Understanding the Roles in Visual Effects – Part 2

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Visual Effects, VFX for short, is a big ocean and covers numerous jobs. Last time, in part 1, I explored several roles including previs artists, data wranglers, research & development, math moving, compositing, roto/paint artists, and technical directors. Each plays a smaller part towards a larger goal. I’m here to help make sense of all those roles to give you a better informed decision if you plan to heading into VFX, or at the very least, offer some clarification to some of those more obscure sounding roles. So with that, let’s start with the fur groomer!

*Take Note* Each role header is a link that leads to a related creative reel or article going more in depth on the material. Enjoy!

Fur Groomer

This title kind of makes me giggle whenever I read it, but actually this name is quite apt given their role. A grooming VFX artist is the person who specifically focuses on fur, hair, and feathers. Designing them in 3D, controlling how they move throughout the elements, and all other physical parameters surrounding those points. Most grooming artists are well versed in Maya and similar 3D modeling and shading programs.

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Modeler

This artist, as you might have guessed, is the person who creates the 3D models of people, creatures, etc. using various 3D modeling software such as Maya, Cinema 4D, or 3DS Max.

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Environment Artist

Similar to the Modeler (and most modelers market themselves also as environment artists), this artist develops the digital 3D landscapes found in some CG films, TV shows, and video games.

Texture Artist

As the title sounds, this artist creates the textures that go on the 3D models and environments. This can be anything from human skin, scales, cobblestone roads, or a brick and mortar castle exterior.

Matte Painter

A matte painter creates digital paintings of a landscape or set and is then composited into the background, giving the illusion of an environment that did not exist at the time of filming. Sometimes, the scene could have been shot in a green screen room, and an environment artist could develop the 3D foreground. Then a matte painter would create the 2D painting composited in the background. Sometimes, instead of flying to Paris for that one shot, a matte painter will develop a French landscape that is then composited into the background of a live action shot giving the illusion the actors are sitting at a café in Paris with the Eiffel Tower perfectly positioned in the background.

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Rigger

The rigger then takes the 3D model created by the modeler and creates the skeleton – the physical structure, joints, flexibility, range of motion, etc. – that defines how the model moves and interacts with its world.

Animator

The animator then takes the rigged model and breathes life into the object by moving it around as required for the specific scene. This can be anything from walking, talking, blinking, breathing, pointing, or any number of specific movements and actions. It is not uncommon to have a team of several animators working on a single model to create the most realistic motion.

Motion Capture

Aside from an animator, motion capture is another process to breath life into a rigged model. This process is a bit more physical as a performer wears a motion capture suit that is covered in marker points that correspond with similar marker points on the models rig. Therefore, when a motion capture artist moves their arm in real time, the model moves its arm. This method has been gaining popularity over the last decade with memorable performances from actors like Andy Serkis playing the role of Golem in Lord of the Rings.

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Visual Effects Supervisor & Coordinator

Visual Effects Supervisors work directly with the director on and off the set to ensure planning and execution of the final image is achieved. The coordinator works directly under the supervisor and makes sure the artists work smoothly and coherently with the same vision the director and supervisor are working towards. For instance, the supervisor works with the director to create the physical space with all the correct markers and camera movements to have a dragon destroy a village. The supervisor then has the coordinator coordinate the team of artists to execute that vision (environment artist creates the town, matte painter designs background, modeler designs dragon, texture artist designs the scales, rigger builds the dragons skeleton, etc. etc. …).

I hope this post has helped educate you on some of the most crucial roles in the big machine that is visual effects. Each role is a small cog in a much larger working device – each equally important and necessary to reach the final goal. If you have any questions or comments about any of the roles I mentioned, or if I’ve forgotten a role you wanted to learn more about, then leave a comment below!

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Understanding the Roles in Visual Effects – Part 1

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Visual Effects, VFX for short, is a big ocean and covers numerous jobs. I am here to help make sense out of the plethora of names and titles out there so you can make a more informed decision as to what avenue you would want to explore as a visual effects artist. At the very least, maybe I can explain some of those weird credits you see scrolling at the end of the movies that make you say, “Data Wrangler?! Is a cowboy hog tying numbers on a movie set?!”

*Take Note* Each role header is a link that leads to a related creative reel or article going more in depth on the material. Enjoy!

Previs Artist

Previs is short for previsualization – this artist will work collaboratively with a team to develop the director’s image for specific physical or digital shots. These are taken from the script and recreated digitally as a quick rough animation. It is no mystery that movies cost money – and tons of it! By spending a small percentage of your budget on developing previs shots of key moments in the film in order to figure out the logistics, you can potentially save yourself thousands – if not millions – come time for the shoot and you know exactly how every moving part goes together (camera, lighting, scenery, explosions, etc).

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Data Wrangler

Also known as a Data Loader. This person works with the camera crew, post production editors, and VFX team to ensure all camera information is accurately recorded and stored on multiple hard drives (never erase anything without at least two copies backed up first! Redundancy is key). This not only includes the raw data itself, but also settings, frame rates, etc, that would be essential for editors and VFX artists to match with their own work.

Research and Development

There are people on the VFX team that are dedicated solely to R&D. For example, a VFX artist needs to create a medieval village. These people will research everything about a shot and will provide necessary sample shots, textures, settings for basis, and anything else necessary for the artist to create an accurate depiction of what was requested of them.

Matchmoving

Also known as Camera Tracking. This is the process of producing a 3D digital camera that matches the exact movement of what a physical camera has shot. It is essential for the VFX artist’s work to fit in a particular shot when the camera is rotating, panning, and moving around. A digital element needs to match each of these movements in order to not float off into space.

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Compositor

A compositor takes all the digital effects, environments, video, and images and combines them into a final rendered image.

There are two types of compositing: node based and layered based. Node based creates a “node tree” where each branch links a new media file or effect. The most popular node based software currently is NUKE by The Foundry. Layer based compositing manages media files and effects through a stacking system – bottom layers are at the base and everything layered is built on top. The most popular layered based compositing software is Adobe’s After Effects.

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Roto/Paint Artists

Rotoscoping is the process of creating a matte for an element that can later become composited into another background. For example, an actor might be shot on green screen, would need to be cleanly keyed out, and then sent to the compositor to be composited into a background shot. Sometimes, an actor may be wearing wires or some form of harness for a particular shot, and the artist would then need to go frame by frame and paint out those wires to seamlessly match the background. This role is generally looked at as an entry level position for aspiring compositors.

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Technical Director

He is regarded as the department ‘expert.’ They are equal parts artist and programmer. In a film studio, this is commonly for camera, animation, and lighting. “But I thought the Director of Photography was the expert cameraman?” You are correct, however, this is about Visual Effects roles and so the Camera TD in VFX is for all digital cameras implemented in virtual and digital environments. This also applies for the Lighting TD who is the expert at digitally creating realistic and accurate lighting in any given scene. This can be an entirely digital scene or digital lighting can be composited – by a compositor – created by a lighting TD – into a physical scene.

Additionally, some TD’s can program new software implemented in pipeline flow specific to that studio (pipeline is the term referred to the flow in which a post production VFX shot is created), developing character rigs, or any number of detailed oriented technical tasks in the VFX world.

These are just a few roles in the sea of visual effects. If there is a specific VFX role you would like to see me explore next, leave a comment below!

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