What do FX artists do?
FX artists create the mindblowing, enjoyable effects seen on screen or in games, but this job requires the ability to engage successfully in problem-solving. An FX artist may be asked to work on things like smoke, fire, destruction, and water, but even smaller tasks such as an object colliding with another object or simulating liquid in a glass. The goal in creating all of these effects is to do it seamlessly so the audience doesn’t think about the fact that the effects are computer generated. This can take countless hours of research into real-life phenomena, reference videos, and even involve building out tools for a team to use. The job of the FX artist is essential in today’s entertainment business, as most films/tv shows/games require digital effects.
A day in the life of an FX artist
A day’s work can vary quite a bit from artist to artist, but there are common threads all FX artists share. A project will often be handed down from a VFX supervisor. At this point, depending on the size of the project and timeline, the artist will have to spend a certain amount of time researching. This could involve watching documentary clips, reference videos, and researching the properties and materials of the elements in the scene to ensure a realistic end result. Without proper research, you can end up with an effect that isn’t convincing to the audience.
Once research is complete, the building out of the effect begins. It is the responsibility of the artist to build their project in a way that makes iteration, making changes, quick and easy. Programs like Side FX Houdini let you do this, and it is called working procedurally. A director may make a call to change something at the last minute, and the artist who is prepared for that is the one that gets hired for the next job. Once a simulation is built, the amount of time for it to cache so that you can see the effect will vary depending on the resources of your machine. You will find that testing is needed to decide if accelerating your simulation using the graphics card is possible. An FX artist that can save time but achieve beautiful results is invaluable.
Depending on the team size, an FX artist may have to be focused on different disciplines of the craft. At bigger companies, the artist will more than likely be focused strictly on the effect or simulation. For example, when tackling a complex shot such as a spaceship crash in a movie like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, there may have been an entire team of people working on different simulations to add to the shots. At smaller companies, that artist would likely be asked to set up a render as well. This is why it is very important that an FX artist knows how to set up materials and lights to match the desired outcome of the director.
How to become an FX artist
A successful FX artist will be able to translate real-world physical properties into a digital simulation with ease. This ability takes time and proper training to accomplish, so don’t be discouraged. The best way to build up to this is to really learn and experiment with what each setting does within the software program you are using.
There are also many other things that an FX artist will have to know beyond the software itself. Some of these things include but are not limited to knowledge in the behavior of fire, smoke, liquids, solids, and gases. When working on destruction, it is essential to know what different objects look like on the inside and outside. Spending some time reading about physics principles can also set you apart from other artists, as you will truly understand how objects and different states of matter move and interact.
More and more artists are learning the differences between FX for games and FX for films, and those familiar with it have the opportunity to apply to many more jobs. Whereas film effects don’t have as many limitations, in games, you have to prepare your effects for real-time rendering. This may involve using complex techniques to get your effect out of a program like Houdini and into programs like Unreal Engine and Unity. You have to limit the amount of memory needed to calculate the effect while keeping the look of the effect impressive. An FX artist may also build effects directly in Unreal or Unity using their particle effect tools, so it is good to at least be familiar with how they work.
Tips to break into the Visual Effects industry
A strong portfolio is needed to break into the VFX industry. Take a few of your best pieces of work and create a breakdown. A breakdown is when you show the different elements of each shot and how they are composited together. The best thing to do in your portfolio is to show that you are versatile and can create well thought out shots.
Study successful artists within the industry. See if they have portfolios and reels on Artstation and Vimeo so you can see what got them hired. In addition to this, take note of which artists are freelance and which are not. When you look at their work, you may see differences in terms of the types of jobs worked on.
There are networking events available to the public quite often if you know where to look for them. Software companies and artists alike are very community oriented and hold conferences, webinars, and meet-ups regularly.
What should my salary expectations be?
According to Glassdoor, the average VFX artist salary is about $72,379/yr. with various other sources reporting a range about $51,000 to $110,000. This is not accounting for positions like “Lead FX Artist” which can sometimes make more. Another thing that can affect your salary is specializing. For example, some people have an affinity for things like character fx, liquids, or destruction. It is still important that the artist knows other aspects of VFX, but specialized artists are often sought after.
Though the VFX industry is generally pretty competitive, the demand for artists is growing by the day. With the projected growth of VR, films, and games that need FX, there are jobs being listed all the time. At CG Spectrum, you can prepare for the VFX industry on an accelerated timeline. You will learn from mentors who teach invaluable lessons they have picked up from years of experience. Whether you are just starting out, or are changing careers, gaining a solid foundation through VFX training is important to be the best artist you can be.
To learn more about being a professional VFX artist, check out our interview with FX Technical Director Timucin Ozger.FX Artist InterviewFX Artist Interview