What does a Special Effects Artist do?

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  • Written By: Kerrie Main
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  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2019
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A special effects artist works to create realistic and imaginative scenes for mediums such as theater, television, movies and the Internet. Special effects jobs usually fall into one of several broad categories including makeup, computer graphics, trick camera work and mechanics.

There is usually a need for makeup special effects artists in productions and other projects in most mediums. With high-definition filming techniques and higher-resolution digital cameras, special effects makeup is used to hide actors’ flaws, and theater productions depend on these types of artists to portray the actors’ facial expressions to a distant audience using makeup and lighting. Special effects makeup, also known as FX makeup, can include using prosthetics as well. Artists can use blood and gore makeup techniques, fantasy makeup, and airbrushing techniques. Some special effects artists work with plaster casting and other materials in a time-consuming, intricate process.

For complex computer graphics, a different type of special effects artist, or visual effects artist, typically is needed. Most of these types of artists work in movie, animation, television and video game projects. These artists usually work as part of a larger team composed of writers, makeup artists, Web designers, camera operators and programmers to provide special effects illustrations for a production. They can use many types of software, such as 3D animation, design programs and specialized computer programs, to turn fantasy into reality on the screen.


Visual effects also can be created by trick camera work, another type of job for a special effects artist. This kind of special effects typically uses robotic camera systems to have motion control over the filming. The artist can then manipulate the camera, film, actors and computer graphics in order to create the desired frame.

Special effects artists sometimes manage the mechanical effects on sets. The job usually consists of adding elements such as water, wind, fog or smoke to a live action scene, as well as creating illusions such as an actor flying in the air or a ship rolling on the sea. These types of artists typically have a wide variety of fabrication skill sets.

There are many ways to become a special effects artist. Many people in this line of work have backgrounds in film production, media and visual communication, 3D animation or graphic design. Some people who have makeup skills begin with pro bono work or internships to gain experience. No matter their education background, many people must start at the bottom of the industry as production assistants and work their way up by making professional connections and building relationships.


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Post 3

@Ana1234 - I've got a group of friends who meet regularly to film little movies. Most of them just work ordinary jobs but they love this hobby and they wouldn't give it up for anything.

They just use computer special effects when they use anything at all. With a little bit of planning and a bit of experimentation it actually looks pretty good.

Post 2

@Iluviaporos - I guess part of the problem is that the field is so competitive that a lot of people would be willing to work for a lower salary just so that they can say that they've worked on a particular film, or worked with a particular actor.

I'd be inclined to try and get a job with a special effects company that is tied to a particular studio, since they are much less likely to let you down if you're part of their company.

I would also encourage people who think they would like to work on films to try working on their own films. There's a lot of cheap special effects software out there and it's amazing what you

can do with it if you have the patience and the ability. It might seem like a one in a million chance to get a job with a big company, but that doesn't mean you can't do what you love at home.
Post 1

I've heard that often special effects companies will go out of business after working on a big film, because they don't get paid properly for all their work. Film companies tend to try and cut corners as much as possible and they seem to have a bit of a stranglehold on special effects companies.

It's a real shame because the special effects being used seem to become more and more beautiful with every film I see. The last one I saw was basically a big, dumb action flick but the special effects were breathtaking. Basically, they were art.

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