Tuesday, May 01, 2012

What happened?

What happened?

A week or two ago the LA Time ran an article on some of the problems of the visual effects industry. It covered someone who had been in visual effects for awhile and wanted things as bold as health care insurance (you know, that thing that comes with most full time jobs). The amount of overtime, it’s difficulty on workers physically and the need to keep finding work to help pay for things (like health care) were also among the topics.

And anytime someone who has been working in this industry for awhile speaks out there are always detractors. In forums where this issue was discussed young people who are in this industry always asked “what happened to all the money this experienced person had been paid?”  "Why don't they just quit?" And I’ve talked to a few of these people. They think, ‘wow, visual effects pay is nice. Anybody who works a long time has got to be rolling in money. Rich, rich, rich. As in taking a personal helicopter to their yacht to go to their private island where their pet pandas eat caviar out of golden bowl, rich’. Well maybe not that rich but certainly the feeling is these people should have been able to stash away millions and be able to retire with no cares.

Young people myths
1. You will create, discover or invent the next Facebook and be a multi-billionaire by the time you’re 30. It was a million when I started but hey, inflation.
2. You will be a rock legend playing to millions of fans.
3. You will always be in high demand for your visual effects skills and always be offered work. Certainly aways able to work as much as you like.
4. Companies will have bidding wars just to have you join their projects.
5. You will have your choice of projects and will be able to pick the coolest ones.
6. You will always be paid more on each project.
7. The expenses you have at 23 will be the same expenses throughout your life.
8. You will have perfect health for your entire life.
9. You’ll never make any bad decisions.
10. It’s easy to save and hey, you’ll start saving more as soon as you buy the latest xbox game and your new car and that other thing you just have to have.

When you start out you’re single and have little needs and certainly minimal commitments. I was surveyed when working on Close Encounters about how much I spent on groceries per week. I answered less than $10. 1 gallon of milk and a box of cereal and I was set for breakfast and dinner. Fast food for lunch. I took a bus to work for little transportation costs. (2 hrs bus to travel what would have taken 20 minute by car) Later I bought a bike and then later a car. Unfurnished apartments saw a bed, chair, basic desk and tv. These days you’d probably add in a computer and video game box. You can always have roommates. So to a young person with very modest real expenses, the pay of visual effects is fantastic. They can buy and indulge in whatever they want. After all, they’ll be doing this for years.

It’s easy to get in the mindset that the work will always continue and to spend it as if you’re a full time staff employee. You’ve worked hard for your money and see no problem with splurging at times on the things you want. You can’t even wrap your head around the idea of retirement plans since that seems so distant. At 23 you’re fine making work the highest priority.

But then you grow up. Maybe get married. The desire to get a little nicer place and actually buy furniture and framed pictures along with real dishes and silverware. All this stuff starts to add up quickly, especially if you’ve never priced it. Maybe move up from a few pairs of jeans and show t-shirts to real clothing.

You may have children and before you know it you have a couple of cars to pay for along with a house mortgage and other expenses. You now have a lot of bills to pay per month. Don’t forget that costs (housing, food, clothing, etc) tend to rise faster than your wages actually do so it will cost you more. And there’s always added unexpected expenses. Your car breaks down and needs repairs, your house needs some work done, your child needs braces.  If you have children you’ll probably want them to attend college. It currently costs around $100,000 or so to send one child to college. How much will it cost 20 years from now? What if you have three children? But of course you’ll be so rich by then  money will be no object.

Right now you may be easily going from project to project. You’re moving up through the ranks. You’re the hot shot guy or gal. But that winning streak will not last forever. That 9 month project you’ve signed on for just got yanked by the client. You turned down a job last week because you had this project lined up. Now that job you had turned down is gone as well. You find yourself without a project for 6 months. Do you take a lavish vacation during this downtime? How’s your high wages looking now that they’ve been cut in half?

You have a buddy at another company but that company has gone out of business so now there are even more people like you looking for work. The studios have cut back on making films. The tax incentives in your area are cut back. The tax incentives have increased elsewhere. The studios and companies have discovered yet a new location with lower labor costs. The works drying up at least for the time being.

A company tells you they can’t pay your going rate.They underbid a project and can’t afford to make the project they have agreed to do for the price they agreed on. Company management decision. Sorry. Take it or leave it. You have years of experience and can make it worth their while but they’re offering you 1/2 of what you’ve been paid. Oh and they require 80 hours weeks, no overtime. Can you wait it out and find other work nearby? Are you willing to leave your family and move around the world to work?

You interview at another company. They’re looking for someone who has experience in this new thing that was just announced yesterday and they require people who’ve already done 5 projects in it. Impossible but they persist. You’re experienced in a lot of things but they think this is so new how could you possibly grasp this new concept. They say they can get 2 young people for your cost and simply have the department head guide them. And these hip new people will obviously have lots of great ideas. The idea that they will be making a lot of mistakes and lack the experience never dawns on the company since many of them have been moved into management positions without experience or knowledge.

Your career, like your job, will likely be feast or famine. You will have lows and you will have highs. One thing you likely won’t have is consistency. I know people who worked at ILM over 20 years that are laid off for 6 months or more at a time with no definitive date to restart. All because the sales people and management there couldn’t get projects in. And that happens at every visual effects company.

And that money you’ve been saving? Now you have to start spending it to cover all of your expenses since they don’t stop.

Life happens
You make a lot of plans and have set a course for your future but something always comes up. Many things are out of your control. Many times due to random issues or small minded management. If you saw the movie UP (spoiler alert) you saw how their plans for a family changed. You saw how their plans for the ultimate trip were always thwarted by one thing after another. The time flies by.  Real life is like that. To quote John Lennon “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

What seems to be crystal clear black and white issues to the young turn into shades of gray with multiple view points for those experienced in living life.

Your time
You like to boast of the number of hours you worked the week before. Shows just how tough and how committed you are. You and your friends compare number of hours worked like bikers compare scars. That’s what makes you great. The number of hours you worked. And certainly the company will respect you and rehire you since you worked so many extra hours for them. Oops. Turns out the company doesn’t care. They now require everyone to work extra hours. Well those older workers complaining are just whiners. You’re much tougher than that. Besides in a few years you’ll be so rich by then money will be no object.

As time marches on you actually want to spend some time now at home. And you realize that your children only grow up once and most of that happens while you’re at work. That 4 or more extra hours you spend working per day more than your neighbor and those weekends may not be so wonderful then. Maybe you get overtime pay but that doesn’t begin to pay for the loss of seeing your spouse or children at a certain point. Your priorities change and you want to balance work and life.

Do you think your company will be willing to employ you for normal (non-vfx) hours? What leverage would you have to work less hours? After all, the rest of the crew is being forced to put in 60-80+ hr weeks so you feel compelled to do the same. Well it was a good idea while it lasted. And your spouse can always take photos at your daughters birthday party you missed (again).

Health care
Most young people don’t understand the big deal about health care. The astronomical costs of the care and insurance have little bearing on them because at that point they’re in perfect health. Believe me, that can change in a moment. You slip off your skateboard or have some strange pain in the middle of the night. An overnight stay in the hospital can set you back over $20,000. An appendicitis could cost you $135,000. Do you have enough money saved to cover those types of emergencies? Even if you have insurance you have to cover at least 20% and have deductibles. The insurance companies know the odds and they always win. You could be diagnosed with a chronic illness (even in your 20's) and forever be labeled as an existing condition. Your health insurance costs will skyrocket at that point, if you can find coverage. What if you hurt your hand and can’t work for 6 months? Many insurance plans don’t cover disabilities or job loss.

And if you have a family any of these things could happen to someone you love. Most of the foreclosures in this country happen due to medical expenses. And most of those are by people who were covered by insurance or thought they were covered more than they were. The insurance companies have plenty of outs to minimize their payouts.

But hey, it’s you. You’ll never have these problems.

What about your parents and siblings? Are they going to remain in perfect health and do they have enough saved to cover themselves? What about retirement homes at some point for your parents or someone you love? Currently they run $3,000 to $6,000 a month in LA. They can be over $10,000 a month for skilled nursing. How much will it be when that happens? But of course you’ll be so rich by then money will be no object.

Many jobs have pension funds. Visual effects do not. How much money will you have saved for retirement? Will your social security cover you in your retirement? The average person doesn’t save much for retirement since other things were always a priority and used up the money. Can you live the manner you are now for the next 30 years without working or being paid?

Joe Harkin had an issue with joining the union originally since he didn’t think he should contribute into a pension pool that others would be using. That process is similar to any type of insurance. You pay money in every month for health insurance, car insurance, house insurance, etc. Rates are based on the number of people paying in. The insurance companies have done the math and it’s simply a matter of the odds that something will happen to any of these people. If you’re fortunate never having to need it you may think why should I bother. The day you’re hospitalized is the day you will be thankful that so many have contributed as well that it will help cover those who drew the short straw through no fault of their own. If you pay into the pension the idea is you will be able to access the funds set aside for you if the fund has been properly managed and the corporations don’t force it to be closed so they can make even more profits.

But you’re tough and smart. You’re going to go it alone. Skip that insurance and pension stuff. That’s for suckers. It's a dog eat dog world and you're not about to contribute to something that may benefit someone else and you certainly wouldn't want people to contribute to help you. People should not be banding together to help each other. You should grow all your own food, build your own roads and learn medicine so you don't need any health care.

You’ll be loaded with so much money from all your savings that it will cover anything that could possibly happen.

Decisions and savings
It’s certainly easy enough to make bad decisions in life. Some seem like good decisions at the time. Things change. Many things out of your control. That house you bought and still owe money on is now worth less than half because of the housing bust but you still have to pay the entire amount to the bank.

For those who made solid investments in stocks, bonds and other instruments that have long been reliable investments - the tech bubble happened in 2000 and wiped out a number of retirement funds and other savings. In 2008 the Wall Street bankers directly caused the destruction of the world economy. That wasn’t your fault but you’re the one that will be paying for it the rest of your life. So 75% of this careful scrimping and saving is gone in an instant. Was that part of your plan? What will happen when the next one happens and how much will you lose? But of course you’ll be so rich by then money will be no object.  For more info on the current economy and why this happened click here.

Unions are made up of communists and caused the downfall of the American auto industry, which has to be true because you read that somewhere on the internet. Hey, you’re an artist, not a mechanic. You can look after yourself and don’t need a union. Unions are for slackers, whiners and old-timers who can’t make the grade.  If they don’t like it they can quit. Switching to a different career is easy. After all there must be a large call for Maya animators or Nuke compositors in other industries. Those people working next to you who have been doing this for years? Their problems aren’t your problems. (not yet) You’ll be immune to all of those problems. All those others union members working in the film industry (directors, writers, actors, cinematographers, etc) are all suckers. You’ll show them by working unpaid overtime, going without continuous health insurance, no pension plan, and no profit participation. Yeah, you’ll show them how it should be done. You’re obviously a lot smarter than all of those people combined.

If you don’t like what a company offers or what they’re doing you’ll tell them and they will simply bow to your suggestion. If that doesn’t work, and why wouldn’t it, then you can always quit. There’s plenty of work always out there. What’s the big deal? And of course you’ll be so rich by then money will be no object.

Starting in visual effects
Anyone considering going into visual effects should understand what it involves and what the trade-offs you’re making. You will have to go from project to project, company to company. This is a world of freelance. There are no guarantees. There will be times where you will be unemployed. You will have to work hard. You will be asked to work ridiculous hours at times. You may or may not have health insurance where you work. You may or may not be paid overtime. You’re the only one looking out for yourself. The company will not be looking out for you.

Many young people graduate from some schools with the entire notion that they now deserve a job, no matter how good they actually are. They expect their professors to set up their interviews and help them get their job. They feel a sense of entitlement. They did the school and now it should simply rain money and fun projects. Some students focus on the notion that they will graduate and fill a visual effects supervisor role without the mess of having to do that hands on stuff. They’re busy looking up wages of visual effects supervisors on the internet without considering what the job actually entails. They think whatever they’ve learned and where ever they learned it will be more than sufficient to jump in the deep end on a show in full speed mode. They consider many job categories as being beneath them. These people will be very disappointed. School cannot teach you experience. You will learn an enormous amount on each project you work on and that experience is what helps you become a better visual effects artist.

If you’re doing this for the money you’ll be disappointed. If you don’t love doing visual effects and being interested in absorbing the experience and knowledge of working on different projects you should consider going into some other industry.

But hey, it’s you. The world will recognize your genius and none of any of this will affect you.

Life happens. Sh*t happens. It happens to one and all. The world is not a video game. You control what you can and you do the best you can with life as it comes. Don’t judge others based on your ignorance. You don’t know their story or what they’ve had to deal with. Show some compassion.

Really think about your future. Pensions, 401k, health care, family time, etc are not things that should be considered 10 years from now. Do you plan to work at just one company for your entire life? Will they be able to keep you busy and not have to lay you off for 6 months or more at a time? Will they even be in business for the next 40 years? Will all companies you are going to work for going to be well organized and only make smart decisions? Are all companies you work for going to  consider your needs? How are you going to have health care coverage as you go from company to company? How are you going to have a pension plan as you move from company to company? How are you going to make sure you’re paid overtime when you are working?

At some point you’re going to have to seriously look at a union and what it offers. Oh that’s right, you’ll be so rich by then money will be no object.

[Update: Just to be clear some of the this was meant as obvious tongue and cheek. Humorous exaggeration to make a point. It seems it may not have been obvious to a few people and they're taking some of this as a personal attack on them personally or think that others may take offense(?!) A sense of humor is very useful in visual effects.]

Forbes article 20 things for 20 year olds


  1. AnonymousMay 01, 2012

    I graduated from a well established school with good links to industry. I have no interest in working for VFX given the working conditions. I'd rather work retail, at least then I'll get a home life.

  2. 5 years ago I went to art school "late" in life at the ripe old age of 29, having realized I want to be a 3D artist in the VFX industry. I started by looking at salaries and job titles to see what is viable. 4 years ago I started university, retraining through the age of 30 in a classroom of younger people. The expectations of the industry were fed by recruitment people that visited the university and networking events. Shiny reels are aimed at them with promises of how cool it is to work for their company, plus their desires for a showreel. As students, we visited the studios and asked questions. Before graduating, I had learned from artists currently at those companies how long the hours are and the net reflected a commonality of sentiment: you will get no reward, do it for love not for money and save all the money you earn-you'll need it when a project ends. Now almost a year after graduating and having been a runner for a Dneg that it is just like that. Only I don't think artists usually get time to spend their money anyway. I think sleep pods are in order. Not every grad or entry level artist is a "young person", which makes me feel old at 33; and I'm not-not that it should be a bad thing! Universities are just as guilty of glamorizing a career in VFX. Anyone with internet access these days will have a picture of what it is like working in VFX if they care to look. I especially have yourself to thank for your diligent articles. I came into this prepared and I was asking about unionization pre-graduation. Thank you!

  3. Very well said Scott, great job.

  4. Matt MosesMay 01, 2012

    Kinda sobering.. maybe too much doom and gloom (could make newcomers think it too gloomy to be true?) There is a lot of money being made as a result of the work vfx'ers do, at cost, yet most of the work is un-necessary... it's effects that were not asked for by audiences.. we've given away the goods. I now have a set of skills that do not really translate into value anywhere else - at 43 yrs old... and I am watching this big ship sail away. However, I'd probably swim out to it again and jump onboard if I knew there would be standard benefits and protections enjoyed by my friends in other industries.

    Good post!

  5. Well said Scott, I think every single graduate needs to read this ASAP.

  6. Jessica Lohse said.. Not every grad or entry level artist is a "young person"

    I'm fine with people starting in this industry later in life. And that's why this is more focused on the young since as you experience life many of these issues become more evident.

    Being young and naive is not necessarily a bad thing. I started a vfx company with others at the age of 23. You might not do many things if you always knew all the facts.

    However I see some people with such a black and white perspective and such a 'I know everything' attitude without the knowledge or the experience to back it up that I have to call it out.

    Matt Moses said... "Kinda sobering.. maybe too much doom and gloom (could make newcomers think it too gloomy to be true?) "

    It's not meant as a doom and gloom tale.

    Some of these issues aren't even specific to visual effects and do apply to other jobs.

    I think potential vfx artists should go into this with eyes wide open. Beyond the creative and the technical aspects everyone focuses on are the business aspects (both personal and company). There's also the working conditions.

    I don't think they should be putting in a lot of time, effort and money (going into debt) and be surprised when they finally enter the industry.

    The various schools (especially the for-profit) and some books gloss over these issues and do their best to sell the notion of rainbows. You need to love the process, warts and all, in it's current form if you're to survive.

    If you enter into this business now you have to be aware of the competition and the prospect of employment.

    There are some good places that do minimize overtime and some of the other problems. But these tend to be the minority.

    Hiding their heads in the sand will not accomplish anything. If the majority of visual effects workers said let's put some time and effort improving the situation then you'd have something and maybe a better future.

  7. While reading this I asked myself where do I fall. Scott does paint a dark picture here, but guess what its accurate. I love this industry and sometimes wonder why Im still doing it.

    Its true the new people (not necessary the young people) will always see you as weak or whiner but I can live with that.

    We need to stand up together and make this industry livable for us AND the youngsters!

  8. AnonymousMay 01, 2012

    An Academy Award winning visual effects artist, I left the VFX industry after working for 10 years. Things started out great. Wages were good, projects in LA were plenty, etc. Then it started.

    Digtal paint work was outsourced. Roto was outsourced. Then matchmove. Blue and green screen work was outsourced. Then smaller and less complicated, entire projects were sent overseas. Branch offices started to open for tax incentives and their crew numbers started growing. The companies lured people to move to these new locations where many bought new homes, moved their families only to find out a few years down the road this new and exciting tax-incentive-based location is being shut down in order to open up in another state or country, etc.

    I thank the universe I did not "major" in visual effects. After graduating, you are guaranteed to make bargain basement wages because entry level work is done in Korea and India anyway.

    So, I made the decision to quit sooner than later in order to get my life back on track to where I was before I started my VFX career which was after I had worked in the computer industry for 8 years.

    Would I do it again? Yes, but I would have quit a lot sooner.

  9. AnonymousMay 01, 2012

    It's no picnic owning a facility either, with paper-thin margins, no residuals, no economies of scale, fixed bids, low production volumes and other facilities in places where the government pays producers not to give you the job. It's getting bad and even some of the artists are becoming evil in response. We recently had a clique of freelancers pissed off that we weren't letting them work any OT they wanted try get even by loading up a bunch of workstations with pirated software, movies and music, then turning us in to the BSA for a reward. They might have gotten away with it if they hadn't also stolen a laptop.

  10. Well it's time for a Vfx trade association so that companies can raise their business models. The industry is unbalanced and some the companies are making the situation worse.

    In terms of artists make the terms clear from the beginning.

  11. Im 15 years old and I have been looking into VFx (you know, searching up courses, tutorials, reading articles) and i was that guy that was searching up the VFX Supervisor Salary haha, and after reading this, I got a reality check THANK YOU! But I actually still want to pursue this dream I have been having. Whenever I go to movies and I see all these VFX Im like, WOW! This is something I really want to be able to make, I want to be able to give people this feeling of realism, and have them say it was amazing. That is just a short breif of why (i cant really put them out properly) but still I really cant wait! :) (ps any advise will be much appreciated)

  12. I went to VFX institute at the age of 28, ther were few guys young as 18 - 20 , and later when I started working , life is only better till you are learning after you step in a real studio , then its just work work and work, overtime. now I am 30+ had worked on dozen of movies in a very shot time.My desires are more than with what I can be satisfied of earning from the industry. I don't even get time except for few quacks on facebook...

  13. As usual you're hitting the nail right on the head, Scott.

    Never went into this industry for the money, if I was interested in money I'd have stayed in med school! But with the outsourcing and now the recent moves by DD to have 30% of their work force as students who are actually paying to work, it's getting ridiculous! I'm a somewhat late starter, but I really am a little dubious about being in a job for the first time that neither has a work pension plan or a union! I've been on strike in 2 other jobs though unions and they got results! We've really got nowhere to turn now.

    As for healthcare, the bloody drivers working on sets get healthcare! VFX is like the only part of the industry that gets nothing! It's appalling

    Unfortunately I see it more as American reluctance that's holding us back. I know lots of folk in the US that are rather selfishly opposed to national healthcare because their main issue is that they don't want to pay into a system that might never be needed by themselves. The same with unions, why pay for them if they might not be needed?

    The VFX industry is on a slippery slope right now and a union could help get it back on track, get laws in place. Like making it against regulations to be underpaid, or worse, PAYING to work! Stop DD's Textor's plans that will only further damage the industry! And then get all the laws in place that exist for film. You cannot shoot a movie in Canada with Americans in every role. The majority of the crew have to be Canadian, the extras Canadian, and only name actors can be non Canadian. To get more relatively unknown foreign actors is extremely difficult! This is the same for most countries, it helps comply with the tax credits issue as well as UNIONS helping to set the rules. If you shoot in one country, use that country's talent!

    So why not get similar rules set up for post work, make outsourcing less of an option! If you shoot in one country, you have to have a certain percentage of post work done in that country! Asia make a crap load of movies, effects are common in Bollywood films, and there's a million kung fu flicks that need loads of effects. We don't get any of that work outsourced here! If rules were set in place for this, then ALL bids would have to go up and stay in more reasonable areas, and underbidding can't be as extreme because there's far less options for the company to make up for losses by using outsourcing when there's regulations on amount allowed!

    Without a union this industry is sinking fast and it pains me how few see it!

  14. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    I was told by a recruiter at Sony that I was old at 35 to get a job at Sony! That was a while ago and they probably know now not to say such things.

    Don't forget that you will hit 40 and then 50 and it becomes harder to compete because companies think you want more money and that you don't have as much energy or will to put up with crap (also described as "passion" for your work).

    GOOD LUCK parlaying CG skills into some other money earning skill.

  15. AnonymousMay 03, 2012

    Thanks for this post, Scott. Every VFX student should read this BEFORE they start college. It's the kind of information that was truly lacking in my $120,000 worth of degrees (BS & MFA.) While I wouldn't change my life and my friends/loved ones that I've found along the way, I fit in exactly with your examples. I moved to England for the work and to be closer to my partner. That kind of move put me 10 grand in the hole, mostly due to the cost of setting up an apartment here in London and the fact that dollars to pounds isn't such a great ratio at the moment. I started a job that claimed it was comp, even had a two page description of my 2D compositing job, but as I sat down on the first day, I realize it was actually hired as a conversion artist. It was not a good day. So move to another company in London, right? Wrong, no one else would pay the same rate. Everyone undercut my salary by 6 to 12 grand and I would have had to move out of the newly leased flat (at an even greater expense) and into a smaller/shared apartment. I was screwed. Six months went by and I'd had enough of working Saturdays and no pay for the OT in a position that was hurting my career. I went to complain to artist management and made a deal, if I stayed, they would give me comp for the next project, but only after a forced 'using up' of all my holiday and time in lieu. All those Saturdays weren't really paid, I just got some time off when I'd rather have been comping on the next show. A month and a half into the comp project and they started letting people go because the actor wasn't available for reshoots. 7 of us were given notice and more followed every 2 weeks. At another VFX house, 80 compers were given notice due to the same project getting delayed at the exact same time we were getting laid off. Yes, I get to fly around the world and have adventures and at the very least, England has healthcare. But I would much, much rather settle in one location, in the good old US of A and start a family.

  16. Thanks for the note. I also recommend people read VFX Deal Memo Everyone should get a deal memo before signing on to a project so there's no confusion. Companies need to be much better about being up front about the jobs they are offering. There's nothing wrong doing comp work on conversion but it is different than comp work on a traditional film project. And that's why in the deal memo I suggest there may need to be qualifiers in the job title. Conversion compositor would be different than visual effects compositor. A character animator would be frustrated being hired as an animator only to find that they'll be doing rotomation. Make sure you get in writing the specifics, even beyond the 'job posting' as can be seen here.

    The UK has seen a huge growth in the amount of visual effects work due to combination of companies that do great work and major tax incentives the UK provides studios. The tax incentives give a huge advantage to securing work. And yet I continue to hear some of the same types of stories of worker issues and underbidding going on there, even with all the extra work. Companies there should be happy with the extra work. In some cases all the main UK companies have been booked solid for 2 or 3 years in advance. And yet some of these still don't treat their workers very well. Any US company would be jumping for joy to be booked 2-3 years in advance.

    Any company that isn't constantly struggling to get work in and is able to book solid work far in advance should be able to treat their workers with respect and should be focusing on building the best team they can. Without their workers all of these places have no value. Producers are starting to catch on that the great show on the company reel may have been done mainly by people who have left the company. And therefore it may be less than relevant to the project they're bidding now.

    And visual effects companies need to be smarter about contracts. If a client yanks work away with no notice, puts things on hold or makes major schedule or work changes, that should be covered in the contract. Continuing to lose money because of client changes is not a long term solution. It's not even a short term solution. It's a loss and will likely snowball.

    And as long as companies are more than happy to underbid work and end up paying the production to work on a film, the more the studios will continue to do this. Who can blame them? Visual effects companies have become the students of the film world. They're low cost, willing to do anything and in many cases are willing to pay to work.

    This underbidding does nothing to help the company, the people that work there or the visual effects industry. It simply causes a loss in value to all but the studios. The next year you and your competition will have to bid lower simply because one of the companies bid lower than it cost them the previous year. Many of these companies are dying a slow death even with tax incentives. And they're taking the workers with them.

  17. I started at DD in '93, and stayed with VFX until '08 when Sony finally cured me of any illusions I might still have retained prior to that point. I could see what the industry was becoming, and I left. It was a *lot* of fun. I loved every project for the people I got to work with, and the work we got to do. I guess I was lucky that I was never "between projects", but the unpaid hours grew to out-of-control at the end, and I wasn't willing to miss my kids. I believe that I would support a union, were I still working on Films. This is a good post, and it covers the arc of my career in films nicely. I'm glad to be out of it, and I feel for my friends who are feeling the pain still. It sure was fun in the 90s, though!

  18. @Scott Squires "However I see some people with such a black and white perspective and such a 'I know everything' attitude without the knowledge or the experience to back it up that I have to call it out."

    If they know everything, how do you think calling them out will change their mind? Do you think they were never presented with the truth before, and ignored it then as well?

    It's funny, because you're trying to get them to not make certain mistakes that perhaps you made, and likewise I'm doing the same thing with my comment here. From experience: It is very unlikely that you will change a know-everything-kid's mind with an article like that above. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Not your shoes, because your shoes are very likely wiser and better traveled.

    By all means, share your wisdom with the less experienced. But don't do it this way! This way will rarely get them to listen. You throw some of their comments in their faces and rub it in because, yes, YOU DO KNOW better than they do. Not one of them is going to suddenly perk up and say "By golly, you're right! I suddenly see the future and I will listen to you." Especially because kids today don't say by golly anymore, which is a crying shame.

    Keep fighting the good fight, but remember that once upon a time you were that kid who thought you knew better, and I'd wager you didn't listen quite as well as you might today knowing what you know now. And certainly not if that person offering advice were throwing things in your face and saying you don't know as well as they do (even if, yes, they DID know better).


  19. I'm not forcing anything on anybody. I've used a few real quotes mixed in from multiple sources but most of this has been exaggerated a bit for effect. I'm not throwing it in their face, just trying to show it in perspective to what actually happens. Maybe some of them will get it, maybe they won't. Hopefully it'll get a few people to think twice.

  20. AnonymousMay 03, 2012

    Thanks Scott.Really good post.

  21. "But hey, it’s you. The world will recognize your genius and none of any of this will affect you."

    I dunno, that doesn't really sound like "trying to show perspective" to me. That sort of comment seems snarky, and if I were the youngster you were talking to it would piss me off and make me want to become MORE entrenched in what I was doing, not listen to reason. I'd think much more than twice about it, but it would be the opposite direction of thinking. "I'll never be like that, that guy doesn't know me." That sort of thing.

    Anyway, I think we all figure out the way things work eventually, just as (most at least) start out thinking very differently (and knowing-it-all). I think in order to change the minds of people who haven't gone through the journey yet, you need to not present "here is what will happen to you later" but talk to them on their level based on what they HAVE gone through. Then they can relate. After all, they haven't even thought about their own mortality or anything yet, or seen how the future constantly changes and whatnot. As robcat on the 11 Second Boards said "It takes the average twenty-something about 10 years to realize he won't be twenty-something forever."

  22. I thought it was pretty obvious this and some of the other comments were tongue in cheek humor. Exaggerating beyond reality. If they take these types of comments without humor and take them as a personal affront and get pissed, then that doesn't bode well for dealing with critiques and pressures of visual effects. On my list of what makes a good visual effects artists is a sense of humor.

  23. The difficulty I see is you're not totally exaggerating beyond reality. As you said yourself, they see things in black and white. They DO think they're different than everyone else, and they have something special. Doesn't everyone at some point? We have to, or we'll be crushed. When you see the number of fatal auto accidents in the US yearly, you HAVE to think "that won't happen to me" or you'll never go out on the road ever, because the number is staggering. I think it's easy to see their perspective at least, even if we've grown to an age where we realize our own shortcomings.

    On top of that, of course it doesn't bode well for them with critiques and such to take things so seriously and personal. When have you ever met a younger person who handles criticism well? Sure, they exist, but they're the exception, not the rule. Most of them are devastated by criticism. That's why they gather in tight circles where people stroke their ego. Places like Deviantart, where terrible, terrible art is praised.

    I'm just saying that I feel like you may be forgetting a bit what it's like to be where they are now. Or maybe you were one of the few who was never that way, I don't know. I've done a lot of work with youth, and a lot of study and mentoring. They enjoy tongue in cheek humor. Not when it's aimed at them, though. Many, many of them have not reached that great point in life where we can laugh at ourselves and admit when we're wrong. They are still fragile, just like most of US were when we were that age. So it helps to adjust your teaching to where they are in their life. They haven't gotten to that future point yet that most of the rest of us have. Heck, they can't even SEE it yet. They still think the person they are now (early 20s) is the person they will always be. You and I know that's very likely bogus. As you described, they really believe it won't happen to them.

    You've written a terrific article here for us. You, me, and all the people commenting here minus one. Because all of us but one are just like you: We've been there. We SEE that YES, you're absolutely right about some of those things. We've gotten the experience and now we know better. This article says it from our perspective, and we agree. I'm saying if you write it to the people you want to change (youngsters) then you have a better shot at changing their opinions. The reason so many of us older folks are chiming in here is because this is really written to us, rather than them. We applaud and say "hear hear!" because we understand where you're coming from. Most of them have no idea where you're coming from, because they aren't there yet. And again, as you said, they believe it won't happen to them. They're different. They're special.

    I don't mean this as an argument, and I think you know that. I'm just trying to offer a perspective on appealing to the youngsters in order to help them avoid mistakes. Tongue-in-cheek works for us in that way, but not as much for them when they're the subject of it.

  24. AnonymousMay 04, 2012

    I'm on the production end and never get overtime. I arrive before the team and stay until the last artist leaves. I bridge the gap between clients, the facility needs, and the artist. As a team, we produce a product. Queue the gnashing of teeth and wails of protest--the hours required would seem to warrant greater respect given what it costs us to produce. But stripped to its core, and in the eyes of those hiring us (studios) we are in the commodity business.

    Scott is right. His tone is a way to tap into that part of All reading this blog that
    Most of Us (caps are intentional) are somewhere along the spectrum of VFX careers thinking, working, and hoping to be the exception, determined through tenacity and focus to not have this happen. Really interested in verifying the warning? Go talk to the three eldest members you can find in your facility. Ask them how it was when they entered, how is it now, and what their experience has been---highs, lows, cost in lost time with family and friends? If you are honest, you will be uncomfortably similar to those colleagues.

    If you are learning and growing, then the long hours are your apprenticeship. You are gathering skills and trading your time/energy instead of paying for classes and delaying student loans. But our industry suffers from ills that are only growing due in large part to our smugness and delusion that we are somehow immune from other crafts that have unionized. I'm not convinced either way on the question of unions, but know that working myself to death only leads to exhaustion, poor physical health (the CG Belly is NOT a badge of honor), long-term sleep pattern disruption and its attendant host of problems, lost marriages, financial insecurity for the reasons described above, etc.

    We need to be much better at resource management: time and production turnaround. It's a flawed system but one that can be better if everyone understands that while chasing whatever stage from roto to final render, the meters of time, your energy, and your compensation per hour are running. And that's even before the clients see the latest shots and can trash everything and ask it to be re-done for the fifth time because they don't really know what they want to see. It continues until they run out of time and money. It always does.

    Bottom line: all of this continues until it starts to cost someone up the chain money. Artists are seen as batteries--tapped until depletion and then replaced by another exuberant and willing inductee / graduate from X school, giddy with the hours they've racked up. Feel this indicates you are taking your first hit off a dangerous pipe. It's addictive to be a part of something really sexy, but without caution, a dangerous precent can be set. Scott is telling us that this is a dangerous scenario and he speaks the truth. All reading this will heed it to their own level and needs--to ignore it or dismiss it is folly and we do so at our own peril. The dynamic of worker exploitation has not changed. Just because the tools are digital and cool does not change this.

    It is up to you to decide when you
    have had enough. If you are not, life will do it for you. The trail of debris was listed above.

    There has to be a solution, and I'm encouraged by the growing chorus of voices calling for this.

    A point I don't recall seeing above: want to dismiss the warnings by the old farts that you think are out of touch and don't know anything? The ones you think you are more clever than? These are the very same people that developed the software and hardware that you can buy and use at home for a relative pittance, and created the magic that drew you to this career in the first place. Now is the time to be humble and learn from your mentors. The VFX community is a fantastic one. But it's fraught with the narcissism and ego of any artistic field. And what history is telling us all is that we can not afford to perpetuate an illusion of exceptionalism in our role in the industry.

  25. I think most people, young included, are smarter than they are given credit for. I think young people and newcomers to visual effects will be just fine. This post was meant to help any stragglers and those that have grown complacent to take a step back and reflect on where they are headed and why. Are there solutions to finding a better balance for visual effects people? Maybe if we work together and people speak up we might accomplish something together. But the first step on that journey is to stop and think, not to simply ignore it or bemoan the fact someone else didn't do something before.

  26. AnonymousMay 04, 2012

    You made a lot of good points here scott. I'm certainly living one of of those "money is no object" kind of lives right now. I'm young, only a few years out of school, everything is going well, but I worked my ass off and had salt thrown on the wound to get where I am. But how long will it last? How much longer can I work behind a desk working on projects for the company as part of a single department?

    I need more time to learn to program (c++, c#, unity, what have you) so I can help my future out. Someones comment's last line was "GOOD LUCK parlaying CG skills into some other money earning skill." I can see that being a problem, I'm trying to step up to help out my future. But my OT has been wrecking my night life for the last several months. I'll get out of work, commute an hour home, pass out on the couch, wake, go to work, and repeat.

    I love what I'm doing, I love where its leading me right now and I love the projects I'm working on. But I don't want to get burnt out.
    A light that burns twice as bright burns half as long.

  27. AnonymousMay 08, 2012

    Honestly, after 6 years of working in this field, I've had enough. In fact this will be my last year that I will work in the field of VFX. The worse conditions, too many hours spent in front of a monitor, projects more and more stupid and silly, I think it is not worth more than worth it, but that is less stressful and more healthy to sell ice creams at the beach. Obviously this my point of view. Anyway I advice to who want to pursue this career to think about it before you start. Good luck to everyone

  28. C. WilliamsMay 15, 2012

    That summation of life and the the industry was brilliant, truer words have never been written.

    As a former Architect turned film compositor, I find myself longing for my former "boring" career. The compensation wasn't quite the same but the industry was definitely more conducive for grown ups with real lives - economic downturn not withstanding. Now with kids about to enter college, I'm actually thinking about going back. The same firms I worked for in my twenties still operate in the U.S. and none of those jobs have been shipped overseas...

  29. I'm just beginning a Digital Film and Visual Effects course at 27. Reading all these posts makes me feel as if I shouldn't go into VFX. Although is there any job where you are always happy with your bosses and work?

  30. The thing anyone just considering VFX now is to consider the recent realities in this industry. And this is not about always being happy with your boss or work. Your odds of getting a vfx job are much lower now than they once were. Both companies and schools are much more interested in exploiting you than in the past. Many people are drawn to allure of vfx without the passion. Subsidies means than any vfx worker will be required to move at random to another place and most likely a different country. So as long as people are entering with eyes wide open and understanding the obstacles and are willing to work under that framework, they can make it.

  31. This article is actually rather disappointing to read. I'm a 22 year old artist living and working for a video production company in London, I graduated from Falmouth University last summer from a Digital Animation and Visual Effects degree and I have dreams to be the best visual effects supervisor in the world and why the hell shouldn't I? Im sure when the current best VFX sup started he or she though the same thing, along with the president of the US. But when I read articles like this it makes my dreams seem a little more faded and out of focus, I can't help feeling like lots of these articles are purely written to scare young aspiring artists because current seniors in the industry are worried about the competition!
    You should be promoting your careers and be proud of the work you do and wan't people to be involved in the industry you work in!
    Nothing you have written about in this article will stop me from pursuing my dreams, or my "Young Myths".

  32. "purely written to scare young aspiring artists because current seniors in the industry are worried about the competition!"
    Yes, that's exactly right. Every thing is rainbows on the other side and we just don't want others to know about it. Woo woo. There's actually plenty of jobs for everyone and everyone can be at the top all the time.

    Every year thousands upon thousands of people are schooled as actors, directors, vfx artists, etc.
    Each and everyone one of them expects to make it big. But that's not the reality and anyone going into film or other industries where there are many more applicants than jobs needs to be aware of that going in. Especially before they spend years and 10's of thousands of dollars on a specific education.

    There will be some who make it. Combination of perseverance, lot of hard work, talent and luck have to do it with it. For those unwilling to put in all the hard work and deal with the ups and downs this is not the industry they should be trying for.


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