Special Effects & Visual Effects

Special effects and visual effects programs offer complete training in the world of digital technology and artistic creation.

Have you ever watched a movie where a character plays dual roles and shows up in the same scene as both characters simultaneously? How about those Pixar shorts, where inanimate objects come to life with a personality all their own? Then you can appreciate the role of special effects and visual effects in movies.

Special effects is the overall term used to describe all of the illusions simulated in the entertainment industry. Visual effects is more of a subcategory, as it is accomplished mainly through digital technology.

A visual effects artist creates extraordinary imagery and intricate effects in movies, television broadcasts and commercials, the Internet, and in video gaming. Special effects professionals still use older methods such as animatronics, building small models, prosthetics, and detonation.

Special effects and visual effects programs certify a student as foundational, advanced or master. Required courses for each stage include a minimum of at least six credit hours, to be completed within a specific time. Core subjects vary at each institution, but are generally, compositing, sound design, storyboarding, and introductory courses to industry software, such as Shake or Adobe After Effects.

Art and film schools offer Associate’s degrees that can be completed in less than two years. Skills taught are design and composition, typography, storyboarding, drawing/color technology, digital and motion graphics, audio/video recording/editing, lighting, animation 2D and 3D, and rendering.

The special effects and visual effects program for a Bachelor of Fine Arts is the most common degree sought for students entering this career field. Coursework involves foundational subjects in drawing, sculpting, and modeling. Higher level classes include 3D modeling/animation, digital painting and lighting, and involve students in film projects for hands-on learning.

The Master of Fine Arts programs are highly focused and allow in-depth study of a specific facet of computer animation and visual effects. Collaborative projects provide the opportunity to build an impressive portfolio. Courses include graphics and visual effects creation, advanced compositing, digital audio and video production and editing, 2D and 3D digital animation, advanced computer software aptitude, and complete renderings, from rough draft to final production.

Career opportunities depend upon the individual focus, but include character animator, modeler, visual effects artist/director, texture artist, lighting artist, pre-visualization artist, technical director, as well as teaching opportunities at film schools and colleges.