Think of some of your favorite films or television series of all time. Whether they are rooted in fantasy or made to be naturalistic, odds are they required some special effects. To bring those effects to life, a Special Effects Supervisor got the job done. And in this article, we’ll dive into the role and responsibilities of a Special Effects Supervisor and what skills a successful supervisor should possess. 

Watch: SFX Supervisor Chris Corbould on Bond & Batman

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What Does SFX Stand for?

Special Effects Supervisor breakdown

SFX, or special effects or practical effects, are often mistaken for other aspects of filmmaking such as visual effects. Consequently, it’s no surprise that confusion occurs when pinpointing the role of a Special Effects Supervisor. Let’s take a look at the definition of an SFX supervisor to understand the role.

SPECIAL EFFECTS SUPERVISOR DEFINITION

What is a SFX Supervisor?

Special effects are any on-set produced illusions used to create the desired effect occurring within a story. Special effects are things like explosions, rain, car crashes, or even animatronic animals. 

A Special Effects Supervisor, therefore, is a role that oversees the execution of these special effects for a film or television show. Special Effects Supervisors collaborate, ideate, execute, and manage a team to successfully and safely execute all of the special effects a director envisions for a film or show.   

Special Effects Supervisor Duties:

  • Collaborate with director on SFX vision
  • Ideate the ‘how’ of a productions SFX 
  • Manage a SFX team to execute on set effects
  • Ensure SFX are executed safely and lawfully

Special Effects Supervisor Job Description

Role of a special effects supervisor

The role of a SFX supervisor starts in pre-production and carries on through the principle photography of a film. Let’s take a look at where a SFX Supervisor’s work begins in pre-production.

Collaborate with director

First and foremost, a Special Effects Supervisor must meet with the Director to understand their vision for the story and where special effects come into play. 

This is the foundational work that must take place to ensure the Special Effects Supervisor and the Director are on the same page. This includes what they want to achieve with SFX versus VFX (visual effects). And to really understand what it takes to become a Special Effects Supervisor, it's critical to understand the difference between special effects and visual effects. 

Check out this video below by Film Riot that outlines the differences. 

What does SFX stand for  •  Special Effects vs Visual Effects

A great example of this is the iconic hallway scene in Inception, one of Chirstopher Nolan’s best films. Many directors may have opted to achieve this scene through visual effects in post-production. But not Christopher Nolan. 

Instead, a specific set and rig was created to achieve the practical effects on-set. Check out our video where we break down the details of how this iconic scene was created.

Shooting the Iconic Inception Hallway Scene  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Also, it is important to understand the scale at which an effect will need to be produced. For example, a script can simply say a car explosion occurs. The scale and size of this explosion may matter greatly to a director. But a SFX Supervisor must ask these questions to ensure they meet the director’s vision.

Ideate the ‘how’ of a production’s SFX 

Once a SFX Supervisor understands what effects are needed, it’s their job to figure out how to make it happen. Therefore, this means ideating what camera rigs, crew, resources, and materials are necessary to bring the SFX to life. 

If there are a large amount of explosions, the SFX supervisor is responsible for rigging the explosions. The execution must be safe, cinematic, and possibly realistic if this is the Director’s vision. 

If there is a flood within an office building, the SFX Supervisor will need to create a way to rig water to flood into a contained set. This part of the job of a SFX supervisor will vary greatly depending on the scale and vision of a film. 

Source and manage a SFX team to execute on set effects

Of course, a SFX supervisor cannot handle all the work of special effects. This is why they source and hire an entire team to make up the SFX department. This team will help build and execute the special effects in pre-production and through production. 

THE CREW  •  Special Effects Department

Ensure SFX are executed safely and lawfully

Finally, special effects can be very dangerous. Explosions, car crashes, heavy rain, etc. can all create unsafe situations for talent and crew. It’s a responsibility of the SFX Supervisor to ensure the mechanisms that create the effects are safe and lawful according to state and federal regulations.  

How to Become a Visual Effects Supervisor

Becoming a SFX supervisor

Due to the nature of the job and the stakes for what could often be dangerous effects and mechanisms, a SFX supervisor must have extensive training, experience, and often education. Special Effects Supervisors typically have a relevant degree in engineering, film with a specialization in special effects, or industrial design.

SFX is both an art and a trade due to the engineering aspect of the work. Specific schools have become hotspots for learning the tricks of the trade from SFX legends in the industry. 

The Stan Winston School in Los Angeles has been teaching aspiring SFX artists and supervisors ways to approach various projects. Check out this video by Insider that gives a peek into one of the best SFX schools out there. 

How This Hollywood School Trains Aspiring Special-Effects Artists

Outside of formal training, education, and experience, the general skillset a SFX supervisor must possess is important to build on early. Developing creative problem solving skills, technical ability with various types of equipment, and leadership skills to manage a whole department are critical for any successful special effects supervisor. 

SFX Salary

Special effects supervisor salary

According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report in 2019, the average salary for a SFX supervisor was $72,270. Like most film production jobs, a SFX supervisor often works gig to gig. Therefore, this salary can vary greatly depending on consistency of jobs as well as budget level of each gig. 

SFX Jobs

Find special effects jobs

If this article has gained your interest into the world of special effects and the role of the special effects supervisor, you may be interested in jumping into the job market. Some of the best sites to find these jobs are Indeed.com, Glassdoor.com, and Linkedin

Once you begin to work in the special effects department in general, you’ll find that you can land a lot of jobs by word of mouth. These sites are a great place to start, but stay connected to your network to potentially land your next gigs. 

Up Next

Discover more filmmaking roles

The special effects supervisor is just one of many leadership positions critical to a film’s production. To continue through our series of the various filmmaking roles and positions, you can explore similar jobs like production designer, cinematographer, or editor. Or you can jump over to our Film Crew Index to browse the entire range of filmmaking roles. Understanding what everyone’s role on a film set is will help make you a better overall filmmaker and a more efficient crew member.

Up Next: Explore more crew positions →
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