Friday, May 14, 2010

VFX Wages

One of the issues discussed in relationship to the town hall meetings (besides hours worked) is the wage issue.

Certainly a number of people who search visual effects on the web are looking for salaries.

Salaries for VFX vary a lot.  Much depends on if you’re freelance or at a facility full time.  It of course also depends on where in the world you’re located.  Since there is no standard and no VFX union there is no minimum or set salary level or range.  There’s no actual criteria or testing for different levels of qualifications or pay levels.   Someone in the next cubicle could be paid twice as much as you and half the experience.  Most of the vfx companies try to maintain a range of salaries for different positions but if they’re in a bind on a project and have to rush to fill seats they can make some unbalanced employment agreements.

To become a VFX supervisor you could just make up cards and call yourself that.  A supervisor could make minimum wage at some tiny place in the middle of nowhere doing all the work themselves or they could be making what a Director of Photography makes on a large project.

Check on Craig’s List.  There are plenty of vfx jobs that pay nothing except possible credit on short film.

There is a site:  vfxwages.com where people can enter their salaries so you can see the values.  This allows you to be aware of what others are being paid for similar work.

[Update: glassdoor is another site that provides some wage information sharing and company reviews.
VFXSoldier has a post and link to salary listings as well. Click here for the link.]

At first glance these salaries can look high and be very promising but consider a few things:

1. Most vfx jobs are ultimately freelance.  It’s possible you may keep working a few years at a larger company but just as possible they have a slow summer and you could be laid off for 6 months.  Even at the large companies they tend to lay off large numbers of people every year and re-hire as the work comes in. Companies tend to show much less loyalty to their employees than the employees show to the company.

This is also the reason why most of those in the film business are paid higher than the equivalent person might be in another business. They may be employed for a week and then may get another project immediately or wait weeks/months until the next project comes along.  There’s always the need to hustle to get your next project  and unknown when it will happen.  Many freelance VFX supervisors have agents.   Although not the norm some Flame operators and other vfx artists have agents as well.  This can be useful if they do a lot of short term freelance type of work.  Of course the agents are looking for someone already established that could easily be hired on a project. An agent takes 10% so that's worth considering.

2. You’ll have to go to where the jobs are.  That means moving to a city.  For those in the U.S. it may mean going to another country to work.  (I’ll cover globalization in a future posting)

3. These listings tend to be for experienced people.  If you’re just starting out you’ll likely start at a lower amount.  Also know there aren’t enough jobs for all the VFX students that various schools are producing  and here in the U.S., more of the starter positions may be outsourced.

4. These jobs may or may not include health insurance (and certainly different levels of coverage) or any forms of retirement.   Even if they do include these you may have to work a few months to qualify.  If the project is only 4 months of work but it takes 3 months to qualify it doesn’t really provide much.

5. Most VFX companies are located in cities where the cost of living is much higher.  (Housing, insurance, transportation, etc)  A house in LA can be 5 times the cost of the same house in the Midwest.  Quality of living also plays a role since you may be spending another 2 hours a day on the road in some places in addition to the long hours.

(Just added these last items since I missed them in the first posting)
6. What are the hours and is overtime being paid and if so how is it calculated?  Some positions and companies may not pay any overtime but expect employees to work it for free or for the same amount as their regular time.  Only local laws may provide some relief here.

7. Be aware that some companies hire vfx artists as independent contractors.  As such you aren't covered by any many of the laws that protect individuals (overtime, time spent, salary, health coverage, etc)
As a contractor you also need to deal with a lot of paperwork for the federal, state and city governments including paying all taxes and having your own insurance.  Hiring people as independent contractors is usually cheaper and easier for the vfx company and puts much more of a burden on the the artist.

Update:
Another link worth checking:  Wages in vfx, animation and games

For wages for vfx supervisors see this posting and go to the very end.

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