Visual Effects Supervisor
Computer-generated imagery is now as vital a tool in film and television production as the script or the actors. Even low-budget shows reserve some funding for the most basic of digital post-production. The visual effects supervisor is the creative and technical manager, overseeing the work of the staff dedicated to the art and science of VFX.
The visual effects supervisor is hired as early as possible in the pre-production phase, and immediately meets with the director and producer to discuss the script breakdown and specific VFX needs. With a firm understanding of the director’s expectations, the visual effects supervisor turns to his or her crew of concept artists, modelers, and animators to design rough sketches, environment paintings, animatics, or 3-D models. These materials will provide illustration for the director and producer and help to further solidify the visual effects aesthetic. The supervisor will collaborate with production department heads like the director of photography, first assistant director, and production designer to dictate the use of blue screen/green screen, motion control, or other necessary equipment. With the designs approved, production begins.
While the film or television show is shooting, the visual effects supervisor leads his or her team through any necessary research and development of tools and software. He or she must also educate the team of artists and programmers in the design protocol. If a plate supervisor is not employed, the visual effects supervisor will trade time between the set and the studio. On set, he or she must monitor shooting to ensure proper sight lines for the actors, lighting, shot framing, and other elements that are necessary for seamlessly integrating visual effects sequences into live action. Ideally, captured footage is edited and locked continuously during principal photography. This allows the VFX artists to begin work ahead of post-production, thereby expediting the show’s completion. When shooting has wrapped and the project is in post-production, the visual effects supervisor will generally instruct the staff to develop rough animatics of each sequence; this allows the director to visualize the end product and make changes before committing to the cost and effort of a final render. On an established schedule (daily or weekly), the VFX supervisor and director meet to view and approve sequences. Nothing is given a final render without the director’s nod.
Skills & Education
A college degree in film and television production, computer animation, or a related field is highly recommended. Formal training in the use of visual effects and animation software such as Maya or LightWave is required. Additional study of fine art is crucial and should include drawing, painting, sculpting, still photography, color theory, and art history. Further, the study of human and animal anatomy is extremely beneficial. The visual effects supervisor should understand the techniques of film and digital video production, as well as 3-D modeling, rigging, animation, match moving, rotoscoping, and similar functions.
What to Expect
The visual effects supervisor’s job begins at pre-production and continues through the end of post-production. On a film, this may require one or two years dedicated to a single production. Episodic television will generally stick with one crew; therefore, the job will last as long as the show runs. In the studio, the VFX supervisor’s day is usually 10 to 12 hours long and begins with a review of dailies; this includes the rushes from the editor and completed animatics from the VFX artists. Meetings with the VFX department heads to discuss the team’s progress on effects art follow dailies, and then it’s time to return phone calls and send emails. On set, the hours are more erratic and the supervisor will keep a similar schedule to the production crew. The producer or studio, through an independent VFX studio, contracts most VFX work. Therefore, the supervisor is usually a full-time employee of the studio, instead of a freelance artist. On big-budget productions, there may be several supervisors in charge of managing certain sequences.
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