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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Woes of non-union VFX

The Meteor case has become a symbol of the shaky standing of the vfx industry and vfx artists in particular. Vfx artists have no union or guild, and no Hollywood union has consented to represent them. Meanwhile, some vfx studios are in such bad financial shape, with current income used to pay off past debts, that one analyst has called the entire business “a Ponzi scheme.”

Snippet from VARIETY article by By BRENDAN KELLY

Variety Article on Meteor Studios and the the Visual Effects Artists that worked there.

VES Annual Meeting

The Visual Effects Society had it's annual meeting last Saturday. There was a live feed to Vancouver and San Francisco.
It was also webcast throughout the world including the other sections of London and Australia.

The video of the meeting should be online in the next couple of weeks or so for all VES members.

As noted at the meeting the VES website is being totally re-written and is scheduled to be online in October.
Lots  of great stuff like forums, videos and user areas.  Headed up by Carl Rosendahl

Mike Fink gave a talk called 2000 years of visual effects in 30 minutes.
Discussed the history and art-form of imagery and how even early paintings are making an impact on cinema and visual effects.
Helped to illustrate the artistry and advances in visual effects.


Bill Taylor was awarded the VES Board of Director's Founder's award.
Bill talked about many things including:
1. Keeping production local
2. Having a visual effects trade organization for visual effects companies.
3. Having a visual effects union.

This was well recieved. These are some of the issues that the VES board has been discussing the last couple of years as we look to the future.
As Bill mentioned Jim Danforth had brought up some of these same issues years ago.

The VES is an honorary society for Visual Effects Artists.  It's been discussed that that these 3 things: Society, Union, Trade organization, make a fully rounded industry and each of those had different purposes.

The VES determined it was best to remain as it was designed to be - an honorary society, instead of changing into one of the other forms.

I think many members and VFX companies are interested in the future and want to avoid some of the issues that we currently have to deal with.  A union and trade organization are possible ways to deal with those issues.

Doug Trumbull was the main speaker at the event.

Doug is always interested in getting the greatest experience and felt that many of the limitations have been based on
decisions made years ago that aren't relevant now.

Doug felt that film will disappear (no time frame given) and that digital can equal the quality of film, even now.

FPS
Doug had said that in early motion picture development approx 50 fps was determined to be needed to show continuous movement and avoid flicker.  Soon there after multi-bladed shutters to minimize flicker issues. 16/18 fps were chosen for silent movies to use as little as film as possible.  Sound went to 24fps not for the picture but to make it possible to do sync sound.
He developed Showscan years ago which originally ran at 72fps and later at 60fps.
24fps results in a lot of blur.  It requires the blur for your eye to read it as continuous motion instead of flicker still images. He and Kubrick found this out when trying to shoot stars without blur on an animation camera. Faster frame rates don't need as much blur and tend to produce sharper images.
Even though 24fps is thought of as movies and 60fps is thought of now as video, the faster frame rates provide a more life like experience.

Projection
The current standard for footlamberts on a movie screen is 16.  This is much darker than your flat-screen at home.
With stereo 3D projection now a polarizer is needed over the projector lens which results in 1 stop loss of light.
Then the glasses the audience wears has polarizers which result in another stop loss.  End result is the audience is watching an image at 4 footlamberts which reduces the color and quality of the image, especially compared to real life.

The current digital projection systems use a chip size that limits the amount of light that can be projected through it so there still remains a limit to how bright and real the screen is.  Doug would like to avoid these limits and take the opportunity now that we're transitioning into digital projection to think in terms of the future and not just come up with standards that are barely good enough.

Worth checking out the video.

There were also reports from the various committees with a lot of progress being made in the last year.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Public Healthcare

Quite a few visual effects artists are freelance. They work from project to project. Some are contractors. Even when working at large VFX companies there are frequently large gaps when there is no work and the artist will be unemployed. Since there are no VFX unions there are none of the benefits of having united support. A few categories are covered under unions (modelmakers of physical models, matte artists and possibly a couple of others) but typically none of the CG areas are covered. I'm in the cinematographer's union (since I started before the days of digital I dealt with cameras) but some of the large studios refuse to recognize this since there's no official 'vfx supervisor' position listed by the union.

The problem here is trying to maintain health coverage in a field that has constantly changing amount of work and where most of the work is based project by project. That's why the Hollywood unions were set up to help artists working on films deal with things like health care, overtime and working environment. Studios are big businesses and as such they will try to save a dime where ever possible.

Fortunately the Visual Effects Society has signed up to the same health plan as the Producers Guild. So if you're a member of the VES it may be a little easier or cheaper to get health coverage than before.

However everyone in the US should be taking a look at the health care discussion. The US is the only industrial nation without some type of national health care support. The public supports schools, libraries, medicare and other things but the health of the people is not a priority. If you've had to pay for health insurance or medical care it's clear that the current system is very broken. The health insurance companies and the drug companies are making a mint off everyone.


Public Healthcare Video

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Visual Effects Producer Book

This was written by Charles Finance and Susan Zwerman, both with the VIsual Effects Society.
Susan is also one of the editors of the VES Handbook that is in progress.

If you're interested in visual effects producing this is the book. Covers primarily the budgeting, scheduling and workflow issues but also covers basics of the technical issues along with pros and cons. 377 pages



Update:
Another book to check out is The VES Handbook of Visual Effects which was released end of July 2010.  More info.