As a part of our ongoing series of guides inspired by the Twitter list #aspiring2actwritedirect, the team at TomCruise.com compiled a list of resources to get visual effects artists and special effects artists careers off the ground! As we did in the posts for emerging actors, directors and screenwriters, the team mined the best information online to bring you a guide to begin your journey into the world of cinematic post production and visual artistry. For all the fans of movie magic who dream of transforming a simple shot into something amazing, here’s your introduction to getting into the game. With dedication, hard work and a passion for building these beautiful or awe-inspiring images, you can wind up creating scenes from visual epics like War of the Worlds (seen in the photo above).
The evolution of visual effects and special effects steadily transformed the film industry since its inception over 100 years ago. From the simplest tricks of editing on through the total visual immersion available in current computer generated images (CGI), the combination of art and technology delivers whole new worlds for audiences to enjoy. Some of the most popular films of the last 35 years employed visual effects to a stunning end, creating experiences previously unknown to cinema fans. These incredible innovations include the advent of immersive 3D, the grand scale of IMAX cinematography, and the use of computer generated effects to enhance, or even wholly create, a feature film. The world of cinema continues to find innovative means of expression, and needs plenty of help doing it!
That’s where special effects fans and students like you come in. Perhaps you’ve more than wondered how these incredible feats of post production happen. Maybe you have amazing visual ideas of your own! While the following guide isn’t completely exhaustive, it does help set you on a course to find the information you’d need to get started on a career conjuring the next big blockbuster. Here’s how we’ve organized the post to best help aspiring visual effects artists:
- We’ve included links to major visual effects publications and blogs to help you get educated about the visual effects.
- You’ll likely want to learn about the tools of the trade: the advanced software used to shape these visual experiences.
- You may find it helpful to head to school in order to learn how to use the sophisticated instruments used to create visual effects, as well as proper aesthetic training.
- Finally, you’ll need to search the visual effects job boards to find your dream job at industry-leading studios!
- Moreover, you can seek the help of a professional society of visual effects artists both before and after landing that life-changing gig.
So stay tuned cinephiles and VFX junkies: your show is about to start.
A starting point on any journey is to learn a little more about the culture you’re heading to visit or, in the case of our aspiring visual effects artists, live and work in. To that end, the publications illustrating the world of visual effects give student and emerging artists insight into the business, background into important people or companies, and news about the latest innovations in a fast-moving field. Basically, both magazines, news and online publications give newbie visual effects pupils the lay of the land and introduce them to terms used widely as a part of the professional language. Below we’ve listed you should be familiar with:
A leader in visual and special effects publications, Cinefex has given visual effects aficionados the inside information on how Hollywood accomplishes visual feats since 1980.Visual filmmaking luminaries such as George Lucas and James Cameron have lauded the quarterly publication, the latter commenting, “We are moving toward a time when the only limitation on a filmmaker is his or her imagination. But that will only be true if we stay abreast of the skills and technology the visual effects industry has to offer. Cinefex is the one true source. Read it to expand your vision.” High praise from the director of the two largest grossing and technically innovative movies of all time in Avatar and Titanic! The quarterly magazine features an iconic still from a visually arresting film on each cover. While not available free of charge online, subscribers can peruse the latest issue through an online portal.
A free online news source for the special and visual effects community is the FX Guide. Offering insider looks at the industry, feature stories about certain studios or films, resources, downloads, a podcast and more. For burgeoning visual effects artists, this online resource provides a perfect entrance to the professional atmosphere of VFX studios. With an extensive archive, forums and weekly updates, there’s plenty for newbies to look at.
The professional blog of respected visual effects supervisor Scott Squires, Effects Corner, also packs a heap of info for the beginning visual effects professional. Squires brings decades of experience to the blog, with visually effects credits stretching through some of the touchstones in recent film history such as Blade Runner, The Mask, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and Van Helsing. Furthermore, Squires is a board member for the pre-eminent professional association for visual effects artists, the Visual Effects Society. Beginners can glean valuable insight from Effects Corner on schools, professional opportunities, and the background behind many of the amazing effects he helped invent or worked on. Perfect for those just getting their start!
Australia’s Ian Failes runs and writes the VFX Blog, which collates some of the choice articles from the above sources in the visual effects community. Failes also scores interviews with industry leaders, such as visual effects supervisor Sean Faden chatting up the effects in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The VFX Blog also maintains an impressive presence on Twitter (@vfxblog) for online VFX fans and students who want to stay in the loop through a realtime source.
Some of the greatest hurdles students of visual effects have to overcome are in the mastery of complicated computer programs used to generate many of the special effects now used widely in motion pictures. These pieces of software give artists the ability to transofrm images on film, enhance images into other
The team at TomCruise.com also recognizes the tools used by special effects artists outside of the digital environment – ranging from mechanical effects and miniatures to pyrotechnics and firearms to creature creation and make-up effects. All of these venerable analog special effects also play a giant part in the creation of stunning motion pictures. But the entires galaxy of special effects knowledge would be difficult to capture in a single post :). So, for the time being, we’re going to concentrate on the most popular software to give beginners a route to easily starting a career from wherever a computer workstation can be had.
Take a look below at some of these powerful programs and what it is they are used to accomplish by visual effects teams:
An industry standard for 3D animation, Autodesk Maya even won an Academy Award for Achievement in Science and Technology for, “use in nearly every instance of 3D animation or effects.” Basically, if you’re a visual effects artist, you will need to understand the use of this program. Created by the same company who founded the powerful AutoCAD design and engineering programs, Maya allows visual artists to ‘build’ characters from a wireframe outline to nearly photo-realistic rendering. Academy Award-winner Avatar included effects made with Maya.
Another 3D animation tool from the venerable software company, Autodesk 3ds Max was also used on Avatar and the visual effects spectacular 2012 to create previously impossible shots. Like Maya, 3ds Max is used in the creation of animated images approaching photo realism. The difference comes in the modeling and rendering tools packed into 3ds Max for creating objects. This software is ported exclusively for Microsoft Windows operating environments.
For truly realistic finishes to any animated 3D object, Autodesk “Flame” Finishing Software offers some of the most true-to-life compositing ability of any program on the market. Many visual effects studios use this powerful software in combination with motion and image capture to build morphing images or scaling other objects in a shot.
More along the lines of professional-consumer (“prosumer”) software, Adobe After Effects, offers the beginning visual effects artist a powerful tool available for a reasonable price to master the first steps of computer-generated visual effects! This is the entry point for many young and training visual effects artists, but don’t think this software is a toy. Some feature film prodcutions, such as the animated feature Flatland. used After Effects in the hands of a skilled artist to make an entire movie!
A competitor to After Effects in the prosumer visual effects market is Eyeon Fusion. Another affordable and relatively easy to use piece of software, Fusion can be used for compositing and rendering of effects. This software is also no slouch in the professional arena, with capable use on such effects-heavy Hollywood feature films like Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
One way to quickly master the use of tools and technology in the field of visual effects would be to attend a reputable professional school. The best of these schools not only give you the opportunity to learn advanced software, but lend to critical understanding of visual theory and typically give a hand up directly into the industry with connections to job placement with some of the major studios we’ll talk about below.
On the recommendation of reader Pam Hogwarth, an executive at LOOK Effects and a board member of the Visual Effects Society, we realized we needed to include the Gnomon School of Visual Effects to this blog about training! The school offers programs in Entertainment Design (a one-year course of study), Digital Production for Entertainment (two-year course), the combined Entertainment Desgin & Digital Production program (three-years), a Maya Fast Track Course (9 weeks) and individual courses for any schedule. Gnomon boasts top instructors from celebrated studios such as PIXAR, DreamWorks SKG, Digital Domain, and Sony Pictures Imageworks.
While it’s not necessary to attend university to enter the world of visual effects, there are many big advantages to combining a classic or traditional education with technical know-how. Even better are the opportunities to learn both at the same time. The following schools have specialized coursework in visual effects, new media and digital arts that can push students to the next level in their careers. Also, these programs offer beginning visual effects artists the training in classic film and studio art techniques – a foundation in visual aesthetics – that separate true artists from mere technicians.
- Academy of Art College, San Francisco
- California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)
- Chapman University
- Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD)
- Savannah College of Art & Design
- School of Visual Arts, New York
- University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Theater, Film & Television
- University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts
Once you’ve gathered the knowledge of the tools and the techniques used by the professionals of the visual effects industry, the emerging artist’s next step would be to find the right studio to ply their craft. While there’s plenty of small production studios throughout the world looking for talented artists to create visual effects, we’ve gathered a list of some of the very best. We want our fans and students to shoot high, and it doesn’t get much higher than this! These visual effects studios not only lead the industry, but in many cases invented the technology that made the industry possible. Landing a gig at any of these magical workshops is considered the dream destination for most (if not all) aspiring visual effects artists. Browse through the list and see if any strike your fancy:
Perhaps the most venerated studio in the history of visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic likely tops the list as the most desired visual effects studio to work at. Since it’s foundation by George Lucas in 1975 to create the effects for his groundbreaking science fiction film, Star Wars. Since that time, ILM has gone on to capture 15 Academy Awards for visual effects while working on nearly 300 films. The studio invented many of the techniques now common to visual effects, including computer and character animation, photography manipulation and advanced work with mechanical and miniature effects. It’s no wonder
The studio is now celebrating 35 years in the business of manufacturing magic. Part the celebration includes a documentary narrated by Tom Cruise, Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible, outlining the company’s history. You can get the details about the documentary airing on television in a previous post. Needless to say, it’s not one any visual effects fan would want to miss.
While not precisely a visual effects studio, the Disney-owned animation and production studio PIXAR may travel in its own category that transcends film, effects and technology by combining the three with near perfect artistry. After transforming motion pictures forever with the introduction of an entirely computer-animated feature-length film (Toy Story), PIXAR went on to virtually own the Academy Award category for animated movies. In fact, many critics now point to the stories in PIXAR movies superseding those of traditional live action! For the starting visual effects artist, a job at the Emeryville, CA company may be the first and last place they would ever want to work,
Creators of the visual effects in the latest Tom Cruise movie, Knight and Day, Rhythm & Hues is also at the very top of the field. The El Segundo-based company has captured two Academy Awards for achievements in visual effects – first for Babe in 1995, followed with The Golden Compass in 2008. The studio also got a nomination for character animation on the 2005 film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. In addition to feature film work, Rhythm & Hues is also an innovator in commercial work for some of the world’s largest companies.
Home to some of the most recent innovations in the field of visual effects, WETA Digital created the groundbreaking effects for director and company founder Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series, garnering an astounding three-for-three Oscars in the process! The New Zealand-based company went on to also win Oscars for work on King Kong and the record-breaking James Cameron film Avatar, primarily for innovations in motion capture technology. The current director of WETA Digital, Joe Letteri, is considered a legend in the industry after several years in a key position at ILM. The future looks incredibly bright for this studio, even if it is named after one of the world’s largest bugs.
Another multiple Academy-Awards winning visual effects studio is the Los Angeles-based outfit, Digital Domain. Originally created in a partnership between visual effects heavyweights Stan Winston and director James Cameron, Digital Domain invented technology such as the composition software Nuke to transcend the industry standard. Their Oscar-winning includes visual masterpieces, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Titanic and What Dreams May Come. With constant innovation as a touchstone, the studio has lined up stunners for upcoming release, including Tron Legacy and Thor.
For students looking for work at a studio specializing primarily in CGI animation, Tippett Studios in Berkeley, California could be calling your name! This smaller studio captured an Academy Award for amazing character animation on Steven Spielberg’s dinosaur thriller, Jurassic Park, in 1994. Tippett Studios also undertakes award-winning work with commercial clients, winning two Clio awards for animation used in television advertising for Blockbuster Video.
So you have the skills and you know where you’re shooting to work at. Great! Now you just need to see if there’s an opening ;). Below are a pair of online job boards for visual effects artists with openings at top shops like those listed above, as well as smaller independent visual effects studios throughout the United States and the rest of the world. Even if you’re not winning an Oscar with your first project, there are tons of opportunities for visual effects and special effects artists around the globe. With your drive and talent, we think you’ll be the next one on board with a company doing great work!
A great first stop in looking for work in VFX would have to be the VFX Talk, Jobs Board. A component of the influential VFX Talk forum and message board, the jobs listings come from some of the major players in the industry and are updated daily. A quick peek at the time of writing included two top listings at Rhythm & Hues! Now that’s a sweet opportunity! A job marketplace is also available for artists to post their resumes to. Industry leaders then have the chance to browse through the marketplace and hand you your next gig.
Another great spot to search for employment at a visual effects studio is the boards at VFX Jobs. Any promising VFX artist throughout the globe can look for their next project or creative home with the thousands of listings on the board. Also, artists can post resumes to a job marketplace for hiring companies to find you.
While there’s currently no official labor union representing visual effects artists or supervisors, there is a professional society organized by industry veterans that offers information about the field, including resources for finding work.
The Visual Effects Society serves as the “the entertainment industry’s only organization representing the full breadth of visual effects practitioners including artists, technologists, model makers, educators, studio leaders, supervisors, PR/marketing specialists and producers in all areas of entertainment from film, television and commercials to music videos and games” according to it’s official site. There burgeoning VFX artists can find important information about technical advances in the industry, white papers for training, and detailed information about financial concerns for the community.
And that’s a wrap! While there’s no way we could have included everything in this one post for asipring artists, we’re always happy to add to it. Any of our readers with additional info, links, blogs, Twitter streams, Facebook pages or whatever, feel free to leave us a note in the comments section. We’ll do a little research and add the info to the post! For everyone else, that means keeping an eye on our official Facebook page and Twitter stream for updates.
For all the creative people the worldwide reading this and wondering if it applies to them, we have a message. YOU CAN DO IT! We believe in you and your talent. All you need is to believe in yourself, keep a smile on your face and work as hard as you can. If you stick to that plan, it’s guaranteed good things will happen!
Stay tuned to the blog for further episodes in the series for those who #aspiring2actwritedirect.We’re continuing to branch out beyond the original three segments of the entertainment industry. Some of the ideas we’re thinking of include guides for editing, producing, production design and cinematography.
All the best!