How to Get Hired as a VFX Artist: an Interview With Hannah Killian
If you feel like landing a job in VFX is nearly impossible, check out these job hunting tips from Barnstorm VFX’s Talent Manager Hannah Killian.
So, you’re planning to build a career in the VFX industry? This is a huge area where you can either do a bit of everything as a creator or become a niche expert and perform what you do best and enjoy the most. If you are not sure what the right option for you would be, check out this article where we discuss what job positions the industry offers and what the average salaries are.
Even though it looks like lots of companies have dozens of open positions for 3D artists all year round, it can still pretty difficult to get your first job (especially as an inexperienced newbie). This is mainly because every employer wants to hire the best creators they can find and the competition is tough.
Internships are not that easy to get either – first of all, some studios do not even announce openings for VFX interns, so you have to do some cold outreach to see if there might be an opportunity for you. Furthermore, studios only want the most promising artists to join their teams and if your reel isn’t up-to-snuff you may get skipped over. This is where a VFX Runner position comes into play…
If your experience is not enough to land a full-time job and your portfolio isn’t captivating enough to get you an internship offer, you can still get into the industry by becoming a VFX Runner. A VFX Runner’s role is to generally assist with a studios operations. This can include tasks ranging from getting coffee to delivering files.
While in a VFX Runner position you will get to see every step of the creative process and build professional connections that can help you get noticed as an artist in the future. As a runner, you normally don’t even need to have any experience with 3D software. A VFX Runner can expect to earn around $15 an hour or $31,200 a year.
Want to learn more about what a VFX Runner does? Check out this video that Caleb created in our Start Your VFX Career series. In the video, he talks about landing your first job in the industry as a VFX Runner or Intern.
Compositors are artists who assemble and render the scenes after FX artists, animators, CG artists, and other members of the creative team have done their job. Needless to say, making all the elements of a scene come together as a clean, flawless, captivating shot is an immensely challenging task.
Think of a Compositor’s job as taking pieces of a giant intricate puzzle and putting them together to create the final picture. Since a Compositing Artist takes the whole product to its final form, a good Compositor is someone who knows how to handle visual effects and CG objects, lighting, color, and every other tiny detail the audience is going to see in the final shot.
Because Compositors work with a great variety of data, advanced knowledge of 3D/VFX software is a must, and this usually includes proficiency in Nuke, Houdini, Adobe Photoshop and After Effects, Maya, and other applications. Compositing Artists have to be skilled both technically and artistically. As a result, most companies are only willing to give this position to someone who has an impressive reel and years of experience as a CG/VFX artist. Compositors earn $69,655 per year on average.
This breakdown from our Advanced Compositing for VFX course is a great example of the power of compositing.
If working on mind-blowing visuals is your favorite thing to do, and you want to know how to create incredibly realistic explosions, fire and water simulations, and other effects better than anyone else does, a career as an FX Artist might be the best path for you. FX Artists are needed everywhere whether we’re talking video games, movie production, or animation. No matter which area you choose, in-depth knowledge of Houdini is essential and many companies require a good understanding of Unity or Unreal Engine as well.
A good FX Artist is an excellent team player since visual effects are hardly ever used on their own, they need to be integrated into a shot together with loads of other elements. This requires a high level of artistic flexibility and the ability to (quite literally) always see the bigger picture. Depending on your experience and seniority level, you can earn anywhere between $35,000 and $110,000 a year as an FX Artist. The average annual salary for an FX Artist is $69,168.
Are a creator who enjoys coding as much as the purely artistic side of the process? Are you the rare breed that is great both at programming and creating 3D art? Then consider building a career in the industry as a Technical Artist as it will allow you to get the best of both worlds.
To put it simply, Technical Artists are the bridge between the designers and the programmers – they make sure that whatever the creative team comes up with works as it should and does not cause any issues when running the program. Technical Artists are there to evaluate whether the assets are properly optimized, how heavy the graphics are, how it affects the performance of the render, how accurate the representation of every element is, and whether there are any bugs in how they work, etc.
As a Technical Artist, you have to be skilled in coding as well as 3D art software and game engines if you want to go into the gaming industry. That said, you can expect to see a sound knowledge of Python, Unreal Engine, and 3DS Max on the list of requirements when browsing for Technical Artist job openings. The average annual salary for this position is $78,384.
For those who would love to be on the creative side of production, this position would be a perfect choice since it is probably one of the most artistry-oriented jobs on the list. A 3D Modeler creates all kinds of 3D art including environments, assets, characters, and more. 3D Modelers work with concepts, sketches, and illustrations to shape them into production-ready 3D objects. Talented 3D Modelers can find a job almost literally anywhere so if you are more into stylized art consider searching for job openings at animation studios, if you enjoy creating hyperrealistic artworks you might want to aim at finding a position in the movie industry.
Requirements for 3D Artists vary greatly depending on the specialization, seniority level, and what the company does. Generally speaking, you might be expected to be proficient in 3ds Max, ZBrush, Maya, and Substance Painter. The salary range is pretty broad as well and it depends on how niche your work is, how experienced you are, and how big the employer is. On average, 3D Modelers earn somewhere around $60,000 a year while the top specialists make about $100,000 annually.
A Technical Director is a more programming-heavy position for artists who are equally comfortable with coding and creating 3D art. Technical Directors are the anchors of the creative team – they make sure every visual effect created for the final product is flawless, every piece that makes it to post-production is impeccable, and every artist is on the same page as the rest of the team. Apart from that, Technical Directors often create unique software or write scripts for the artists to use when the visual effects are too complex and require special solutions.
Being a Technical Director is a tremendously demanding job as you basically have an entire crew of artists relying on your expertise. You need to be a pro in every other area of VFX production. Furthermore, to be an outstanding TD you have to be excellent at modeling, creating FX, compositing, and more. On top of that, a Technical Director should be able to code to make sure the creative team has every tool needed to make the final product come to life. TDs are one of the most valuable specialists in the industry who earn $92,190 a year on average.
A CG Generalist is a multifunctional, multitalented multitasker who can do a bit of everything including texturing, lighting, modeling, compositing, and more. If you enjoy a variety of tasks and want to switch between multiple different creative domains, becoming a CG Generalist would be an awesome choice. CG Generalists are universal 3D artists who take part in every step of the creative process from object modeling to scene rendering. Needless to say, as a CG Generalist, you need to have superb knowledge of the majority of 3D tools such as Maya, ZBrush, Houdini, Nuke, and Arnold Renderer.
Because CG Generalists are multiskilled creators, they often co-supervise the rest of the artists together with CG Supervisors and Technical Directors so to be good at this you need strong management skills and a good understanding of the entire production pipeline. CG Generalists make $67,200 a year on average though the salaries range from about $35,000 to way over $100,000 annually depending on the size of the company.
The name of the position speaks for itself – VFX Supervisors are the ones who make sure every step made by the creative team is in line with the whole project. They guide the production process and act as a link connecting the project director and the artists. VFX Supervisors need to control pretty much the entire creative workflow from the process of shooting the live-action footage that is to be used by FX Artists all the way to post-production and assembly of the final shots into one cohesive piece.
VFX Supervisors are excellent artists with exceptional attention to detail and the ability to evaluate how stylistically harmonious the final product looks. To become a strong candidate for this position, you will need years of proven experience in the field of VFX production. The job itself, however, is more on the managerial side of production as a VFX Supervisor is the head of the creative team in the first place. As insanely demanding as the position is, it is among the highest-paid ones with an average annual salary being around $160,000.
Okay, a VFX job sounds cool, but how are you supposed to land a job in the industry?
It might be a bit challenging to find fresh, relevant postings in the movie or video game industry so you need to know some of the secret spots to find your dream job. In fact, those are not some hidden, limited-access, borderline darknet sources – they are just a bit less obvious than the job search portals. In this section of the article, we’ll discuss 5 different ways of finding open positions in the industry and talk about their pros and cons.
Here we’re talking about sources like Indeed, ZipRecruiter, Glassdoor, Jooble, and others. These are the ones you’ve probably already found yourself as they are easily googlable. The amount of openings on these websites is more than overwhelming and new ones keep coming every day.
The biggest advantage is that you can find an incredible variety of jobs from all across the globe in one place, both at small indie companies and at the really big, well-known ones. The huge disadvantage is that the offers are often automatically renewed so you may find yourself applying for a job opening that has already expired weeks ago. Plus, imagine how tough the competition is when an offer can be found by anyone in a matter of minutes, sometimes even seconds.
This method is more effective than browsing for open positions using job portals primarily because many companies only post fresh openings on their own websites to avoid a crazy flow of applications. The greatest advantage of this method is that it demonstrates your genuine interest in this particular employer. The main disadvantage is quite obvious – this way of looking for a job is ridiculously time-consuming. Let’s say you have 15 major companies you’d like to work for in mind and 10 indie studios you’d be happy to join. That means you need to visit 25 separate websites only to find out half of the companies either don’t have your desired job opening or do not currently accept external applications at all.
While this might seem no better than method 1, LinkedIn is still a good way to look for a job because firstly, some employers don’t post their openings on job search portals but publish them on LinkedIn. Secondly, you can find people who work at your dream company on LinkedIn and talk to them. This, however, is not a universal problem-solver, and there are numerous articles on the art of making connections on LinkedIn without being clingy or rude so you have to know who to approach and how to approach them to make this little trick work.
Even if you don’t like the idea of messaging strangers out of the blue, we recommend that you create a LinkedIn profile since it allows you to demonstrate your experience, list your achievements, and express your interest in a certain area by following your favorite companies and creators. This will get you noticed by employers and who knows, maybe your dream company will contact you first, way before you finish composing your polite introductory letter to them.
Do you read the latest 3D industry news? Do you enjoy reading those in-depth reviews of the new 3D art tools? Well did you know that the portals you read your favorite articles on often post exclusive 3D and VFX vacancies you won’t be able to find anywhere else? Many recruiters do this to make sure only the candidates who are truly interested in the 3D industry send their applications.
While you won’t find hundreds of offers on these websites, they are still worth checking out primarily because you might see some very niche, special opportunities there. These are websites like GamesIndustry.biz, Gamasutra, 80 Level, Pocket Gamer, and others. We often post lists of the latest job openings for Houdini artists, too. You can check out our weekly Houdini job compilation on our blog.
This one is an absolute treasure and here you can find all sorts of jobs in the VFX/video game/animation industry. This is a free list of the latest job openings made by Chris Mayne that has an incredible variety of positions including UI/UX Designers, HR Managers, Sound Designers, Storyboard Artists, and more. Whether you are looking for a job in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa or Oceania (or if you are planning to work remotely), you will find an opening in your area of interest on this list.
The best part about this compilation is that there are separate tabs with internship opportunities and over 100 educational offers for aspiring artists. Chris keeps updating the spreadsheet and adds new vacancies daily so if you are tired of finding outdated offers this list will be your lifesaver.
As you can see, most of the jobs in the VFX industry require strong 3D software skills. Whether you are planning to become a 3D Modeler or a VFX Supervisor, you need to be good at creating 3D art. If you are not sure which tool you might need to master to land your dream job, take our Course Quiz. If you are new to VFX, check out our Houdini Fundamentals course for complete beginners where you can learn the basics of creating amazing visuals using SideFX Houdini. You can also fill out the box below to get free lessons from the course.
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If you feel like landing a job in VFX is nearly impossible, check out these job hunting tips from Barnstorm VFX’s Talent Manager Hannah Killian.
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