Visual Effects Artist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a visual effect artist's career? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a visual effects artist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Visual Effects Artist Career

As a visual effects artist, you'll develop the effects seen in movies and television shows, but you'll need talent, excellent technical skills and a good portfolio to showcase your work. Here are some of the pros and cons of becoming a visual effects artist:

Pros of a Visual Effects Artist Career
Opportunity to work as an artist and contribute to motion picture industry*
Median salary above U.S. average*
Ability to choose from a variety of media and specialties*
Opportunities to collaborate with other artists**

Cons of a Visual Effects Artist Career
May often have to work long hours, including nights and weekends*
Expected job growth slower than average*
High competition for jobs*
May need to alter or conform your work to meet other's requirements ***

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **How Stuff Works (Discovery Company), ***Princeton Review.

Career Info

Job Description and Duties

The eye-catching and sometimes spectacular effects seen in television shows, movies and video games are created by visual and special effects artists. Job duties may include developing storyboards to delineate scenes and research to make sure the created effects are realistic. Visual effects artists often use computer programs to make graphics and animation and work with 2- or 3-dimensional models to use for animation. Some visual effects artists are employed by video game companies or motion picture studios. Many (57%, according to the BLS) are self-employed.

Career Paths and Specializations

Much of the work in visual effects requires computer animation. Artists might use computers to create animation with images of actors or create and animate computer-generated images. Other artists might paint or draw images and transfer them into a computer program. Besides using computers, visual effects artists may build miniature models for some films or construct large or small animatronic puppets. Other visual effects artists use makeup and moldable materials to change an actor's appearance. Visual effects artist may specialize by working only in movies, television or video games. Some may specialize in designing backgrounds; other may specialize in creating characters. Animators and artist often work in teams, each one contributing his or her part to the whole project.

Many visual effect artists work for video game companies, television or motion picture companies. Computer system design, advertising and software publishers are other types of companies that hire people in this field.

Job Prospects and Salary

According to the BLS, the median yearly salary for multimedia artists and animators was about $64,000 as of May 2014. The expected job growth in these fields was six percent between 2012 and 2022. Jobs will be created because of the demand for lifelike animation in new video games, movies, television shows and mobile apps, but many jobs will likely be offered to lower-paid workers overseas.

What Do Employers Look for?

Top Skills for Visual Effects Artists

The most important things to have are great technical skills and a good portfolio of work. A bachelor's degree in special effects, fine arts or a related subject is not absolutely required, but it may help you learn the field and get started on your portfolio. To major in animation, you may need to take classes in film, animation and drawing. Other helpful courses might include computer programming and graphics. Some schools offer master's degrees in arts of fine arts. Persons in these programs take in-depth courses in their chosen area of visual effects or animation and have the chance to build up their portfolios.

In addition to talent and technical skill, there are personal skills that will help you become a visual effects artist. Some of these include the ability to think creatively, work in a team, accept constructive criticism, communicate well and work under time pressure.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Many of the job current job postings for visual effects are for jobs producing video games, but some are in other areas. Here are a few of the postings available in April 2012:

  • A mobile game developer in San Francisco, CA, was looking to hire a 2D/3D senior artist for creating and developing hand-held games. The applicant would have to be able to work in a wide variety of art styles, work with the art director and product engineers and work alone or collaborate with other artists. The employer looked for someone knowledgeable in software used and game development. Applicants needed a master's degree in art or a related field or a bachelor's degree with five years of experience.
  • A video game developer in Florida looked for a lead modeler to work with and lead members of the art team. The successful candidate would have at least four years of experience in game development modeling, and experience with appropriate 2D and 3D software. He or she would have to be able to work with the art director and with small and large groups and be able to mentor and teach other artists.
  • An animation studio in California looked to hire animators to create visual effects through animation and modeling techniques. Some of the listed requirements included understanding of animation, composition and design, advanced experience with 3D software and strong observation skills. This employer looked for someone with the ability to collaborate with other artists and departments in the company, as well as mentor junior artists. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree in computer science, art, engineering or a related field.

How Can I Stand Out?

Strong technical skills, artistic talent and proof that you do quality work are the important ways to stand out. While no specific educational requirements exist, according to the Princeton Review, having a bachelor's or master's degree in graphic design in addition to computer skills can help animators get an interview or their portfolios reviewed. Creating a short film and entering it into a film festival or contest can get you recognition if your work impresses the judges.

Get Specialized

A degree in one specialized area may also help you stand out. According to the BLS, several schools offer specialized degree programs in specific areas, such as designing video games.

Alternative Career Paths

Graphic Designer

If you like the idea of working in industrial art but want something with a bit more expected job growth, consider becoming a graphic designer. Graphic designers communicate information about products, services and other information using art and technology. Most graphic artists have a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a similar area, strong computer skills and are familiar with the latest design software. A strong portfolio to showcase your design work can also help you land a job. According to the BLS, job growth for graphic designers was expected to be 13% between 2010 and 2020. Yearly median salary was about $44,000 in May 2011.

Web Developer

If you're creative, love computers and want a higher pay scale and expected job growth, you might want to become a Web developer. Web developers work with clients, write code and incorporate audio and graphics to create a site that matches the client's ideas and needs. According to the BLS, types of Web developers can include Web designers, Web programmers and Web masters (who maintain websites after they are created). While some jobs may only require a high school diploma or an associate degree, some employers will want you to have a bachelor's degree in programming, computer science or something similar. Courses in graphic design and knowledge of programming languages will likely make you more marketable. Median pay for Web developers was $78,000 per year as of May 2011, and expected job growth between 2010 and 2020 was 22%.

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