Inside the VFX boom

The VFX artists behind Disney’s award-winning film The One and Only Ivan talk about tapping into their secret inner thespian and why VFX is in the midst of a golden period

Thirty years ago, visual effects were in their infancy. Blockbuster films including Star Wars and The Terminator had shown what could be achieved with practical effects, but it wasn’t until movies such as The Abyss and Jurassic Park, with its digital dinosaurs, that we really saw what the future might hold. Fast forward to now, and VFX is ubiquitous. Everything from films and TV shows to adverts and games rely on it, and it’s advanced to such a degree that in many cases the effects are almost impossible to distinguish from the ‘real’ thing.

“The industry has grown so much in the last 30 years,” says Nick Davis, VFX supervisor at MPC, and part of the VFX team that brought the titular gorilla to life in Disney film The One and Only Ivan. “It’s unimaginable to compare it to back then, when it was two or three companies that dominated the industry, and nobody else. Now it’s global. It’s huge in Australia, New Zealand, India, Canada, the US, and all across Europe. There’s a huge amount of jobs and it’s growing at such a rapid rate that there’s probably more work than there are people to do the work – so there’s plenty of future scope for people. The more that streaming channels grow, the more demand there is for content, and all of that content seems to have a pretty reasonable amount of VFX needs and demands.”

Readers whose ears have pricked up at the prospect of all these opportunities should bear in mind that, like type design, VFX is an unusual blend of artistic and technical skills. Would-be VFX artists will certainly need a creative streak, says Davis, but they still need to learn the software, and the intricacies of CG, modelling, rigging, texturing, lighting and the other “millions of components” that go into the job.

Stills from The One and Only Ivan. All images courtesy of Disney