Visual Effect Artist: Job Description, Average Salary & Education Requirements

What does it take to design visual effects for movies and video games? Here are the education requirements, median salaries and job outlook for visual effect artists. Schools offering Art degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Visual effect artists design computer-generated images and special effects for television shows, movies and video games. Many professionals in the field hold a bachelor's degree in art, computer graphics or animation. The table below offers a quick glance at the career requirements, salary and growth.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Animation, computer graphics, art
Key Skills Creativity, artistic eye, time management skills, computer and programming knowledge
Job Growth (2016-2026) 8% (for all multimedia artists and animators)*
Median Salary (2017) $70,530 per year (for all multimedia artists and animators)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What's the Job Description of a Visual Effect Artist?

You know that zombie from your favorite TV show? That dragon from last year's hit video game? The characters from everyone's favorite kid's movie? They were all created by visual effect artists. Visual effect artists use computers to create two- and three-dimensional effects that make our entertainment seem that much more real.

Some focus on character designs while others specialize in doing background scenery or explosions. Most use storyboarding to visualize a scene and then utilize illustrating programs (or their own programming language) to bring the scene to life.

How Do You Get to Work as a Visual Effect Artist?

Many employers require a bachelor's degree in a related field such as art, animation or computer graphics, plus a demonstrated ability to create artwork on a computer. Undergraduate work might include courses in computer science, drawing, 3D modeling, painting and sculpture. Some employers may also look for those with technical skills in Adobe Creative Suite, UX wireframes, UI design, or Java.

Many visual effect artists post their creations in an online portfolio to generate interest in their work and show it off to potential employers.

Where Do Visual Effect Artists Work?

Since visual effect work is done on a computer, some visual effect artists can do their work from home, though others work in offices as part of a team (working on a movie project, for instance). The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2016 59% of all multimedia artists and animators are self employed, 11% work in the motion picture business, 6% work in computer systems design and 5% work in the software publishing industry.

How Much Do Visual Effect Artists Make?

The pay you get as a visual effect artist depends largely on two things: the industry in which you work and your specialization. The median salary for all multimedia artists and animators, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $70,530 per year in May 2017. Some industries paid more. The median wage for artists working for software publishers was $80,850 while those in the motion picture industry brought home a median salary of $77,240.

Is the Visual Effects Industry Growing?

Almost all of the entertainment we consume uses some sort of computer-generated imagery, from mobile phone applications and movies to televisions shows and video games, which will drive demand for visual effect artists. However, growth in the U.S. may be tempered by the fact that many companies are looking overseas for visual effect talent, often because it's cheaper. All things considered, the BLS estimates that employment for all multimedia artists and animators will rise by 8% between 2016 and 2026, which is just about on pace with the average for all other occupations.

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