Visual effects (VFX)
Also known as: Digital preparation artist, Paint artist
What does a prep artist do?
Prep artists clean up the backgrounds of live action-footage ready for the effects to be layered onto it by the compositor. The shots they work on, known as plates, either moving or still, don’t have foreground action or players included.
Prep artists use specialist VFX software to clean plates. There are many processes used to do this cleaning. They remove any unwanted dust and scratches from the frame. They sort out dropped frames, where a camera has been unable to capture all the frames in a given time resulting in little jerks in the action. They remove any unwanted items such a boom microphones or electric pylons.
They are typically employed by VFX studios but can also operate as freelancers.
What's a prep artist good at?
- Art: be skilled at drawing and painting using a graphics tablet, have a high level of accuracy with the pen or stylus
- A keen eye: recognise when and where images need to be cleaned, even in the minutest detail, make your work invisible
- Patience: be methodical and thorough
- Knowledge of VFX programs: be adept at using relevant programs such as Maya, Photoshop and, particularly, Nuke
- Organisation: work well with strict deadlines, be able to complete work under pressure
Who does a prep artist work with?
Prep artists work with the compositors because they hand their plates over to them. They also work with the roto artists, who cut out objects and help clean the plates. In smaller companies the work of the prep artist and the roto artist is combined.
How do I become a prep artist?
This is an entry level role. The thing you need most to help you get in is a strong portfolio that illustrates your abilities. VFX companies or studios generally prefer it if you have a degree in graphic design, or another VFX-specific course.
At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in art, art and design, graphic design or graphic communication would all equip you well for this role. Or you might want to take one of the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- BTEC National Extended Diploma in Creative Digital Media Production
- NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
- UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, you might want to take one of these Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- Aim Awards Diploma/Extended Diploma in Games Animation and VFX
- Aim Awards Diploma in Creative and Digital Media
- BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
- BTEC National Diploma in Graphics
- BTEC National Diploma in Photography
- UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design)
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Graphic Design)
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Digital Content for Interactive Media)
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image & Audio Production)
Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. NextGen Skills Academy offers VFX apprenticeships for school leavers. These involve a lot of learning on the job working in a VFX company.
If you can’t find an apprenticeship with a VFX company, it might be worth getting an apprenticeship in a related industry, which could give you some experience to help you find your way into VFX at a later point.
These are some apprenticeships that might be available throughout the UK:
- Junior 2D artist (visual effects) (Level 4, England)
- Assistant technical director (visual effects) (Level 4, England)
- Creative and Digital Media (Level 3, Northern Ireland)
- Creative and Digital Media (Level 3, 4, Wales)
Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will be giving you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.
Build a portfolio:
Learn the software, experiment with VFX programs and create a showreel that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. Focus on producing a portfolio which includes relevant prep work to showcase your immediate practical skills This is essential. Go to build your VFX portfolio to learn how. Watch ScreenSkills’ advice on VFX showreels. It’s really important to develop your appreciation for VFX. Make sure you’re familiar with what’s out there.
Get a degree:
Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses and select one in VFX. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the VFX industry.
Get VFX industry skills:
There are various VFX image and video-editing programs in which it’s useful to receive training. Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of VFX courses that we either fund, support or have quality-marked.
Get to know people in VFX by attending events. Meet professionals and ask them questions about their work, while demonstrating interest and knowledge in the sector. Offer to provide them with your professional contact details and try to stay in touch with them. Go to how to network well to learn how to do this.
Search for jobs:
Research VFX companies you’d like to work for. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for prep artists. Even if they aren’t, send in your CV and showreel and ask them to bear you in mind for future roles or work experience. Keep looking on job websites too. ArtStation is a good example of a site that includes job listings in animation, games and VFX (remember to filter its job listings by country). ScreenSkills offers some advice from professionals on how to approach animation and VFX employers.
You might also be interested in...
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- Weta Digital
- Wired – Design FX
- Which software is used for VFX?
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- Khan Academy Labs – Pixar in a Box
- Creative Bloq
- CG Spectrum – College of Digital Art and Animation
- Art of VFX
- Bectu (the media and entertainment union)
- Computer Graphics World (CGW)
- VFX Voice
- Visual Effects Society (VES)
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