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5 questions about being a special effects artist

1 How much pressure is on an artist?
2 What is the usual amount of time to complete a project?
3 How many artists work on a project?
4 What is the highest tier of this kind of job?
5 How do you grow your skills beyond whats needed?

Thank you comment icon Hi, Sean! These are all great questions. In the future, please post them each as a separate question (per our Community Guidelines). It is much easier for Professionals to answer one question at a time, and that means you’re more likely to get great advice! Thanks for using CareerVillage 🙂 Alexandra Carpenter, Admin
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Stephanie Stephen’s Answer

Hi Sean posting multiple questions that are related in topic is perfectly fine, and not really anymore difficult for many of us to answer. But it does often result in a much longer answer.

Now here is the thing, for your first three questions they pretty much have the same answer. As it really depends on the project, as well as the carrier field you are applying your artistic skills too with your employment. For instance, if you was to work in advertising you may experience a lot of stress for say a 1 minute commercial, even though the project may only have 6 people working on the same project. Where if you was working as say a Special Effects artist, you may not experience a lot of stress on a project where there are hundreds of other artist. As in both cases there are a factor of things that can increase or decrease your level of stress, and the number of people working on the same project.

And I am going to use the example of the recent Rust project. As we all know that the master prop artist in that project experienced a lot of stress. But the sound effects artist, who maybe responsible for adding sounds like glass breaking, foot steps and other sounds may not experience any stress even though they maybe the only person working to product the sound effects.

That can also be the case for cartoonist, that have to draw a new character for say, a new Disney animated movie.

As for what’s the highest tier, as a professional artist, again that depends on your employer. But I would assume either master, lead or head which ever is considered the highest within that employer, and department.

As for your last question, that is simple. You simply continue to grow your experience as well as knowledge. By taking as many jobs as possible, and through continued education. And never limiting yourself to one skill set. That’s why you learned things such as welding, painting, wood working, carpentry, writing poetry, sketching, leather working, black smithing, silver smithing, carving, learning to play music and the list goes on. As being an artist be it a professional artist, say as building realistic sets. Or a private artist who creates unique works of art that are displayed publicly, you may need every one of those skills or only a couple of those skills.
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Paul’s Answer

Hi Sean! I'm answering this question in relation to physical, practical, special effects. This covers elements like wind, rain, and fire as well as mechanical rigs that are on set like a spaceship on a motion base, or a hidden door leading to a secret passageway.

1: How much pressure is on an artist?
Sometimes there is a fair amount of pressure during a film shoot. This is normally when stunt performers are involved or something is only good for one take (like crashing a brand new car - after the first time it will never look "brand new" again). Other than examples like those (where safety is the top priority), the day to day has a lot less pressure for an artist/technician. In the end it's only entertainment and not brain surgery!

2: What is the usual amount of time to complete a project?
The time a special effects department spends on a film is about a year. This includes setting up a workshop, designing and building all of the rigs, shooting the film, and cleaning up at the end. Individual projects (sometimes called gags or rigs) can take months to create and get right. Other times an artist/technician only has a few days to get a project together. For instance a whole "working" spaceship will take months to build, but a desk with a secret compartment may only take days to complete.

3: How many artists work on a project?
For a standard big budget film there are about 75 people in the special effects department. On a really big film there can be over 100 members in the special effects department. This normally happens when the film is shooting in multiple locations around the world at the same time.

As for individual projects it depends on how far along the project is. During the ideas and design stage it might just be 1 or 2 people. When it comes to actually building the project there will be many more (let's say 30) - working on the metal fabrication, wood cladding, electronics, painting, hydraulics/pneumatics, etc. to get the job done.

4: What is the highest tier of this kind of job?
The highest tier is the special effects supervisor. They bid on future film/tv projects to work on, do all of the budgeting, hire the rest of the special effects crew, plan out the effects with the director and other HODs (head of department). They are ultimately responsible for everything that happens on the film with regards to special effects.

5: How do you grow your skills beyond what's needed?
Follow what your interests are! For example I have taken additional courses on pyrotechnics and hydraulics to gain more knowledge in those areas. Special effects covers a wide variety of skills, so really anything can help. By that I mean that a hobby in building LEGO, having a fish tank, gardening, fixing cars, scuba diving, sewing, playing paintball, origami... it all can help. For example I have taken up a hobby recently in 3D Printing, and have 3D printed parts for projects for work!

If you have any further questions, feel free to reach out again.

All the best,