Visual effects (VFX)
Look development artist
Also known as: Lighting artist, Look dev, Lookdev, Lookdev TD (technical director), Visual development artist, Visual effects (VFX artist)
What does a look development artist do?
Look development artists (look devs) define the look of computer-generated creatures or objects to ensure all the art in the film or TV programme is consistent.
If a concept artist draws an alien, then the look development artist works out what the skin of the alien will look like in different conditions – when it’s raining, when it’s dark, when the creature’s angry. They work with lighting TDs, texturing artists and creature TDs to establish the different looks, balancing the processes of texturing, lighting and rendering to match reference images and real footage.
The looks that the look development artist creates are signed off by the CG or VFX supervisor. All the artists in their VFX pipeline then use these looks when they create their assets. This ensures consistency and quality.
Some VFX companies or studios may only have a lighting TD role, and not a look dev one. In this case the responsibilities of the look dev would be covered by a lighting artist.
Ryan Hansford: look dev artist interview
What's a look development artist good at?
- Art: have strong artistic ability, good understanding of form, colour and texture, and know how these elements work together
- Understanding lighting: understand colour, space and the scientific principles behind creating realistic lighting and have a strong knowledge of lighting techniques
- Collaboration: be able to work with other VFX artists, share ideas and expertise, agree upon a look
- Knowledge of VFX programs: be adept at using relevant programs such as Arnold, Blender, Maya, Mental Ray, Photoshop, RenderMan, Substance Painter, V-Ray and ZBrush
- Organisation: work within the production schedule, manage files and meet deadlines
Who does a look development artist work with?
Look devs work with closely VFX artists from the other VFX production departments, lighting and texture artists, compositors and shader development TDs to establish a consistent idea of the look of the 3D models and characters to be created.
How do I become a look development artist?
The most important thing to have in order to become a look dev artist is a strong portfolio and showreel that illustrate your abilities. It’s not an entry level role, so you would need to get work in a more junior VFX role as a matchmove artist or VFX runner and progress to the position of look dev.
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. You might want to enter the VFX industry through an apprenticeship as an assistant technical director or a junior 2D artist. Have a look at NextGen Skills Academy VFX apprenticeships for school leavers. These involve a lot of learning on the job working in a VFX company.
Check out What’s an apprenticeship? to learn more about apprenticeships and find an apprenticeship to learn how to find one in your region, or approach companies directly. Go to ScreenSkills information on VFX apprenticeships for the main apprenticeship schemes in VFX.
If you can’t find an apprenticeship with a VFX company, it might be worth getting an apprenticeship in a related industry, such as games or animation, which could give you some experience to help you find your way into VFX at a later point.
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:
VFX companies or studios generally prefer it if you have a degree in graphic design, or another VFX-specific course for this role. 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. Check out the events in ScreenSkills training and opportunities directory. 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 network well to learn how to do this.
Search for jobs:
Look at ScreenSkills list of job boards. Research VFX companies you’d like to work for. Go to their websites and check if they are advertising for junior roles the art or pre-production departments. 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. ScreenSkills offers some advice from professionals on how to approach animation and VFX employers.
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