Special Effects Designer

The Special Effects Designer is responsible for the safe planning of complex technical effects. Whether or not a show needs a Special Effects Designer is normally a choice made by the Technical Director, depending on how much time and effort they feel is needed to safely design and plan any given effect, and whether working on one particular effect has the potential to distract from all of the Technical Director's other responsibilities.

There is no hard-and-fast rule as to what comprises a "special effect", but examples could include:

  • Effects involving pyrotechnics and/or fire
  • Use of firearms or similar weapons on stage
  • Suspending actors above the floor (e.g. margic carpets, flying characters, death scenes involving hanging)
  • Use of moving lifts with actors in them
  • Use of trapdoors

The Special Effects Designer must work with the Technical Director and other designers to ensure that any of these effects are properly risk assessed, safely planned, and implemented in such a way that they work artistically with the rest of the show's design. They should produce detailed plans for how such an effect is to be operated, and ensure that they are given to the Stage Manager and Deputy Stage Manager team in good time so that the scenes can be blocked or choreographed properly in rehearsals, ensuring that blocking problems preventing the safe operation of an effect are not discovered at the last minute in the technical rehearsals.

They must also discuss the planned effects with members of staff at the theatre where the show is being performed, to ensure that the venue is happy that the effect can be performed safely. Not all venues will allow all types of special effects to be performed on their stage - production companies should always speak to the venue about their planned effects as soon as possible!