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Pursuing a Career in Visual Effects

Nuts, bolts, helical gears, shrapnel, and various other objects seem to hurl and fly out of the silver screen right into your face. The surround sound adds to the realism of the explosion, and the 3D glasses make you feel that you were IN the blast! A platinum-haired and dragon-riding queen can burn to the ground an entire make-believe city. Eyeballs melting, superheroes flying, spaceships jumping to light speed, alien beings popping out of one’s chest, and of course, T-Rex coming to life.

Ah, visual or special effects. How it fascinated you when you were still young. And they still do; that’s why you’re preparing yourself to enter the industry and become a visual effects artist. You are currently enrolled in the undergraduate program in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin. Are you on the right track? What more do you need to learn?

Here’s a quick guide on how to pursue a career in visual effects:

An Overview of the Visual Effects Industry

Most visual effects we see in films are done in what is called postproduction facilities. The video postproduction services industry earned $8 billion in 2019 (October) in America. The estimated number of businesses is nearly 16,000 across the US.

Visual effects artists are well compensated as well. The average salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is just over $70,000 (2017). The elite in the business, however, can earn northwards of $123,000.

The best place to gain employment is, of course, in California. But Texas, Florida, New York, and Washington are also good places to be.

Visual Effects

Understanding Visual Effects

When you manipulate real-world motion pictures or still images to produce enhanced digital versions, you are creating visual effects or VFX. Using advanced software and computer technologies, real-life photographs or videos are combined with fabricated imagery to create scenes or environments that would otherwise be impossible to film with a camera.

Pursuing a Career

That you love film and visual imagery are probably two of the main reasons that are pushing you towards this path. But here are the things you need to consider to prepare yourself.

  1. Education. Most experts in the industry say that you would need at least a bachelor’s degree to get your foot in the door. You would need to have a background in fine arts, animation, or computer graphics. But since software and computer development go at a very rapid pace, you need to update your skills also regularly.
  2. Skills. At the top of your skillset is Adobe Creative Suite. You would also need some level of expertise in Prototyping, UI-UX designing, JavaScript, MAYA, and 3D modeling. Your checklist of soft skills should include creativity, communication, collaboration, organization, and problem-solving, among others.
  3. Two paths to employment. Many take the road to self-employment. 2014 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicate that more than 50% of VFX artists were self-employed. But some still aspire to make it to big studios, like Pixar or Industrial Light & Magic. However, be prepared to work in a harsh environment where high-quality work needs to be done based on strict deadlines.
  4. Put yourself on the radar. You need to impress recruiters, and recruiters talk to fellow recruiters. Create an impression with a showreel of your best work. This should be something that would really “Wow!” your recruiter, who in the future, might also put it in a good word for you.

There’s plenty to do in terms of learning, and you need to keep abreast of what’s the latest in technology. Most importantly, you need to keep that creative light burning.

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