Answers to questions people sometimes ask me:

Q) Do you still look like the picture?
A) No, I've gained weight. (Thanks for asking, jerk. What do you weigh, pal?) Paradoxically, however, I've also gotten much more attractive.

Q) You've worked on a lot of movies. How can I get a job like yours?
A) We just met and already you're after my job? Sheesh! (And right after that crack about my weight!)
       Just kidding. This is the question I'm often asked by email and brother, are you lucky they invented the internet! If they had all this stuff when I was a kid, I'd... well... to be honest I probably would've downloaded dirty pictures all day. But the truth is, there is a TREASURE TROVE of free info and software on how to train for, prepare for, apply for, and finally get a visual effects career in the movies ("working in production" as it's oddly called.)
     And, at no extra cost, here it is, all collected in one place. (Note, however, that websites, information, companies, and the business itself are constantly changing-- this info was collected in the spring of 2007 and will probably be entirely out of date and useless by the time you finish reading this sentence.) HA! Again, I kid. But seriously, don't take my job.

How to become a feature film effects artist in six easy steps:
STEP ONE-- Watch movies. (Duh.)
    Figure you've got this covered. Check.

STEP TWO-- Learn some terms!

     The animation part of CGI (or CG, aka "computer generated imagery" aka "computer graphics" aka "computer animation" or nowadays simply "animation"- hell, it's all done one computers, right?) can usually be split into two main types of animtion: "Effects Animation" and "Character Animation." "Character animation" refers to generating and animating actually characters (Spider-Man swinging around, penguins swimming, etc) whereas "effects animation" refers to everything else (Spidey's weblines, the waves the penguins surf on, lightning, smoke, fire, alien blobby things, sand streaming off sandman, stuff blowing up, etc.) Also note the two sometime overlap (the invisible girl in Fantastic Four.) Other stuff I've done includes Lighting and Compositing, also useful and fun skills. For the rest of this document, we'll just focus on "Effects Animation" since it's what I do right now. [Also note all this may be different for non-movie effects jobs (television, commercials, video games, etc.) there are a zillion non-movie effects jobs out there, but since I've never gotten one I wouldn't know what I'm talking about.]

    Now, odd as it sounds, in visual effect you're working on computers, but it's still a movie job. This means you need to learn some movie-making terms and, ideally, learn to be a filmmaker as best you can. They don't need you just for your geek abilities or pure art abilities, they need you to help make a movie. So start thinking like a filmmaker.
    Info on learning filmmaking is all over the web, so here's a quick list of terms that are used and abused by us:

In the movie world, these mean different things: a solid moment before the camera "cuts" to something else (a single camera take) is a 'shot', whereas several shots collect into a 'scene' ("the chase scene", "the love scene" etc.) In visual effects we almost always work on single "shots" yet sometimes they are called "scenes" & "shots" interchangeably.
Crew person who places the lights. Inside the computer when you place & animate the lights (are "lighting a scene") you are the gaffer.
Frames per second. 24 frames per second for film, and (roughly) 30 frames per second for TV. (Why? Long story.)
"Feature" "Show"
Working on movies is (somewhat oddly) called "being in production." A movie is usually called a "show" (as in "What show are you on?") but is officially called a "production." Sometimes it's also called a "feature", "picture" or, of course, "film". (Why don't they just say "movie"? I dunno, but nobody seems to.)
The letters don't stand for anything, just use 'cuz they sound like the word "Effects"
Special Effects/
Visual Effects/
Digital Effects
Since the real-world, on-the-set, "in camera" side of special effects still exists (stunts, cars, things on fire, stuff blowing up) and came first by about a hundred years, "special effects" usually still refers to that. "Visual Effects" also pre-existed (for example, optical tricks done before computers- 2001, Star Wars, etc) and so, usually, "digital effects" refers to things made with computers ("digitally") These terms are sometimes used interchangeable a lot though and are still in flux.
Employed to work (aka "crewed") on a production. When you get a job on a movie, you are "cast on a show." (Cool, huh?)
Usually means the filmed, real-life shot we get that we then add digital effects to, or use as a basis for an effect. (Photographic plate)
Finished with a show (yes, we are "wrapped" on a show when done and have "wrap parties.")
Usually, your boss or your boss's boss. There are many levels of producers, and they have a similar job to the live-action movie producers; working with directors, crewing people, figuring out how much money goes where and... a bunch of other stuff. To be honest, I don't know what all they do, but I know that are really important and very nice, fun and attractive people who I love to work with!! (<-- You guessed it, they also have the most say in hiring you, so kiss up to those creepy belligerent bastards every chance you get.) Just kidding! Seriously, they're aces.
The first thing you do in the morning is go sit in a big movie theater and watch "dailies"-- meaning each shot that was worked on the day before is shown (all without sound), and your boss has a laser pointer, he points at stuff and says what he like or doesn't like or wants to see changed. It's the FIRST place you see your work up on the big screen in a dark movie theater (the way God intended) instead of a computer screen and get to say "hmm, how can I make that suck less?" (Needless to say, the first time you see something you made up on the silver screen in dailies, and big important people are discussing how it will fit into this multi-million dollar motion picture, it's a pretty damn cool moment.) Actually, it's pretty damn cool every time. The term "Dailies" comes from the live-action film world, where it usually means the director and possibly the producer, crew, cast etc review what was filmed ("shot" as a verb here) the previous day.

Lots of other (heck, practically all) our terms are some version of long-held movie terms (

STEP THREE-- Learn some tools.

      Surprisingly, there actually aren't too many different software packages being used in the visual effects industry. (CAVEAT: Much is done on homemade tools ("proprietary software") that are made in-house by each company and is hence are not something you can learn about before getting hired. But while the tools differ, the concepts behind them don't.)
 EFFECTS ANIMATION TOOLS THAT HAVE FREE DEMOS YOU CAN DOWNLOAD AND PLAY WITH: (Note these are also great tools for character animation as well)
  Shockingly, these uber-expensive tools that cost thousands of dollars that I had never seen or heard of before I worked in films are now available for free and will run on your plain old cheapo (windows, linux, and in some cases mac) computer! So you can, for free, right now, get the big tools all to yourself at your house and play and learn away (provided you don't try to make any money off them. Also, anything you render will probably have a watermark on it.) You kids today, I swear.
First up, The Big Two: Maya and Houdini. Arguably the two major packages in use.
Maya     -- You can download the "Maya Personal Learning Edition" here.   <-- if this link is out of date, try searching for "maya"
Houdini -- You can download the "Houdini Apprentice Edition" here           <-- if this link is out of date, try searching for "houdini"
Other commonly used packages (I don't use them, but they are popular) and their demos:
Softimage XSI -- I believe their demo (although it has a 30 day time limit) is called "Foundation".
3D Studio Max (aka "3ds Max") -- also a time limited trail version, not a true demo version you can keep using forever like Houdini and Maya.

There, now you have all the power I have, yet you're younger, thinner, and probably better-looking (just kidding. I'm still hotter than you.) All these have tutorials you can run through to get a grasp of how you might achieve something (you can see it in your head, make it something others can see with their eyes.)

STEP FOUR-- Go to school, punk! (Did you really think you were going to get out of this one?)

   All the crap above is technical so far. You've learn to start the car, press the gas and move. But where are you going to drive to? And who's going to hire you as a taxi driver if you don't know your way around the city- Man, this analogy sucks. Suffice to say, you have to learn to be an artist. If you want to make effects for movies, you need to gain the non-technical (as in creative) skills, then have the technical acumen to create what you see in your head with the tools available. You will also need to be able to take direction and "address notes" -- the director or CG Supervisor says it looks great, but is needs to be more intense, or violent, or it doesn't have weight to, or maybe he just says "Hell, it looks like it came off a computer-- do something so it looks like it's really there."
   There are no buttons for these things, folks. The tools above are really cool paintbrushes, but they don't paint by themselves (and if they did, everybody would have already seen it used in a zillion other movies, and we're trying to make something the audience hasn't seen before here!)
   There is a reason they call effects animators "artists" and this is where it comes into play. Remember, they can hire an artist who's never used a computer before and in a few weeks teach him to use the computer, but they can't take a computer geek and teach him to be an artist in the same time--  What they really want is someone who already has both skill sets, the artistic and the technical.
   So, how doth one get the artistic ability, focused into the area of their choice? Schoolin', my boy! This can mean college, this can mean take extension classes, this can even mean just online classes-- you just need to make stuff, have a good teacher (NOT me) take look at it and help you figure out what sucks about it and how to make it better. Repeat. Life drawing, hand drawn animation classes, etc wouldn't hurt either.

   Learn how stuff moves, watch clouds, lightning, explosions, water, fire, hair, animals, people, actors, etc. on your Tivo and DVD player and step through them frame by frame, trying to see how and why they had the emotional impact they did. What makes does real stuff "look real" (interestingly, sometimes it doesn't.)

Colleges and Universities: 
-- Sony Pictures Imageworks has a great "Student Resources" page here:  which lists good computer graphic schools and mentions magazines that are good to read for info on visual effects.
-- Walt Disney Feature Animation has a great page on careers in feature animation here:
-- DreamWorks Feature Animation also has a great page lising schools:

Done with College? There are also many online schools and extension programs (night classes). Google "fx animation online school".

What's the point of all this? To get a good artistic eye AND.... in the process you will have made stuff you can show companies to show them you can make stuff! It's called a... [see step five]

STEP FIVE-- Make a "demo reel".

   What's a demo reel? (aka demo "tape" in the old days, but since we don't use tape anymore, were back to the even older old days term "reel")
    Your demo reel is a four or five minute video (make it without sound; they won't listen anyway) of your stuff you put on DVD or online to showcase what you've made. Anything you've done that shows your skills or what you've worked on.
     A demo reel is your calling card, your video resume. You can view mine here, but in my case it's mostly shots I've worked on in various movies. If you're reading this, you haven't yet so put your best work (and best work first) on it. Give some kind of "breakdown" (list of what 's on it and what you personally did of each bit) either in the reel itself or seperately. These can be student projects, home projects, anything else you've done. It's a video resume bascially.
     Again, best source for info is the companies themselves: here is Pixar's page on "How to create a demo reel"

STEP SIX-- Get a job, you lazy hippie!

(Note: this is the part that may go out of date quickest. The info here is as of May 2007-- if you are reading this is in the year 2022, forget this, hop on your jetpack and go somewhere else.) First, let's take about the "how", then I'll list off the "where":

How do I go about applying for a job or an internship?

-- Walt Disney Feature Animation has a useful page on careers in feature animation here:
     ...they also have a great page on where (and what) to submit for jobs, what artistic positions exist, how to prepare for a career in digital animation, etc. here:
-- Sony Pictures Imageworks' job submission guidelines is here   ...and their job board page (which changes often) can
be found here:
-- "Rhythm & Hues" is another great FX company.  Here is their "How to apply for a job" page, with lots of great info:
-- Finally, another great place is DreamWorks Animation. Their career info page is here:

INTERNSHIPS: ("Like a job, but without the money part.") Why do an internship? It often leads to a job, it's free on-the-job training ("free school" sounds better than "job sans pay") you get to make relationships with the people in the industry, you get to work on movies, and best of all; studios are more likely to hire you if they don't have to pay you. Here's some internship info from various companies:
-- Pixar internships:
-- DreamWorks Internship program info can be found here:
-- Rhythm & Hues internship page can be found here:
-- Digital Domain: Another visual effects company that sometimes has internships is Digital Domain. To get to their internship information page, go to, click on "Enter Digital Domain", then "careers" in the lower left, then "internships" in the lower right.

...and now that we are ready, here's the Big Question:

Dude, where the heck do I apply for a job in movie visual effects? (Where are they? Is there a place near me where I can get a job and work on movies?)
    Ah, the most asked question of them all. Fortunately for you, I've compiled the list below, with links of places to work in visual effects, mostly on movies (although some companies listed here also do video games, tv, commercials etc.)
     Now before you read this list, you should know that I'm an American who was born in the mid-west ("USA! USA! We kick ass! Where'd I put my fried ham sandwich and my gun?") so I'm inherently biased toward places to work in the United States and in fact I've only worked in Los Angeles. (Also note: companies come and go, so don't be surprised if some of these links fail.)

Those caveats aside, here it is:

Jeff Wolverton's highly biased, very subjective and sometimes oddly offensve
list of places a person might get a visual effect job:

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA  (Motto: "Still California, just not the good part.")
Name (website link)
Giant Killer Robots (yes, that is the actual company name)
I.L.M.  (aka "Industrial Light & Magic" aka "The Death Star")
Tippett Studio

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA  (Motto: "Highest ratio of porn stars to teachers in the world!")
Name (website link)
Digital Domain
Sony Pictures Imageworks
Rhythm & Hues Walt Disney Feature Animaion
DreamWorks Feature Animation
Stan Winston Digital
CIS Hollywood Pixel Liberation Front
Pixel Magic Zoic Studios
Digiscope Svengali FX
Ring Of Fire Grey Matter FX
Pacific Title Luma Pictures

NEW YORK  (Motto: "Contains New York City! ...and possibly some other cities, we're not sure.")
Name (website link)
Blue Sky Studios

CANADA  (Motto: "Technically, still not part of the United States.")
Name (website link)
Image Engine
Mr. X, Inc

NEW ZEALAND  ("Australia's Canada")
Name (website link)

(Motto: "We invented the boomerang! Great return on investment- get it? Hyuk, hyuk, hyuk. Aw, have a few Foster's, mate- then it'll be funny.")
Name (website link)
Photon VFX

ENGLAND  ("Hey, Yanks! You're still our be-atch! ....Ho, just joshing. Have a crumpet, won't you? We know you will, you fatties. And learn to spell 'colour'.")
Name (website link)
The Moving PictureCompany
Framestore CFC
Cinesite (Europe)
Double Negative

FRANCE  (Motto: "We are French- we need no, how do you say, 'motto'.")
Name (website link)

PLANET EARTH  (Motto: "THIRD planet? Maybe, but we're the FIRST planet when it comes to hot tubs! Eat it, Mars!")
Name (website link)

This website here keeps a list of the  Visual Effects Houses On Every Country On Earth.

STEP SEVEN: Final thoughts (among them; yes, I realize this is step seven in a six step list)

    A wise man once said (okay, it was me, and I'm only saying it now) that to achieve success you need confidence and diligence above all. Confidence I can't teach you because I have very little myself (part of the reason I have difficulty convincing women to sleep with me) but diligence you can teach yourself. Simply keep at it.
   If you have any other questions, please hesitate to contact me (I'm really not that nice of a guy.)  

Good luck!

The Internet Movie Database:  Your main source for info on who-worked-on-what movie
You already know about this... so make some animations, put them up and get noticed!
You know about this one too-- so use it to search on "animation", "Visual Effects", etc and learn something!
Free online video editing - might help in making your demo reel!
Free Screenwriting Software
Free Word Processor (you need to write a resume too, dude.)
(Duh) Search for other visual effects help

....and last and certainly least:

In case you've ever seen the movie "Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists" you probably know two things: One, that I wrote the screenplay to it, and Two, that it totally sucked ass. But that doesn't mean the screenplay was bad! So to anyone that saw the film, please don't judge me until after you've read the original screenplay (very different from the final film, I promise!):

            Link to the screenplay for "Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists" (Adobe acrobat .PDF file)

Thanks for reading!!