Previs Artist

The role, salary, software, and skills of a previsualization artist

Student work by Daria Zadecka

What does a previs artist do?

Previs artists (or, visualization artists, or previs animators) create and block out 3D digital content that helps illustrate the outline of a story or production, helping to visualize what a scene, set, or certain actions will look like before it’s filmed, created, or finalized. They will experiment with different camera staging—angles, lenses, moves, etc.—and rough animation using proxy and production-ready assets. Visualization artists can contribute to every stage of production: pre-production (pitchvis, previs), production (techvis, stuntvis), and post-production (postvis).

Previs is probably the most common form of visualization. It helps filmmakers envision a film before going into production, almost like a 3D storyboard. Based on the script or 2D storyboards, the role of a previs artist/animator is to see how the action of a shot or sequence could play out, which they translate into a 3D space. These animations are rough in nature, they concentrate on main actions and blocking, and need to be produced quickly in line with the production schedule.

Previs artist job description

The work of a previs artist (or any visualization artist) will never be seen by film audiences or video game players yet their output is vital to the final product. In some cases sequences will be intricately visualized, matching shot-for-shot in the finalized scene. 

Example of previs vs. the final shot

A previs artist's role is to create draft versions of key scenes and sequences to test the action and act as a basis from which to animate, act out, film, or build. They work closely with the director and often the visual effects supervisor to plan out the scenes at a conceptual stage, like visual rehearsals of a scene. They reflect the director’s vision by bringing the storyboard to life, allowing for any important changes to be made. 

Role & responsibilities of a previs artist in the film and games industry:

  • Liaising with directors and animators regarding the look and style of the sequences to be previsualized
  • Researching the sequences and assembling references for the previs sequence
  • Translating storyboards into animated sequences
  • Deconstructing and planning out sequences
  • Depicting staging, blocking, camera motion, and character performance
  • Editing and compositing scenes
  • Testing assets and rigs
  • Integrating sound elements into visuals in sequence
  • Rendering final animations of previs

Skills required to become a previs artist

Similar to the role of a real-time 3D artist, previs artists require a broader focus and, along with 3D animation, will also be required to assemble and work with layouts and cameras. Their role can also often include modeling and texturing basic props and characters.

A common pathway to becoming a visualization artist is to study 3D animation or take a virtual production course

Film and television studios may look for the following skills in previs artists (and other areas of visualization):

  • Strong sense of cinematic composition and lighting
  • Character animation (timing and performance)
  • Experience with rendering
  • General 3D skills - modeling, rigging, shading, etc.
  • Able to take and interpret creative direction
  • Understanding of animation process
  • Fundamental knowledge of film language and genre
  • Able to work with motion and/or performance capture data
  • Solid knowledge of cinematography principles - framing, camera angles, composition, cinematic lighting, perspective
  • Understand the fundamentals of virtual production
  • Can translate CG cameras and animation to apply to real-life situations

What software and tools do previs artists use?

With the increasing use of virtual production, techniques, a lot of larger previs studios (e.g., The Third Floor, Halon) are moving over to game engines to produce their visualizations, allowing them to make edits in real-time. However, knowledge of other software is still required/beneficial.

Previs artists and other visualization experts may need knowledge of a combination of the following software:

  • Unreal Engine
  • Unity
  • Maya
  • Nuke
  • 3D Studio Max
  • After Effects
  • Nuke
  • Blender
  • MotionBuilder
  • Houdini

How much does a previs artist make? 

The average wage of a previs artist is between USD $56,000 to USD $111,000. (Source: Glassdoor).



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