Special and Visual Effects Technicians


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Special effects technicians rely on a mix of science and art. To prepare for this career, take all the art courses you can, including art history; many filmmakers look to historic art when composing shots and lighting effects. Photography courses will help you understand the use of light and shadow. Chemistry can give you some insight into the products you will be using. Working on high school drama productions can also be helpful for learning lighting, set, and prop design. Students who are interested in pursuing careers in visual effects should take computer science, animation, and other related classes. 

Postsecondary Training

Because of the technical expertise required for multimedia artists and animators, including special and visual effects technicians, most positions now require a bachelor's degree. Some universities have film and television programs that include courses in special effects. Some special effects technicians major in theater, art history, photography, and related subjects. Many colleges and universities offer masters of fine arts degrees. These are studio programs in which you will be able to gain hands-on experience in theater production and filmmaking with a faculty composed of practicing artists.

Many of the skills required to work in mechanical effects can be gained by learning a trade such as carpentry, welding, plumbing, or hydraulics and applying those skills by building sets or props for community theater productions.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

A mechanical special effects technician who works with fire and explosives generally needs a pyrotechnics operator’s license issued by the state. A federal pyrotechnics license is also available.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Experience as a special or visual effects intern, volunteer, or part-time employee at an effects firm is recommended. 

Special effects work is physically and mentally demanding. Technicians must be able to work as members of a team, following instructions carefully in order to avoid dangerous situations. They often work long days, so they must have high stamina. In addition, the work on a set can be uncomfortable. For example, a mechanical effects specialist may have to work under adverse weather conditions or wait patiently in a small space for the cue to operate an effect. Makeup effects specialists spend most of their time working in a trailer on the set or in a shop where they construct and adjust the items required by the actors. Freelance technicians will often have to provide their own tools and equipment, which they either own or rent, when hired for a job.

Visual effects specialists should have patient personalities since they often sit for long hours in front of a computer, performing meticulous and sometimes repetitive work. Other important skills include the ability to work under deadline pressure, strong communication skills, and the ability to accept constructive criticism of their work.

Special and visual effects technicians must work both carefully and quickly; a mistake or a delay can become very expensive for the production company.