Monday, March 11, 2013

We are artists

We are artists

I was asked in the comments of another post why I didn't care for the term technicians. Aren't there technicians as well as artists doing visual effects? Here's my response that I posted in the comments but some suggested I make it a full post so here it is.
My term of 'artists' covers all those creating visual effects. I could have substituted the word vfx workers or vfx professionals. Our profession represents a wide mix of artists, craftspeople and technicians, most who deal with some amount of creativity and some amount of technical knowledge. We have programmers, we have engineers, we have IT, and the full range of people to ultimately generate the shots. The entire crew is required to make our final product.

When a director, studio or the press says 'technician' they mean it as a derogatory term. And that's a huge problem for those of us in the industry. It simply allows them to say it's all done by computers. "These technicians just have to hit the right button. They are not bringing any creativity to the process itself."

So when a director meets with their key creatives (cinematographer, production designer, wardrobe designer, composer, etc) to discuss the film and have everyone contribute to the film in a creative way, that may not include the visual effects supervisor. Because they're deemed to be just a technician who manages other technicians. The truth is the visual effects supervisor has developed their own eye and is able to be tremendously creative in terms of both the visual and the visual effects of a film. Especially when they leverage their crew. The experience and knowledge brought to the table is great but some directors are not interested because in their view the entire field of visual effects is not creative.

In their view and view of studios we're merely there to push the button to match their production designs. We're doing paint by number work if you were to ask some studio executives. And because they view us as technicians they view the entire process of visual effects as a commodity. If it simply takes people hitting the right buttons they could hire any visual effects company throughout the world to achieve identical results. They can outsource all the jobs to Timbuktu because, after all, it's just a technical process and they can send someone there for a month to train anyone and they will get the same results. (in their mind)

The studios look at directors, writers, cinematographers, production designers, and others as creative. They are irreplaceable and each will provide a different look. They bring different levels of quality and style to a film. All of those 'creative people have leverage and are being taken seriously by the studios (writers may challenge that to some extent). They do not outsource that work. They may hire someone from another country but it's based much more on quality and what they bring and much less on cost.

In the end the view that we're technicians automatically reduces our leverage. It diminishes who we are and what we do. We're brushed aside with the notion that it can all be outsourced with no loss in quality. And we lose any sense of respect. And that loss of respect is everywhere in Hollywood and helped to create the situation we're in. That's' why our names are last in the credits. It's why award shows and press junkets typically do not include us.

So yes, we are artists in my eyes and we as an industry have to keep fighting to make it known that we are in fact doing creative work on projects. What we do ultimately is a creative endeavor built with our skill sets and our talents using technology. If it we weren't creative films would look much worse. And if they allow us to participate as the creatives we are, we can make things even better.
Now that we have developed the technology and skill set to create seamless visual effects with few limits, we need to use push the creative boundaries ourselves.  We need to respect what we do and what we accomplish. We help to create the magic, we help to create the art that is on the screen. And we need our clients to recognize that and to value our creative contribution.  It's the thing that both visual effects artists and companies can use to set themselves apart from others as the technology has allowed leveling of the technical aspects. Just as cinematographers are no longer encumbered by the basics of exposure and paint with light, so can we as individuals and as visual effects artists provide something beyond what the technology is able to provide. The human eye and view point to create something unique.

1 comment:

  1. The truth be told, we are pioneering pathfinders both pushing the limits in developing the technology and continually discovering and revealing to the rest of the world what can be done with these efforts. Extraordinary things! We have to recognise though that there is a fear within the established creative disciplines of what we do and at times a need to control what seems to threaten the establishment.
    We are at a point where the true 'synthespian' is becoming a reality. Today a Tiger, tomorrow ...?
    Sometimes semantics does not allow for a good definition of an action or occupation - artist or craftsperson/technician - all of these in fact.
    That said an artist aims to produce something unique from the heart or soul, but so too does a good coder - its just a different kind of poetry.


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