Three insider secrets to a lighting portfolio that lands your dream job.

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What is a VFX Artist? How to Become One in 2024

by | Last updated Jan 31, 2024

Ever wondered how to become a VFX artist? 

Then you’ve come to the right place! 

In this guide, we’ll explore everything you need to know to become a successful VFX artist in 2024. 

Interested? Let’s get started.

 

What does a VFX artist do? 

A VFX artist (visual effects artist) is someone who creates visual effects for video games, TV shows, movies, and other media. 

They create CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) using a wide range of software. The techniques VFX artists use includes 3D modeling, lighting, compositing, and animation.

That’s why VFX teams consist of artists who are specialized in different areas of VFX.  Here are some of the many roles that VFX artists can have:  

  • 3D Sculptor
  • Compositing Artist
  • Lighting Artist
  • Data Technician
  • Environment Artist
  • Computer Graphics Supervisor
  • Animator
  • Previsualisation Artist

But what are the responsibilities and tasks that VFX artists need to tackle on the job?  

Here are a few examples:

  • Collaborating with other artists. If you work in large productions you’ll usually have many collaborators in the creative department. Being able to work well with those team members is an important part of being a VFX artist.
  • Designing different effects. Each project is different. So, as a VFX artist, you’ll need to be able to tailor effects to the particular project using a wide range of software, such as Autodesk 3ds Max, Houdini, Maya, and Nuke.
  • Creating realistic lighting on set. Since VFX artists often work on projects that are entirely animated, creating realistic lighting could be a key part of your job. VFX lighting artists often use software programs like Arnold and Renderman to achieve this.
  • Making 3D models. VFX artists use 3D models to make a character, environment, or object seem believable to the audience. 3D modeling is an early stage of production when the creative team can experiment and get a feel for what look they’re trying to achieve. 
  • Compositing. As a VFX artist, you combine live-action footage with CGI elements in order to create seamless visual effects. For example, you might add motion blur, key out green screens, and adjust colors and lighting. You need a good understanding of software like Nuke and Adobe After Effects. 
  • Problem solving. VFX artists use complex software and sometimes run into unexpected problems. So, being able to work through those problems and keep the project on track is a key skill to have.
  • Working well under pressure. As part of the creative team, VFX artists have deadlines and goals they must meet to keep the project running smoothly. That’s why being able to work well under pressure is essential. 

Okay, now that we’ve looked at what VFX artists do, let’s take a look at what the career is like.

Is VFX a good career? 

Taking the leap and becoming a VFX artist can lead to a deeply fulfilling career. Work often varies substantially from project to project, meaning that no two workdays are the same. 

Plus, the creative and technical talents that VFX artists bring to a production make them very valuable and allow them to command a high salary, especially with experience. 

Here are a few things to expect from the job: 

  • Lots of feedback. Since a VFX artist’s role is to create the visuals for a project, lots of people will have opinions on how things should look. So, being open to other ideas and perspectives, as well as occasional criticism, is an important part of the job.
  • The ability to network. As a VFX artist, you’ll often have the opportunity to join other creative professionals at gatherings and events. This creates the perfect opportunity to form connections and grow your network.
  • A casual working environment. Most VFX studios are interested in your talent and don’t require business attire at work. This creates a more laid-back, casual atmosphere where you can focus on being creative.

So, what do you need to learn to be a VFX artist? That’s what we’ll look at next.

What are the most important skills of VFX artists? 

The most important VFX skills are: 

  • Having an artistic eye and being a creative thinker 
  • Understanding lighting, shadow, composition, and color
  • Knowledge of physics, shaders, 3D graphics, and post-process effects 
  • Being a proficient user of 3D animation software (including Adobe After Effects, Houdini, Maya, and more)
  • Understanding the compositing process
  • Being a proficient user of VFX software, such as Nuke and Fusion
  • Being skilled in texturing, lighting, prep, roto, basic comp, and matchmoving
  • Having photographic skills, understanding depth of field, shutter speed, composition, framing, and aperture 
  • Being a skilled communicator and working well in teams 
  • Having project management skills 
  • Being able to creatively solve problems and come up with new approaches 

Alright, now you know what skills a VFX artist should have. But what’s their salary like?

That’s what we’ll cover next.

How much do VFX artists make? 

As a VFX artist, you can expect to make between $61,000 and $111,000 per year

The specific salary you earn will depend on your experience, the company you work for, and your specialty. 

But what’s the job outlook over the next few years? 

The industry is growing faster than average, with an expected growth rate of 8% between 2022 and 2032

And do you know what more growth means? It means there’ll be more opportunities for new artists in the industry. 

Speaking of which, let’s look at what it takes to become a VFX artist. 

How to become a VFX artist

So, you want to become a VFX artist. In this section, we’ll go over the steps you should follow to land a job.

Qualifications

Good news: You don’t need a degree to become a VFX artist. All you need are the right skills. 

But even though a degree isn’t necessary, the complex software programs you’ll use on the job aren’t easy to learn on your own. 

That’s why taking VFX courses from established experts in the industry can be key to your success. 

The Academy of Animated Art (AAA) has a course on lighting in VFX which is just the kind of class you need to build specific skills. 

AAA courses also include a community of other aspiring VFX artists. So, even though the courses are online, you won’t be learning alone. 

Some teaching organizations will also help you during your job search, which is exactly what you need to get started in your new career. 

Employers

Okay, after you’ve gained the skills to work as a VFX artist, you’ll want to find a job in the industry. 

Most of the best VFX studios are in larger cities like Los Angeles, New York, and London. 

Here are some of the biggest potential employers for new VFX artists:

  • Framestore 
  • Zoic 
  • PowerHouse VFX 
  • Psyop
  • Nomad 
  • The Mill 

Get a job 

So, you’ve taken the courses and learned the software. Now you’re ready to get a job! 

But wait, there’s one more crucial step: creating your VFX demo reel. Here’s why it’s so important (and how to build one):

A demo reel or portfolio is a video reel of your best work. The goal is to show your skills as a VFX artist to potential employers. 

This is why it’s vital to put one together before starting your job search. 

And look: Building a demo reel might seem daunting, but it doesn’t need to be complicated. 

Here are the steps you should follow to create a killer demo reel that’ll impress potential employers:

  • Keep it short. Make sure to only include your very best work. On Pixar’s website they state that demo reels should be 1 to 3 minutes long. Used wisely, that’s plenty of time to show your skills.
  • Don’t crowd the screen by creating a collage of your work. Pick the best clips and give them center stage.
  • Include a breakdown of your role in each shot. Did you do the lighting? Did you do the character design? Let the viewer know.
  • Make sure you include your name at the start of the video to show viewers whose work they’re seeing.
  • Finally, upload your finished demo reel to YouTube or Vimeo. That way, you can easily share the link with potential employers. 

Once you’re happy with your demo reel, build experience through internships. 

Why internships? 

Because they provide a look at what life is like for professional VFX artists. 

They’re also a great way to learn new skills from experienced professionals and start networking with other artists in your industry. 

Freelancing is another fantastic option to gain experience. Many smaller productions, like short films or commercials, look for freelance VFX artists, so it’s a great way to get your foot in the door.

And, by working online, you get ultimate flexibility, which is a huge plus. 

Next steps

So, there you go! Now you know what it takes to become a VFX artist. 

As you can see, becoming a VFX artist is a great way to use your creativity to work on engaging, meaningful projects. 

VFX artists are well-paid, and the industry is expected to grow over the next few years. 

And, with excellent online courses available to you from anywhere in the world, learning the skills you need to get started in the industry has never been simpler. 

Learn more: 

What is the Difference Between Animation and VFX? 

How to Learn VFX

How to Become a VFX Lighting Artist

 

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

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