_ The newly coined nomenclature

The difference between a VFX supervisor, a CG supervisor and a creative technologist is related to the area of activity. VFX supervisors usually supervise the effects team from the vendor side. They help to organize and finally accept the technical aspects of the effect shot. VFX supervisors make general calculations and prepare bids for the production, but without entering at the production pipeline level. CG supervisors decide what software to use and what the pipeline should look like. They work out numbers with the budget people. They also come up with creative ideas to cheat difficult shots with software and hardware resources. More complex productions have an increased amount of supervisor types - compositing supervisors, stereoscopic supervisors, groom supervisors, asset supervisors, etc. They are more specialized, and usually strongly linked with post-production.


The growing amount of special effects in film production has triggered a need for a global VFX supervisor who can coordinate the realization of special effects from the producer side. Such a professional is particularly indispensable in the case of multiple vendors for effects. The growing tendency to have a more controlled budget results in the need for more efficient resources management. The base of such management should be, amongst other, precisely defined storytelling paradigm through artistic goals and priority of spectator’s emotional involvement.


Computer-generated effects are like a bottomless pit: you can throw in any amount of money, but there is still something which can be improved. Because of that, big visual effects studios usually try to offer similar solutions to different clients. In this way, they can provide low realization costs while still maintaining optimized pipeline. The problem is, however, that the artistic creation should offer a distinctive approach to the subject, a unique style or aesthetics. This dilemma creates the need for seeking the services of someone who can find balance between the creative uniqueness and the efficiency of a solution.


VFX production side supervisors watch over almost every aspect of production and sometimes do the work of the art director, approving shots artistically. In more difficult productions they take the role of the second director, directing the effects shots. They are involved in resource management and budgeting in a general manner; they can even suggest overall preliminary solutions for technical issues, which they later improve with senior or lead department developers. On the crew list, these professionals usually appear as “visual effects supervisors” without the indication of a company name to show their bindings with the director and the producer rather than with special effects vendors.


They cooperate with the crew to realize the visual world of the movie in accordance with  the director’s vision. Their role is particularly to research the theoretical aspect of the visual extension created by the visual effects team to make it more realistic. For instance, they can work out the dynamics and appearance of splattering blood or colliding planets. They can suggest how a particular effects scene may be accomplished so that it looks realistically. With a few exceptions, this has previously been a function of various film crew members representing special effects. Contemporary filmmaking experience prove that there is a need for employing an independent artist, working at the same production level as the cinematographer and the scenographer, ready to take creative co-responsibility for the realization of the film's visual expression.


A creative technologist is a new position in film, television, games, and the new media. This job demands a wide range of skills and qualifications, and the most important is the ability to apply digital technology as an artistic tool in a team that creates an audiovisual story. The digital development of recent years has shown a vast need for this position, which can be part of the director's central team. The duties of a creative technologist can be described as intensified tasks of a production VFX supervisor, focused in a particular way on new technologies. A creative technologist employs a wide range of traditional and digital techniques for image manipulation and creativity. Also, the position demands knowledge and experience of working with several platforms for stories, ranging from conventional cinema to interactive 360-degree media, such as VR and AR. The transmedia trend puts experimenting with the artistic potential of different platforms in the spotlight.


It is important to distinguish between a technologist and a technician. The second position relates to the practical use of technology, i.e. operating various devices which make the production process possible. In filmmaking, the example of such a professional is a location sound recordist, a data wrangler or a lighting technician. A technologist, in contrast, is an expert in technology, who serves as an advisor.

The term Digital Visual Design was developed for the needs of education at The Norwegian Film School. Its role was to emphasize the exceptionality of the new approach to film production, based on storytelling development. The particular importance in the development is played by the visual factor supported by well-tailored special effects and contemporary digital technologies. The idea of teaching VFX professionals of the new era finds its roots in the activities related to the tasks of a production VFX supervisor, but it is also derived from academic fundamentals and The Norwegian Film School tradition. Similarly to a VFX supervisor, a digital visual designer coordinates other visual effects supervisors and crew members to fulfill the director’s vision. His or her job is to support the creative process among the production team to allow smooth exploration of artistic goals in an unknown and unpredictable territory of the new technology. The role of a digital visual designer goes far beyond being a technician. He or she delivers concepts based on artistic experience and technical knowledge as a full-fledged member of the creative team and is responsible for visual communication between different art departments. The fundamental part of a digital visual designer’s work is to make an artistic choice on topics explored through the storytelling aspect, leaving the space for further development at the same time. Another important activity is resources management and internal budgeting but without bidding. If a particular special effect does not work well for a storyline, it is his or her role to suggest the way of redeploying funds to a more critical part of the film.


Digital visual designers create a bridge between a spoken idea and its visualization. They can use different tools to visualize the look, timing, and space arrangement. This helps to fit into the budget while still allowing to reach the artistic target. The task of such a production advisor is choosing between a classical on-set special effect, called SFX, and a computer-generated visual effect, called VFX. Contemporary cinema still applies the traditional effects based on makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, miniatures, etc. SFXs are far more useful, considering the instant result which can be seen by every crew member during filming. They can also support acting. While computer effects require more imagination during components recording, using special effects on the set allows actors to relate to real things.


VFX is the combination of live-action footage and additional footage created outside the context of a live action shot. It usually contains computer-generated imagery (CGI). Digital visual effects are meant to create photo-realistic, believable images. This primary goal, the illusion, distinguishes them from animation. VFX shots range from basic image manipulation and compositing, the integration of live action with CG, to full CG environments with computer generated actors.


The most effective technique is shooting SFX footage and improving it with the use of VFX. You can combine and unite them during post-production. It is essential to balance both elements inventively because in some cases special effects are less expensive and more spectacular than visual effects, and consequently they should prevail in the production.


Introducing the curriculum for a new department at the Norwegian Film School proved that the popularization of a newly created term “digital visual design” in the feature film community is extremely difficult, mainly for historical reasons. Professionals preferred to use the old name of a VFX supervisor. The DVD abbreviation was also unfortunate, suggesting a connection with a digital optical disc storage format. The name inherently implies a “digital” context, while the essence of the students’ activity is to create a bridge between classical and computer generated effects. Currently, the name of the department has been shortened to “VFX design” to maintain its connotation with the film industry. It is more conservative but easier to propagate.



2019 >> Rafal Hanzl >> Ways of expression: the impact of VFX technology on modern storytelling in film and interactive media production.