Visual effects (VFX)
Previsualisation (previs) artist
Also known as: Previs animator, Previs lead, Previs modeller
What does a previs artist do?
Previsualisation (previs) artists help to plan out what a film is going to look like. Previs is the process of visualising a scene before creating it.
Previs generally takes the form of a 3D animatics, namely a rough version of a scene or scenes. Previs artists usually start with a 2D storyboard from a concept artist. They create draft versions of the different moving image sequences and they put it all together using their compositing and editing skills.
The previs process is used to plan shots, work out the scale and timing and to show roughly where the characters are going to move. It’s used to map out how the visual effects (VFX) will fit into an otherwise live-action scene. Creating previs can save films and television series and shows valuable time and money on set or in post-production.
Once a film is in production, previs artists help the other VFX artists maintain a consistent style in their work.
Previs artists are either employed by VFX studios or they work as freelancers.
Watch and read
- What is previs? The OceanMaker
- The Third Floor previs reel: Empire Magazine
- Film studies 101: the secret art of previs
What's a previs artist good at?
- Cinematography: have a good artistic eye for composition, particularly for camera shots and movements
- Creativity: be able to tell a story in the previs work that you produce, come up with original ideas for what the shots should look like and spark the director’s imagination
- 3D software: have a high level of skill using 3D animation and VFX software and a strong understanding of form and volume (the way that objects exist and move in 3D), coding skills are also useful
- Basic editing skills: have basic video editing skills as well as some knowledge of rendering and compositing, which you can use to create animatics
- Organisation: have excellent organisational skills, stick to production schedules and budgets, be on top of your data management
- Communication: work well within a team, understand and help to achieve the director’s vision
Who does a previs artist work with?
Previs artists work closely with layout technical directors (TDs) as well as with the director. They also communicate regularly with the production management team to ensure the project meets its deadlines. They usually report to the VFX supervisor.
How do I become a previs artist?
To become a previs artist you need to understand the VFX production pipeline and have a high level of skill in using 3D software. You might progress to this role by first becoming an assistant technical director. Or you might go the route of becoming an environment artist and later transferring your skills to previs. Previs artists often obtain a degree in animation, computer science, film production, or a related discipline. The most important thing to do is to develop a strong portfolio which demonstrates a talent for cinematography and visual storytelling.
At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in computer or computing science, maths, art and design, film studies, media studies, art, photography, graphic design or communication, would all equip you well for this role. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualification:
If you want to go to college or university, you can take A-levels or Highers in art, art and design, film studies, media studies, photography, computer science or maths will equip you. Mixing art with computer science is good. Or you might want to take any of the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:
- BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design
- UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
- 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 Film and Television Visual Effects
- 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 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 some experience to help you find your way into VFX at a later point.
These are some apprenticeships that might be available throughout the UK:
- Junior 2D artist (visual effects) (Level 4, England)
- Assistant technical director (visual effects) (Level 4, England)
- Software developer (Level 3, England)
- Software development technician (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)
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 how to use, and then experiment with, VFX programs and create a showreel that you can show to admissions tutors or employers. 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:
Have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in VFX and select one in computer science, computer animation, maths, IT, art and design or another VFX-related subject. 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 roles the art or pre-production departments. Search job websites 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). ScreenSkills offers some advice from professionals on how to approach animation and VFX employers.
You might also be interested in...
- Interview with Jeremy Vickery (Previs artist at Naughty Dog)
- The rise of the previs of Planet of the Apes
- Previs plays a major role in “Avengers: Infinity War”
- From Script to Previs and Sometimes Vice Versa - VFXV
- Weta Digital
- Wired – Design FX
- Which software is used for VFX?
- Blender Guru
- Creative Bloq
- CG Spectrum – College of Digital Art and Animation
- Art of VFX
- Computer Graphics World (CGW)
- VFX Voice
- Visual Effects Society (VES)
- ScreenSkills resources directory