That mind-blowing explosion and death-defying jump you just watched in your favorite movie was created by special-effects technicians. These versatile specialists plan and execute everything from creating breakable furniture to formulating explosions. The requirements for breaking into this field are a creative drive and several years of on-the-job training, though formal programs are also available for you to build your skills.
In movies, TV shows, theater and commercials, special-effects technicians create practical effects, according to the specifications of a script. Specialization is available in several areas, including makeup, prosthetics, scene and props, robotics and pyrotechnics. For example, prosthetics special-effects workers create elaborate monster masks or limbs, while makeup special-effects technicians apply the limbs and add makeup to make them look believable on screen. Scene or prop workers design elaborate breakable furniture or models, and pyrotechnics technicians create fight scenes, explosions and fires. You can find positions in movie, theater, dance and special effects firms, as well as on a freelance basis.
Your daily responsibilities vary based on the special effect being performed, but there are some common duties. Working with a director and colleagues, you determine the special effects required for each scene. Adhering to timelines and budgets, you plan out the special effects necessary, including creating molds, setting up explosions, welding materials, fabricating scenes and engineering robots. Other tasks include creating logbooks of work completed and ensuring that the special effects follow safety regulations and OSHA standards.
Maximize Your Potential
As a special-effects technician, you need artistic talent and the creativity to solve unique problems. Since you work with dangerous chemicals, machinery and explosives, you need a good understanding of safety techniques and standards. An understanding of basic effect rigs, hydraulic systems, engineering principles, rigging and carpentry is necessary. Working within strict deadlines, you must have the ability to manage time and to work irregular hours. Strong computer skills are also important.
Get the Right Training
No straight-line path exists to breaking into this field, and a formal education isn't necessary. However, some colleges and organizations offer training programs and classes in theatrical production, robotics, mechanical engineering, pyrotechnics and theatrical makeup that can be helpful. More important than education is on-the-job training. By working as a trainee and shadowing an experienced professional, you learn the skills of the trade. This training can last from two to five years, with explosives technicians requiring more years of training. Additionally, pyrotechnics technicians must earn a government license.