SFX and VFX: What’s the Difference?

Purpose of Special Effects:

They are there to illustrate to the audience the creator’s intention of creating a different world in which fantastic things can happen. This is done through various things like simulated weather, complex animatronic beasts, or grisly, gory effects in a horror movie.

Visual Effects in Film:

Visual effects take place after shooting a scene or movie. They work around the finished product and add the applicable effects. You’re probably more familiar with these, as they’re the category CGI falls under. Any fan of the Star Wars franchise is well acquainted with CGI and visual effects in general.

History and Evolution of Special and Visual Effects:

Both VFX and SFX have long histories. The first commonly accepted special effect in film is in 1895, thanks to Alfred Clark.

He simulated the execution of Mary Queen of Scots by having the actress lay down her head on the chopping block, then as the ax was coming down, had everyone freeze in place as he stopped the cameras.

Then a dummy was placed where the actor was, the cameras started rolling again, and a poor dummy got their head severed.

Why and How are They Different?

To keep it simple, SFX is applied on the set or before shooting a scene, while VFX are added in post-production. SFX are concerned with stage trickery or convincing their audience of the authenticity of the story’s world.

VFX is utilized via graphic design programs and other computer tools to enhance visuals.

Special Effects vs. Visual Effects:

While they are both exciting and have some fascinating uses, there is no objective answer to which is best, however. It’s dependent on what you, as a viewer, find more appealing in the film production process.

Depending on your style on a design, you may be more interested in becoming a VFX artist.

Types of Special and Visual Effects:

What are Examples of SFX?

  • Wind
  • Rain
  • Snow
  • Fog
  • Animatronics
  • Pyrotechnics

What are the Types of VFX?

  • Computer-Generated Imagery, (CGI)
  • Virtual Cinematography
  • Stop Motion Animation
  • Matte Painting
  • Digital Compositing
  • Motion Control Photography

Job Description of a Special Effects Artist:

Special Effects Artist


What does a special effects artist do? They are responsible for adding and implementing a wide range of different things like pyrotechnics, mechanical, and digital aspects to a film to enhance and polish the film or work.

Roles and Responsibilities:

An SFX artist’s primary role is to create fantastic imagery and effects that aren’t possible by mere filming. Films like The Lord of the Rings, The Avengers, and the entirety of Star Wars lean heavily on the work of talented special effects artists.


  • Extremely detail-oriented
  • Technical knowledge
  • People skills

The number one skill for special effects artists is the ability to meet deadlines. This is a job that usually comes with a lot of pressure, and the artists need to be able to deliver the product in a timely and professional manner.

Although not impossible, those with type ‘B’ personalities may have a more difficult time adjusting to the fast-paced schedule.

Becoming A Special Effects Makeup Artist:

This seems great and all, but how do you become a visual effects artist?


Special Effects Student
Do I need to attend an SFX school?

Not necessarily. Although you can earn degrees in related fields, going to an SFX school can arm you with invaluable knowledge about SFX and VFX, preparing you for a career in entertainment. Regardless, you’re going to need intimate knowledge of the relevant software used by professionals.

                   Best Special Effects Makeup Schools:

MUD (Make-up Designory)

MUD has two main aims with its courses: teaching Character Make-up Artistry and Lab Techniques. One is based on developing a character and adding nuance to them via makeup and effects; the other delves into the lab techniques used by professionals.

E.I. School of Professional Makeup:

This school has it all. Located in Hollywood, this school deals in SFX makeup in nearly every facet of the entertainment industry. Whether interested in supermodel makeup or high fantasy creatures, you’ll learn all you need to know here.

Cinema Makeup School:

This is a short but intensive course that will teach you blood tubing, prosthetics, life-casting, teeth application, and airbrush. Ve Neill, the famous makeup artist from Beetlejuice and Mrs. Doubtfire, is the current director of the school.

Tom Savini’s Special Make-Up Effects Program:

Tom Savini is responsible for some of the most famous horror movie effects ever. The course takes you through the fundamentals of the more advanced concepts and practices. You’ll be able to emulate the horror movie icon after taking this course.


How much do special effects artists make? The national average for special effects artists is $85,946 a year. If you play your cards right and work hard, you could make well over $100,000 a year in an experienced career.