Considering a Career in Special Effects?

How do you get started in special effects?

There are several things you should consider:

Special effects people tend to be a curious mixture of artists and engineers. This is because most effects require elements of creativity and mechanics, pyrotechnics, construction or electronics. So if you are just an artist or just an engineer then get experience of the other side. If your name is Leonardo da Vinci, then a glorious future awaits you in special effects!

You also have to be prepared to work unusual and sometimes long hours. This game is definitely not 9 to 5! Most studio work starts early in the morning and if the shoot over-runs then it may be the next morning before you get home.

Travel can form a big element of what we do. Being an international company, we work all over the world. Whilst we design and build most of our effects in our London HQ, we may find we have to travel anywhere for the actual shooting or installation. This can range from two days in the Maldives to two weeks in the storm-swept Scottish Highlands. Exciting though it may sound, travel can be tiring, frustrating and damaging to your personal life.

Still interested?

If so, there are several ways to go about it.

There are a number of formal qualifications that are useful. Degrees are available at universities in a number of relevant subjects. We have listed some below that we would recognise as being of merit.

One of the most important aspects to your credibility is a portfolio. This is a photographic record of any work that you have done. It need not necessarily be work you have been paid for, but could be work you have done for your course or your own entertainment. Make sure the photography and lighting are good. A great model can look dreadful if it looks flat or out of focus.

Above all else, you need to be a nice person able to work as part of a team. A brilliant pain in the arse will rarely be employed!

To summarise, this is what you need to do:
1) Decide whether you are the sort of person you need to be to succeed in effects and whether you have the drive and determination to do so.
2) Get a formal qualification in a relevant discipline, if possible - it helps you get through the door and should include work experience.
3) Write a good CV and make sure it is relevant to effects work and gets across something of your personality.
4) Take time and care in putting together a first class portfolio - this is the evidence that you will be judged upon.
5) Market yourself with some memorable angle and prepare yourself to work freelance, and be flexible.

List of courses and contacts:

The Arts University College at Bournemouth

The AUCB runs a BA Honours Degree in model-making for design and media programme. This is full time over three years.

Applications must be made through UCAS.
For more information contact Paul Johnson, Course Leader. 
pjohnson@aucb.ac.uk or call +44(0) 1202 363252.
or visit the main college website at www.aucb.ac.uk or the course microsite, www.bmakers.co.uk

University of Hertfordshire

The School of Creative Arts offers a portfolio of three inter-related degrees on its Model and SFX programme:

  • BA(Hons) Special Effects (for careers in animatronics, mechanical and physical effects)
  • BA(Hons) Model Design & Model Effects (careers in model making and movie miniatures)
  • BA(Hons) Character Design & Technical Effects (careers in creature effects, puppets & prosthetics)

All three courses are three years full time with ample opportunity for students to include three months of work experience with leading companies in the Film, TV and Media Industries.

For further information contact:
Ian Mitchell, Programme Tutor.
I.Mitchell@herts.ac.uk or call +44(0)1707 285360
or visit their website at: www.herts.ac.uk

University of the Arts London/Wimbledon College of Arts

BA(Hons) Theatre: Technical Arts and Special Effects. Three years full-time course.

Applications must be made through UCAS.

For more information contact:
g.hicks@wimbledon.arts.ac.uk or visit website, www.wimbledon.arts.ac.uk or call +44(0)20 7514 9641

The University of the Arts/London College of Fashion

The London College of Fashion runs three full-time three year courses. 

  • B.A.(Hons) Costume for Performance 
  • BA (Hons) Technical Effects for Performance 
  • BA (Hons) Make Up & Prosthetics for Performance

For further information contact:
enquiries@fashion.arts.ac.uk or call +44(0)20 7514 7344
or visit their website at: www.wimbledon.ac.uk

These are just a few courses that may be of interest. However, they might not be for you so do some thorough research before applying.

If you have an interest in working for Artem then please e-mail your CV for the attention of Sharon Walter on sharon@artem.com or send it snail mail to Artem Ltd, Perivale Park, Horsenden Lane South, Perivale, Middlesex, UB6 7RH, UK

Please note though, we do get a lot of CVs. We do get around to answering them all, but please be patient. We regret that we cannot consider anybody under the age of 18 for either work experience or employment.