What does a character FX artist do?
Character FX artists build and run simulations for the hair, cloth, skin, and muscles of 3D character assets (humans, animals, monsters, etc.) in response to their environment and how they are animated. It's a specialization of an FX artist. Depending on the project, this can be executed in a stylized or realistic manner. Before creating character effects for film, artists may also be required to research real-life examples, watch reference videos (when possible), and generate multiple concepts.
- Cloth (clothing and fabric)
- Hair, fur, and feathers
- Muscle, skin, and fat movement
- Rigid body dynamics
Character FX artists are also known as CFX artists or char FX artists.
Character FX job description
Strands of hair floating on the breeze, muscles extending and contracting as someone runs, fur matting together in the pouring rain, a pair of pants crumpling to the floor — these actions (and more!) are the responsibility of a character FX artist.
Role and responsibilities of a CFX artist in visual effects may include:
- Set up and adjust hair, cloth, and fur simulations with direction from the Department Supervisor/Lead using relevant software (see below)
- Complete character FX work on a shot-per-shot basis
- Check for and fix penetration and intersection problems
- Check for and address any continuity issues
- Develop automated workflows for character setups
- Communicate effectively with surrounding departments (animation, modelling, surfacing, and rigging) as needed to continually improve simulations
- Become proficient with all relevant department tools, suggesting improvements and optimizations if/when necessary
- Taking on and executing creative briefs and feedback from Leads and Supervisors to execute assigned tasks and shots
- Ongoing communication with Production and Leads regarding schedules and deadlines
- Ensure all shot assets can be cached to be picked up downstream (in lighting and/or comp)
Skills required to become a character FX artist
CFX artists require a mix of technical, creative skills, and interpersonal skills. The VFX industry is a highly collaborative environment — a single shot will often travel through multiple departments before being finaled — so CFX artists must be able to work well in a team and have a solid understanding of the VFX pipeline.
Recruiters may look for the following skills when hiring a character FX artist:
- Houdini experience: setting up and running quality simulations (demonstrated via showreel) and working knowledge of simulation concepts
- Understanding of muscle and skin simulation
- Understanding of anatomy and form in motion
- Ability to work in a fast-paced environment and work under pressure to meet tight deadlines and rapid turnaround times
- A solid understanding of the VFX post-production pipeline
- Highly collaborative and a team player
- Problem-solving abilities with an analytical mindset
- Organized, particularly with asset management (including naming systems)
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal
- High-level attention to detail
- Experience making model corrections for shot finalization
- An interest and aptitude for learning new software
What software and tools do character FX artists use?
Character FX artists must know their way around SideFX Houdini but there are other software they should also learn.
Character FX artists may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:
- Houdini (and a range of hair grooming and cloth simulation tools and SOPs/DOPs/LOPs)
- Yeti (for Maya)
- nCloth (for Maya)
- Common renderers, including Vray, Renderman, Mantra, Redshift, and 3Delight.
- Marvelous Designer
- Programming languages VEX and Python are also commonly used in FX
How much does a CFX artist make?
Wages for FX Artists start at around USD $75,000 and peak at around USD $180,000.
To learn more about this field, visit: What is the Visual Effects Pipeline? or VFX industry advice for junior FX artists