Special Effects Artist

Special effects artists are required to produce special effects for a variety of film, video and radio productions.

For example:

Smoke effects: These are needed for hazy nightclub scenes, fog in the early morning, or to simulate the aftermath of a fire. This is accomplished by pumping smoke in front of coloured lights, maybe a blue and a red light, which creates a cloud that drifts in the air of the studio or set. Other smoke effects include smouldering timbers or fireplaces, smoke from a chimney and so on and these are created by special devices that gently puff smoke upwards.

Rain effects: These include scenes such as those shot through a windowpane while water is poured over the other side of the glass. To simulate an outdoor scene that is supposed to be in the middle of a rainstorm, the water is allowed to fall straight down from a horizontal pipe that has holes drilled into it at strategic places. The cameraman then films through the water drops.

Period effects: Shakespearean or biblical plays need props such as daggers, swords or spears that are made by special effects artists.

War effects: When shots are fired, bullet hits or bomb hits have to be simulated by setting off small detonators that are buried in the ground and set off by means of an electrical trigger at the correct moment. The detonator throws up a puff of dust that emulates the effect of a bomb or a bullet hitting the ground, a tree, a rock and so on.

To make a bullet hitting a person look realistic, special plastic bags, filled with artificial blood, are hidden on the actor’s body and are detonated - thereby creating the impression of ripping cloth and flesh. In even more realistic dramatisations of a person being shot, a special rubber rope is attached to the actors’ bodies which, when released, jerks them backwards or forwards as the case may be.

Personal Requirements

  • work well with others
  • extremely inventive mind and great imagination
  • technical skills
  • love of the film world
  • enjoy working with your hands

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Art or a related subjects is highly recommended
Recommended subjects: Art, Design Studies, Engineering and Graphic Design


  • An art portfolio is required to demonstrate your creativity, abilities and commitment.
  • If you intend studying towards a degree in Fine Art at university, you will need to a Bachelor's pass in matric. If you intend studying a diploma in an art-related field, then you will need a Diploma pass in matric.
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university or requirements set by the college.

What to Study

As formal training facilities for special effects do not exist in South Africa, a person joining the department receives in-service training. Experience is gained by working on productions and from the experienced staff in the department. A drama degree or diploma in performing arts would, however, be a good introduction, for example:

Degree: BA Drama & Theatre Arts - UFS

Diploma: N.Dip: Entertainment Technology - DUT, TUT, Performing Arts - ICESA


  • film and video production companies
  • television studios
  • radio studios
  • self-employment, with enough experience, can work on a freelance basis

Further Information

National Television and Video Association of South Africa (NTVA)
P O Box 16140
Vlaeberg, 8018
Tel: (021) 424-7575

CityVarsity Film & Television and Multimedia School
Head, Personnel Services, SABC
Tel: (021) 423-3366

Arts Faculty
The Head
Department Entertainment Technology
Tshwane University of Technology
Private Bag X680
Pretoria, 0001

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a film production company
  • arrange to speak to a special effects artist about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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