Although there are no specific school requirements to become a special effects technician, a higher education is recommended, and in certain areas of the field, certification, licensing and formal training are necessary. Valuable experience and knowledge can be learned through internships, which can also lead to job opportunities. Special effects shops are ideal places to look for internships.
High school students interested in becoming special effects technicians can prepare by taking various art courses including art history and photography, as well as computer courses relating to graphic design, computer animation and chemistry. These types of courses will provide much insight into light composition and visual effects, as well as a basic understanding of the latest graphic design programs. High school students can also gain experience working in the video department, shooting and editing video, if the school offers such a program.
Specific education requirements vary by the exact area of work. Typically, most special effects technicians earn a diploma or degree in graphic design, computer science, film or theater studies. Individuals interested in becoming makeup specialists are advised, and at times required, to have formal training from a school such as El School of Professional Makeup in Hollywood, California. A specialist in visual effects will need to earn a four-year degree in computer generated imagery (CGI) and/or entertainment technology.
Skills and Training
The special effects field requires individuals to possess an extensive skill set. Individuals interested in working in mechanical effects require fabrication skills including plumbing and welding, as well as automotive and electrical mechanics. These individuals also will need a solid background in math and science. Explosives or pyrotechnics specialists are required to obtain a license to handle explosives and firearms. Skills in computer programming and electrical engineering are required for those interested in animatronics or robotics.
Special effects technicians must be able to withstand the physical and mental demands of the job. This field of work requires long work days, often in uncomfortable settings. A specialist in mechanical effects might work under adverse weather conditions or might need to wait for long periods of time, requiring patience and teamwork. Freelance workers will need to provide their own equipment and other tools, which they can own or rent. Working as a computer animation specialist involves long work hours in front of the computer doing meticulous and repetitive work.