Tina Richardson Smith Reveals Tricks of the Trade of a VFX Editor

By in Timeline Tuesday, Video Editing

These days, VFX or Visual Effects can be found everywhere. Even in low budget films there are usually a couple of hundred visual effects shots. They are becoming a bigger part of the story and interesting tool in the telling of the visual stories. The job of the VFX editor is now an invaluable asset to the editing team. Their task involves precise preparation, planning and refining the VFX shots before they get ready to shoot.

VFX editor Tina Richardson Smith is currently working on ‘The Legend of Tarzan’

VFX editor Tina Richardson Smith is currently working on The Legend of Tarzan, the upcoming movie directed by David Yates, starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie and Christoph Waltz. “One of my favorite projects so far has been Ex Machina. I loved working with director Alex Garland, he’s such an inspiration. Ex Machina was actually the fourth project I did for Alex. It’s great to work for someone who really values your ideas and opinions. It was also the first time I got to work with Mark Day. He’s a fantastic editor and a lovely person, so it’s no surprise I have joined his team again for Tarzan.  Before Ex Machina I also worked on Captain Phillips, edited by the amazing Christopher Rouse, who also produced the film.  Christopher and director Paul Greengrass are a force to be reckoned with.”

Ex-Machina © 2014 Universal Pictures International and Film 4

“I studied Graphic Design at University, working mostly with video. In my third year I found some work experience with 2 post supervisors. I experienced a few different departments but I spent most of my time with the conform editor, conforming the print. I loved that aspect of the job and was lucky to catch the end of that era.  When I graduated, I was lucky to get a job as a trainee (thanks to my post supervisor mentors) in the cutting rooms.  I just loved the job.  Due to my print experience, I worked on Danny Boyle’s Sunshine as second assistant, syncing the print dailies and editing on Avid, assisting both the first assistant and the VFX editor. I worked my way up as first assistant editor on 28 Weeks Later and VFX assistant editor on Hell Boy 2. It was then that I realized that VFX editing was my thing. I assisted my VFX editor on 4 other films before doing it myself. I guess it’s very important to know the job both technically and politically before stepping up, as this industry is all about reputation.”

“Doing the job of VFX editor feels easy, trying to explain it, not so much…”

—Tina Richardson Smith

“As a VFX editor, I look after all the visual effects shots in the film.  Once the editor and director have cut a sequence and we have reviewed it with the supervisor, I pull the plates, lighting references and elements via the labs and send them out to the vendor, as well as create a turnover pack to accompany them. I also create a temporary version of the shots, lining up various elements and provide a placeholder for the vendor shots. This is done for all sequences in the film. I also keep on top of any changes that occur daily. It is imperative that I don’t miss a beat.  This is why I am fastidious with my pipeline workflows, going both in and out of Avid. I set up pipeline tests with the vendors to check everything is technically OK and ready for the visual effects shots to come back. When we start to receive shots back from the vendors, we review them with the supervisor and afterwards the director.  I then cut anything approved into the editor’s reels.  There are often many iterations of each shot before they are ready for the final version. Finally, I send EDL’s for the VFX part of the conform, ready for the DI. There is a lot more to it than that, but that’s the short explanation.”

Ex-Machina © 2014 Universal Pictures International and Film 4

“Visiting the set is a real treat and it’s nice to feel part of the bigger team. We work long days in a dark environments staring at screens all day, any opportunity to get out of the box is welcome.”

With such a large volume of content to refine into a movie, Tina has her own method of organizing projects and scenes.  “I have my own folder in the Avid called VFX, inside that I have Import and Export folders sorted by date and scene.  A folder of Turnovers sorted by vendor, a ‘Review’ folder by date, a folder called Sequences which has a bin for all VFX sequences from the film with historical versions of all the cuts contained within each bin and a bunch of other job specific folders.  You have to be ready to be door stepped by anyone and pull up exactly what they need to see. So organization is key!”

Captain Phillips © 2013 Columbia Pictures

Captain Phillips © 2013 Columbia Pictures

Tina shares three of her favorite Media Composer tips and tricks:

“Map every shortcut to the keyboard that you repetitively use.”

“I use these all the time, for each turned over shot on V1, I add a locator at the head of the shot with the shot name, one at the tail and also a Version Zero which is a place holder QT of the plate. This Version Zero doesn’t have any VFX work in it but shows the editor what is turned over and the handles he/she has available.”

Color Coding
“I have a different color code for Version Zeros, Temp Versions, and Finals. That way everyone knows what they are looking at.”


“I think it’s very important to try to stay up-to-date with the latest technological developments. If there’s a way to make your job easier you should seek it out and use it. But in the end, there is a skill to knowing your shots and recognizing the creative issues that you can’t automate.”

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I'm Social Media Manager for Avid and editor-in-chief of Avid Blogs. You can find me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook as @editorbelga.