There are several things to keep in mind when working to become a special effects artist, including training, experience, and focus. The field of special effects is a diverse industry, including both computer-generated imagery (CGI) and mechanical effects, such as pyrotechnics, prosthetic makeup, and miniatures modeling. Training programs vary from two-year trade schools to university degrees in special effects. Most employers generally require effects artists have some level of experience in effects design before hiring them.
The field of special effects encompasses a wide variety of positions. A person wanting to become a special effects artist may wish to specialize in one field or another. Advances in technology may allow many people to work in computer animation. Also, the mechanical effects that are used during filming, such as pyrotechnics, animatronics, and prosthetic makeup, typically require a different set of skills.
Most of these jobs require some form of technical training, whether it be computer animation, painting, artistic modeling, or mechanical engineering. Usually, a person wanting to become a special effects artist will gain some level of formal education, which often allows him or her to build a portfolio. This education may take the form of a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in a relevant field. Examples of these fields include film and video production, computer animation, or visual effects.
An individual who wishes to become a special effects artist may continue his or her education by earning a Master of Fine Arts degree in a desired field, but this is not common. On the other hand, some individuals may forgo a traditional college altogether and gain training from a trade school or technical college that offers courses in the type of effects they wish to work with. For example, a student may take courses in animatronics if his or her eventual goal is to work with moving puppets or models, for films.
Beyond formal education, a person who wants to become a special effects artist generally needs to gain experience in his or her chosen field. This is often available through working on student films, in theater productions, or even theme park-style, haunted house attractions. Often, an effects artist needs to begin with entry-level jobs that may lead into more professional positions. For example, someone may begin working as a production assistant on film sets and work his or her way into an apprenticeship position under a skilled effects artist.
A good deal of this type of work is contracted to effects houses that usually specialize in a certain type of effect. For example, a house may work to create weather on movie sets, such as rain, snow, or wind. These houses typically hire experienced employees who have a strong portfolio of similar, prior work.