A Day in The Life of a VFX Editor
Posted on: Sep 12, 2023
A visual effects (VFX) editor is an essential part of any post-production team. As more television shows require the use of VFX, the position is becoming increasingly popular. This article will discuss the role of the VFX editor and how they interact with other members of the post-production team.
Role of a VFX Editor
The primary role of the VFX editor is to be the liaison between the VFX department and the editorial department. When you are first hired on a show or film, it’s important to introduce yourself to the editorial team. You will be working closely with them throughout the duration of the project, especially as they get closer to finalizing their cuts.
Remember, the VFX editor doesn’t always start when the rest of the editorial team does, so it’s possible you might be coming in during the middle of production. Taking a few days to familiarize yourself with the projects, cuts and what’s been shot and edited as soon as you begin will give you a head start. Once you are familiar with the editorial side of things, such as meeting the editors and watching the cuts, you will want to check in with the VFX team.
The key roles on a VFX team consist of a VFX supervisor, producer and coordinator. A team may be bigger than that and may include a few people for each role, depending on how big of a budget the VFX team has. As the VFX editor, you will be working mostly with the producer and coordinator on a day-to-day basis. The supervisor can sometimes be on-set, in which case you may not interact with them as much.
VFX Spotting and Tagging Shots
Once an episode or film is locked or close to locked, meaning that there are no more changes to be made and all notes have been addressed, it’s time to start spotting the episode for VFX shots. This is when you and the VFX team will watch the episode or film and call out every single shot that needs to be enhanced with VFX.
Sometimes the editors will be involved in the process since they are the most familiar with the cut. This team will come into the VFX editor’s room and start the spotting session. It’s your job as the VFX editor to be in charge of the playback and of tagging the shots that are called out. Depending on what editing software is being used, you can do this in different ways. Most editing programs have a function where you can mark a shot with a marker or tag so that you can go back later and start to rename and organize.
Some shots will be easier to identify as VFX than others. An example of an easy shot to identify would be if there is a visible green or blue screen behind the actors that will need to be replaced. A more difficult shot to identify would be if a building or background needs to be enhanced in some way. This is why it’s important to have multiple team members involved in the spot session. The VFX producer and coordinator will know what scenes had specific VFX notes that need to be addressed. There will also be a number of shots that will need to be fixed with VFX. Crew and equipment paint-outs are a very common type of VFX shot.
Once the spotting session is over and everyone is satisfied that all of the VFX shots have been tagged, it’s time for the VFX editor to go back in and rename all of the markers or tags that were created. Each shot needs to have a unique name and number assigned to it. A common naming convention for a television show VFX shot is: Episode_Scene_Shot_Number. So if a shot is labeled 101_002_001, that would mean episode 101, scene 2, shot number 1. It’s very important that no two shots have the same number so that you don’t get confused when the shots start coming back from the vendors.
Pulling Shots and for Vendors
After the VFX spot and tagging is complete, it’s time to start pulling the shots in their native resolution. This can be done in multiple ways. The VFX editor will need to talk with the post-producer and the online house to determine the workflow that has been set up for the specific show. Once the shots are pulled the VFX producer and coordinator will decide which vendors get which specific shot.
Updating the Cut With VFX
A few weeks after the vendors have received all the shots, they will start sending them back with the requested VFX work complete. It’s the VFX editor’s job to cut the shots back into the sequences so that they can be reviewed by the VFX team. Some of the more simple shots, like paint-outs or beauty fixes, may be approved in the first version.
The more complicated shots will need a few rounds of notes before they can be approved. The VFX editor needs to make sure that the projects stay organized with the influx of new versions coming in. Some VFX shots can have versions that go into the hundreds! It’s very important to stay organized and on top of each version that comes in to avoid confusion.
Finalizing and Finishing
Once all of the shots have been approved they need to be sent to the online or finishing house to be colored and inserted into the master project. The VFX editor will be the one to send the shot list and correct versions to be dropped in by the online house. It’s very important to send over the correct version number so that the correct shot gets dropped in. Once all of the correct shots have been sent over, it is time to start organizing the project so that the final VFX are all in one place. Usually this means separating the final VFX shots onto a single video layer so they are easily accessible.
A VFX editor is a great position for someone who is interested in the VFX world, but also wants to be involved with the editorial and post-production team. As you can see from this overview, in the world of post-production, the VFX editor collaborates with many people on the post-production side and is a great way to move into other departments with some time and experience.
Olivia has been working in the film industry for close to ten years. She started as a PA at a post-production facility and worked her way up to head online editor. She decided to move show-side and was able to use her online editing hours to get in the Motion Pictures Editors Guild. Once in the union, she worked as a VFX editor and assistant editor on ‘The Walking Dead.’ She got her first solo episodic credit on ‘Foundation’ season 2.
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