Job Description of a Special Effects Artist

Special effects artists require some formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and necessary skills to see if this is the right career for you.

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Although a bachelor's degree in animation, computer graphics or graphic design may be an asset to those pursuing a career as a special effects artist, it isn't always required. A portfolio showcasing your skills and experience with industry-standard software should appeal to potential employers.

Essential Information

Special effects artists create mechanical, optical and computer-generated illusions for movies, television shows and computer games. Although there's no standard education required to become a special effects artist, some formal training is necessary to help candidates develop their technical skills. Most aspiring special effects artists earn a bachelor's degree in a field such as computer graphics or animation.

Required Education Bachelor's degree is typical
Other Requirements Skills with industry-standard software, such as Renderman and After Effects
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all multimedia artists and animators
Median Salary (2015)* $63,970 for all multimedia artists and animators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Special Effects Artist Job Description

Most special effects are created through computer graphics programs, known in the film industry as CG. These programs create two- and three-dimensional images and models that can be animated to do things human bodies can't accomplish and things that are unsafe for people to attempt. Special effects images also allow things like building explosions that would be impractical to reproduce live. Special effects artists must learn how these things would happen in real life and translate them into a screen image. Research skills are vital for a special effects artist.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 6% growth in employment for multimedia artists and animators from 2014-2024. May 2015 BLS data showed a median annual salary of $63,970 for these workers.

Skills Required For a Special Effects Artist

One of the greatest skills a special effects artist can cultivate is the art of listening. Directors and writers explain specific ideas to the special effects artist and the artist must be able to understand the concept and create an image that comes as close as possible to the original concept. A special effects artist turns words into pictures.

Some of the computer programs that special effects artists use are After Effects, Houdini, Renderman and Shake. A special effects artist uses every-day office software as well, such as Microsoft Office programs. Technical knowledge must be coupled with innate artistic talent.

The ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines is essential for a special effects artist. Whether the artist works in the film industry, video game or music video field, artists work on a project-to-project basis. Film and video projects factor time into budgets and delays that put a project over-budget can stop the project cold.

Education Requirements for Special Effects Artists

There is no exact route to becoming a special effects artist. Although undergraduate and graduate programs in animation, computer graphics and graphic design exist, they are not always requirements for special effects jobs. Many of the computer programs used in creating special effects are taught in art schools and graphic artist programs.

Working Conditions for Special Effects Artists

A special effects artist works with a myriad of people to make a project come together. Often there are several special effects artists working on different components of the exact same scene and they must work together to create one seamless image. Artists make their images work with backgrounds, live actors, directors and other special effects artists who may be working on other characters or image types.

Special effects artists rarely work regular schedules. Long hours and weekends are the norm rather than the exception for these artists. Special effects artists may work for large companies, such as Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks, or for independent filmmakers.

Special effects artists create mechanical, optical and computer-generated effects that are used in video games or for television shows, music videos or movies. They must be skilled with computer programs that generate effects and need the ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines.

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