The golden rule of the industry and VFX is no exception. Excellent timekeeping is essential when working as a PA.
VFX are employed by the majority of films in one capacity or another - so if you are passionate about entering this area of post-production, there has never been a better time than now.
Internships are your starting point. Create a website to showcase your work, quality over quantity is the watchword here, only include the best of the best.
Apply for PA jobs at VFX companies. Research the companies you want to work for, highlight where in the process you would like to specialise in the future.
How long you are running for depends on opportunities presenting themselves, being in the right place and how quick you are to learn new things.
It isn’t just the big-budget action films that visual effects are employed; VFX has become so integrated into the filmmaking process we barely notice it. VFX artists can be responsible for creating crystal blue skylines; crowd scenes can expand from hundreds of background talent to thousands. Heavy makeup or prosthetics are evened out, and wrinkles can appear less noticeable. If the budget is there to enhance the filmmaker's world, then the VFX team will be working their magic on features, TV drama, commercials and promos.
Visual effects, or VFX, is a term to describe anything that cannot be accomplished in the real world during principle photography - such as explosions, alien invasion, dinosaurs stalking through the jungle or skyscrapers falling to the ground. VFX free up filmmakers to create the images that were once impossible. Predominantly all VFX are created using computers, and the demand is now so prevalent that packages such as Cinema 4D can be run on a laptop, opening up possibilities for independent filmmakers.
Any effects, however, do require time, it’s complicated intricate work that often takes many hands to produce a few moments of screen time. One small last-minute change from a director can have dramatic ramifications for VFX producers, months of work can be sidelined during one conversation. Consequently, VFX artists can be found ramping up the hours as they seek to maintain imposed deadlines from production companies.
If working on a film that is heavily reliant on VFX, the VFX supervisors will begin work in pre-production consulting with the director, line producer, production designer and DoP. The pre-visualization team (concept artists, animators and modelers) collaborate with the production designer to generate basic animations and images for the DoP and director to work out camera angles, the images or animations they produce also help actors visualize the scene when using green screen. During production, members of VFX will cooperate with the Camera Department to make sure the production and post-production process sync up, this can mean attaching devices to the camera that track movement and details such as aperture and focal length. Their relationship with the Art Department will be ongoing during production, especially if the sets are the partially-VFX, partially-real world.
In the VFX industry, there is a lot of UK/US cross over, with multiple companies having an office in the UK, US and Asia. The term runner is the UK equivalent to the production assistant position, derived from the fact that you are asked to 'run' between departments/locations etc.
PA's are always in demand in post-production, although you'll not have hands-on tools you will have a foot in the door - and that’s a start. PA's will find their duties similar to those in editing and post sound companies, and you should remember that companies are hiring you as a PA, not a VFX supervisor. So although you should clearly demonstrate your passion for wanting to progress in VFX, don’t forget to show examples of the vigilance and diligence required in PA work in your covering letter.
Internships are also offered but may not be advertised. If you are looking for internships, make sure companies have a copy of your resume, and call to see if there is any possibility of shadowing a member of the team for a week. Find intern positions while you're studying, don't leave it to chance and call up companies on the first day of the holidays, get your resume in and make sure you get a place confirmed. Take any opportunity you are offered and make sure to introduce yourself to members of the team. Finding out from the in-house PA what their day is like can give you some valuable insight to structure your next steps in the industry.
If you're going to work in VFX, then you'll come to understand the definition of teamwork. Much like the Camera Department, everyone has a particular role to perform before the process can move to the next stage. The jobs you will most likely find within a VFX company will be:
Rotoscoping. Extracting actors from the green or blue screen. In some situations, roto needs to extract the actors by hand, which can involve a lengthy process of ‘cutting them out’ of the scene. Rotoscoping is very detailed work and can mean hours of your life sat at your computer. Roto will also tidy up shots before moving onto the next stage.
Paint. Wonder why there is no such thing as a boom in shot anymore? This is the work of the paint artists, going through the film and fixing any mistakes or untidiness along the way. This can involve painting out telephone wires, power cables, cars or even people. Once the work is finished, they go through the process of creating other images to fill the gap.
Modeling. The work of the modelers can be used in pre-vis and continue to be developed throughout the process. Models are produced at different standards with the highest resolution being provided for the final render.
Rigging. Riggers create a ‘wireframe’ of a character that is to be computer-generated. They create its style of movement down to the facial expressions, working out its skeleton and muscle movement. They hand over the frames to the animators to flesh out the characters.
Tracking and match moving. Mirroring the movements of the camera but within a 3D space. This is greatly aided if the VFX team is present during production to compile tracking markers and measurements. The camera movements are then used with the 3D software such as PF track or 3D Equaliser to merge the worlds together.
Animator. Working with the wireframe they give the character its body. Animators also work in other areas of the film, creating elements of real-life such as vehicles or any other animation that reacts with the live-action characters. The position of the Animator is the most popular within VFX, keep this in mind when looking for opportunities.
Texturing. This is when the animations have a texture map applied to them, which is a bit like a sweet wrapper. Fine lines, wrinkles, pores and so on are added in the texturing process.
Technical director (Crowd, Fluids, Lighting, Building, Creature/Character, Effects). The TD’s pull together the characters/animals/creatures that have been through the texture and shading process, and apply all the external elements to give the image depth. They then put them through a process known as rendering which requires a significant amount of computer power. The render allows all the above elements to work together in real-time; this is then passed to the compositors.
Compositor. The compositors combine the real-time action/locations, the paint, roto and characters together. They are the ones responsible for making VFX look believable. They render the full package and ship it back to the client.
Visual effects coordinator. The coordinator will work under the digital effects supervisor to keep on top of logistics. VFX teams require a significant amount of people power so the work on one film can be spread over several companies, it takes someone with unyielding organization skills to stay on top of day-to-day activities.
Visual effects supervisor. Collaborates with the director and all the departments within the VFX company. They conceptualize how they are going to make the project work technically while staying faithful to the director's vision artistically.
Visual effects producer. Works with the line manager to ensure the production stays on target also collaborates with the post-production producer to ensure delivery of the finished film.
Your time as a PA can present you with multiple career paths. Option one is to work within the company itself and move your way through their production route. This route enables you to liaise with clients, looking after the logistics and workflow of a particular project. If you are interested in production your path could look like this:
VFX bookings coordinator
Junior VFX producer
Senior VFX producer
The other option is to work your way into the technical roles. If this is your calling, it’s important to let people know what area you’re interested in when you join a VFX company. Many VFX companies believe in fostering new talent, so if you're working as a PA and an opportunity comes up, you'll be considered for a role in the department of your choice. If you are not on shift, you may be allowed to use the equipment, or sit in with the compositors to see how the process works. Your time as a runner can be dependent on an opportunity opening up and how quick you are at learning the technology.
There has never been a better time to get involved with VFX as it’s a flourishing market in the film and television industries. However, with more VFX courses advertised and more interest in this particular area of post-production, the more competition there is for entry-level roles. If you are studying VFX, it would be wise to find internships during your summer holidays from college. When you begin looking for a job in earnest, you're going to need a resume that displays some career focus. When you start sending out your resume, it can feel like a never-ending task. Don't be tempted to send a blanket copy and covering letter to every VFX company in the US; you should be smart - address it to the right people and tailor that resume to each and every company.
When working on your resume check it through (or ask someone else to) to see it reads well and is correctly formatted. You can use the advice to help create a resume and covering letter. You're going to want to keep it short and to the point, as many employers will be ‘scanning’ rather than reading, so keep it concise. If you can, follow up a week after and check they received your application. If you sent it without a job being advertised you will most likely be told they'll keep your resume for future reference, however, you could get lucky and they might be recruiting that week, or you can make a good impression on the phone. Use your common sense, and if they sound busy they probably are, but if you get chatting ask for some advice or if your resume is looking light on experience ask if they're offering opportunities to shadow members of the team.
Alongside working on your personal animated characters, you could ask short filmmakers if they would like some VFX work applied to their short film, I doubt they will turn the offer down. You can look at the collaborations board here on MFJF, or look at the resources section for other collaboration sites. Although we do recommend collaborations, if you're working with someone you don’t know make sure best industry practices are being observed; check out the producer's back catalog of work, and if you're working without payment make sure to have your expenses paid.
Before you send out that resume research the company you're sending it to. If it's Framestore, Smoke and Mirrors or any of the large VFX companies, they're going to receive hundreds of resumes sent in cold. If you're intending to do this, conduct detailed research on the company and tailor everything specifically to them. Let them know why you want to work for them, mention the projects they have been involved with, etc. Whilst researching job opportunities and companies you're going to need to further your knowledge of the VFX industry, pay attention to the trade papers and online resources such as:
If you're interested in animation, build upon your understanding of light, shade and composition, an all-round understanding of the post-production process would be helpful too. So hit the library, some books to look at would be:
The VES Handbook of Visual Effects: Industry Standard VFX Practices and Procedures. Susan Zwerman. Jeffrey A. Okun.
(Digital) Visual Effects and Compositing. Jon Gress
Masters of FX. Ian Failes
Each VFX company will be working with different software, so the more you know about the capabilities of each, the better. That being said they are expensive packages to obtain, and you might not be in the market for Nuke Studio or Maya. You can look at the free tutorials and information online such as:
When applying for jobs make a website so you can upload your showreel to and make a feature of the link in your resume. If you're approaching VFX from a background in art, showcase any life drawing, sculpture or illustration alongside any relevant VFX/animation work. It's wise to remember what they are going to be looking for, which is photo-real work rather than cartoon animation. Remember to only include your best work, even if that's one or two shots, and include a breakdown if you can. Keep it short, no longer than two minutes and the recruiters will probably watch rather than listen to it, so don't spend days choosing a soundtrack.
When listing your software skills don’t list titles that you've hardly used, be specific and demonstrate how well you know them by detailing:
What were the outcomes of those experiences?
How many times have you used it?
What have you used the software on?
These can be critical elements to your resume if you're coming to the workplace with little to no work experience. You will need to continue to build upon your skills as a VFX artist for the rest of your career, so get off to a good start and keep practicing.
Due to the nature of the work, VFX requires individuals with patience, and in your search for paid roles, you're going to need patience in abundance, especially in those first few months. This is a great skill to master from those early stages as you'll need patience when waiting for an image to render and waiting on a client to make up their minds.
A wage is going to be essential while you are looking for employment, especially if you already live in a big city. If you find yourself waiting tables, working behind a bar or pouring coffee it’s relatively the same starting wage as a PA, except you get tips! Your pay is most likely going to be low for the first few years of your career and if you have no external source of income you may wish to consider saving up before you embark on your career plan, or looking for a secondary source of revenue.
Looking for some advice or have a question on careers in this area? Then please get in touch, we are here to help!
The work of a PA can sometimes feel insignificant, but PAs and interns are fundamental to the smooth running of the company. You will meet everyone in the building as you're at the disposal of the clients (directors, producers) and members of all the technical departments. Some of the duties you will be required to undertake as a PA can be:
Keep offices clean and tidy.
One of the first jobs of the day can be making sure the VFX suites, offices or theatres are stocked with refreshments for clients. Don’t tidy any paperwork that has been left by senior members of staff or production, just make sure the environment is clean and refreshed for the day to come.
Key personnel can work through the day if they're working to a deadline they may not wish to travel too far for meals. Interns and PAs can often be found preparing and presenting meals in the kitchen, so keep your fingers crossed for a dishwasher. Make sure you keep a stack of menus from delis or any other eatery that takes your fancy.
Work on reception.
Answering phones is an important job in a VFX company. Familiarise yourself with the agencies/production companies that may call. Always read a number back to the caller if offering to have someone call them back, and make sure you correctly hear and write down their name.
Junior staff are most often the first in and the last out of the building, you will be given a set of keys - so don't lose them.
Directors, producers and executive producers will all need catering for if they are in the building, this can be one of the most difficult elements of the job. Try not to take anything personally and proactively assess what their needs might be. Equally, gauge how often is too often to check if refreshments are required.
This is an everyday job for runners working across the industry. From light bulbs to making sure the restrooms have enough hand towels.
Running between departments.
Running errands is the foundation on which the position exists. You can run personal errands for the team who are working around the clock or collect/drop off documentation or hard drives for the producers.
Most VFX companies will use scheduling software or Excel to log costs incurred by clients (food, cabs they order, etc.). Make sure you learn how to use this well and always input any fees correctly, double-check they are on the right job.
Dealing with petty cash.
Make sure you are meticulous at your receipt handling, use a clear pencil case so you don’t scrunch up the receipts in your back pocket, it’s also useful to see how much cash you have. Always remember to take petty cash out with you if you're out on a ‘run’; of course, the company will reimburse you for any expenditure you make personally, but this can take time, especially if it has to go through accounts.
In most place’s there will be a handbook or checklist of all your duties. If there isn't, ask if you can make one.
A PA needs to be a good reader of situations, instinctively sensing when the kitchen needs replenishing. If you have worked in any customer-facing positions (bar work, waiting tables, customer service desk), then you can use this experience to your advantage while trying to navigate your way into the VFX industry, being a PA in post-production is all about providing the clients with an excellent service.
If you look at any job advert, skills or a list of aptitudes are always present. These markers offer candidates a great insight into what the company are looking for, make sure you identify them and give examples in your resume. If you are still following stage 1 of your career plan and your resume is looking thin, think about the other activities you have been engaged in such as part-time work, voluntary or community activities. The personal skills attributed to PA work can be:
Being proactive: If you can see something that needs doing then get to it. Acting on your initiative shows confidence and resourcefulness. Ultimately there is ALWAYS something to do. Not being engaged in an activity can come across as being lazy, so if you have completed your usual daily tasks find another one! Wipe down the kitchen surfaces, ask people if they want tea or do the washing up.
Prioritize: You are going to be asked (told) to do a lot of things when you’re a PA by many different people who think you exist to fulfill their tasks alone. Try not to tell people that you can’t do something or are too busy, use your skills of diplomacy and let them know it has been put ‘on the list’. Unless someone looks you dead in the eyes and tells you the whole company hinges on this one email being sent, work through the jobs methodically.
Be enthusiastic: It sounds obvious, but you should act as though you want to be there. Don’t be on Snapchat all day sending out pictures of you in front of someone else’s BAFTA, take to your tasks with vigor, everyone likes a PA with positive energy.
Be confident: Especially when talking to colleagues or anyone who comes into the company. Don’t be overly confident; no one likes a show-off just be yourself. When introduced make sure your handshake is firm, and you make eye contact as you say hello, don’t look down at your shoes.
Be friendly and approachable: Having a happy demeanor can take you a long way in this industry, this also applies to your relationships with your fellow PA's (who will be like family within a few weeks) up to senior members of the team and the clients who use the facilities.
Be adaptable: Situations can change at a moment's notice in VFX, one moment they may be ahead, the next two weeks behind - working until late in the night (and guess who can’t leave until everyone else has). Take it all in your stride; this is life in the industry not just as a PA.
For many members of the VFX team a working day can look a little like this:
Monitoring renders - that can take many hours depending on how heavy they are with assets.
Calling supervisors for feedback.
Making technical adjustments around the feedback.
Re-rendering the modified work.
Comparing the shot to surrounding shots.
Viewing the rushes.
Getting more feedback, making more adjustments - and re-rendering.
The tasks you're assigned as a PA may feel relentless at times, but consider the workload of the people you're working with. VFX can be a very pressured area of the industry to work in, with extremely tight deadlines on projects. The role of the runner not only exists to make clients happy, but they are also there to support their colleagues in whatever way they can.
Most companies will encourage you to use the equipment (in your own time) if it's available, which can be worth its weight in gold so take advantage of it when you can. It may not be obvious when you’re stirring your fifteenth ‘white and one’, but the skills you are learning as a PA will impact heavily on your future career. These may not be the hands-on technical skills you so desperately want to learn, they are the ‘interpersonal’ skills and professional mechanisms so vital to making your way through the industry such as:
Being able to smile and coolly say ‘no problem I shall get that right away' when a client demands something.
Dealing with complex personalities and high-pressure situations.
Being asked to complete five tasks at the same time and methodically work through them.
The ability to take stock when things feel as though they are getting on top of you, and carry on.
Maintain good manners, stay enthusiastic, remember you can get far with a smile.
If you're working in VFX, the company will most likely be under tight deadlines. Sometimes it can go smoothly, but more often than not it's a testing environment with long hours, lack of sleep and stress. In these situations be as helpful as possible but don’t pester producers and clients, knowing when to offer help is a skill in itself.
If it looks like a deadline is not going to be met the company will be employing more artists on the team to ensure they can handover on the correct date. If it’s due to client changes or demands they may ask for an extension, or extra money to get more artists on the team. As a runner, make sure you learn everyone's name when they come to work at the company, most likely VFX artists who are drafted in will be flung into a high-pressure situation, so make them feel welcome.
Most people who enter the VFX industry come from various backgrounds, engineering, computer science, physics, 3D animation, VFX course/degree, fine art or filmmaking to name but a few. A degree is a great starting point, but it's not always essential as companies take on PAs who have a great personality, can-do attitude and want to progress a career specifically in VFX. If you wish to work in production, this is not the right area of the industry for you, and VFX companies can spot people who are 'just looking for a job' in the industry a mile away.
Companies value self-learning and professional development outside of the organization. Taking a proactive approach can be hugely beneficial as you can speed up your career progression, it also doesn't hurt to let the company know how passionate and focused you are in this area of the industry. Ultimately, as with all aspects of filmmaking, passion and hard work are the most vital tools to get you where you want to go.
VFX is an ever-changing, expanding discipline with new software and hardware being conceived and created. When applying for positions at VFX companies research what software they are using, it will vary from company to company. Never be untruthful about your abilities with specific programs, you will get caught out very quickly.
Autodesk Maya. This industry-standard software, developed by the same company that created AutoCAD, allows animators to create wireframes and develop them for rendering.
Houdini. 3D animation tools used for film, broadcast, entertainment and pre-visualization.
Autodesk Flame: Is used to bring a realistic finish to the work of the animators, used by compositors in the final stages of the VFX process, it is also used when working with motion capture.
Nuke: Another one-stop-shop compositing tool for managing VFX work in 2D and 3D. Nuke Studio includes an editing option making it an excellent all-around choice for filmmakers.
Fusion: The boundary is blurred on its professional and consumer application, making it a choice for the ‘prosumer’. It is used for rendering and composition effects.
UNIX operating system derivatives such as Sun's Solaris, Hewlett-Packard's HP-UX, and IBM's AIX®
LINUX operating systems. Linux is one of the best-known open-source operating systems and one you will be working with.
Python and C++ programming. If you have knowledge of either, it is best to show this in your CV to demonstrate your understanding of basic coding.
Local and external drives, servers and networks. It sounds basic, but if you want to work in VFX, you need to demonstrate in your CV an ability to navigate and understand an operating system, work with shortcuts that have been set up by the VFX and production team, move files safely, and know how to delete files from the system.
Photoshop and Illustrator. It can be very useful to have a good knowledge of the Adobe Creative Suite software.
The golden rule of the industry and VFX is no exception. Excellent timekeeping is essential when working as a PA.
The workload of a PA often means you’re on your feet for the whole day. Fortunately, you will be working with like-minded people who share your ambitions in their careers. Although it's going to be hard to see it while you roll into your 14th hour of work, you may look back on this period of your career fondly. Enjoy the learning process, the camaraderie and the journey.
Even though some of the tasks will feel menial try and be a perfectionist about it. Just because it’s lunch and not working with the animators, it shouldn’t mean poor workmanship. Good runners who have the right attitude progress significantly quicker than those who regard certain jobs beneath them.
Don’t lose sight of why you are doing the job. If the main creative forces behind a film are wedged into an airless room for days at a time, frustrations and tempers may fray at points. Don’t be too downhearted if your simple question “Can I get anyone anything?” is dismissed with a scowl and a wave of the hand, or worse. Try to take it in your stride. If you can achieve this as a PA you can take this skill with you as you move up the career ladder, it will come in handy when you are receiving feedback on your work or being asked to change things at the last minute.
Making contacts in the industry, at all levels, is a worthy endeavor. Building a network doesn’t have to be as mercenary as it sounds. From your fellow PAs to producers and production managers, making friends and professional contacts requires the same set of skills. You're much more likely to make an impact if you talk to people. Whether it's in the kitchen making tea or wandering around the office. An outgoing personality will make sure you’re remembered.
If your employers are open to it, use the facilities to work on your projects as often as you can. The information you gather as a PA is valuable, but learning on your projects can be invaluable. It can also be a way of starting a conversation with the VFX team who are using the facilities during the day. If you do ask for advice, but make sure you get your timing right. Bringing in the tea and toast in the morning can be a good time.
Three or four asks a day should be enough; you don’t want to badger them too much. Also, liaise with your colleagues about who has been asked and who hasn’t, this can go a long way to preventing tip No.4.
Yes, some people may forget yours it’s true, but try your best to remember everyone else's. Most people find a way of achieving this, whether repeating it three times in conversation on meeting them; or finding words that rhyme with their name. Find out what works best for you and use it.
It sounds like a cliche, but VFX and filmmaking are all about working as a unit to achieve a common goal. Use your time as a PA to implement that same protocol; it will make you a better runner and a better VFX artist in the future.
You will sometimes be asked to work late or at the weekend. As much as that might play havoc with your life (social and otherwise) try not to complain. There are many people desperate to have the job you have, work hard, keep smiling and you won't be a PA for long.
CPU: Central Processing Unit
GPU: Graphics Processing Unit
EDL: Edit decision list
Offline: The edit before it has any VFX applied to it.
Online: The edit where VFX is inserted.
Rushes: All the footage that has been filmed on the shoot.
Stereo/Stereoscopic: Stereoscopy, sometimes called stereoscopic imaging, is a technique used to enable a three-dimensional effect, adding an illusion of depth to a flat image.
Pre-vis: A pre-visualization created in 3D of the commercial or film before it’s shot to help the director visualize the VFX and its place in the final film.
HDRi: a 360 picture taken at different exposures on a shoot. Used to recreate the same lighting environment in the CG software.
What hours will I be working?
PAs work on a shift pattern in most VFX companies, which change from week to week. There are not many companies where you will work a regular 9 -5. Your pattern can be rotated each week, which can leave you rearranging plans at the last minute. If you wish to work in VFX, this is one of the main factors of the job.
This is one area of the industry where you can be a PA for months or years. Promoting your skills while still doing your job to the best of your ability can make a huge difference. You may also be at the mercy of luck! The whole ‘being in the right place at the right time’ is never truer than in the world of filmmaking. If you work for a smaller company, however, you will probably get promoted faster as larger companies have more PA's so there is more competition.
Computer Graphics World
SIGGRAPH is the biggest industry show for VFX and Games, they host a comprehensive schedule of events that lasts for five days, SIGGRAPH is attended by the key players in both sectors.
Gaining a position as an intern does not guarantee a job at the end. Indeed, some people may go through two or three internships before finding full-time employment. What you can gain as an intern are contacts, knowledge and the time to learn directly from the VFX team. Internships are no longer than four weeks unpaid, anything over this and you should be receiving a wage.
Absolutely, many common skills transfer over to the world of VFX from games development. Most of the technical roles in games such as GPU programming, AI, Tools Programmers and anyone who is concerned with rendering or high-performance hardware, have the skills that are transferable to VFX positions such as:
R+D team (research and development).
Shader writing roles.
Pipeline technical directors (Pipeline TD’s are responsible for designing the architecture that links all the TD Departments together).
TD Layout and rigging TD
Concept artists would find a natural home within the matte painting and concept discipline of VFX.
3D creates the CGI that we associate with the work of the animators, riggers, and TD’s. 2D work is the roto, painters, and compositors. The 2D work pulls all the work together including the plates (background/foreground images shot by the camera department) to produce the final image.
SFX will take place in principal photography and is defined by its physical nature such as explosions, stunts, and forms of makeup. Visual effects are taken care of during post-production, through the VFX team may have a presence on the set during filming. The VFX team can enhance some SFX during post-production, explosions, for example, can see flames reaching that little bit higher and wider.
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