Visual effects (VFX)

Effects technical director (FX TD)

Also known as: Technical producer

Effects technical director (FX TD)

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.

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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. 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.

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 TD or a matchmove artist.

Further resources