Friday, June 29, 2007

More on VFX Time Crunch

has a follow up to the Variety article on the crushing post-production schedules for visual effects. This was touched on in my Wasting Time post.

The problem here is the studios are making very expensive movies and want to reduce the amount of time they’re paying interest on what is essentially a huge loan. Since they can’t shoot in any less time, especially with a lot of locations and stunts, the burden falls to post-production and primarily to visual effects.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact visual effects are now the fix-it step for the filmmakers. During the course of production it’s now common for those involved to pass their problems off to the visual effects team.

“We don’t have time to move that big crane in the background.”
“Do we have to move that 12 by 12 silk? Can’t you just paint it out?”
Speaking about a large object in the middle of the shot “Would it help if we painted it green?”
“We don’t have the right eye contacts. You’ll have to fix it.”
“We haven’t decided what location this scene plays in so we’ll have to shoot it bluescreen and figure it out later.”
“It’s not working so you guys will have to fix it later. We don’t have time to do fix it now.” (Referring to a stunt, prop or practical special effects)
“You guys can remove the (rain, snow, sun, shadows, etc) right?”
“We can’t afford to do that as planned. (alternate: We don’t have time to do that.) You’ll have to do in post.”
“Isn’t that easy to do? You have computers. It’s got to be a touch of a button now a days.”
“It was never built to do that. You guys will have to make that part move.”
“I know we promised to never to look that way but that’s how it goes.”
“You’ll have to extend the top and bottom of set since they didn’t get the larger stage.”

All of these would be funny if they weren’t real quotes from a shooting set. The VFX supervisor and producer raise the issues (cost, time, quality) frequently onto deaf ears.

Everyone from the production designer to the wig person to the production manager may pass their time or budget limitations to the visual effects people. In the end they come out looking like heroes for finishing on time and budget. Some of the production people even get bonuses for accomplishing this. Unfortunately the buck stops at the door to the visual effects team. There’s no one we can pass the problem on to. Also note that any budget or time savings production gets from doing this is not passed on the visual effects budget. Ultimately it comes out of the same overall budget but for accounting reasons their separate.

Months later when some of production people see the final shots they will have forgotten that they didn’t allow time to shoot that sequence correctly or that you saved their production schedule.

So at this point the visual effects supervisor has to explain to his vfx team and the studio vfx producer they now have another 100-200 shots to do and the pre-planning that was done for some sequences was tossed out and will now have to be done using plates that were shot in the worst conditions. (such as FG bluescreen with fictional lighting and angles to match BG plates done later) Personally I push for less shots done well than a lot of shots done poorly.

As long as the studios make money on the films under compressed time constraints and qulaity isn't the highest thing on the directo's list they will continue to compress the schedules more and more.
It won’t surprise me in the next 2 years if a big tentpole vfx film has to have its release date postponed or to be released with major vfx problems clearly evident to average the audience. And of course the visual effects people will be to blame.

Should the visual effects people be the ones to bare the brunt of the studio money and time issues and be forced to sacrifice their time and family life?

The reason most of us got into visual effects was to create great work and because it was fun. If that’s now boiling down to trying to crank out as much work as possible with lower quality the fun factor will certainly be gone.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Visual Effects Schools

[For anyone considering visual effects school please check out this article:
VFX in Los Angeles – 100 hour weeks & homeless  Puts things in perspective. ]

For those with questions about possible schools for visual effects I've had no direct experience with visual effects classes but thought I'd list a few here.
I know there are quite a few others world-wide so don't look at this list as the only available source of training.
(Note that I'm not making any endorsements - good or bad)

As I note in my VFX Career posting/podcast you don't necessarily have to go to an official school to work in visual effects.

[Update: I urge you to first check out the VFX Career posting if you haven't already. Is Visual Effects truly what you want to do and are you willing to do the work and accept the risk? Getting a job and keeping employed in VFX is not easy. Many schools (including for profit vfx schools) continue to pump out many more graduates than the vfx industry can hire. And a lot depends on timing and where you are located.

Important: Do not go into massive debt to get schooling for visual effects. School itself is a good thing but these days many people are racking up huge debts of $60,000 or more and not finding a job afterward. There are no guarantees of jobs from any school. The competition is stiff. If you just wish to be educated regarding just visual effects there are alternatives. Books, DVDs, online, etc.]

Update 6/26/2013 Don't go to art school

[Update: 7-21-12 NBC recently did an investigation into For Profit Schools, among those was Art Institute.  Here's the video.  Many For Profit Schools focus on signing up as many students as possible without regard to how suitable those students are. They're push the students to get government loans to pay for the schools at at very high cost. End result is the students go greatly into debt and may not be able to get the jobs as expected. The interest rates can be very high so they end yup paying the rest of their lie and ruining their lives. And NBC has an article how student loans mimic the housing collapse in this article here.  The key issue here is to know what you're getting into.  Visual Effects companies do not require degrees for most positions. They require people who know what they are doing and can do it well. As mentioned consider lower cost alternatives if you don't plan to go to a full college (or have finished college) and certainly if you can't afford to pay $100,000 or more for school. There are qualified online classes much cheaper.

Here's photo of a poster at a high school:

Another article on for profit schools

[Update: 12-21-13 


It's important to check the range and detail of classes they offer.
How much hands on experience do the teachers have?
How much hands on experience do the student get?
Do you want a full college experience (along with a degree) or do you want more of a technical school?
Do they have internships at companies or any placement services?

Make sure to do a search for reviews and opinions of others.

Of course there are universities and colleges expanding their film classes
to include some visual effects and animation classes.
The range and depth of classes at these film schools may not be as great as some of the others.
Chapman University
Sheridan Institue

I do know people who teach or run some of the programs at the following schools:
Savannah College of Art and Design
School of Visual Arts
Academy of Art
Gnomon 3D
Expression College

Others I've seen advertised:

Vancouver Film School

[Update 8/24/2012 based on info from some recruiters regarding current full schools.
These are some of the key physical schools they find good potential employees.
Please note that these aren't the only schools with good programs but tend to produce more students suitable to different areas.
In no particular order:

Technical Directors, R&D and pipeline development:
University of PA, Carnegie MellonTexas A&MOhio State, Univ of Toronto

Character animation, visual development, story, modeling:
San Jose State (very good), RinglingCal ArtsArt Center Pasadena, Goeblins (for non-US companies )

Schools that aren't as specialized
SVA, SCAD, Art Academy SF, Sheridan, Filmakademie (for non-US companies )

Companies also tend to cover local colleges if they provide reasonable education.

For online classes: - Inexpensive. Good for started class on a wide range of things -Photoshop, Nuke, Photography, Editing, etc. (Lynda worked for me at Dream Quest heading up the animation department. For $25 a month you get a lot of value for your money.)

Gnomon - They have both a physical school and online school

fxphd  - Nuke, Mari, Fusion, Silhouette, Maya, DSLR storytelling, Supervising, etc.  Very in-depth classes specializing in visual effects.  I recently was involved in a class they did on practical effects and visual effects.

Digital Tutors is a another site that does online Vfx training. Here's their post about demo reels.

New one:  Technical Director U. Lighting, compositing, rigging. Future matte ptg, storyboards, cloth, etc.

Stan Winston School - Focuses on character and creature design. Includes CG and practical markup class.

Video Copilot - After Effects online tutorials

From Readers:
Another school to add to your list is, an online character animation school where all the teachers a working studio animators. Check it out on the web. The school has had great success placing students--more then 50% graduate to studio animation jobs.

For online VFX learning (or in site if you are in San Francisco) i´d also add , run by ex-ILM-er Alex Lindsay.

Another great site for online VFX learning is PixelboxAcademy.Net. I am enrolled on their 'VFX Compositing' online course and it's being really cool.

An excellent online VFX training school/community i highly recommend is fxphd.
They offer excellent courses and acces to high quality footage for a low price.

And there are a wealth of DVDs and Books available. Do an internet search or check the Effects Corner Store.

Another view on VFX schools from vfxhack VFX School Confidential.

Update 8/3/2010
Some other schools have been added to comments since this was first posted so I'm adding those along with a few other notes.

Just a reminder that these days VFX can be a difficult area to find work, especially consistent work.  Much also depends where you live.  Do a reality check by checking the various vfx company websites and vfx recruiting sites to see what types of jobs are available, where they are and what the requirements are.

The National Film & Television School in the UK ( runs an MA programme for both SFX/VFX and Digital Post Production, both of which are tutored by current industry practitioners and have an excellent employment record for graduates.

There’s a new VFX school in UK set up by a leading VFX company. They have produced visual effects for films like Da Vinci Code and Batman and they are currently working on Shahrukh Khan’s Ra. One, so you can’t get more qualified then that. Best of all, they are based in Pinewood Studios, home of James Bond and so many other big screen movies. Check out the website,

There's also Escape Studios in the UK that offers VFX classes (including online).

From 10-14-2011

I was wanting to know if you could add Lost Boys Learning. They are a superior VFX School in Vancouver Canada.

Also look at some of the Almuni reels at

From 3-12-2012 - General film production


From 11-07-12
CG Masters  Vancouver Canada visual effects school


If you're a member of VES they have an arrangement with so check the VES website.

Please note I haven't dealt with any of these directly as a student so PLEASE do a full search yourself on the internet for reviews and be sure to do a full check of any company offering training.  I know that someone posted a complaint on one of my YouTube videos about a school or two that specifically focuses on VFX saying they were now greatly in debt.  Some of these places are very expensive, especially if you're focusing on one aspect and not a full college degree.  

Is it worth it?  Can you learn more on your own with books and other training materials? Is online training as good?  All of this depends on your current level and how you personally learn the best.
Sometimes it's best to have someone leading you by the hand at least to start so you can interact and ask questions as you proceed.  Other times if you're already know the basics you may find it just easy to follow another source of information.

My first suggestion would be to pickup a basic book on the subject you're interested in.  Assuming it's a reasonable book it should be useful as a reference even if you decide to take classes.  Most software companies offer free trail versions or possibly a personal version.  There are also a great number of online tutorials, including at the software company site and other places to get you started.  That should allow you to get at least a handle of what you're dealing with.  If it's way too over your head then you may need to back up to more fundamental things or you should probably consider some type of class - in person or online.  One of the other problems with learning on your own is you may develop gaps in your knowledge and you don't get the feedback.  It's also not a structured learning process so some students may have issues if they're not in a traditional class format.

Some people learn best by actually seeing the steps being taken as opposed to just reading about them.  This probably applies to most visual artists.

In person classes have the advantage that you have an instructor who you can ask questions and critique your work. Classes also have other students who you can work and network. Possibly handy in the future.  These classes can be expensive, especially if you have to travel.

Online classes - If it's an online interactive class then you can ask questions and get feedback.

If the online class is prerecorded then it's similar to a DVD class.  The advantage is you can do it on your own schedule - home from work, compressing the time, expanding the time, etc.  The disadvantage is no interaction with the instructor.  

Other things to look for in schools-
What type of real world experience do the instructors have?  The flip side is that not all professionals are not good teachers.

Is there a forum you can interact with other students, even if it's for a prerecorded online class or DVD. 
Does the instructor visit these forums.

Does the school offer a real placement program? 
Do vfx companies actively recruit from the school?
It can be difficult to get honest answers at times to even these basic questions.

Be realistic about what you plan to get out of any education.
A 3 day bootcamp is unlikely to provide as much information and feedback as a 12 week seminar.

As noted earlier in this posting be sure to check out another view on VFX schools from vfxhack VFX School Confidential.

Tom Cruise list of schools, companies and other info

Believe me,  you don't want to see most vfx artists stripping.

Related post:  Price of a VFX Education 

Update 3/22/2011
VFX School on Facebook (I know nothing about it but thought I'd add the link here)

[Update: 5/3/2012  Be aware of schools that charge you to learn and require you to work for free such as Digital Domain Media is proposing.  Also be aware some internships are simply non-paid jobs whcih are illegal. More on internships. ]

And please read VFX Career posting if you haven't already. It will prepare you for the real world of visual effects.

Also please check the comments below for more feedback and responses.

Also related: Getting  A Visual Effects Job
Visual Effects Positions
What makes a good visual effects artist?

Update 6-11-2013 new post
Sad State of Visual Effects Industry

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Time's a wasting

Click on the Post title above to go to the Variety article on the time the studios allow for VFX on feature films.

Some film producers like to brag how little time they have and how close they came to finishing right before the release of the last movie. Personally I look at that as a sign of poor planning.

What the article doesn't really address much is the difference between planned and unplanned work. If you have 3-4 months of post time but it's all prepped and ready to go (models are built, R&D done, concepts are done,locked sequences from editorial, etc) then you have a fighting chance of getting good work done. Unfortuantely if the entire film edit is being revised on a daily basis and there are major concepts (look of creature, key effects, etc) that the director still hasn't nailed down, then it's going to be a rough ride. It gets worse if the studio decides they want to have creative control in the last 2 or 3 months.

The studios first lock in a release date and then drag their feet on giving the final approvals. Many of the production departments and shooting schedules continue as always so the post production phase is where things are compressed.

With the increase in number of vfx shots and the complexity of shots the studios and directors end up hurting their own product. Time = quality. With vfx there's a direct correlation in most cases between the quality of the work and the amount of time available to adjust the shot. Note that this applies to shooting schedules as well, that's why most features aren't shot in 2 weeks. Compressing the schedule may reduced the post production overhead but the cost in overtime and the cost of throwing everything at it (including many new shops and people) surpasses these by an order of magnitude. And studios wonder why vfx cost as much as they do. If you have 100 people at a vfx vender who now have to have 200 people working 90 hour weeks to complete the changes on time it's going to cost more.

At the end of the day the less time the studios provide the higher the cost and the lower the product quality.
It takes a strong director and producer to get the work done correctly in a time or budget limited way.

Related post
VFX Schedules

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Visual Effects Festival

If you're in the LA area the Visual Effects Society Festival starts Thursday night and runs through Sunday.

Click on the Post Title to go to their info page.

Spring cleaning

I'm doing a bit of adjustments to the blog as time permits to make it more useful.
On the left I've included permanent links to the main effects postings to make them easier to find.
I've put key tags to all (most?) so you can click on the tags at the bottom of a post and it will display related postings.
There also some more crew gear and additions to the book lists.