Job titles in VFX and CG: Illustrators

A friend of mine recently asked for some guidance on getting into CG, and I wrote up everything I currently know on job titles and career paths. It seems like a waste to leave it in a private message to him, so I’m putting it up here in the hopes that others will come along and expand on and/or correct what I know, and maybe it can be a resource to other people thinking about getting into CG. So without further ado:

Illustrators and related jobs

  • Concept Artist:  Props, characters, and environments must all be visualized by someone before they can be created, whether by CG artists or costumers and set builders. The concept artist creates drawings, paintings and other artwork intended to guide other personnel in the design of all of these things.
  • Graphic Designers: Beyond the creation of movie posters and box art, graphic designers can be involved at many different levels of a production. In-universe corporations need logos, signs on walls need to be designed, and military officers need patches on their uniforms. In some instances, graphic designers may even be called upon to layout shots in the film. Such was the case in Tron: Legacy.
  • Motion Graphics designers: Closely related to graphic design is motion graphics. As the words imply, a motion graphics artist is very similar to a graphic designer. While most graphic designers are well trained in print production, though, a motion graphics artist is more comfortable with video displays. Title sequences, in-universe computer screens, text overlays, and informational graphics are all likely to be created by a motion graphics artist. Motion graphics also sees a tremendous amount of use in advertising in almost every medium except for print. And even that is starting to change as engineers develop paper-thin flexible video screens.
  • Storyboard artists: Storyboards are closely related to concept art. Both are used as visual resources by production to guide how the finished product should look. The storyboard artist, though, works to translate the script to visual form so that the production crew has a better idea of how things should be shot. Storyboards range in quality from quick stick figures drawn by the director on a napkin to full-color polished illustrations presented to a commercial client during a pitch. Where concept art is intended to help design characters and locations, storyboards are more about cameras, movement and composition.
  • Interface Designer/User Experience (UX) Designer: Games and DVDs, unlike (most) films are interactive. Someone must decide what kind of experience the user is intended to have and what methods they may use to interact with the product. The interface designer will make decisions about how menus should look and function, what pointers should look like, and whether the user is permitted to navigate the product in a non-linear fashion or is forced to see things in a predetermined order. UX design is also important in the creation of physical goods. The interface on your GPS device or the menus in your television need to be designed by someone.
  • Matte Painter: A matte painter straddles the line between illustration and compositing. They are responsible for creating backgrounds and set extensions. A film set may consist only of one wall and part of a street constructed on a sound stage. The matte painter then creates a digital painting to fill in other walls, the rest of the street, buildings in the background, or whatever else needs to be seen in the scene but not interacted with. A matte painting might be as simple as the side of a building seen out a window or as complex as a chain of volcanic mountains that the heroes are about to travel into.
  • 2d Animator: There isn’t much call for traditional animation at the moment, but there are still opportunities. I honestly don’t know much about the process of 2d animation, and anything I say about it will be woefully incomplete. So let’s just say that there are 2d animators, and probably a variety of different jobs that go into doing their work. I do know that a lot of 2d animation is now done with Flash and similar software rather than hand drawing.

For all of these jobs, a strong knowledge of Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects is recommended. Flash is also a good idea, particularly for game or web development. InDesign is also likely to be very useful. In addition, many illustration jobs become easier with some degree of 3d knowledge (Maya, Cinema4d, etc). And, of course, traditional art skills are indispensable.  Software is easy to learn in comparison.

Web admin for the Christian Gamers Guild and co-host of the Geek @ Arms podcast. Bryan primarily runs character-driven narrativist RPGs such as Primetime Adventures and Tales From the Loop.

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