VFX Jobs Explained – A Guide For Filmmakers (Part 3)

VFX Jobs Explained – A Guide For Filmmakers (Part 3)

We’ve talked a lot about different visual effects jobs in the film industry, without which modern films couldn’t be made. It is worth mentioning that headlines have been made claiming some VFX workers are treated unfairly or asked to work inhumanely long hours. The fact of the matter is these jobs are occupied by people. People who are paid the minimum amount by their employer to accomplish their tasks. But as artistic and beautiful as films have the capability of being, they can’t be made at the expense of human dignity. So if you occupy any of these jobs and feel like your well-being isn’t valued over the completion of the project, please say something. You owe it to yourself and to every other VFX worker out there to set the record straight. As more and more VFX workers unionize, they assure a safe working environment for the rest of us.

This article is the final of a multi-part series designed to educate and inspire filmmakers interested in VFX jobs or learning more about visual effects in general.

VFX Editor

I’m sure that every filmmaker and most movie-goers know what an Editor does. But there is a subcategory of editing that fits into the VFX world. And that is the job we are talking about here.

Editing workspace. Source: Unsplash.

VFX Editors track all of the visual effects shots within a given sequence. They make sure all VFX shots fit into the overall edit. They also do a lot of administrative work to track these shots and see what their status is. This job is much more along the career trajectory of an editor than a VFX artist, however worth noting since it deals with visual effects in a large capacity.

Motion Graphics

This is my favorite VFX job because it allows for so much creative freedom. Motion Graphics, for our purposes, encompasses title/credit sequences, lower third animations (commonly seen in news graphics), holographic and HUD displays, and anything else requiring words, letters, numbers, or images on the screen. Think of Iron Man‘s HUD in the Marvel films- created by The Orphanage. Or a cool end credits sequence of a film, like ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness‘- created by Andrew Kramer’s team over at Video Copilot.

I cut my teeth doing motion graphics for corporate work, and I loved it. It’s a great way to learn VFX since it requires so many different skill sets. It could be as simple as words on a screen but set to interesting visuals like the opening titles of ‘Se7en‘, designed by Kyle Cooper. But just because it seems simple, doesn’t mean that it’s easy. It still takes quite a bit of skill and artistic knowledge to do well. But it is incredibly rewarding and fun to watch!

Post Vis

Probably the heaviest hitter of all the VFX jobs, just because this one encompasses so much work that can be either 2D or 3D. And, other than Generalist, I would say this is probably where most people learn VFX.

Whereas ‘Previs’ is visualizing the movie before anything is filmed, Post Visualization is compositing work done to video frames after filming has taken place. Compositing is adding or taking away something on the image that wasn’t there while filming. This comes in the form of adding fx, like smoke, fire, muzzle flashes, etc.. Or you can take something away by “painting it out”, like wires holding up stunt actors, or portions of an actor’s head like in ‘The Creator‘ to make them look like a robot.

An example of “painting out” portions of an actor (Ken Watanabe) from ‘The Creator’ (2023). Source: 20th Century Studios.

A subset of compositing worth mentioning is ‘rotoscoping’. Since the advent of VFX in films, there has been roto work. Rotoscoping is tracking a moving object frame by frame and either painting it out or separating it from the background. Roto work was used to paint in the lightsaber effects in the ‘Star Wars‘ films and TV shows. Up until recently, rotoscoping was a tedious job, but has been made a little easier using AI in tools like DaVinci Resolve‘s “Magic Mask” or Adobe Premiere Pro‘s “Roto Brush”. I said “a little easier”, but make no mistake: it still takes a lot of patience and time to do the job properly.

Chroma-keying, also known as “green/blue screens” would also fall under this subset, although it’s not quite as simple as clicking the color and then replacing the background. In fact, most (if not all) chroma-keying involves some sort of rotoscoping to clean up the masks. You see, as good a tool as chroma-replacement is, it is the first in a multi-setup process. But, with the inclusion of AI (a common theme in this series), chroma-keying is becoming a little easier. And that is a welcome tool enhancement.

VFX Supervisor/Producer

I saved the Big Boys (and Girls) for last for a reason: this is the most important and most respected job in the VFX community. But it doesn’t come easily. These people are responsible for how VFX shots are created on a given project. Many even create technologies that don’t yet exist,- like the LED volume tech that started in 2016’s ‘The Jungle Book‘ or the underwater motion capture created for 2022’s ‘Avatar: The Way of Water‘. These people accept the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and direct teams of people to create their vision. They are usually second only to the Director (or Showrunner) in terms of creative control over the project. It is his or her job to oversee all visual effects for the project. So all of the other jobs we’ve talked about in all articles in this series funnel into the responsibility of the VFX Supervisor. It’s a big deal and a lot of responsibility. But the buck stops here… at least in terms of visual effects.

Eric Saindon, Richard Baneham, Daniel Barrett, and Joe Letteri accepting the Best VFX Oscar for ‘Avatar: The Way of Water’ (2022). Source: AFP.

Thank you for joining me on this exploration of VFX jobs. I hope it has been informative and inspirational for you, and I certainly hope I didn’t get anything wrong. But I know or have known people in all of these roles, and can attest that every one of these jobs, no matter how simple they seem, takes a great deal of patience, skill, and time to get right. So when you see visual effects that you think look a little wonky, you can probably assume that the VFX house didn’t have enough time to work on the project before it was yanked out of their hands by the studio – because we have a great deal of pride in what we do, and we want the best possible product to be out there for audiences to see.

Do you know anyone that works or would want to work in VFX? Send them this article, tag them below, and let’s share our wealth of knowledge together.

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