FX Artist - Film

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

What does a film FX artist do?

An FX artist creates digital simulations and procedural workflows based on real-world elements or supernatural concepts that move or react under the basic laws of physics. These can be realistic or stylized, depending on the type of effect and how it’s used.

Composition, scale, form, speed, and viscosity are often taken into account to help determine how an effect looks and reacts to its surroundings. Before creating effects for film or TV, effects artists are often required to research real-life phenomena, watch reference videos (when possible), and generate multiple concepts.

FX artist job description

Smoke billowing from a burning building, a tidal wave crashing down on a beach, tree leaves swaying in the breeze, magic rays extending out from a magician’s wand — these effects are the responsibility of an FX artist. They also create explosions, destruction, particle systems, and liquid simulations. Their role can also be as broad as generating procedural environments, building basic assets, character FX, and solving challenging pipeline problems.

“As an FX artist, you need to excel at problem-solving — challenging problems that, sometimes, other departments can’t solve," says FX artist Daniel Hourigan, who is also the VFX Department Head and mentor of the FX course.

Role & responsibilities of an FX artist in film:

  • Design and create FX animation, procedural simulations, dynamic simulations, particle and fluid systems
  • Light and render FX elements and produce composites to showcase ideas and concepts
  • Assist in setting up or maintaining a library of effects presets which can be loaded and applied to multiple shots.
  • Generate and export compatible caches across various software
  • Create tools and code to facilitate automated workflows


Skills required to become an FX artist

FX 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 FX artists must be able to work well in a team and have a solid understanding of the VFX pipeline. 

Film studios may look for the following skills in an FX artist:

  • Houdini knowledge and experience (demonstrated via showreel)  
  • 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
  • Organized, particularly with asset management (including naming systems)
  • A basic understanding of photography (depth of field, shutter speed, lighting, aperture, composition and framing)
  • Understanding of physics and natural phenomena

What software and tools do FX artists use?

In film, the most commonly used software for FX artists is SideFX Houdini but the list doesn't stop there.

FX artists may be required to use some or a combination of the following software:

  • Houdini
  • Nuke
  • Maya
  • Programming languages VEX and Python are also commonly used in FX

How much does an FX artist make?

Wages for FX artists start at around USD $75,000 and peak at around USD $180,000. 


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