Special Effects Technician: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a special effects technician. Learn about job duties, training and salary potential to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Animation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Special Effects Technician?

Special effects technicians create the special effects in movies, animation, television shows, commercials, video games and other mediums. They may utilize their artistic and design skills, or may perform tasks using computer design software. They may also be responsible for building and designing sets used during filming or for theatre productions. Special effects technicians may be involved with the creation of robotic devices, claymation, prosthetics, and pyrotechnics. Those who work in film or related industries will review the script and begin the process of making sketches and models for the special effects needed for the project. Special effects technicians who work on films and similar projects may need to meet with the director and other special effects technicians or a special effects supervisor to review design proposals and receive feedback that will enable them to finalize their designs.

Education Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Set design, film studies, multimedia animation, theatre
Key Responsibilities Develop effects for theatre and/or film productions; train actors in safety and how to use effects
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6%* (multimedia artists and animators)
Median Salary (2015) $63,970* (multimedia artists and animators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Training Will I Need To Become a Special Effects Technician?

To become a special effects technician in either the theatre or film trade, you'll need a great deal of hands-on experience and a wide range of knowledge about your industry. The most beneficial degree programs will likely be from film schools or concentrated in film studies or theatre at universities. A strong grasp of electrical, construction, engineering and animation fundamentals will also provide you with a firm foundation in order for you to construct and implement a variety of different effects.

You'll benefit from courses dealing with set design, makeup and stunt work, along with courses in editing, lighting and cinematography for potential careers in film. Additional training and knowledge with carpentry, plumbing, automotive fundamentals and other crafts can aid you in the development of effects rigs.

What Are the Necessary Job Duties?

Special effects technicians are needed for both theatrical and cinematic productions. As a technician for a theatrical production, you must regularly coordinate with the director and the set and lighting designers to develop effects and construct the necessary rigs. You'll then need to test the effects and train the actors and crew to safely use them. Additionally, you must attend all rehearsals and remain in communication with the director and crew to alter, add or remove effects according to the needs of the production.

The evolution of effects in film has gone from entirely physical special effects to heavy use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and other digital effects. 'Visual effects' now generally refers to CGI work while 'special effects' work refers to physical elements such as explosions and pyrotechnics, blood and action effects, miniatures, weather elements and any other non-digital effect a film might require. You'll need to be in regular communication with the visual effects team to ensure that all effects are well integrated to provide complete and believable sequences. You'll also need to consistently correspond with the director to ensure all effects coincide with his or her creative vision for the film.

How Is the Employment Outlook?

Employment within the film and theatre industries is highly competitive for the most part, but jobs for special effects technicians should be more prevalent than many other occupations within these fields. In addition to having a degree and a wide of array of technical training, the best candidates will benefit from possessing a strong imagination, cultivating an independent work ethic, exhibiting meticulous attention to detail and staying up-to-date on the latest technological trends and advancements within the special effects industry.

What Can I Expect To Earn?

As of May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that most set designers earned between $24,580 and $92,470 annually with a median annual income of $49,530. The corresponding range for multi-media artists and animators was $36,930-$113,600, with a median of $63,970.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Graphic designers perform similar tasks to the ones that special effects artists are responsible for. They may create designs for magazines, blogs, marketing materials and more. Most of these professionals have a bachelor's degree and need artistic and computer skills to complete their tasks. Fine artists, such as sketch artists, painters and sculptures, also perform tasks that are similar to those of special effects artists. They rely on their artistic skills and may create 2-D and 3-D products. They do not necessarily need a bachelor's degree, although it may be an asset and help them develop their portfolio.

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