In movies, everything is possible and nothing is impossible. Dinosaurs roam the Earth, the world comes to an end, mice get adopted by humans, a boy and a tiger are lost at sea and apes take over the planet. Humans battle alien races from lands far far away. Such is the magic of cinema, which is possible through special effects or visual effects (VFX) artists. Modern special effects are usually thought to be focused on computer-generated (CG) effects. Most are, because they have a greater impact on visuals than any other tool, but old-fashioned methods are still used, like precise miniatures, dynamite, blank bullets and more. Visual effects are a blend of physical techniques and digital wizardry. Special effects, animation or entire cleanups are done by visual effects artists. Though animation and VFX are sometimes used interchangeably, the difference is that animation is used for a prolonged amount of time, while VFX is used only briefly for more impact. It can be obvious or blend into the scene, as the script calls for it.
What background is helpful for becoming a visual effects artist? A degree in special effects may be the quickest and best way to gain experience and a foundation in this field. Most college programs offer basic classes in art history, drawing, sculpture and animation. Classes in 3-D modelling, computer animation and graphics are additional classes which are typically a part of this course. Anatomy, physics, biology, animatronics and math subjects can be helpful for giving you an idea of how bones and muscles move when bodies shift weight. Building models from kits or making your own can be good practice. A portfolio of your work should be maintained, so make sure you document everything that you do.
According to senior VFX artist and trainer Steve Wright, there are three subjects that must be mastered to enter this field. First is to master the tools used, like Flame, Shake, Maya, Flash and Nuke. Second, train yourself to have a good eye to create photorealistic effects, and lastly, learn the compositing technique, which involves tasks like bluescreen keying, motion tracking and so forth. Animation and visual effects programs are offered by various universities, and there are numerous opportunities for internships and apprenticeships for those with an eye for detail and who have mastered the right software. A Bachelor of Fine Art, Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Animation and Filmmaking, bachelor’s in animation and visual effects, Diploma in Animation Engineering and Diploma in Animation and Filmmaking are mainstream courses which are generally taken up by students. You can also do different certification courses in the software used.
Workdays are ten hours long, on average. Deadlines can create a lot of pressure and the job is not very flexible. Jeremy Lee, senior lecturer and Course Leader in Animation and VFX, Sheffield Hallam University, said that he believes “the animation and visual effects industry in India has a very optimistic future, not only with the film industry U.K., USA and games companies who are always looking for a talented, young and enthusiastic workforce, but also India has its own huge film and media industry.”
As time progresses, newer media and format will be introduced, and this growth can offer more opportunities for work. Moving images can now be viewed in cinema, television, computers, tablets, smartphones, billboards and games. This expansion of technology and public awareness may bring about opportunities in film and television production, advertising agencies, game development, Web content creation, educational programming and software creation. Newer technology, like motion capture and facial capture, will likely become more widespread, and as each new technology comes out, specialised artists and professionals will probably be required. Apart from technological awarenewss, visual effects artists should be grounded in storytelling and filmmaking.
You can be a company employee (for a startup or an established visual effects firm or movie house), part of a studio or you can be a freelancer. Generally, short-term commercial jobs offer better pay, but if you’re looking for job security, it is probably better to look for employment in television or movies. The world is now turning to India for visual effects because of the low cost as compared to the cost abroad, and the resource of talented labor that can be tapped into to handle more complex projects. Steve Wright says that VFX artists are very well paid, and a professional who has honed his skills in both the technical side and the artistic side, is sought after in the industry.
Studios usually recruit institutes of repute to recruit freshers, and the better the institute, the better the stipend may be. Trainees and interns are usually paid between 6,000 and 8,000 rupees, according to Animation Tutorial. Not all internships are paid, so consider if an unpaid internship is possible for your situation. The range of salary for an animator of a VFX artist depends on the studio; below is a list of trained compositor salaries from Animation Tutorial, published in 2012. Keep in mind that compensation depends on the company, region, experience and other factors.
Salary Range (in Rupees)
12,000 – 15,000
8,000 – 12,000
7,000 – 10,000
Firefly Creative Studios
15,000 – 18,000
8,000 – 10,000
Red Chillies Entertainment
10,000 – 15,000
12,000 – 15,000
15,000 – 18,000
According to a FICCI-KPMG report in 2012, the animation industry grew by 12 percent in 2011 and is estimated to further grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16 percent between 2012 and 2016, which is a marked improvement as compared to a growth of 9 percent in 2010.
“Career in Visual effects,” Times of India, http://epaper.timesofindia.com/Default/Scripting/ArticleWin.asp?From=Archive&Source=Page&Skin=TOINEW&BaseHref=TOIH/2013/03/11&PageLabel=31&EntityId=Ar03100&ViewMode=HTML
“FAQs,” Arena Animation, http://www.bestmultimedia.com/faqs.html
“FICCI Frames 2012 – 12% growth in Animation Industry; expected growth of CAGR 16% during 2012-16: KPMG Report,” Animation Express, Farhatnaz Ansari, 14 March, 2012, http://www.animationxpress.com/index.php/latest-news/ficci-frames-2012-12-growth-in-animation-industry-expected-growth-of-cagr-16-during-2012-16-kpmg-report-2
“Indian Media & Entertainment Industry to touch INR 1,457 billion by 2016: FICCI-KPMG report,” KPMG, 10 March, 2012, http://www.kpmg.com/IN/en/Press%20Release/KPMG-FICCI-Frames-Press-release-2012.pdf
“Is Indian VFX on par with Hollywood?,” Times of India, M Suganth, 26 November, 2012, http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-26/news-interviews/35347220_1_visual-effects-hollywood-studios-animation
“Is the VFX Biz in India Tricking Artists Into Working for Free?,” Variety, David S. Cohen, 6 March, 2013, http://variety.com/2013/film/news/is-the-vfx-biz-in-india-tricking-artists-into-working-for-free-1200004302/
“Salary for Industry: Visual Effects Services,” PayScale, 2 July, 2013, http://www.payscale.com/research/IN/Industry=Visual_Effects_Services/Salary
“Starting Salary for VFX Compositors in India,” Animation Tutorial, 19 September, 2012, http://www.animationtutorial.in/starting-salary-of-vfx-compositors-in-india/
“Visual effects professionals are paid very well,” Education Times, 14 May, 2010, http://www.educationtimes.com/index.aspx?page=article&secid=26&conid=2010051420100512145857562c16a270
“Working as A Visual-Effects Artist,” The Wall Street Journal, Diana Middleton, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704454304575081524097067884.html