Visual effects (VFX)

Layout artist

Also known as: Layout TD

Entry level

Layout artist

What does a layout artist do?

Layout artists determine the position of the virtual camera and ‘block’ the characters for computer generated image (CG) shots of a VFX sequence. To ‘block’ the characters, means to choreograph where the characters are positioned and where they will move to over the course of a shot.

Layout artists consider a shot’s framing, composition, camera angle, camera path and movement, and the rough lighting of each key scene. They keep a consistent scale of the elements within the frame. The work that layout artists do enables other VFX artists to have a basis for shot construction later in the VFX production pipeline.

They communicate with the director to work out what virtual camera ‘language’ to use; how they want the animation to be framed and look on screen. On larger-scale projects, such as certain feature films, layout artists will produce several versions of virtual camera shots of a scene, as well as its composition. This is so that the director and editors have options when ‘cutting’ the film together in post-production.

Layout artists can work as full-time employees of major VFX companies or studios. They can also work as freelancers on a project-by-project basis.

It is critical to understand the story and emotion of the sequence before placing cameras into the scene. Without this, a camera is only a spectator in the scene, not a storyteller

Arem Kim, 3dtotal

Watch and read

What’s a layout artist good at?

  • Art: have a good eye for movement and scene layout to best convey mood and plot
  • Photography: have an eye for composition, know how to tell a story through a shot, understand camera and lighting techniques, know how to use them to affect emotions
  • Knowledge of VFX programs: be adept at using relevant programs such as Adobe After Effects, Blender, Cinema 4D, Houdini, Maya, Nuke, RenderMan and 3ds Max
  • Collaboration and communication: be able to work with other VFX artists, use each other’s resources effectively and efficiently
  • Organisation: work within the production schedule, manage files and meet deadlines

Who does a layout artist work with?

Layout artists work under the management of the CG supervisor. They regularly communicate with the production department and CG supervisor about schedules and deadlines.

Layout artists work closely with the director to decide on the virtual camera ‘language’ of the project; how they want the animation to be framed and look on screen. They also work with environment artists to create realistic 3D environment layouts in VFX programs. The work that layout artists do to position the character models in the frames of the scenes gives the animators a starting point from which to work.

How do I become a layout artist?

A good route into this role is to gain experience working as an environment artist, modelling artist or texturing artist first. Or you might start off as a runner in a VFX company. Some companies offer this as an entry-level role because it's a good place in which to get an overview of the work of all the other artists. 

It's useful to have some experience and competency in using VFX software, such as Adobe After Effects, Blender, Houdini, Maya or Nuke. Having an understanding of editing programs (such as Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premier, Final Cut and Lightworks) is also useful.

At school or college:
You can take A-levels or Highers in art, art and design, architecture, photography, graphic design, graphic communication, computing or computer science, maths or physics. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:

  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • UAL Applied General Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design
  • NCFE Applied General Certificate 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 3D Design & Crafts
  • BTEC National Diploma in Graphics
  • BTEC National Diploma in Photography
  • BTEC National Diploma in Computing for Creative Industries
  • 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 (Moving Image and 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.

Network:
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.

You might also be interested in…

Being a lighting artist, background designer or artist, or being a storyboard artist in the animation industry. You might also be interested in working in the games industry for a development studio in a similar capacity as a layout artist but for games cinematics. You could also look at being a technical artist, graphics programmer or another kind of programmer in the games industry.

Further resources