Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Visual effects are inexpensive

Visual effects are inexpensive (relative to other options)

Ang Lee and everyone in Hollywood say visual effects are too expensive. We’ve created the worlds and characters that make their movies possible and the large profits usually associated with them. Yet their thanks to us is to tell us we’re too expensive. They would have loved to get even more profits squeezed out of their latest impossible film that we made possible.

Can you shoot Avatar in 5 days with 5 people total (crew and cast)? Can you shoot any of this years Oscar nominated films in 5 days with 5 people? No. Obviously you cannot. It takes time and people to make these things. Yet they have a huge disconnect when they view visual effects. Doing visual effects is like making a film. It takes time and it takes skilled and talented people. It’s no different. People * time = money. More complexity means more time and people and therefore more money. Sometimes the studios think they can make it cheaper by reducing the time. But this is not a clean and simple formula. As the time goes down for the same level of complexity simply means more overtime (at a higher cost) and more mistakes (more costs).

If you asked the art department to build a city block from scratch and build everything, including the interiors of the buildings, would you be surprised by the cost? Would you blame the art department for being too expensive? No, of course not. That’s a lot of work that involves a lot of materials and workers taking a long time. Now simply change the term ‘art department’ to visual effects. Amazing how that changes their perspective.

And just like an epic spanning several countries and thousands of extras with large sets will take more shooting days and require a larger crew, so too does a more complex visual effects project, yet that simple fact seems to be mystifying to many in the business.

Here’s the secret for why visual effects cost what they do: It takes what it takes. For a visual effects blockbuster it takes hundreds and hundreds of people working months at a time, typically with overtime because the correct amount of time was never budgeted. There are no magic ways to lower that number just like there is no way to lower the number of shooting days and size of a live action crew and still achieve the same results. And for the 1000th time there is no huge mark-up with the visual effects company laughing to the bank. Producers and studios are more than welcome to start and run their own visual effects companies if they see big potential for profits.

Maybe there is a cheaper option than visual effects. Let’s take a look at the options and see how they compare in terms of costs:

Avengers –
Visual effects option:  Have a very large team of skilled artists and craftspeople working for months. Very expensive. (or is it?)

Non-visual effects option:
-The art department will have to construct large special buildings. That will cost a fair bit and take more time than to shoot the movie.
-The art department would have to make all new signs and cover existing signs. Not cheap.
-Everything would have to be perfect on camera to avoid visual effects. No fix-its in post. That will require more shooting time.
-Any stunts would have to be done without visible wires. Any car jumps would have to be done without seeing the ramps. Not a budget item but that’ll put a crimp in the framing of the shots.
-Build a flying aircraft carrier. Not yet doable and so you’d have to wait a long time to make the movies and even then, it’s probably not cheap.
-Destroy a large part of New York.  I know real estate has gone down but probably not cheap.
-Creating a storm in the sky with lighting and all kinds of stuff. Nope, no app for that yet so that’s probably expensive to do.
-Have flying people. Wow, will people even be watching movies by the time this happens? Gotta figure that’s not cheap and the money borrowed for pre-development now will have accumulated quite a bit of interest when finally paid back.
-Creatures coming out of the sky. Government programs have to be advanced and declassified before they can start on bio-creature hybrids. And those flying sled rigs they’re on are so expensive they’re not even listed in Skymall.
-Hulk. See above.
-Same with many of the other characters. Gods, super power heroes, same old problem.

There are plenty more things to add to the list when doing it using the non-visual effects options. But I suspect that it’s already exceeded the visual effects costs a bit.

Gross for Avengers (a film only possible with the help of visual effects): $623,357,910

Hmm, seems like visual effects costs didn’t really make a huge dent in that thank goodness. But still, it wouldn’t have hurt to squeeze out another few million from the visual effects crew, am I right?

In the end visual effects enables the filmmakers to make films that they couldn’t have. Which in turn allows them to make profits that they wouldn’t have without visual effects. In many cases visual effects may not only be the cheapest option they have, it may be the only option they have. They don't look that expensive when considering the options or non-options as it may be.

Visual effects take time and a large number of skilled artists working very hard.

It’s just arithmetic.


 Related posts:
The Miracle of Visual Effects, will it continue?
Value of Visual Effects
Why do visual effects cost so much

There are plenty of other articles on this blog. Look to the right column for more or check out some of the ones below.


  1. Great post. But do you see any way to fix this problem? All the directors and producers think VFX charge too much, while VFX companies barely making any profit. How could we change their thought? And also, I start to think, after reading VES open letter, VFX is a business. Business means one sell and one buy, with the price that both side agree for exchange the product or service both side agree. I know the studios always try to get more for less budget. But if everyone in VFX business stick with what we deserve, maybe the studio will have to pay a fair budget and limit the changes. So maybe the enemy is not studios, is those underbidding and accept unlimited changes vfx companies or artists? But again, maybe they are also just trying to survive? I am confused about who is the evil guy in this mess...

  2. As always, great projection to the world, Scott.
    But when we all gonna see some valuable executions from the Hollywood industry fellas?

    Nowadays, there is a wave going along the vfx artists to get united against them.


  3. I got a impression that the studios know that we are fanboys at heart. And that we love movies. And so we will want to be making the next awesome movie. Even if its part of it. No other business works like VFX and animation precisely of our desire to work in creating worlds and dreams. I still do not know what solutions are there. But with the increased choice of medium for the artists to express themselves, i think the rules of the game will be changed.

  4. My motto: fast, cheap, good--pick two.

    You just spelled it out perfectly, as is your way.

    Thanks again, Scott!

  5. Plus, New Yorkers probably wouldn't appreciate all the explosions... You know... After.....

  6. I think its pretty simple. The ones that make the decisions, bean counters and heads of the studios, these corporations, basically look at the line that says food = $200k, electricians = $50k, visual vfx India = $20k, visual vfx usa = $200k. Thats the way they see it. Then the questions to why is it so expensive. The basic education of most individuals at the studio level, and are making the determination on how vfx are made and how much they cost look at it this way. The bean counter comes to the studio execs, the producers, and say, there is now way it should cost so much for vfx. Look India just did it for 20k, a computer cost about $500.00, the software, about $1200, so in there minds the bean counters, producers, people that basically wouldn't know how to turn on a computer unless it was there tablet, its like why is the US vfx houses charging so much. Its like ignorance suddenly sets in. All the years at Harvard, Yale, MIT, USC, UCLA, have evaporated and simple Q/A and research of why, simply vanishes.
    A majority of the work from comes back a mess, or is subpar work, or needs to be redone. Again. So there are rush orders. But do they see that on the line where those charges are. Does it get past the producer to the accountant then to the studio, no it doesn't. Its hidden. The accountant says we are saving money, the producer says, I saved you money, look at .Do they ever try to rationalize reality and see that it would save them money, just to have it done locally, in CA or NY, or anywhere in the US and not have to deal with language issues, time issues, bandwidth constraints, and power outages in third world countries. That the work would be done and produced by the professionals that built this industry. Here is a suggestion, IF other countries can do it cheaper. Then the studios should MOVE. Pick up and leave. Go to India, China, and setup shop there and just film your little heart away. Use the electricians, use the grips, use the lighters, the caterers the vfx houses. If you are in to saving so much money. Why havent you picked up the studio and moved it.

    1. Actually, DreamWorks has a division in Shanghia.

  7. I would bet that when GWL made THX1138 he knew the name of everybody working on the film. On Star Wars he at least saw and most likely spoke with every person on the crew. They were real people. When Empire came around there were most likely people on the job he never spoke with, but he did see them working. The crew was made up of real people doing real tangible jobs.
    Ray Scalise would walk around the facility handing out checks. He also would see what you were working on. (I preferred it when Jody took over that task ;-)) We were all valuable assets to the operation.

    At the 4th of July picnic at the ranch GWL would stand in the same line as the rest of us for lunch. We were all real people and he could see us. Even though he only hired 7 people, he knew that there were legions of craft workers getting his dreams on the screen.

    In today's production world I'll bet there is no one who can name every person who worked on their film. I'll bet there isn't even a place where there is gathered together something as simple as the names of all the people whose skill went into getting the image on the screen. They are all just aggregated numbers in a spreadsheet.

    Just as the change to digital projection is requiring a new model for distribution the production side needs to find a new business model for creation.

  8. All those block buster are so expensive partially is the number of people and tech that was required. But it's also because the directors, producers and movie studios don't bother to plan, so vfx people ended up doing a lot of revisions and changes. It makes the job a lot more work. The reason why they don't plan is because these projects are fixed bid. Being sloppy doesn't means more money. If we can changed fixed bid to cost plus where they will suffer the consequences of lack preparation, they will think twice about it believe me.

  9. Here is an idea, start the VFX process in preproduction. Get the creatives to be more creative in their vision but keep it within the realm of what can be done efficiently. Do a real animatic and get a solid handle on the look of the project. make up their f*ing minds ahead of time so the work can be done on a sane scale and at a sane pace.

    Blasphemy! you say. Well I'll bet the live action people have been doing that for decades. There have been countless creative decisions made on what was actually possible to deliver within the budget.

    If the VFX leadership was brought in in the beginning with the director and given the respect that other above the line people get, then perhaps we could bring a tiny amount of sanity to this business.

    I have spoken in private with a number of people about integrating the VFX and animatic people at the start of a project. None of them have done anything with that. Now I'm letting the cat out of the bag.

  10. David MuralloFebruary 27, 2013

    Sounds like you put it in its proper perspective. Studios will want things on the cheap. I can't say that I blame them. I would love to get stuff cheap, but things have value. Visual effects are valuable.

    If you can't afford the effects, don't get them.

    The studios should also not pressure VFX companies to move shop just to take advantage of subsidies. It isn't fair to the artists as well as the VFX company owners.

    Thanks for your contributions Scott. I also really liked your class at fxphd last term.

  11. Prep work goes a long way as well as knowing when to make changes, and knowing what changes are appropriate.

  12. Doing a lot of pre-viz and knowing when to make changes and what changes to make, makes a huge difference. With time, human as well as technical pipelines suffer and degrade. Specially when accommodating huge changes at the wrong part of the pipeline.

  13. 'But do you see any way to fix this problem? ' That's the answer we're we're trying to find now. There are complex issues and it will take multiple solutions.

    Yes, vfx business should be run as businesses but seldom are. See Oh, the mess were's in post

    'So maybe the enemy is not studios, is those underbidding and accept unlimited changes vfx companies or artists? '

    Business that underbid do no service to themselves or the industry.

    'But again, maybe they are also just trying to survive? '
    Losing money ends in bankruptcy whether you do it quickly or slowing.

    'I am confused about who is the evil guy in this mess.'
    Each group is trying to do right in their eyes. But each is doing it wrong. And the subsidies just make the whole thing a much bigger mess and tend to create the situation we're in now.

  14. Great post--thanks!

  15. -Build a flying aircraft carrier. Not yet doable and so you’d have to wait a long time to make the movies and even then, it’s probably not cheap.

    Models. We've used them before, and they worked quite well.

    The costs associated with visual effects are not necessarily the cost of employees time and labor, because as we all know, they are paid like low level network admins in most cases, but the real cost lies in rendering. Rendering one frame with several maps such as AO, Displacements, and so on can take an entire day. If you render at a farm, you pay per credit hour for that server time.

    The cost for, lets say, rendering a 5 minute scene once can be several hundred dollars. If you are going to lower prices, then the technology (which is bloated) that is used to render frames must be streamlined.

    In the early days, FX houses made their own software, and to a great extent still do, but I don't think there is an emphasis on cutting down render times what with all the money made at farms.

  16. If you lose money on every shot, it is hard to make it up in volume.

  17. Models - whether physical or CG are still visual effects. take people and time to build just like a building a set.

    There is a cost to a render farm but the wages paid to hundreds of workers, especially redoing work or working overtime is the majority of the cost of doing visual effects for a film. Doesn't mean render times are cheap or the equipment and software have no costs but they seldom make up the majority of the costs. Most hardware , software costs can be spread over 2-3 years. Worker is paid now on this project and will cost more the more time they put in.

  18. All for starting up the creative process early! The more preproduction work you do with storyboards, concept art, and animatics, the more prepared as a director you'll be! And the earlier you start the better! I don't know how many times I've storyboarded or did concept art on a project where we are saying "why didn't they hire us earlier, we could have helped solve these problems but we're squeezed for time..."

  19. Yes, getting visual effects team started early in the process along with the scoreboards and previs makes for more efficient visual effects production. Simply treating visual effects as another department is the best way.

    The other issue that would help is studio production post-supervisor who worked similar to a line producer or 1st AD on set. Making sure decisions are being made and that the creative aspects don't derail the schedule or the budget. Always helping to work with the director to achieve what they need but within the bounds required to do the work. Frequently there is no one in post or if they exist then it's us versus them. In that case their only role is to try to pressure the visual effects companies to do more, faster. This simply causes more problems.

    There should be a photo of the entire visual effects crew in the editing room and their should be a cost counter like the national debt. Except this is showing the amount of money burning through on visual effects constantly. Might encourage director and producer to view visual effects as they do the live action crew. A need to make decisions and to move on. That week delay getting a decision would become clear what that cost is.

  20. Cost plus would fix one part of the problem, but it's not enough. The pressure to be the lowest cost vendor remains, now concentrated more heavily on the employees because the vfx house won't absorb any of it via their own losses. There needs to be something more to counter pressure for unpaid overtime, lower-wage locales, etc. Each part of the 3 way balance of studio - vfx house - artists needs to be able to check the others.

  21. Without knowing anything about Mr Lee and without having been involved with Rhythm&Hues or the VFX of Life of Pi... just speaking from my own experience on other shows: the director probably doubled the costs of many shots knowingly and unknowingly because he wanted changes and revisions that weren't in the original budget.

    Without having worked on Life of Pi I can imagine those comments in front of me: "Add more spray", "add more meerkats on screen left", "make camera move further at frame 1234", "don't like the shape of the water drops at frame 999".

    VFX isn't the same as designing a car where it's clear beforehand how many wheels there should be and how loud it needs to be at a certain engine speed.

    In full-CG shots the director might want 30 revisions to the camera move, he might want to add details in certain frames of a violently shaky storm scene that nobody - even people printing out stills from the HD blue ray - will ever, ever perceive. And he thinks VFX are expensive?

    You can't make the camera crew do 30 takes - not without paying them for such. You can't make an explosion bigger without having the SFX guys blow up something a second time. You can't add more people to the background without having to cast and pay for them.

    VFX solves all of these problems, but when these things aren't budgeted but requested by the director in one short sentence of a dailies session, this is a disconnect. Especially if the VFX vendor takes the hit without receiving more money for those changes.

  22. Everyone is complaining about how vfx is not appreciated, inexpensive and stuff. The VFX industry is getting really messed up. Whose responsible for all these? the management of course! Bad management practice + bad planning = messed up industry.

    Cause of the current vfx industry crisis:
    VFX houses fighting each other to win the bid of a job/show. They start to spoil the market price of how much a standard VFX work cost. In long term, they couldn't survive themselves anymore.

    VFX houses needs to team up to set a new healthy bidding standard and regain it's integrity across the globe.

    In the first place, if a healthy standard bidding system was set at the first place, all these wouldn't happen. When the cost of a standard VFX work is practice by all VFX houses, filmmakers would have no choice but to stick with the market price.

    ps: tax incentives + cheap labour shoud not be counted into how much a standard vfx work price. Because VFX ain't cheap!

    stop complaining and start working for a solution!!!

  23. mplec - 'There needs to be something more to counter pressure for unpaid overtime'

    Here's where a union comes in. The company has a contract with the union to have certain working conditions. That gives all the artists some legal power.

    For places w/o unions- 1. Be aware of the local labor laws.

    2. If they are breaking laws (unpaid overtime, etc) then unite as a group and have a discussion with management. If the situation isn't changed then report it to whatever agency oversees that.

    3. If it's not against the law but is a bad working condition (unpaid overtime, etc) then unite all artists there (and possibly of other companies) and make some basic demands. If you stick together management would have to consider it or replace everyone (which is unlikely)

  24. Stefan you are correct. Obviously some adjustments need to be made as the shots are refined but it can get very problematic. The problem is the companies are too scared to speak up.

    The vfx supervisor and producer help guide the director to balance the requests.
    Production should have a post supervisors who helps guide the director as well to be efficient.
    The director works in a more connected fashion with the crew to minimize waste and to understand the time and effort involved.
    Ideally the company would have some type of time and material business model so cost and time are directly connected to the number and size of changes.

  25. Anonymous - 'VFX houses needs to team up to set a new healthy bidding standard and regain it's integrity across the globe. '

    That's a trade association and would be a big help but the big vfx companies refuse to even consider such as thing.

    'to stick with the market price. '
    A trade association can't legally agree on pricing in most countries. That's collusion. They could set some basic code of conducts however.

    ': tax incentives + cheap labour shoud not be counted into how much a standard vfx work price. Because VFX ain't cheap!'
    Since the studios paying for it they will take that into their decision.

  26. I think one problem could be the VFX industry itself. I mean .. no one has the balls to don't do overtime and just do the stuff that was possibleto do in the time the budged for. The fear of beeing told the FX where just cheap and loosing a client is just to big.
    In my Eyes there are 2 possible things: Fight for getting a correct budget or participating in the earnings that the movie makes.

  27. Visual Effects companies should do as Pixar and Blizzard and make their own major motion pictures. Contract out to directors and production companies and see how they like it when they squeeze is put on them. Movies are already VFX intensive and a lot of the story is told via CG, so why is industry allowing Producers and Directors who care little about the people in VFX to call the shots. R&H is in the approval process for a 17 million dollar bail out loan. If approved I dont see why it would be possible for a major VFX studio to seek funding for their own venture, thus maximizing profits and sustainability.

  28. " Fight for getting a correct budget or participating in the earnings that the movie makes."

    This comes down to leverage. When you only have 6 clients you need to be careful about losing one. It would be a much different story if you had the general public.

    The subsidies create a situation of having to compete with another company who is government funded and can do it for 1/2 the amount. HArd to ask for full costs and overages when the other guy with the subsidy can offer it for much less.

    There are too many vfx companies. When they're all competing to get the same project and they have a large crew they will whittle the costs down. In many cases they will underbid to slow the bleeding.

    And that's why we are where we are. No leverage. No control. Bad business for companies and the workers.

  29. 'Visual Effects companies should do as Pixar and Blizzard and make their own major motion pictures.'

    That's one solution. The downside is you have to have very deep pockets. You have to get funding and spend a long time developing the story and creating the film. Typically this takes years before there's any money coming in. And you have to bring in the right people. As much as we all like to think ourselves as writer/directors, how many actually have the real talent and ability to do this? Being a vfx artists doesn't necessarily make everyone a great filmmaker.

    And some companies have tried and failed at this. Framestore did an animated film. How many have they made since?

    And if you were successful would you continue to do vfx service work? It's not like Pixar is doing animation or vfx work on the side.

    As an animation or film company you're now competing against those groups just as Dreamworks, Sony, Pixar, etc compete. And not all films will be a success. Rise of the Guardians did not do well so Dreamworks has to lay off a large number of people. Trying to constantly pump out hits is very hard and is a high gamble business itself.

    I don't want to discourage people from pursuing this but it's important to consider the road ahead and the potential issues.

  30. Big VFX movies are just like big music stars. It's LCD art for the masses. It's very seldom about a good script. It's about how can someone convince someone else with money to bankroll their project. Starts at the pitch, "It's like Star Wars in The Matrix," "It's like Aliens meets Avatar," It's like some crap that luckily made some money through a huge sum spent on marketing at the right time, mixed with some convincing meglomaniac's use of other people's money who hasn't made too many flops." VFX is not about what a great artist you are, it's about how long you want to clean up after the elephant in the circus so you don't have to give up show business.

  31. Costs are also a result of how Filmmakers approach Digital. Traditional Film and practical effects encouraged a mentality of measure twice, cut once because of film costs and the difficulty of multiple takes (Kurosawa burning down a castle in Ran or a massive battle in Lawrence of Arabia). But Digital has removed the onus on filmmakers to solidify their vision and plan before shooting. Now fix-it-in-post is the mantra and Facilities often get shots in far worse shape than they were represented in the bid process because of mistakes made on set.
    Filmmakers see Digital as a sandbox to play and experiment. Directors will tweak and fiddle right up until the delivery date with no regard for the extra amount of work they create. We've all heard "just make it look good" and then had incessant revisions to meet some ideal the Director never articulated to the artist. We want to deliver their vision, but its the time involved and getting paid for it part where there is an issue. The only way to reign in a Director is often either a looming delivery date or a Producer saying he can have his changes if he is willing to sacrifice some other part of the movie because there simply isn't the budget to do both.
    But those Producer conversations are few and far between. Instead VFX facilities are often strong-armed into doing this kind of extra work via threats of pulling shots, not bringing future work, withholding milestone payments, etc, or with carrot promise of "future work" if they do this job on the cheap, or VFX facilities are too afraid to even ask for change order and additional payments lest they incur such threats.
    This eats further into already small margins and usually leads quickly to the state we saw at R&H of needing to book work simply to keep kicking past debts down the road. Its also why setting up shops in cheap labor markets still doesn't save money - if you cut the bid price to account for cheaper man/hours of labor, you still run into overrunning costs when those man/hours run over on fixes and letting directors 'experiment'. Cheaper, less experienced labor is also more prone to make their own mistakes and take longer delivering the needed quality of work.
    This is why we need a trade union or guild for not only artists, but for VFX facilities too - By forming a collective that standardizes wage scales & benefits, we will create a better platform for VFX facilities to bid. By having fixed wage minimums & max work hour restrictions (ie prevent things like the "Weta-wife" syndrome) facilities will be restricted in their ability to undercut each other. By setting wage standards we also can fight unpaid, underpaid OT hours caused by change orders & revisions.
    By collectively organizing both as artists and facilities, Studios who threaten to violate a contract by pulling work or adding additional unpaid work, can be met with industry wide actions like boycotts or strikes. They can threaten to pull their work, but if everyone else refuses to take it, or charges similar rates and costs for changes & revisions, then threatening to pull shots becomes an empty gesture, because it won't be much (if any) cheaper anywhere else, and in fact, setting up shots again w/ a new facility could add cost and threaten delivery dates.
    We also need a union/association to get out in front of the issue of subsidies. Subsidies usually collapse in a State or Country because once the taxpayers see the bill, they vote it, and the politicians behind it, down. By having an organized body, we can educate lawmakers & taxpayers up front - that instead of their child's education, roads, or emergency services, their tax dollars are going to line the pockets of billion dollar Studios & Corporations. Through awareness campaigns we can better fight tax subsidies - this is standard practice for trade associations & unions. "Eat more chicken" is a current example of a industry-wide public awareness campaign.

  32. You could always say: "Mister Lee, so you need a movie with almost 3h of a cg real-life tiger? And you want it to be cheap?
    Ok, put a cat, a boy and a boat in the pool and shoot it. Thats you inexpensive vfx film.".

    The guy wants beautfull effects for hours and don't want to pay much. So he would be better makings his movies on Taiwan with no effects at all. Probably cheaper then his first option. Wonder if he took a cut in his paycheck to lower the budget of the film.

  33. Visual Effects are harder to do well than live action filmmaking. A Director can cast the right actor -- and receive a performance with much of the look, the rhythm, the improvisational moments and instinctive decisions -- all based on that actor's entire lifetime of experiences. For ANY effect, most of these things are not a "gimme" packaged within a performance, they must be thought out and concocted from scratch. Even mo-cap of the great Andy Serkis requires not ONE, but TWO performances: ONE, the original performance by Andy (including all the aforementioned experience and instincts), and then TWO, a team of ape-facial-muscle-experts, to deliver the final performance.

    Scott summed it up well, as does this old saying: "You can have it Fast, Cheap, Good. Pick any TWO!"

    Fast & Cheap is rarely any good. Cheap but Good takes time (e.g. fewer people doing it). And Fast but Good, which Hollywood usually wants, means throwing a lot of bodies -- and money -- at the work.

    1. Yeah, there aren't a lot of Roger Corman's around today.

  34. I missed releasing a comment earlier. (I moderate them so it's possible they get overlooked from time to time)

    Anonymous ... "The bean counter comes to the studio execs, the producers, and say, there is now way it should cost so much for vfx. Look India just did it for 20k, a computer cost about $500.00, the software, about $1200, .."

    Actually the studios all have a vfx producer/VP at the studios overseeing and approving all the vfx work assignments. They or someone who works for them puts together a ballpark bid early on. Once they have a bidding package (storyboards, previs, etc) then it's sent to multiple companies to bid on. All of that information typically goes in a large spreadsheet. Each company bidding on the show (or sequence) lists they're bid.

    So at the bottom of the spreadsheet is the bid price for each. Below that number is an adjustment into dollars if bids came unadjusted to dollars. (Typically they're asked to provide in dollars since the US studios run on dollars)
    Then below that line is an adjustment for subsidies.
    If that area is offering a 30% subsidy then their total dollar amount is adjusted downward accordingly. Some of these formulas may be complex and some may not be 100% accurate but it gets them close.

    Now they have a final line that shows each bid for what it will actually cost the studios. Company A may be $10 million. Company B may have bid $12 million but with subsidies the cost to the studio is only $8 million. And so on.

    Now the vp/vfx producer at the studio has the dollar amounts and can use that as they wish to help decide which company to use. They may say Company A is great but are they $4 million dollars more great? It's always a question of quality, how confident the studio feels they will come through for them, do they have a specialty, how much money the film can afford in visual effects and of course the dollar amount. This will vary with each project. And typically varies per sequence or type of work. If a film is super tight then the budget is going to be the key driver of where to go. If it's a franchise that will make a huge amount of money and is a top tentpole to the studio, then the hero sequences will be parceled out to the bigger, better companies. The studios will still fight to lower their bids but they want to be assured it will be good and be done for the film.

    The studios don't just give work to India or China or .. They base it on the company (and subsidies). The studio doesn't care if the company sends 0% or 100% to India as long as the work gets done to their satisfaction a the price that was quoted.

  35. Well, for starters, VFX employees are not "artists", they are just users of computer programs that do all the work. The real artists were the designers of the computer programs. Just as using Quicken does not make me a financial expert. Sorry, but vfx work should be inexpensive, and is becoming increasingly so.

  36. Sorry anonymous, but this is one of the more ignorant comments that come from non-effects people or studio people.

    ' The real artists were the designers of the computer programs. '

    I've written a visual effects program that was sold around the world but I wouldn't claim I was the artist of all the work done on the projects it was used on.

    'Just as using Quicken does not make me a financial expert. '
    No but if you were a financial expert who happened to use Excel and other tools, would you say those expers were worthless and it was all in the software?

    Maybe we should be thanking the brush makers that made Michelangelo brushes. Same with Monet and Leonardo da Vinci. Should we be thanking the piano maker instead of Mozart? Maybe Shakespeare wasn't great. Maybe he just had a great pen and paper set.

    Maybe we should thank the camera manufacturers for great movies and not the directors , writers and everyone else involved in it.

    In sports do you honor the ball or the player? Who has the skill set, talent and who has done the actual work?

    Maybe Microsoft World should be collecting all the authors pay checks.

    'Sorry, but vfx work should be inexpensive'
    So you're saying everyone should work for free or minimum wage? That everyone doing this should be doing free Overtime?

    Would you be willing to work for 40 hrs of minimum wage but be putting in 90 hrs? For the next year?

    You can get After Effects software cheap. Go nuts. Get hired on a feature film (for very cheap) and create a tiger on screen that people world wide would pay to go see. After all, it's all in the software and anyone can do it.

  37. Here's a solution, unions of the world convince and recruit many senior and as many of the most respected artists they can find until they occupy a good corner of the talent market. Then go on strike, just like the Screen Writer's Guild did.
    For now spend some of the time creating viral videos for Youtube, newscasts, blogs and social networking sites about why the best VFX artists should go on strike and show what the films would look like. There is already some of this circulating. Something more poignant that anyone could understand like 'Do the Math: an R&D Physicist earns $--.---. A software engineer earns £--,---. A pipeline programmer around $--,---. * 100 hours. Amount paid for ______ film. Amount for the aforementioned. Amount of artists. Amount of pay to those artists.'
    Union-allergic folks can simply take on more small projects as opposed to big credits (they already have some) from small production studios and advertising firms to stay afloat for 1-2 years as a means of personal protest. Unions worldwide could build relationships with companies interested in hiring union employees or offering fair contracts.
    Wait for the dust to settle and see where blockbuster films stand with work from Subsidy Land. It's important to convince people internationally that it is in their best interest, for the future of their careers to support the cause. Release teaser videos showing what the audience should have got. Everyone isn't ignoring the problem.

  38. Just to clarify the striking thing.

    When a union forms it negotiates a contract with the various companies. The companies have to negotiate in good faith if over 50% of the people working at the company in a specific field vote to unionize.

    Most of the time unions and the companies come up with a compromise where each has made some concessions in their direction. It's standard for any union contract to prevent the union from striking if the company is following the contract. I know that confused a number of people at Sony years ago. Obviously the company doesn't want to sign a contract and a month later have the union go on strike because they want more that day or changed their mind on something.

    For a strike to happen:
    1. The union has to have formed and had real contracts.
    2. Those contracts have to have expired. (usually 3 years typical Hollywood contract)
    3. The leaders of the union have to make best effort negotiations.
    4. The union leaders present the suggested terms to their union members. It's then up to the union members to decide if they wish to strike or not. It may be a simple majority or require some ratio.

    The writers guild went on strike because the studios (as a trade association) did not to give in on certain issues. in fact this trade association usually reduces whatever they gave the union the last time so the union not only has to cover new issues but have to re-hash the old issues all over again. (Now you can see why a trade association has it's good and bad points for a vfx artist)

    So the majority of writers thought some of the new terms were not what they wanted. Their contract had expired and the members chose to strike.

    The strike is the most powerful thing the unions have and takes full advantage of any leverage they have. The studios lost a great deal of money because they had to stop new shows and films. But the union members of course lose money during that time. So ideally the strike is used as a big stick threat and is typically avoided.


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