The special effects or multimedia director creatively alters filmed images to generate interesting effects. These special effects make the fantastical seem real, and have been famously used in everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Avatar.
In the past, special effects directors used photographic tricks like the "stop trick" (where the actors froze while the camera stopped, a change was made and then filming resumed), multiple exposure, and time-lapse photography to create an optical illusion. They also relied on miniatures, painted backgrounds and, more recently, bluescreens and greenscreens to suggest vastly different backgrounds.
Today, computer-generated imagery (CGI) has had a profound impact on special effects productions. The digital basis of CGI means that the multimedia director has much more control and freedom to create fantastical worlds and even characters that could never exist in real life. With the use of computers to create these special effects, the line between special effects in live-action movies and in animations like Toy Story has become blurred.
Visual effects are often added to a film in the post-production phase with CGI, but these effects still require choreography and planning during production. The special effects director must work closely with the film's director, set designer, lighting designer, and others during pre-production and production to ensure the mechanical pieces are in place that will be the backbone of the special effects composition.
Training & Education
Many painters, sculptors or computer programmers may pursue a career in special effects.
Multimedia and special effects directors often hold bachelors or masters degrees in animation, cinematography, media arts, or computer science. A degree is often critical in gaining special effects experience and working with the latest tools and technologies, and is especially helpful in teaching the discipline and confidence required in the film industry.
Attending a school in Hollywood or California is not always necessary. Many special effects and multimedia professionals go to school and work locally, contributing to independent films or creating special effects for live theatre or amusement parks.