FX Artist - Film

The role, salary, software and skills of film & TV FX artist

Film FX artist job description

Film Visual Effects Artists create computer generated images (CGI) to add to live-action footage during the post production process.

Types of visual effects include:

  • Motion capture - recording the movement of an actor which is then overlaid with a 2D or 3D animation, think Andy Sirkis as Golum. 
  • Matte painting - a painted background that is overlaid onto the film to create an environment that didn’t exist on location.
  • Match moving - the seamless insertion of CGI into tracked live-action footage within correct position, scale, orientation and motion. 

These effects could vary in scope from a visual clean-up for an advertisement, to creating matte paintings for a television series, to adding magical flourishes to a Harry Potter installment, to creating an entire alternative universe as in Avatar.

Role and responsibilities

Whether they are sci-fi, fantasy, or realistic, most films and television series require special effects, so FX Artists are always a part of a post-production team. FX Artists create special effects for all genres, whether they are subtle enhancements such as matte painting backgrounds on historical dramas, or creating alternative universes in CGI-heavy blockbusters.

The role of the FX Artists is to create or augment that which cannot be captured in camera, often assisting on set to ensure the footage will work well with effects to be added in post-production. 

Responsibilities of an FX Artist in film may include:

  • Liaise with the director, cinematographer and gaffers regarding how the footage should be shot
  • Conceptualize and design special effects as identified in the script
  • Develop storyboards detailing how the effects work within shot
  • Design mock-ups of where the final images will sit within the scene
  • Brainstorm with key heads of departments on how the effects will look
  • Maintain a consistent visual style 
  • Modeling, animating and compositing
  • Match moving, motion graphics, texturing, lighting, pre viz, rotoscoping, prototyping
  • Creating texture effects for use with particle systems
  • Ensure seamless integration of live action and CGI elements
  • Attend production meetings, report on progress made, and take direction as the project develops
  • Operate cameras, work with lighting and audio to shoot video as reference for special effects
  • Respond to changes during the course of production and problem solve on complex effects issues
  • Work within FX teams and in collaboration with post production teams
  • Keep on schedule and within budget

Software and other tools used

The tool-kit of FX Artist involves software and basic filmmaking equipment. They work with post production, special effects, animation and compositing software. Basic camera skills are required to film elements to be used for effects, FX Artists may shoot with Second or Third Unit crews. 

VFX Artists may be required to use the following software:

  • Houdini
  • Redshift
  • Adobe Creative Suite - After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro
  • Maya
  • JavaScript
  • Nuke
  • Matte Painter
  • Substance Painter
  • Flame
  • Smoke
  • Linux/Unix operating systems
  • Microsoft Office Suite 

Skills required

FX Artists work in teams, usually within the post-production department. They may be required to work on a range of effects, produce 2D or 3D animation, modeling, etc. The more skills an FX Artist has the more valuable they are to a production 

Employers may look for the following skills in an FX Artist:

  • High level visual awareness and artistic skills
  • A strong portfolio or demo reel of original work
  • A solid knowledge of the filmmaking process, especially post production
  • Ability to visualize and develop effects as required by the script
  • Communicating sequences via storyboards
  • Problem solving ability, analytical mindset
  • Good communication skills, especially visual and graphic presentations
  • Team player, self-disciplined when working alone
  • Adept at following production methodologies
  • Knowledge of the compositing process
  • Photographic skills - understanding depth of field, shutter speed, lighting, aperture, composition and framing
  • Photoshop editing skills
  • Excellent time management skills, ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines
  • High level attention to detail 

Average salary

Wages for FX Artists start at around USD $41,000 and peak at around USD $115,000. *Source: Payscale

For more information about this field, read: What is the Visual Effects Pipeline?


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