Four years ago, I published a series of articles on job titles in the visual effects industry. I missed an entire class of people, though: The support personnel that keep all the gears oiled and the data flowing.
- Data and Render Wranglers: Movies create a lot of information. I’m talking dozens to hundreds of terabytes. When you have that much data to deal with, you need technically-minded, meticulous people to care for it. A data wrangler is usually in charge of making sure that data gets where it needs to go in a timely fashion and is properly backed-up and protected. A render wrangler is a narrower focus on caring for the render farm. They ensure that each project gets an appropriate share of resources, there are no bottlenecks, and the output is correct. Although these are not artistic positions, they’re an excellent way to get your foot in the door at a larger company.
- Pipeline TD/Developer: Every studio has a unique ecosystem of off-the-shelf and custom-built tools, all existing in a networked file system and connected to project management tools. A pipeline technical director ensures that all of the pieces of that ecosystem function well together. They write software to help one system pass information to another, and to help artists track their time, and to help coordinators know what jobs need to be done. They create tools to automate repetitive tasks so that artists can concentrate on being artsy instead of making folders on the file system. A good pipeline TD needs strong programming skills, and decent math skills are a plus. They also need to be good at technical writing so that tools and procedures get documented, keeping everyone in the studio on the same page.
- Producer: Someone needs to communicate with the client, and it’s a pretty bad idea to let the artists do it. Producers are responsible for bidding on work, communicating with clients, managing artists, and maintaining the lines of communication throughout the studio. Sometimes they also do some sales or handle things on the business side of the company. There are lots of different kinds of producer, and every producing job has different requirements. One thing that’s common to all of them, though, is that they’re “in charge” of something to some degree.
- Coordinator: With so many jobs to do and so many people to do them, someone needs to stay on top of what needs to be done and who is available. The coordinator maintains the project management systems, assigns artists to tasks, and frequently does some office management tasks. It’s a pretty good entry-level role if you want to get onto a producer’s track.
- Editor: In a VFX house, the editor is usually responsible for quality control of both incoming and outgoing materials, preparing studio promotional materials, and preparing review sessions with clients. They make sure that the client receives exactly the frames they require in the format they require.
- VFX Supervisor: There are two kinds of VFX supervisor: On-set and studio supervisors. The studio VFX supervisor is frequently the senior-most compositor on a project. They make the big-picture strategic calls on how the work is going to get done and monitor the entire team. The on-set VFX supervisor goes to the set (naturally) and ensures that the VFX team gets the footage and information they need to do their jobs. This involves consulting with the director and/or cinematographer on the best way to shoot for VFX, taking measurements of the set and props, and collecting information about the cameras and lights. Sometimes on-set and studio supervisors are the same person and sometimes they’re not. In either case, though, they need good interpersonal and leadership skills as well as a deep understanding of every part of the visual effects process.
- IT: Like every modern company, a VFX studio needs information technology support. This job frequently crosses over with the pipeline TD and/or the data wrangler since they all require similar skills. It is a distinct role, though. IT is responsible for making sure that the network infrastructure remains operational and secure. They’re less concerned with specific file system procedures than they are with keeping the file servers on-line and healthy. The render wrangler may be the one monitoring the render farm, but it’s IT that built it and fixes any hardware or operating system problems that arise.
Obviously there are other roles: accountants, sales, human resources, but those are pretty much the same as at every company, so I won’t go into them here.