Visual effects (VFX)

Roto artist

Also known as: Junior visual effects (VFX) artist

Entry level

Roto artist

What does a roto artist do?

Roto artists manually draw around and cut out objects from movie frames so that the required parts of the image can be used, a process known as rotoscoping.

The parts of an image that are wanted after cutting out are known as mattes. Roto artists work on the areas of live action frames where computer-generated (CG) images or other live-action images will overlap or interact with the live image.

If the live-action camera is not moving within a shot, rotoscoping might involve only one frame. If the camera’s moving, roto artists trace the relevant areas of every frame within the shot so that CG can be combined accurately with the live-action. Roto artists need to have a keen eye and patience in order to complete this meticulous and repetitive work.

In addition to rotoscoping, roto artists assist in the preparation of material for compositing.

Roto artists are typically employed by VFX studios but can also be freelancers.

Watch and read

What's a roto artist good at?

  • Drawing skill: trace accurately with a good line
  • Patience: be methodical and thorough, taking care to rotoscope well so as to help to produce a high-quality final image
  • Knowledge of programs: be adept at using relevant programs such as Photoshop
  • Delivery: work well with strict deadlines, be able to complete work under pressure
  • Taking initiative: observe what’s happening, be pro-active, ask questions at the appropriate time

Tools of the trade

These are some of the tools used by professionals.

  • Graphics and painting software (Adobe After Effects, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, Photoshop, Silhouette)

You can learn how to model using free software. Go to build your VFX portfolio for a list of what’s available.

Who does a roto artist work with?

Roto artists work most closely with compositors, as the mattes which roto artists produce serve as important layers for compositors to work with. They pass on their work to prep artists, as part of a VFX production pipeline, to help prepare plates for compositors.

How do I become a roto artist?

It is important that you create a showreel to show potential employers and tutors what you can do.  In terms of formal education, there are degrees available specific to the VFX industry, and they can help you to become a roto artist.

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 will be useful. 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
  • BTEC National Diploma in Graphics
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography
  • BTEC National Diploma in Digital Games Design and Development
  • BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art & Design (3D Design)
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art & Design (Graphic Design)
  • OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art & Design (Photography)
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art & Design
  • 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 and help you find your way into VFX at a later point.

These are some apprenticeships that might be available throughout the UK:

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 roto 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:
A degree isn’t essential to be a roto artist but if you want one, 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. Go to the list of training courses recommended by ScreenSkills and see if there is one that relates to VFX.

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 junior roles.  Even if they aren’t, send in your CV and showreel and ask them to bear you in mind for future roles. 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

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Further resources