So you keep hearing about this thing called The Pipeline, but what is it? Well, question no more because we’ll take you through its workings and shed some light on what the pipeline actually is!

The VFX pipeline can be an intimidating process to understand, and when trying to decide which part of the process you see yourself having a career in, it can be a bit overwhelming. That being said, each step is very distinct from the next. Just understanding what each team does should reveal to you where your passion lies. Whether you want to become an independent filmmaker or part of a team working on a blockbuster film, the pipeline process is the same.


Story is the foundation of any great film. Story is king. The story phase involves planning out characters, plot, and the world they exist in. Screenwriters and producers will take ideas from brainstorming to a complete script. If a book is being made into a film, a screenwriter may be hired to adapt the story so that it will translate well on screen. Some examples of this would be the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series. If you want to get experience writing scripts, we recommend starting with Celtx, as it is free and has auto-formatting.

Storyboarding & Animatics

The Storyboarding & Animatics phase, an artist or team of artists will create visual representations of the actions within the script. They will analyze the character motion and settings within the story and use basic drawings to define framing from shot to shot. The results are subject to change down the line, but these visuals give the production team a chance to start preparing.

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Growing more popular, the use of pre-vis takes storyboarding a step further. 3D artists will create low poly models and representations of the locations where scenes will play out. The work with the production team to set up camera angles and block out complex scenes ahead of time. This kind of planning saves time and money when on set. Since the artists don’t have to worry about matching concept art, but just blocking out shapes and composition, this can be done rather quickly with good direction.

Concept Art & Design

Concept art & design is arguably one of the most important phases of the pre-production process. Here, an artist or team of artists will create the look and feel of the film through drawing fully fleshed out images that further define settings, characters, props, costumes, lighting, color and more. The mood and meaning of a film is often dependent on what is created during the concept art phase.

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To learn more about the process of Concept Art & Design click the link below.

What is Concept Art?What is Concept Art?

Layout and Production Design

Layout, also referred to as production design, has a different meaning for different teams. The end goal is to have a visual representation of what the final sets will look like. For the physical set builders, this helps them figure out and communicate to directors and producers what will be possible and what may need a digital set build. For the VFX team, it defines how digital set builds may have to be incorporated. The layout team and production designers may use drawings, photos, and 3D renderings to finalize the sets.

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As filmmaking gets more and more complex, R&D will become increasingly important. During this stage, VFX supervisors will work with directors to figure out how certain shots can be accomplished. In the meantime, the VFX artists, technical directors, modelers, animators, and compositors do their own research. For example, if a film needs explosions that come from a very specific type of source, like a missile, the VFX artists and technical directors will use videos and photos to study how the fire and smoke behaves. They will then create tools within a program like to efficiently work on the final shots when the time comes.

3D Modeling & Texturing

The 3D modeling and texturing teams are essential to creating things that just aren’t practical or cost effective to have on set. Being one of the first groups involved in the post-production process, they may have to model props, buildings, vehicles, weapons, and more to fulfil the vision of the director. 3D models may also be used to compliment something shot on set. For example, if someone like Andy Serkis is shot in a motion capture suit, a 3D modeler would create the character he is playing. Further down the line, this will be rigged and animated. 3D modelers generally use software like Autodesk Maya and Pixologic Z-Brush. Texture artists use digital painting programs like The Foundry’s Mari.

vfx pipeline modeling texturing

To learn more about the process of 3D Modeling click the link below.

What is 3D Modeling?What is 3D Modeling?

Rigging and Animating

Before an object or character can be efficiently animated, a rigging team will build a system of controls, or a digital skeleton, for the animator to use. This usually involves adding bones, calculating and implementing skin weights, and even adding muscles to create natural movement. The animator will use the custom controls of the rig to bring the character, prop, or vehicle to life. Nowadays, an animator may also be working with motion capture data. Motion capture data often needs to be tweaked to achieve a final look, and an experienced animator is essential for this. 3D Animation for feature film is, more often than not, done in Autodesk Maya.

vfx pipeline animation rigging

To learn more about the process of 3D Animation click the link below.

What is 3D Animation?What is 3D Animation?

FX & Simulation

The job of an FX artist revolves around adding simulated elements to a film that seamlessly exist in the director’s world. At any given time, an FX artist could be working on things like destruction, fire, liquids, smoke, and particle sims. They will often work hand in hand with the animators to ensure natural movement of colliding FX elements. Modern effects artists often use Side FX Houdini to create the mind-blowing visuals today’s blockbuster films require.

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To learn more about the process of FX & Simulation click the link below.

What Does An FX Artist Do? What Does An FX Artist Do?

Lighting & Rendering

Once the animation and effects teams are done working their magic, the 3D elements need to have proper lighting to exist within their respective scenes. A lighting artist, or multiple lighting artists, will strategically place lights throughout the 3D scene to ensure light color, intensity, and shadows match up with the originally shot piece. Following this, each sequence of frames will be rendered out from the needed camera angles and handed off to the compositor.

livfx pipeline lighting rendering


The final step of the filmmaking process, a compositor takes all the elements of the film and layers them on top of each other. They use elements like color correction, masking, and various other tricks to create the illusion that all elements naturally belong together. They may be putting an animated character into a live action scene, overlaying destruction onto a building, or even layering a simulated tsunami over a shot of a city street. The possibilities of what a compositor may be working on are endless, and they are often using the complex tools within The Foundry’s NUKE to complete their work.

To learn more about the process of VFX Compositing click the link below.

What Is Compositing? What Is Compositing?


vfx pipeline vfx compositing

So where do you fit in?

As you can see, there are numerous options when considering a career within the visual effects pipeline. Now that you understand how unique each part of the pipeline is, choosing a learning path will be much easier to do.

If you’re interested in starting a career in the Animation and VFX industry check out our full offering of courses in the link below.

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Ryan Fitzgerald

Author Ryan Fitzgerald

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