How to Become a Special Effects Technician

How to Become a Special Effects Technician

Breaking into a career as a special effects artist is all about gaining and demonstrating experience. The only trick is that you will likely have to create your own experience.


The actual application process is similar to that of most jobs; contact the studio directly and inquire about any available positions.


Gain as much experience as you can by being involved in student films, working on haunted houses at Halloween time, and working on school drama productions.


Ensure that you take photos and make videos of each of your projects in order to develop your portfolio. Having photo and video documentation of your work will also show prospective employers how you went about solving specific problems you encountered while creating the effects.


Learning techniques and materials used will give you the proper mental tools to begin gaining experience in this field. You will want to read a lot of industry magazines in order to keep up with what the professionals are doing.


Experiment on your own with different types of special effects; whether it's lighting effects, makeup or digital animation. And keep in mind, the more you experiment, the more you will learn. Being able to bring your own insights and solutions to the table will make you quite valuable in an employer’s eyes. 



What Education is Needed to Become a Special Effects Technician?

The level of formal education required to become a special effects technician varies from employer to employer, and client to client. While formal education is not typically necessary to break into the industry, a specific set of skills related to the desired area of specialty within special effects is a requirement. If an aspiring technician is looking to acquire formal education or training, there are many schools in Canada and the United States that offer courses in visual arts and special effects.


Below are some examples of skills sets needed in order to pursue certain specialties of special effects:



  • Finding work as a makeup specialist usually requires formal training, such as that offered by professional makeup schools, and schools that offer specialized visual arts programs.
  • In order to work with robotic and animatronic effects, the technician requires extensive training in computer programming, computer technology or electrical engineering.
  • Skills such as welding, plumbing, electrical and automotive mechanics are necessary to work in mechanical effects.





Special Effects Technician Job Description

Special effects technicians are responsible for the creation of mechanical, robotic, optical and computer generated illusions for video games, television shows and films. These effects help to make the production more exciting and sometimes more believable.



Special Effects Technician Job Duties

• Read script and create ideas for how special effects can enhance certain scenes

• Work with the director and other staff to understand the full vision of the production

• Listen to ideas as well as share ideas with the Director, who makes the final decision regarding any special effects

• Review all effects to make sure they are in order prior to final production

• Adhere to production timelines and budget

• May be required to supervise other special effects technicians

• Ensure safety of each effect

• May be responsible to coordinate with the local fire department and any other organization that may require notification

• Utilize in-house equipment and may be responsible for sourcing and renting other necessary equipment

• Create script with special effects cues for use by special effects staff and sound effects designers



Special Effects Technician Salary

The level of pay for special effects technicians can vary substantially as there are many variables that can influence salary; who the employer is, the type of project the artist is hired for, their level of experience and their reputation can all have an effect on earnings. A special effects technician who works on a high budget feature film may earn substantially more than a special effects technician who is working as an assistant on a television program. The following salary includes 'special effects technicians' as part of the larger employment group 'multimedia artists and animators'.


  • Multi-media artists and animators earned an average of $58,510 per year in the United States in 2010  

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Multimedia Artists and Animators (visited February 13, 2013).





Where do Special Effects Technicians Work?

Special effects technicians primarily work in one of three settings; a company that specializes in special effects, and television and film companies, or they work as a freelancer. Each form of employment has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Special effects technicians may also work for recording studios, theatre and dance companies, amusement parks or theme based restaurants.


Note: Work for special effects technicians in North America is primarily found in but a handful of cities: New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Toronto and San Francisco.


Working for a VFX company – Pros and cons


  • Job security is typically the highest in these settings, as well as health and retirement benefits
  • Little control over the projects that are worked on

Working for a production company – Pros and cons


  • Rate of pay and job security are typically lower than working directly for a visual effects company

Working as a freelancer – Pros and cons


  • Freedom to select projects and set rate of pay
  • Job security is typically the lowest in this form of employment
  • Marketing skills are necessary to find work, although many freelance artists rely on referrals to obtain business once they are established in their industry



Special Effects Technician Career - Work Environment

Length of workday: Typically around 10 hours long in order to meet rigid deadlines. Many special effects technicians will work through the night more than a handful of times during their careers in order to meet deadlines. The schedule of a special effects technician largely depends on filming schedules. Since many technicians work as freelancers, it is common for them to experience periods of intense activity, followed by periods of unemployment.


Setting: Special effects technicians perform their work in studios, workshops and on location. Due to the nature of filming, special effects technicians may work either indoors or outdoors, and may spend long periods away from home while on location.  Senior level special effects technicians and supervisors operate largely outside of the office, as they must be on set with the director while working on films in order to coordinate how the film is shot for scenes that require special effects.


Safety: Creating special effects can be very dangerous for the technician, as well for surrounding cast and crew. Some special effects involve the use explosives, heavy machinery and dangerous chemicals. 



Careers Similar to Special Effects Technician

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Special Effects Technician, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Costume Designer

Digital Animator

Makeup Artist

Prop Maker

Sound Effects Designer

Visual Effects Artist



Become a Special Effects Technician: Resources

Please consult the following resources to learn more about what Special Effects Technicians do, how much they earn and other career details:


Mullins, Matt (2011). Special Effects Technician. Cherry lake Publishing. ISBN-10: 1610801342


Features: “Careers.” (n.d.). Special Effects Supply Corporation website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Job Guides: “Special Effects Technician - The Jobs and What’s Involved.” (n.d.) Input Youth website. Retrieved January 14, 2020.

Careers: “Special Effects Technician Job Description.” Nathan McGinty (n.d.). Houston Chronicle website. Retrieved January 14, 2019.



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Scholarships for Becoming a Special Effects Technician

The Applicable Majors section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a special effects technician. You can search for scholarships matched to those fields of study on our Fine Arts Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Special Effects Technician: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point for becoming a Special Effects Technician. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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Fine Arts