Visual Effects Artist: Everything You Need to Know

A visual effects artist uses computer software to create animation and special effects to enhance film with digital elements that look realistic, but are impractical, dangerous, expensive, or impossible to film.

Visual Effects Artist Duties and Responsibilities

Visual effects artists are usually responsible for these tasks:

  • Developing storyboards that show how and when visual effects are necessary
  • Using software to create characters and visual elements for movies, TV shows, and other productions
  • Creating mockups for directors and film editors to review
  • Collaborating with directors and other artists to understand the overall vision
  • Managing teams of VFX artists
  • Overseeing visual effects projects
  • Serving as liaisons with the production crew

Skills to develop:

  • Drawing
  • Visual Aesthetics
  • Composition and Light
  • Photography
  • Mechanics and Movement
  • Sculpture and Anatomy

The First Visual Effect

In the film industry, most people believe that director Alfred Clark created the first visual effect in the late 19th century when he used a dummy to stand in for an actor during a beheading scene.

Key VFX Roles and Departments


This department animates characters, objects, and scenes.


The art department turns the director’s vision into visual concepts.


Modeling artists create visual assets to stand in for real objects.

Scene from “Deadpool”


These artists layer all VFX elements.

Scene from “Avengers: Endgame”

FX Simulation

FX artists simulate real elements like fire and water using particle and fluid systems.


These artists apply all digital lighting effects to the scene with virtual lighting to mimic the environment lights.


This department is responsible for motion tracking using a virtual camera that moves like the camera in the footage.

Matte Paint

These artists digitally paint scenes that are impossible to create in real lif


Pre-visualization artists develop the rough draft of any visual effects.


These professionals oversee the entire VFX process overseeing teams, budgets, and schedules.

Research and Development

This department creates new tools and software for visual effects.


These artists remove elements from scenes.

Choosing a Career Path: How Do You Become a Visual Effects Artist?

This career path generally requires a combination of education, experience, and skills.

Visual Effects Artist Education and Training Requirements: Schooling and Degrees

Most visual effects artists have a four-year degree in animation, multimedia, or visual art. Consider seeking out an internship at a film studio or an entry-level VFX job to get a foothold in the industry.

Additional Learning and Development: How Do I Start Learning Visual Effects?

If you want to become a visual effects artist, you’ll need to improve your VFX skills continually so you can stay on top of the latest technology and trends.

Self-Taught vs. University: Which Is Better?

If you opt to teach yourself, you can save money and set your own pace. If you enroll at a university, you may have more motivation and better access to professionals and networking opportunities.

Important Questions to Ask an Art School Before You Give Them Money

Before enrolling, ask these questions:

  • How many teachers work in the industry?
  • How many graduates find work in the industry?
  • Why is your curriculum the best?

Top Visual Effects Schools and Online Programs

Consider one of these top VFX programs:

  1. Animation Mentor
  2. ArtFX
  3. CG Master Academy
  4. CG Spectrum
  5. Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg
  6. L’école Brassart
  7. Gnomon
  8. Institut Artline
  9. Lost Boys Studios
  10. Nashville Film Institute
  12. Pluralsight
  13. Ravensbourne
  14. Think Tank Training Centre
  15. Vancouver Film School

Tools of the Trade: What Software Do Visual Effects Artists Use?

Visual effects artists often use paid software programs like:

VFX artists can also benefit from free software like:

In this role, you may also need to know programming languages like C++ and Python.

Related Digital Arts Careers

You can also consider related careers like:

  • Computer animator
  • Multimedia designer
  • Video game designer
  • 3D modeler

Where Do Visual Effects Artists Work?

Most visual effects artists are freelancers, which means they work for multiple clients. Others work for film studios or design companies.

Scene from “Avengers: Infinity War”

Top Companies That Employ Visual Effects Artists

Consider looking for job openings at one of these top companies:

Navigating the Work Environment

Working as a visual effects artist usually requires spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen. Some VFX artists work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., while others work overnight to keep the team’s workflow moving along smoothly.

Visual Effects Artist Resume Help

Since most visual effects artists work as freelancers, it’s essential to have a great resume and portfolio to share with potential employers. Check out sample visual effects artists resumes to get inspired.

Helpful Organizations, Societies, and Agencies

Joining a union or professional network can be a great way to advance your career and get support. Consider joining organizations like:

Essential Reading for Visual Effects Artists

To learn the basics, check out these VFX resources:

Essential Communities and Blogs for VFX Artists

To stay on top of the industry, join these communities:

Visual Effects Artist Salary and Job Outlook

If you’re considering a visual effects artist career, it’s important to know what to expect in terms of earning potential and job outlook.

Salary: How Much Money Can I Make in Visual Effects?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for visual effects artists was $75,270 in 2019. The top 10% of workers in this field made over $140,000 per year, while the lowest 10% earned less than $40,000 per year.

Job Outlook

The job market for visual effects artists is projected to grow by 4% from 2018 to 2028. The TV and film industries are likely to be the biggest employers for visual effects artists.

Making Dreams Reality: Checklist of Your Next Steps

To make your dream of becoming a VFX artist a reality, follow these steps:

  1. Learn the software and technical skills.
  2. Create a portfolio of your work.
  3. Read blogs, join communities, and network with industry professionals.

Ready to get your start as a visual effects artist in the film industry? Request a brochure from the Nashville Film Institute and learn more about NFI’s film production diploma program.