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PHYSICAL AND VISUAL EFFECTS - Job Title: Physical Effects

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesCareers in Film and TelevisionPHYSICAL AND VISUAL EFFECTS - Job Title: Stunt Coordinator, Job Title: Aerial Director/coordinator, Job Title: Visual Effects Supervisor


Job Overview

“Physical effects designers are called upon by the production company when they cannot find a vendor that can do what it is they want to do, in a standard way,” explains physical effects coordinator Jim Gill. “We come in and build or fabricate custom equipment for the shoot. A physical effects person also deals with elemental effects such as wind and rain, and other offshoots like pyrotechnics—where we blow things up and create fire and things like that.”

Special Skills and Education

“For me,” says Gill, “petroleum engineering was a good study because it deals with electronics, hydraulics, and pneumatics—all the subspecies of engineering, whereas most engineering courses are focused into electrical.” He also sites a background in “still photography and color darkroom” as being assets. “There are a lot of things that make an effects person: they're on, they're alert, they're awake. If you're in a key position where you're trying to sell the job—trying to schmooze people—you have to be a little more of a salesperson and, obviously, have the skills and talents to do the job quickly.”

Advice for Someone Seeking This Job

As the industry shifts more and more toward computer generated effects, the demand for physical effects will also change. “We don't have to take a lot of pain to fly somebody with thin wires. We can slap a couple of big cables on them and fly across the room and let the wires be removed in post.” In some ways the computer has made Gill's job easier, but he foresees a time down the road where jobs are few and far between because of it. He suggests learning a variety of effects skills.

What do you like least about your job?

“The best and worst is that it's quick and different. What comes in the door isn't the same boring thing again and again. It usually requires some thought and effort. Vice versa, you're always having to think and come up with new stuff, so you can't relax … “—Jim Gill

What do you love most about your job?

“It is probably the best hands-on engineering job I could find. I start [by] meeting with someone who has an idea or concept they want to transmit via film, and I help with the development ofthat idea. I will then come back and figure out how to make it happen in the physical worldbuild or fabricate something. Then I get to take it to the set and perform whatever it needs to do.”Jim Gill

Professional Profile: Jim Gill, Physical Effects and Co-Owner of Reel EFX, Inc.

Although Jim Gill took a few film classes in high school and even made a 45-minute movie, he did not consider filmmaking as a career option until a few years after college. Majoring in physics at Marietta College in Ohio, he later switched to petroleum engineering, but eventually earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy: “I could get out a semester early and didn't have to take all the math.” After graduation he settled into a job trading commodities: “I started out as a runner on the [exchange] floor taking orders, and eventually moved up to where I had a seat … and traded.”

A vacation with a cousin living in Studio City brought Gill the opportunity to visit a film set, where he met a man who owned an effects company. Suddenly, Gill realized how his engineering skills and talents could be utilized in filmmaking. Having always wanted to be an inventor, he saw the opportunity to fulfill that dream through inventing machines that would create special effects.

A couple of months later when his seat at the Exchange expired, Gill put everything he owned in a trailer, moved to Los Angeles, and said, “Hire me.” He had no experience, but his earlier contact, the owner of Reel EFX, allowed him to hang around and learn. When an extra set of hands was needed for a job a week and a half later, Gill was hired. A year later, he was running the shop.

Today, Gill is a co-owner of Reel EFX and has been with the company for more than 15 years. The company has worked on numerous commercials for Honda Motorcycles, Lexus and Mazda, music videos for 98 Degrees, Bon Jovi, and Puff Daddy, and features such as Clock Stoppers, Minority Report, The Outing, Skinned Deep, and Swordfish. Gill invented the original frozen moment camera rig system that was later used in filming The Matrix, and designed the industry standard DF-50 haze machine and Diffusion Spray fogger.

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