Visual Effects Supervisor
A VFX Supervisor works directly with the producer and director of a film or TV project. They are responsible for the visual effects. These are the usually the effects added to a film image during post-production (after filming). They are different from special practical effects, which are done on set and filmed. However, a VFX Supervisor will be responsible for “cleaning up” special effects so they look as good as possible in the final product.
Much of a modern VFX Supervisor’s work will be taking charge of the computer-based effects and images needed for parts of the movie. The producer and director will go through the entire script with the VFX Director to make sure they understand what the final vision of the project is. They will guide the visual effects before, during, and after the movie is filmed.
With good planning and communication during pre-production (planning the shooting of a film), a VFX Supervisor will be able to spend much of the film shoot supervising the plans are followed. This will make it easier to complete the Visual Effects during the post-production.
This is a high-level position during a film and TV production. However, many of the creative decisions will be made by the director and producer. It is up to the VFX Supervisor to help this vision come to life.
- Working on visual media, possibly for millions of people to see.
- You are the “boss” leading several dozen members of a visual effects crew
- Often able to travel and meet many different people
- Working to make a unique vision come to life on screen.
A VFX Supervisor may work directly on set, or at a separate Visual Effects Studio. Each day can be very different from the one before. Their work can also shift dependent on if they are working on a separate film, a full TV Series, or other visual media. They could work on a short portion of a complex shoot for a few days, or a single movie for up to two years.
During pre-production, a VFX Supervisor will meet with the producers and directors of the project. They will review every shot of the film with this team to determine when and where an effect will need to be added after shooting. They will work with VFX artists to craft concept art, prototype computer models, and any other planning that needs to take place.
During filming, the VFX Supervisor makes sure each shot is able to have effects added. Sometimes, shots may change which can make it more difficult for the VFX team to do their job. There may be a need to reshoot a scene with different elements such as a green screen to make it easier for the VFX artists to do their job.
Sometimes, VFX are able to start before a movie is finished filming.
Because a VFX Supervisor is responsible for all visual effects, they spend much of post-production reviewing the work of the VFX artists. The Supervisor will make sure all the added effects meet the level of quality a director and producer is looking for. However, they also must make sure their artists are meeting time deadlines. There can be long days and hours for Visual Effects workers!
- Written and Oral Communication
- Interpersonal Skills such as diplomacy and networking
- Attention to Detail
- Planning and Organizing
- Adaptable/Flexible problem solving
- Film/Video Production skills, including editing
- Able to use complex computer animation and editing software such as Adobe Creative Cloud or AfterEffects
- Communication technology via computer, phone, or software like Slack.
- Television/Film Studio
- Video Game Studio
- Visual Effects Studio
As with many jobs in the entertainment industry, becoming a VFX Supervisor can be a long and challenging road. You may find it difficult to find an entry level position at a VFX studio and will need to work at creating an effects reel or portfolio independently. You may also start work on film sets as production assistant or runner.
A runner may only be responsible for message delivery and fetching coffee. If you lack a network and connections, it will take time to build it. Enthusiasm and a positive attitude is key to move up in the field.
VFX houses also provide long hours. You may start at 9am and work past midnight during times when deadlines are approaching. If you are working as a VFX artist, it can take many years of this lifestyle before you are able to move into a Supervisor role.
A VFX Supervisor has very little further to go in the VFX field, as they are often the top worker in a VFX studio. This is often the role they want to end their career in, but some may move on to be VFX Producers or Film Directors.
If you continue to do good work, your main advancement will be bigger and better-known projects.
As effects continue to improve in realism, there is a greater need for these artists and supervisors. Especially with the recent trend of action and superhero movies, VFX has become essential for creating realistic looking computer art.
However, there has been pushback by some filmmakers to return to practical effects. Some VFX Supervisors see this as competition, but others see it as an opportunity. Practical effects often need touch up work done after filming is completed by VFX houses.
As Virtual Reality offerings increase, there is more opportunity for VFX artists to work in this field as well. This includes Augmented Reality (AR), which involves a visual overlay in real-time over what an individual sees in real life. While perfect for entertainment, it also is being used in the field of education.
- Drawing, sculpting and artistic hobbies.
- Computer coding and exploring video games.
- Watching movies, and trying to make them.
There are several paths a person can take to become a VFX Supervisor.
- Bachelor’s Degree – Visual Effects/Motion Graphics, film and television production, computer animation
- This will often be from an Art School or college specializing in Art
- This is highly recommended, and can be the easier path long term.
- Other Majors can work as well, but you will need to demonstrate your skills.
- Teach yourself via Internet courses, or trial and error.
- Major animation software systems: Maya, Nuke, and LightWave
- Take art classes, including illustration.
- Computer coding and programming.
- If your high school offers 3D computer animation and/or media productions, these are very important.
- Some Colleges offer Bachelor’s Degrees in Visual Effects/Motion Graphics
- A mix of film, art, and computer classes can help you gain the skills needed.
- As early as possible, curate a portfolio of work as well as a “reel” of any video you produce with visual effects.
- Networking is the best way to get hired:
- Log internships as often as possible if you are in school.
- Create an online presence with a portfolio, and use social media to build connections with professionals in the industry.
- Stay positive and confident in your worth – try avoid doing work “for the exposure.”
- Use sites like UpWork for Fiverr to offer freelance work you can use for your portfolio.
- With a degree, network and solid portfolio, you may be able to land a job within a VFX house as an artist.
- Be ready to work as a Production Assistant or Runner to get your foot in the door.
- A VFX Supervisor is often the top of the VFX department or production house. You will likely start at an entry level position as a Production Assistant (PA) or Runner. This position may not include any VFX work at all!
- You will need to take the initiative to continue maintaining a portfolio of projects in your spare time. This can be character design, short effects reels, or any other work that shows your skills. Even fan art of a favorite property can demonstrate your skills.
- Networking and building relationships in the industry will help just as much. You will need to show you are easy to work with and willing to take direction when needed. It will take a combination of skills and personality to move up in the industry.
- The Professional Association for Design
- ACM SIGGRAPH -Computer Graphic Design Conferences
- National Association of Schools of Art & Design
- VFX World Magazine
- VFX Voice
It can be a long path to be a VFX Supervisor, but there are plenty of alternative paths.
- Video Game Designer
- Visual Effects Artist – Stay at this level
- Other position in Film/Video Production (If you learn the skills)
- Sound Design
- Costume Design
- Practical Effects
- Computer Analytics – if your knowledge base is more computer based.
- Book Illustrator
- Graphic Design for Companies
- Freelance Work
A career in film can be challenging. VFX Artists work long hours and don’t always get the credit they deserve. It is highly likely you will start at an entry level position, even with a degree. You may also find yourself working in a non-VFX position as you look for one.
The best tools are your own creativity and networking. If you are able to create a good portfolio, you will be ready when the right opportunity comes along. A portfolio of all your best work is a good thing to have, but be ready to pick 1-2 pieces from it that demonstrate your skills the best when applying for a job.
Keep a strong network with others in the industry. A good internship in a college program will help with this. While it is certainly possible to find a position without college, the experience will help you develop connections and assure future employers you have learned the skills necessary to do the job.
To move up from VFX Artist to Supervisor will take time. In addition to skills and networking, you will need to demonstrate an ability to lead others and to help meet a cohesive vision.