VFX production is far from being fast and easy, especially when we’re talking about large-scale high-end projects. It is a time-consuming process that relies on the creative efforts of numerous artists, from concept artists to compositors. Depending on how ambitious and expensive a project is, VFX production might require the efforts of dozens or even hundreds of digital artists to make every shot impeccable. If you check the whole Cast & Crew list of Netflix’s Stranger Things, you will see over 1,000 names in the Visual Effects department. Those include 2D compositors, animation artists, CG generalists, matchmove artists, lookdev artists, VFX producers, and other creatives.
And above them all is VFX Supervisor – the person who leads the entire VFX department, just like a conductor guides an orchestra. VFX supervisors are the crucial link between the VFX department and the producer/director of a project their creative crew is working on. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the hardest and highest-paid jobs in the field of VFX. But what exactly does a VFX supervisor do and what does it take to become one?
Because VFX supervisors work both with the producers and the artists, they need to be great listeners and outstanding communicators as cheesy and vague as it may sound. That’s because they need to make sure they have a clear understanding of what the project director wants to see and what they expect from the VFX department. Based on that, the supervisor forms assignments for the artists in the VFX department, distributes the workload, makes sure everyone is on the same page and understands what the producer’s vision of the final project comprises. If a VFX supervisor is not a good listener and a poor communicator, consider these two critical tasks (and pretty much the entire project) failed.
VFX supervisors need to carry the project from pre-production to post-production and control nearly every step of the process. At the very beginning of VFX production, they work together with concept artists to establish the look of the future visuals, agree on the artistic style, and approximate what live-action footage should look like to make those creative ideas come to life.
Together with TDs, VFX supervisors decide what tools the FX artists are going to need to create the proposed visuals. In case the existing software is not sufficient and does not meet the technical needs of the project, VFX Supervisor and Technical Director will commission development of the required tools.
Then comes one of the most exciting and probably the most stressful parts of VFX production – principal photography. At this stage, VFX supervisors need to work on the set and control the filming process to make sure every scene is shot properly in terms of future editing that is going to happen at the VFX department. Knowing the ultimate creative goals of the project, the VFX supervisor is there to control lighting settings, the use of green screens, and other details to ensure that the footage is flawless VFX-wise. If a scene turns out to be inconvenient to work with, it is going to create additional expenses, as this will require additional editing or even a reshoot.
After that comes the post-production stage where VFX supervisors work on creating visual effects and adding them to live-action footage together with the FX artists. It’s at this stage that what most people know as VFX production happens. VFX supervisors work closely with creature artists, animators, FX artists, lookdev artists, compositors, and other members of the VFX team to take the project to its final form. When everything is ready, the VFX Supervisor is usually the one who delivers the finished product to the director.
The short answer would be that a VFX Supervisor needs to have every skill an outstanding VFX artist possesses, but with several more years of experience. Though, of course, being a VFX supervisor is way more than that. Because the job requires both superb artistic and managerial skills, being an amazing artist who’s worked in the industry for 10+ years is not enough. Normally, companies want to hire someone who has leadership experience in VFX production. It doesn’t mean that you need years of experience as a CG or VFX supervisor, nor does your resume have to say you’ve worked as a VFX producer before. But you’ll be a much stronger candidate if you are familiar with management and leadership in VFX or film production, even if you had a small team of subordinates or worked on a small indie project.
Other than that, the usual list of skills includes proficiency in Houdini, Maya, Nuke, and sometimes Unreal Engine. Some companies would want to see solid coding skills, though this is more of a TD’s area of expertise. Depending on the size of the studio, you might also be required to hold a degree in Computer Science, Film Studies, 3D Modeling, or related fields. Needless to say, almost every job description for the VFX Supervisor position mentions visual storytelling, editing, and compositing skills; deep knowledge of lighting, photography, and scripting; budget management skills, ability to meet deadlines, and being an unbelievably efficient organizer.
You might have noticed that these sound a lot like some other job descriptions in VFX production. A similar skill set is required when you apply for the role of a CG Supervisor, a VFX Producer, or a Technical Director. While those might have some common features, these titles are all pretty different. To put it simply, CG supervisors and VFX supervisors are more focused on artistry than the rest, VFX producers are the ones who mostly deal with the purely managerial/financial/legal matters, and TDs are programmers in the first place.
What makes VFX supervisors different from CG supervisors is that the latter are responsible just for the portion of visual effects created using digital art tools. They don’t have to be present at a filming site to control the filming process, they don’t need to work with concept artists – their domain is computer imagery. So while they are supervisors, they essentially only control the part that happens in post-production – the actual creation of visual effects inside software applications.
As we have mentioned earlier, the position of a VFX Supervisor is among the highest-paid ones in the industry. The average hourly rate for VFX supervisors is around $75, while the annual salary is about $160,000. These numbers are only a rough estimate as real salaries vary greatly – working at an independent VFX studio in Poland would not be the same as doing VFX supervision at DNEG in London. California traditionally has the most attractive salaries and the highest number of open positions for VFX supervisors. You can find openings at the world’s most well-known companies including Blizzard Entertainment, ILM, and FuseFX. There are plenty of awesome opportunities in Europe as well – in London alone, there are open VFX supervisor positions at Framestore, MPC, and Scanline VFX.
Regardless of what city or company you’re aiming at, it’s your experience, your skills, and your artistry that matter. An outstanding portfolio will take you basically anywhere you desire so focus on growing your expertise in the area of VFX production.
What makes an FX artist (or even a VFX Supervisor to be) exceptional? Of course it’s the desire to keep learning more and expanding your knowledge. At Rebelway, we have some amazing courses for advanced artists who want to level up their skill. If you’re looking to grow your skill, check out one of our students’ favorite courses, Advanced Water FX in Houdini. Water simulations are among the most popular visual effects in the industry, so no matter what your main area of interest is, you will find this course useful.
In case you are looking for something different, take our course quiz to find out what Rebelway lessons would be your best choice.
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