Special Effects (F/X)

Advances in special effects have increased in the past decade. Computers play a key roll in FX. In many movies there may be only a blue or green screen behind the actor. The background is shot or created separately and put together in production. Although more and more of this is done in CGI (computer generated images) masks, costumes, wax figures and other props are still used in many movies.

The process of F/X begins with the studio:

"The studio sends us a script, along with a few story boards. Their art department e-mails us specs for the set. We then 'build' that set in a three-dimensional computer world, using a powerful program called 3D Studio Max. We place cameras exactly as they would be used in the film, say 5' off the ground, center stage. Then we create characters to represent the actors and we animate them, thus pacing the movie shot-for-shot." - Working World

Laser-based radar (LIDAR) was used in End of Days, with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The climatic battle scene, with Arnold combating Satan in what is St. Vincent's Church in Los Angeles, owes its creation to DigitalEffects, a division of Panavision.

Creating a rubber maskToday, special effects includes everything from pyrotek displays, computer generated art, compositing (foreground and background is shot separately and then put together), making props, animatronics, prosthetics, creatures, models & life casts. Artists in this profession can be sculptors, painters, and programmers.

Probably the greatest special effects are in movies such as Star Wars, The Terminator, Alien, and the Indiana Jones trilogy. Newer movies push the envelope farther. It is common now to have CGI backgrounds throughout most movies now. They film using the "green screen" and then add the new backgrounds to the composite.

Photography is an important element in FX. Some films are filmed in front of a green background which turns the background transparent. Computer generated art is then inserted in the background. The latest Star Wars movies were filmed entirely this way. On a smaller scale, Digital Camera are used to capture images and they are manipulated in Photoshop.

A special effects technician must know to construct objects, buildings, and other structures. They must have knowledge of the proper tools and know how to repair and maintain their construction. Frequently, their creations are destroyed or damaged as the movie is filmed.


Interest in special effects has increased tremendously since the television show, Face Off, began it's run on the SyFy channel. This weekly program brought together around 10 contestants who were either experienced or fresh graduates of special effects design. At the end of each program, the judges would eliminate one contestant who had the least appealing FX make-up. Judges comprised of well known artists in the industry. It is well worth your while to get your hand on one of these videos and show them to your art class. They illustrate well how special effects make-up and modeling are done.



Job titles in SFX

Pyrotechnic Operator

(Salary range: $1,000 - $70,000)
Before you drool, this is the name you give yourself if you're self-employed and have created your own company. You only make as much as the jobs you are hired to do. If you're not busy, then you might make less than $500 a year. If you're successful, you could make a president's salary.



(Salary range: $20,000 - $70,000)
Usually assists the owner of the company. This person is hired to take up the slack when business begins growing. Due to the seasonal conditions of this job, it is better to do this part-time.


Prosthetics Designer

(Salary range: $20,000 - $60,000)

This job involves the creation of body parts from rubber, latex, Kevlar or fiberglass mesh. These are popular in slasher movies.



(Salary range: $20,000 - $60,000)

This person usually creates miniatures and props.


Jobs Search in Special Effects

Special Effects Studios

  • SFX, Britain's best selling magazine.

  • Film Monthly, dealing with all aspects of film

F/X Organizations

SFX Resources

Special Effects Books