Page last updated at 00:06 GMT, Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Making it big in the movies


Ellie Gibson sees what it takes to make movie special effects.

Special effects in movies - or Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) as they are more formally known - have been used by the film industry since the early 1970s although they have come a long way since the likes of Star Wars and Tron.

Today, there are a wide range of jobs from animation and compositing to post production and environment effects. Of course, you have to have a rough idea on what you want to do before embarking on a course.

In the video above BBC News follows student Liz Mitchell as she prepares for the final assessment of her effects course work and talks to industry figures about breaking into the movie business.

Below visual effects supervisor Gavin Rothery from Liberty Films explains the various steps you need to go through before you can get on the career ladder.

Most recently Mr Rothery has been working on the film Moon that was shown at the Sundance Festival and is due to go on release later in 2009.


Getting a good degree is essential. It doesn't have to be a specialised course, such as film special effects, although something with a graphics design theme is good.

Gavin Rothery
Gavin Rothery is the visual effects supervisor for upcoming SF movie Moon.
That's not to say there's anything wrong with a specialised course, it's that specialising at such an early stage might not be a good idea. Say you did a degree in 3D, it would be unlikely that you could go on to be a compositor.

Once you start work, you can see at first hand all the different jobs and which one takes your fancy, so my advice would be to keep the degree general.

Once you've obtained your degree the process of job applications begins. Moving to London or Los Angeles will certainly help as that is where most of the facilities are based. We call them facilities because they do a whole host of different things.

Use your time at university to swot up on all the different facilities. Look at what they've done and what they are working on. An example would be The Mill in Soho. They used to do movies but now they do advertising, so if you go and see them knowing that they did Gladiator you wouldn't know what they are up to now.

Research is key and Google is free.

It might take a few applications, but eventually you will be called in for an interview. My advice would be to go in, declare your enthusiasm, show them your work and then cross your fingers. Make sure you know all about the facility, what it has done and projects it is working on.

Assuming you get through the interview, your first job is probably going to be a runner.

Everyone starts life as a runner, that's just how it works. It is a humbling experience but you'll get to meet everyone at the firm and will have access to the kit when no one else is using it.

Because all of these facilities have all these highly trained operators and clients, so you'll be doing rather menial stuff: getting teas, washing plates, grabbing food for other people. But that's the whole point. Being a runner gives you're the ability to get to know the organisation inside out, and you'll get to meet everyone.

You'll spend three to four months as a runner during the day and get to use the kit to do your own stuff in the evening. Running is like another extended interview and it's up to you to get the work done. If you treat is as a 9-5 you're not going to get anything out of it.

It might feel as though you're just a dogsbody - and in part you are - but it's really an opportunity to get to know everything and everyone. And when vacancies come up the runners get first dibs on it.

And that's when the real work starts: you're on the ladder - albeit a junior position - and you'll already know everyone there. Remember, though, not every runner gets a job, you've still got to work for it. Think of it as a very long probation period. You got to be on your toes, it's a very high stakes game.

Get on with people, get the work done and you'll be on your way. Fail on either of those and you'll be out the door. Lots of people want these jobs, so expect lots of competition. Don't be deterred, focus, don't give up, and you will eventually get something.

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