Visual effects (VFX)
Effects technical director (FX TD)
Also known as: Technical producer
What does an FX TD do?
FX TDs make it easier for visual effects (VFX) artists to use effects like explosions, billowing smoke and rushing water. They create these effects for the VFX artists to use in their sequences; they write the computer language scripts that generate the effects. FX TDs build and test software tools for the VFX artists to use and then they incorporate them into a VFX studio’s production pipeline.
All TDs are problem-solvers. Each project presents its own complex obstacles. They stay up-to-date with the latest research and techniques and push software technological boundaries to find ways the make directors’ creative vision a reality on screen. They make sure the effects look consistent and convincing. Effects need to blend in seamlessly with the other VFX and live action components of the film or TV programme.
What’s an FX TD good at?
- Art: have a good eye for detail, know how to make a sequence look good
- Science: have a good understanding of physics, be able to create accurate and believable movement of particles
- Problem-solving: overcome obstacles, use current technology to find new ways to achieve a creative vision
- Knowledge of VFX production pipelines: have a strong understanding of other roles within VFX studios and ensure that FX sequences will fit into the rest of the process and the finished product
- Programming and coding skills: have a high level of technical ability using a variety of relevant software
- Leadership: communicate well with a team of VFX artists, offer support, take direction from a VFX supervisor
Who does an FX TD work with?
FX TDs work under the management of a VFX supervisor. They lead a team of VFX artists. They also work closely with other TDs responsible for lighting and rendering, including lighting TDs.
How do I become an FX TD?
Technical director is a senior level role. Typically, you need to have at least three years’ experience working in VFX before you can become a TD. A good route into this role is to start as a VFX artist, for instance, a modelling artist. Alternatively, you might start out as an assistant technical director. The FX TD role involves a mix of art and technological competencies. You need to develop both technical skill and an appreciation for existing animation and effects. Knowledge of scripting languages such as Python and C++ and software such Maya or Houdini is essential.
At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in art and design, graphic communication, computer science, maths or physics. Or you might want to 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
- BTEC National Diploma in Digital Games Design and Development
- BTEC National Diploma in Film and Television Visual Effects
- BTEC National Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries
- AQA Technical Level Entertainment Technology: Video Games Art and Design
- AQA Technical Level Entertainment Technology: Video Games Art and Design Production
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Digital Content for Interactive Media)
- OCR Technical Diploma in Digital Media (Moving Image and Audio Production)
- 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 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:
- Assistant technical director (visual effects) (Level 4, England)
- Computing (Level 4, Northern Ireland)
- Software Development (Level 4, Northern Ireland)
- Digital Degree Apprenticeship (Level 6, Wales)
- 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.
Build a portfolio:
If you intend to get into this role through being a VFX artist, you will need to create a portfolio. Learn how to use, and then experiment with, VFX programs and create a showreel that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. 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 in computer graphics or computer science, or a related discipline such as maths, 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.
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 that you’d like to work for. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for junior technical or VFX artist 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…
- Destruction and Simulation: FX Workshop with Wayne Hollingsworth
- Brandon Jaratt – Disney Technical Director
- What is a Technical Director in Visual Effects, Animation and Games?!
- Weta Digital
- Wired – Design FX
- Which software is used for VFX?
- Blender Guru
- 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)
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