Careers in Special Effects

Special effects professionals work behind the scenes of a movie, television show or video game creating animated characters, juxtaposed action and optical illusions. Read on to learn more about common special effects job duties, training requirements and salary potential. Schools offering Animation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Careers Are There in Special Effects?

Special effects professionals first hand-draw or map out their concepts by storyboarding. They then use high-technology computer software and programs to design their creations. There are various career opportunities in the special effects field such as video game designers, 3D film animators and visual effects compositors. Video game designers are responsible for creating the features that make the game playable and unique, from the controls and mechanisms for the characters, to the storyboard plot. 3D film animators usually come up with and create the various design aspects of the animations. Visual effects compositors put the final product of an animation together, by using the prior drafts and animations along with their artistic skills. You can find out detailed information about this field by reading the table below:

Degree Required Bachelor's
Education Required Fine Arts, 3D Animation, Visual Communication
Key Responsibilities Create animated images for movies, TV, and games; use specialized editing software; brainstorm various visual effects before production
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 4% (for all multimedia artists and animators)
Median Salary (2018)* $72,520 (for all multimedia artists and animators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Training Do I Need?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), bachelor's degrees are required for multimedia artists and animators, who often work in film, TV, or other theatrical departments ( They're also highly beneficial for special effects professionals in the video game design industry. You can earn a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree with a major or concentration in 3D animation, visual communications or a related area. These programs provide theoretical instruction and hands-on studies in the creative, historical and technical aspects of special effects design. Topics commonly covered in the required courses include storyboarding, 2D and 3D animation, cartoon drawing, character and scene creation, motion graphic effects, sequential animation and surface modeling.

What Do Careers in Special Effects Entail?

Special effects professionals create animated images and other visual illusions for movies, television, and computer or video games. These may take the form of cartoon characters, images and optical illusions. Action shots or scenes that can't readily be captured live for safety or logistical reasons are also considered special effects. A heroine floating in the sky above the Eiffel Tower, a protagonist leaping out of a burning building, and a collapsing interstate bridge are all examples of live-action special effects. Many special effects are multimedia in nature, with their creation requiring the use of both computers and other media formats like film or compact disc.

What Might I Do On The Job?

Whether you work in movies, TV or computer-based animation, a career as a special effects professional typically requires involvement in numerous stages of the production process. When a project is in its initial stage of development, you may be responsible for brainstorming visual effects concepts or hand-drawing animated characters. You may create digital or manual storyboards to help directors or producers visualize how your proposed special effects fit in with their complete production concepts. For live special effects action, you'll typically use computer programs or other digital imaging to add in special effects after a movie or TV show has been filmed or a game has been programmed. You may also use techniques like juxtaposition, prosthetics, double exposures and skip frames to create special effects.

How Much Could I Earn?

Salary potential for special effects professionals may vary greatly depending on job type. As of May 2015, the BLS reported that multimedia artists and animators in the motion picture and video industry earned a mean salary of $86,080. Those who worked in computer systems design and related services earned a mean salary of $78,850. The BLS also reported a median annual salary of $72,520 for multi-media artists and animators in all industries.

According to PayScale, video game designers earned a median salary of $63,781 as of November 2019. Additionally, 3D animators earned a median of $53,330, while visual effects compositors earned $61,706 during the same period.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Related careers include art directors, graphic designers and computer programmers. Art directors oversee the execution of visual media for things such as product packaging and newspapers. Graphic designers create visuals to be utilized in magazines, brochures and a host of other items. Computer programmers design coding for software and applications. A bachelor's degree is needed for these professions.

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:

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