Visual effects (VFX)

Assistant technical director (TD)

Also known as: Junior pipeline TD

Entry level

Assistant technical director (TD)

What does an assistant TD do?

Assistant TDs help to identify and fix problems and make sure everyone in a visual effects (VFX) production pipeline has the tools they need. They have a very good understanding of how VFX pipelines work and of different VFX job roles. Their expertise also includes understanding the software used by VFX artists and the needs and limitations of different departments.

Assistant TDs assist pipeline TDs and other TDs to gather information on the needs of each department. They design solutions for problems that arise and also use coding skills to create small-scale tools needed by the VFX artists. They deal with minor bug reports so that pipeline TDs to deal with bigger problems, such as rendering errors.

Assistant TDs are also responsible for data management, archiving and restoring and tracking data and converting and resizing files where needed. They help to keep the project on schedule. Along with pipeline TDs, assistant TDs will work closely with research and development teams, who design and test any new software.

Watch and read

What’s an assistant TD good at?

  • Communication: be helpful and patient and communicate well with a variety of staff at different levels to understand their needs and assist with technical issues, work well as part of a team to develop solutions, take direction from a pipeline TD and escalate issues to them when necessary
  • Problem-solving: think analytically to identify problems and come up with creative and efficient solutions, finding new ways to overcome obstacles and achieve a creative vision
  • Attention to detail: have a good eye for detail when designing tools and fixing technical issues
  • Knowledge of all parts of the pipeline: have a strong understanding of all jobs within the pipeline, their roles, needs, and the challenges they face
  • Programming and coding skills: have advanced knowledge of programming in Python and C++ with a very high level of technical ability using a variety of relevant software used across the project such as Maya, Houdini and Nuke

Who does an assistant TD work with?

Assistant TDs work under pipeline TDs as well as with staff from throughout VFX pipelines to understand their issues and find solutions. They also work closely with data input/output technicians to develop solutions to these as well as with supervisors.

How do I become an assistant TD?

Assistant TD is a junior role. To get into it, you need to gain some experience of how VFX pipelines work. You might do this by starting off as a runner. You need to be able to demonstrate good problem-solving skills as well as very strong coding and 3D software skills. Assistant TDs often have a degree in computer science, or you might be able to progress to this role through an apprenticeship scheme.

At school or college:
If you want to go to college or university, you can take A-levels or Highers in computer science and maths. You might want to do some art as well. You could also take the following Level 3 vocational qualification:

  • BTEC 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:

  • Aim Awards Diploma/Extended Diploma in Games Animation and VFX
  • AQA Technical Level IT: Programming
  • OCR Technical Diploma in IT (Digital Software Practitioner)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries

Get an apprenticeship:
Apprenticeships are jobs with training. They’re a great opportunity to earn while you learn. NextGen Skills Academy offer 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:

  • IT, Software, Web and Telecoms Professionals (Level 2, 3, 4, Wales)

In Scotland, you might be able to find degree-level apprenticeships through the following frameworks:

  • IT and Software Development (SCQF Level 10, Scotland)

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.

Get a degree:
A degree in computer graphics or computer science, or a related discipline such as mathematics, physics or information technology is relevant to this job. 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.

Watch a lot of films:
As well as technical skill, it’s really important to develop an appreciation for VFX and animation. Make sure you’re familiar with what’s out there in the industry.

Network:
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.

Apply for jobs:
Research VFX companies that you’d like to work for. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for junior technical roles. You could also contact companies to see if you can do a work experience placement with them. Search job sites for listings. 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…

Being an effects (FX) TD or a lighting TD.

Further resources