Visual Effects Technician  What They Do

Just the Facts

Insider Info

dot"The job of a visual effects supervisor is to understand what 'real' means and how to mimic it," says Mark Breakspear. He is a visual effects supervisor at a post-production company.

Visual effects supervisors create special effects for movies, commercials, TV shows, music videos or other visual mediums. Special effects are the images and techniques that make the ordinary look extraordinary. These special effects often have to be as realistic as possible.

dotThis is a dynamic and extremely fast-paced industry. Those working in visual effects will usually specialize in certain areas. Apart from working with computers, visual effects supervisors may also be required to work out in the field, such as on the set of a movie.

"There are all kinds of different positions in visual effects and animation," says Tom Bertino. Bertino heads an animation and visual effects program at an arts university in San Francisco.

"They work with both 3D elements, with live action, with video or film, and then also with motion graphics," says Susan Varnum. Varnum heads a visual effects and motion graphics program at an art institute in San Diego, California.

dotFor all in this field, hours are long and a regular workday is almost non-existent. This is especially true when nearing the end of a project. "On the last project for example, I did seven-day weeks, 12-hour days for seven months," says Breakspear. Depending on a project a company is working on, travel may also be a requirement.

"The job is tough, it's hard work, but it's intensely rewarding," says Bertino. "My experience was that you have to think on your feet a great deal, you have to be a creative thinker. You can't just sit down and be a work horse," he says.

dotVarnum says that many graduate students actually find themselves working at news channels because of the vast amount of graphics needed to produce a news broadcast. They may also end up working for television stations.

"They're a little easier to get into right off the bat -- like Nickelodeon, MTV," she says.

For the most part, visual effects technicians are hired by post-production companies. These can either be large corporations such as Walt Disney Animation or Industrial Light and Magic, or they can be smaller companies. "Lots of smaller houses are opening up all around the world to do all kinds of different projects big and small," says Bertino.

dotDepending on what a special effects person does, they may need good physical fitness. Those who work primarily with computers might not need the same abilities.

At a Glance

Make the ordinary look extraordinary

  • There are many different kinds of positions in visual effects
  • The hours are long
  • Art and animation programs are useful