Visual effects (VFX)
Data capture technician
Also known as: Data capture, On-set, On-set coordinator
What does a data capture TD do?
Data capture technical directors (TDs) go onto the film or TV set to collect the information about the live-action footage that the teams in the VFX studio need to add the visual effects.
They take photographs of the set and the way the cameras are positioned. They “capture data” about the type of lens type being used, its focal length, filters, focus and colour temperature. They also record the camera height, camera mount and distance between the camera and actor, and other details. And they take photos of surfaces, so that the textures can be recreated digitally later on.
All this information is necessary so the exact scene in the live action can be recreated digitally and the VFX can be incorporated in a believable way.
Data capture TDs use a variety of tools to capture the data, including cameras and a ‘total station’ which electronically measures horizontal and vertical angles and distances.
They upload, log and backup all the data, before sending it on to the relevant members of the VFX company on a daily basis.
Data capture TDs tend to be employed by VFX companies or studios rather than work as freelancers.
Watch and read
- The VFX pipeline explained with Hasraf Dulull
- Introduction to robotic total stations
- How to create an HDRI map
What's a data capture TD good at?
- Being accurate: be methodical in your work, pay close attention to detail, have strong problem-solving skills
- Technical knowledge of cameras: have an in-depth understanding of all motion picture equipment, cameras, lenses, monitors and lights
- Understand the VFX pipeline: know the process through which visual effects are created
- Using software: use the data sharing application FileMaker Pro, be able to operate and maintain your data collecting equipment yourself
- Being efficient: work quickly and accurately on set so that the physical production can run smoothly, organise and prioritise your tasks
Who does a data capture TD work with?
Data capture TDs work with the VFX supervisor and matchmove artists on set to ensure that the sets and actors have tracking markers placed on them in the necessary way so that the footage can be used by the matchmove artists and roto artists.
They also need to communicate with the various VFX artists and compositors who will be using the information that they have provided.
How do I become a data capture TD?
Employers tend to want you to have a couple or more years’ experience working either on sets or in VFX before taking you on as a data capture technician. As such, one career path is to work in the camera department in the film and TV drama industries. This will give you good knowledge of cameras so you can more accurately collect camera data as a capture technician. It also gives you on-set experience. Try to get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme as a camera trainee.
Another route is to first work for a VFX company as a matchmove artist. That is an entry level role in the VFX industry. It gives on-set experience and also involves working with data capture TDs to place tracking markers on actors or parts of the set. Matchmove artists often have a degree in computer graphics, computer science or computer animation.
At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in art, art and design, graphic design or communication, computer or computing science, and maths. Or you might want to take any of the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- UAL Level 3 Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- Pearson BTEC Level 3 National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Computing
If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:
- BTEC National Diploma in Photography
- Aim Awards Diploma/Extended Diploma in Games Animation and VFX
- BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
- BTEC National Diploma in 3D Design & Crafts
- BTEC National Diploma in Graphics
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (Photography)
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
- OCR Cambridge Technical Diploma in Art and Design (3D Design)
- BTEC National Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries
- AQA Technical Level IT: Programming
- OCR Technical Diploma in IT (Digital Software Practitioner)
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 the experience you need to find your way into VFX at a later point.
These are the relevant apprenticeships that might be available throughout the UK:
- Assistant technical director (visual effects) (Level 4, England)
- Photographic assistant (Level 3, England)
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:
Get as much experience as you can in photography, both still and moving images. Create a stills photography portfolio that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. This is essential. Go to build your VFX portfolio to learn how. It’s really important to develop your appreciation for VFX. Make sure you’re familiar with what’s out there.
Get a degree:
It is not essential to have a degree in order to become a data capture TD. It is important to understand about photography and cameras; both the DSLR and film varieties. Or you might want to 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. Alternatively, you can take a degree in a computer graphics, computer science, computer animation or VFX-related subject.
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.
Become a trainee:
Get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme. Get the skills, make contacts and start working as a camera trainee.
Search for jobs:
Research VFX companies that you’d like to work for. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for data capture TD roles. Search job websites for the same and apply for positions. 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).
You might also be interested in...
- Tracking and Matchmoving
- Nuke Matchmove and 3D Point Generator Tutorial
- The Guild of British Camera Technicians
- Guild of Television Cameramen GTC
- Weta Digital – YouTube
- Wired – Design FX – YouTube
- Which software is used for VFX?
- Blender Guru
- 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)
Film and TV drama
Covers genres ranging from period dramas to epic fantasies screened at the cinema, on TV or on streaming sites
Combines art with programming as well as production, design and testing - the UK’s fastest growing entertainment industry
Creates the illusion of movement, includes computer-generated, stop-motion and hand-drawn animation