How Do I Become a Special Effects Artist?

Special effects artists help create mythical creatures in fantasy films, huge explosions in action movies and realistic 3-D environments found in many animated movies. Read on to learn about educational programs, career opportunities and potential wages in this field. Schools offering Animation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Special Effects Artist Do?

As a special effects artist, you may focus on post-production effects for films or television shows; this type of work involves image editing to achieve a variety of effects. For example, you may be erasing anachronistic items, adding non-existent animals or merging multiple shots to create layered scenes. This work is often done using digital software, which may require long hours in front of a computer working on a tight deadline.

Special effects artists also perform practical work on in-progress productions; you might use theatrical make-up to give an actor fake wounds. You could also work with puppets, robots or models. Working on a film or television set may require travel and long hours, depending on the nature of the production. Below, the table provides some additional information about this career:

Degree Required No degree required, but associate's, bachelor's and master's degrees are available
Education Field of Study Visual Effects, Film, Film Production, Digital Arts
Key Responsibilities Edit scenes is post-production and create special effects, be knowledge about specialized editing software, help bring special effects to life during production using makeup, models or robots
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% (for all multimedia artists and animators)
Median Salary (2015)* $63,970 (for all multimedia artists and animators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Get Training

There is no specific degree required for a career as a special effects artist; some employers may provide on-the-job training. However, degree programs can help you develop your skills and may lead to increased employment opportunities.

Many colleges and universities offer programs in visual effects, including programs at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels. These programs may include coursework in both traditional and digital effects; you might study basic and advanced animation, sound design and 3-D technology.

Other types of programs might prepare you for this field as well. For example, programs in film and film production may include coursework in special effects training; you'll also study the writing and directing aspects of film creation. Additional programs related to special effects include visual arts, digital arts and computer animation.

Find a Job

The most prominent employers of special effects artists are film and television companies. You might work on a film or television show in production or post-production. Jobs of this nature are often based in major metropolitan cities, particularly Los Angeles and New York.

You could find additional work opportunities creating displays or multimedia presentations for a museum. You might work for a company that creates and sells effects-based products, such as prosthetics, costumes or props. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), multimedia artists and animators earned an annual median wage of $63,970 in 2015 (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Art directors use their trained eyes to influence and control the overall visual style of magazines, newspapers, packaging, and film/TV productions. They also need strong communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills as they direct others who develop and format the artwork. Graphic designers create images by hand or with computers to communicate ideas that convey specific messages to consumers, primarily through advertisements, brochures, and magazines. Web developers have similar responsibilities in regards to the overall look and feel of a website.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:

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  • The Art Institutes

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    • Virginia: Arlington
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  • Ashford University

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  • Regent University

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  • ECPI University

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  • Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

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  • Southern New Hampshire University

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  • Penn Foster High School

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  • Colorado State University Global

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