Visual Effects Major: Information and Requirements

A degree in visual effects offers the training needed to design and implement the visual effects for movies, television and commercials. There are a few different types of degrees in the area, including a Bachelor of Science in Animation and Visual Effects and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Digital Media and Visual Effects. Read on to learn about prerequisites, required courses and career options for graduates.

Essential Information

Several of the 4-year degree programs that provide a specific focus on visual effects are offered through colleges and universities with a particular emphasis on film and the arts. In fact, many students who are interested in studying visual and special effects do so through courses offered in a regular film or television production degree program. Those programs provide students with a background in the film industry, an understanding of the storytelling process and a solid foundation in the visual medium.

Students enrolled in a visual effects program also learn about the technical aspects of bringing special effects to life on the screen. They learn to use computer animation tools that allow scenes to be altered for tension and dramatic effect, as well as the basics of using CGI in television and films to create scenes that cannot be shot in real life. They develop an eye for detail and learn to apply it towards the minute application of visual effects to each shot, sometimes gaining an understanding of how particle systems and physics might affect a re-created scene.

Education Prerequisites

Students enrolling in a visual effects program should have a solid background in computer technology, mathematics, physics and art studies. Many programs in visual effects combine the field with drawing and animation, so a background in those areas is helpful. Other requirements include a high school diploma or GED and at least an average GPA.

Program Coursework

The coursework included in a visual effects major combines technical and theoretical aspects of film production and design. Some course topics might include the following:

  • Introductory computer graphics
  • Cinematic storytelling
  • Digital photography
  • Figure modeling
  • Careers in animation and FX
  • Digital compositing
  • Lighting for special effects
  • Texturing
  • Matchmoving

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Special effects and visual effects artists fall into the category of multimedia artists and animators, and these workers held 29,270 in the United States in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The demand for these workers was expected to increase 8% from 2010-2020. In 2012, the median annual salary of multimedia artists and animators was $61,370, as reported by the BLS (

Continuing Education Information

One example of a further degree offered in the field of visual effects is a Master of Fine Arts in Animation and Visual Effects. Such a degree typically takes two years to complete and covers advanced topics related to visual effects in cinematography, production and direction. Students in such a program are typically required to complete a thesis project that uses the theories they have learned in a real production setting.

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