Visual effects (VFX)

Pipeline technical director (TD)

Also known as: Pipeline technician

Pipeline technical director (TD)

What does a pipeline technical director do?

Pipeline TDs make sure a VFX project runs smoothly by identifying and fixing problems as they arise. They make sure each department has the software tools that they need to complete their part of the project to the best standard possible. They have a very good understanding of how VFX production pipelines work and the roles within them.

They communicate with VFX artists across the team to understand their needs. They then put things in place to ensure the project runs smoothly and the artists’ needs are met. If the project isn’t running smoothly, they identify what kind of tools need to be developed to fix this. Issues that arise might be technical ones to do with 3D art, or productivity issues. Their job involves writing or modifying code to solve problems. They also provide face-to-face technical assistance. Pipeline TDs will work closely with research and development teams, who design and test any new software.

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What’s a pipeline TD good at?

  • Communication: 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 and take direction from a VFX supervisor
  • Problem-solving: think analytically to identify problems and come up with creative and efficient solutions, find new ways to overcome obstacles and achieve a creative vision
  • Knowledge of all parts of the pipeline: have a good understanding of the jobs within the pipeline, their roles, needs and the challenges that 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
  • Helping others: offer guidance to more junior members of the pipeline team and give face-to-face technical assistance to staff across departments, maintain a positive attitude

Who does a pipeline TD work with?

Pipeline TDs communicate with staff throughout all the departments to understand their needs and problems. They work closely with software developers to develop solutions to these as well as different kinds of supervisors.

How do I become a pipeline TD?

Pipeline TD isn’t an entry level role. It requires experience of working within the industry and understanding VFX pipelines. A good route in is through an assistant technical director role. You need to demonstrate a high level of technical ability as well as excellent problem-solving skills. Knowledge of scripting languages such as Python and C++ and software such Maya or Houdini is essential.

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 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:

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 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. 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.

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.

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.

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 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 the ScreenSkills jobs board. 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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