain concepts and provide visual support for ideas
- Creativity – the ability to come up with unique characters, images, and other graphics is a must for visual effects artists
- Time management – visual effects artists must adhere to deadlines at all phases of production, from preplanning to editing
- Self-motivation – though visual effects artists often collaborate with others on a visual effects team, they must also possess the ability to work with little or no supervision when drawing and designing images
- Attention to detail – making realistic characters and other images calls for detail-oriented individuals
- Communication skills – visual effects artists spend a lot of time conversing and interacting with artists, animators, directors, film editors, producers, and other professionals, and must be able to communicate clearly with a diverse team of professionals
Tools of the Trade
Visual effects artists typically use the following tools:
- Programming languages (C#, C++, Python)
- Graphics software (Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, Illustrator, Dreamweaver)
- 3D animation software (Maya, Unity, Unreal Engine)
Visual Effects Artist Education and Training
While some employers might hire visual effects artists with experience alone, many require that prospective artists hold a bachelor’s degree in areas such as fine art, computer animation, multimedia studies, or graphics. Courses one might take in these programs include drawing, animation, computer science, software development, game design, and film editing. A four-year degree in one of these subjects allows one to build a portfolio that’s helpful for employment purposes. Some programs might even include an internship at a movie studio or game manufacturing company.
Visual Effects Artist Salary and Outlook
As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), visual effects artists earn a median annual salary of about $70,000. Those earning in the 10th percentile can be paid around $40,000 annually, while top earners in the field are paid a median annual wage of just over $123,000.
Professionals earning the highest annual mean wage work in the motion picture and video industries (just over $84,000). Visual effects artists employed by software publishing companies also make among the highest mean wages for this occupation ($83,000). Those working in Connecticut earn the highest annual salary in the U.S. at nearly $92,000, followed by Washington and the District of Columbia (both just over $88,000).
An 8 percent employment growth rate for visual effects artists is projected by the BLS through 2026. An increasing demand for realistic effects in video games and movies, coupled with the continued interest in video games and mobile applications, will play a major part in this growth.
If you feel particularly drawn to this career, you might wish to explore more about what being a visual effects artist entails. Learn more about job duties and expectations by accessing the resources provided below:
International Digital Media and Arts Association – focusing on digital media educators, iDMAa provides visual effects artists with resources and support through conferences, online articles, a journal, and networking opportunities
Inside VFX: An Insider’s View into the Visual Effects and Film Business – from the history of visual effects to its future, this book, written by a senior visual effects professional, offers an extensive look at the use of visual effects in movies and what the industry is REALLY like
The Visual Effects Producer: Understanding the Art and Business of VFX – from interviews with professional visual effects artists and reviews of standard industry practices to preproduction planning and postproduction responsibilities, this extensive book explores all aspects of working as a VFX artist
Allan McKay Blog – get links to podcasts featuring live interviews and discussions of visual effects industry practices, hosted by a leading visual effects supervisor and technical director
Visual Effects Society – the only association of its kind in the entertainment industry, VES educates, supports, and cultivates those in the visual arts field. VES offers screenings, summits, technological updates, and links to books and other resources
VFXV: The Magazine of the Visual Effects Society – VFX Voice is an online publication providing industry news, company profiles, innovative practices, and more in the areas of film, gaming, TV, and related media
The Filmmaker’s Guide to Visual Effects: The Art and Techniques of VFX for Directors, Producers, Editors and Cinematographers – how do all involved in creating a film work with visual effects artists and teams? What are concepts in visual effects? Which strategies are used in the planning, budgeting, and shooting of visual effects? These are among the major topics you’ll explore when you refer to this comprehensive guide
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