Special effects professionals: Burgeoning demand for FX professionals

Given boom conditions in the global audio-visual entertainment industry, special effects services for cinema and ad shots has transformed into an industry in its own right.

The critical difference between mid 20th century and contemporary Hollywood — and increasingly Bollywood – feature films can be summed up in two words: special effects. The slickly executed and credible special effects of blockbusters like Mission Impossible and James Bond, Batman, and Spiderman movies are light years removed from the clumsily executed and affected special effects of movies of yore.

Cinematic special effects are traditionally divided into two types — optical imagery management which relies on manipulation of photographic images, and management of mechanical devices which are employed during live-action shooting.

Seventy-five percent of feature and ad films use special effects to add value to movies and shots. As a result, film studios and ad agencies are scaling up their infrastructure and manpower, and theres an increasing demand for professionally trained special effects designers in India,” says Sandeep Kamalasanan, VFX supervisor, Prime Focus Public Ltd, one of Asias biggest visual effects studios, with offices in Mumbai, Chennai, Hyderabad, and London, and which is expanding its international operations with studio acquisitions in the UK, US, and Canada.

According to Kamalasanan, burgeoning demand for special effects services has transformed this off-shoot of movie production into an industry in its own right, with several large companies having ventured into the special effects and animation industry. Moreover a growing number of film industry corporates and ad agencies abroad are turning to Asia and India in particular, to outsource special effects assignments.

Those attracted to a career in this field need a thorough knowledge of compositing. Compositing includes a gamut of special effects from simulated explosions, special sound effects, morphing, stage extensions (digital enlargements of scenes post-production), to environment creation (anything from buildings to virtual worlds) and blue/green screen replacement. Blue screen is an important feature of digital compositing. For instance, an actor may perform a scene in a studio, before a blue screen. Later, computer programmes are used to replace the blue blackground with a real background such as an ocean scene. Basically, compositing is the art of marrying live footage with computer generated backdrops. Compositing software such as Adobe After Effects and Autodesk Combustion are widely used today,” explains Kamalasanan.

Most special effects professionals are graduates of engineering colleges, art and architecture schools, National Institute of Design, Maharashtra Institute of Design etc. The minimum educational qualification required for admission is a Plus Two certificate. Other institutes providing special effects training and certification include Arena Multimedia, Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics, Picasso, NIIT, and Zica among others. Aspiring special effects (FX) students should ensure they enroll in institutes that teach at least one or two FX software programs thoroughly. The rest can be learnt on the job. For hard working and determined professionals, this is a rewarding career enabling one to create movie magic,” says Kamalasanan.

ATTRACTIVE REMUNERATION. Start-up remuneration packages in this industry are attractive and work environments stimulating. Professionally qualified freshers with a combination of visual, creative, and technological skills can average up to Rs.25,000 a month, and the sky is the limit for seasoned professionals.

A gifted artist who won several state painting competitions at school, after completion of Plus Two, Kamalasanan started working professionally as an artist with Shama Art Gallery, Udaipur, where he painted oil canvases as well as traditional water colour miniatures, replicated masterpieces, and restored old paintings. Its when I saw Jurassic Park that I decided to learn computer graphics and in 1992, when there was no formal graphics training available anywhere in Rajasthan, I started learning from my school computer teacher who had a 486 computer with CAD software running in DOS. Since then I have been constantly updating my skills,” he says.

Fourteen years on, Kamalasanan has carved a niche for himself in the movie industry, creating special effects for 50 ad films, several corporate films, music videos, and multimedia games.

Given the boom in the global audio-visual entertainment industry which is incrementally dependent on FX professionals, Kamalasanan strongly recommends introduction of mainstream degree courses in animation and special effects in Indias 18,000 colleges, to address current and future demand for trained FX professionals.

Globally cinema, television, and advertising industries are expanding at a fast clip, and demand for FX professionals is rising commensurately. With spectacular special effects enthralling audiences, for the brightest and the best with imagination and creativity, this is an excellent career choice which offers handsome returns,” says Kamalasanan.

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