What is the job?
Vision Mixers edit programmes live (as they are being transmitted or recorded), using a variety of transition methods, such as cuts, mixes, wipes, frame manipulation, etc. They join together images from various visual sources, including cameras, video tape recorders (VTR Machines), graphic generators, digital video effects (DVEs). They are the Director’s “second pair of eyes” in the Gallery. The work is exhilarating but demanding, and requires patience, stamina and resilience. Vision Mixers may be employed by broadcasters, or work on a freelance basis.
On news, current affairs, or light entertainment programming, Vision Mixers work initially from running orders, usually prepared by Producers, which outline the premise of each programme, and detail the shot requirements. Vision Mixers then work closely with Directors to creatively interpret the script, discussing which transitions are required from shot to shot, whether and when visual effects and/or graphics should be used, and suggesting alternatives where certain transitions are impossible, or to improve the creative output.
Vision Mixers must be aware of the capabilities and limitations of different vision mixing desks, and suggest ways of using them to fulfil the Director’s vision for each production. During recording, or live transmission, Vision Mixers work with the Director to visually create the programme.
Vision Mixers must be able to multi task effectively, as they may be required to cut from shot to shot during a live interview while simultaneously absorbing the Producer’s instructions to the Director about the next item to be transmitted, and the sources to be used, setting up the next transition on the effects bank, and also listening to the Production Assistant’s (PA’s) countdown to the next item.
As running orders on news programmes can literally change by the second, Vision Mixers must be able to react quickly and accurately to rapidly changing demands. They often work from more than one visual source, for example when adding graphics with the required name, location and date, to relevant shots. On these types of production, Vision Mixers have more autonomy than on more structured, rehearsed programming.
On some light entertainment, and all sitcoms, soaps and drama, Vision Mixers use rehearsals to practise the required transitions, and where appropriate to suggest alternatives to Directors. Vision Mixers make detailed notes on the camera script about required sources, transition types, graphics and technical effects.
Although they work from a script, during recording Directors may give standby cues to Vision Mixers and Cameras about upcoming transitions. On music programming, Vision Mixers are given more latitude and must cut to the music or beat, or often to a musical score, particularly when working on classical music productions.
On live productions Vision Mixers are required to react quickly when problems arise, for example by cutting to another suitable source smoothly and calmly if the required camera is refocusing, or in the wrong position. On especially complicated productions, particularly in light entertainment, two vision mixers may work together: one vision mixing, the other operating all peripheral equipment, such as Stills Store, DVE, hard disc/VT play ins.
Typical career routes
Vision Mixers come from a variety of production backgrounds, including creative (Graphics), administrative (PAs and Secretaries), and technical (Camera, VT Operators). Ideally they work initially for larger broadcasters gaining a wide experience of vision mixing on a number of different production formats, and building up their confidence for this high energy, demanding role.
Essential knowledge and skills
Vision Mixers must be able to work on a variety of different vision mixing desks and equipment. They must be able to stay calm and react quickly and accurately under pressure. All vision mixing requires high levels of concentration and stamina. They must have the discipline to respond to cues accurately according to predetermined plans, and the confidence to take the initiative and deal autonomously with unforeseen circumstances or problems when they arise.
Key Skills include:
- a good understanding of the language of the transmission
- ability to multitask
- excellent organisational abilities
- initiative and problem solving skills
- precise attention to detail
- excellent verbal and written communication skills
- effective team working skills
- diplomacy and sensitivity, patience and tact
- advanced IT skills
- excellent visual and aural awareness, combined with artistic and aesthetic abilities
- excellent colour vision
- ability to appreciate music
- good sense of rhythm in order to produce accurate and sensitive transitions
- the ability to read a musical score, or to bar count
- knowledge of the requirements of the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures
Training and qualifications
Although no specific educational or training qualifications are required for the role of Vision Mixer, a degree in a media related or specialist subject may provide some useful background information. Because of the pivotal nature of this role to any multi-camera production, wide experience in and knowledge of the production process is required.
On-going training and successful completion of specialist courses on relevant equipment, usually provided by the manufacturers, is essential in order to keep up with advances in technology.
Where to go for more information
- The Guild of Vision Mixers represents the interests of Vision Mixers working in TV production throughout the UK and Ireland - www.visionmixers.tv
- BECTU, the trade union represents studio operations personnel - www.bectu.org.uk
- National Film and Television School - https://nfts.co.uk
- Manufacturers of a wide range of equipment, such as Sony - www.sony.co.uk