Saturday, April 06, 2013

Visual Effects Professionals United

Visual Effects Professionals United

[Update: 4-12-2013 I've adjusted the page a bit.

The VES has a project in process and one of those has to do with the workforce. I've been tasked with trying to gather feedback from professionals about their wants and needs. Since I had already written and posted this I thought it was right in line.

I'm hoping to also do a survey in the next week.
Please take this survey regarding your working conditions
(I plan to wrap the survey during 1st week of May so be sure to fill it out now)

[Survey has been done and the results are here: Visual Effects Working Conditions Survey ]

[I've included some comments at the end of this post from some of the survey results already.]

PLEASE contribute your thoughts. People keep asking what's supposed to happen next and why isn't someone doing something. Now it's your turn to do something. Submit your ideas and thoughts.


As individuals in the visual effects industry each one of us has very little control over our work experience. The choice is to talk to management and hope they will be willing to make changes or to quit and hopefully find another company that has similar views of work and life as you do.

Most companies are driven by profits and they’re driven even more these days by squeezing workers and vendors as much as possible. The visual effects companies are put in difficult situations by the studios, which in turn puts pressure on the workers to accept less than ideal working conditions.

Even when management may be trying to balance profits and worker experience, new management or an adjustment of business conditions may change that for the worse.

At this point there are visual effects professionals around the world doing great work, each of us connected by the work that we do and the love of what we do. We’re a global community. You can certainly extend that out to cover as much as you consider. (film, TV, commercials, animation, video games, motion graphics, etc)

What we need to do is unite in some form so we can work together to help stabilize and improve the visual effects industry.

One aspect of that is to come up with a work experience document. This would include working conditions and a code of conduct for workers and companies. This would make sure there is a minimum working base for all visual effects workers, including yourself, around the world. This would help to make sure no professionals have to deal with poor working conditions. This would mean if you have to go work half way around the world you won’t find yourself working under poor working conditions.

Many companies may already be doing most of these things and others may be doing very few of them.

Here’s my proposal
Consider what you would think is important at work that could be used as a basis of employment around the world. Post your notes in the comments or form groups with others from work or through the internet.

Let’s compile the list and have a group refine it and put it into written form that the majority agree on.

So what’s the purpose of this?

This would provide a goal or target of what we as professionals would like to achieve when all the current possible solutions are explored and implemented.

This document could be starting point and could reduce the research and exploration time required by some of the potential groups.

If / when there is a visual effects trade association then this could be used as a guideline for what we would expect from the companies and studios involved.

If / when there are visual effects unions, this could be used as a guideline for what we would expect from the union. Existing unions could review and see how it fits into their current structure. These are items of interest to visual effects professionals.

This would be a guide for any visual effects company about what they should be providing if they wish to retain the best workers.

Companies could volunteer to sign on to the guideline if they adhere to it. These companies would be posted on a list on the internet so workers would know which companies support this measure. Those who support it would likely get more higher level work applicants. And they would be monitored in case the company did not follow through on the guidelines.

This would provide a guideline for critiquing or rating a visual effects company on places like  There's also glassdoor

Workers at a given company could consider going as a united group to their employer and discussing the differences and what could be done to accomplish the list.

You as an individual could discuss with management or include in your deal memo all or part of the guideline.  A deal memo is a written employment agreement that covers your job title, rate, start, end dates and other details. VFX Deal Memo

Global nature
I understand that some countries or areas may not require all of these things but I think we should come up with minimums that can and should be implemented world wide. Even though a country may not have any laws saying the exits must be clearly marked and doors unlocked, I think we should include such specifics. Otherwise if it simply boils down to whatever local labor and safety laws dictate then none of this means anything. Around the world those laws are being broken already.

Simply having a document that  only says follow local labor and safety laws does not accomplish anything.

Examples of some of the items that might be include (these are made up numbers. You’ll want to come up with the values)

Working conditions
Meet or exceed local health and safety laws. (This should not be required but of course companies don’t all comply even when required to. There are still fires and other tragedies around the world that happen due to companies skimping on safety or trying to save $1.)

Temperatures to be at nominal room temps in the work area. (72-80 degrees) (Once again the type of thing you may not consider but even here on the west coast at a large vfx company they have been working at 85 or hotter. Some areas are much worse.)

Ventilation – Reasonable ventilation along with heating and cooling to maintain a room temperature.

Sound – No loud noises. No workers playing any audio above x db.

Drinking water within a reasonable distance (100 feet)

Working restrooms

Ergo working space – specs of basic chair, monitor, etc. To avoid carpal tunnel and other physical ailments.

No smoke or fumes in the workplace.

Meet or exceed local labor laws. (This should not be required but of course companies don’t all comply even what they are required to. Many companies misclassify or avoid existing labor laws.)

Adhere to a timely payment in full on a weekly basis.

Correct classification of workers. (ie. not classifying workers in a way that causes them to lose government protections, to avoid overtime payments and taxes. Independent contractors, ‘staff’, ‘flat’,‘salaried’,’managers’,technicians, etc)

No unpaid interns doing production work.

No unpaid students doing production work.

Food break every 6 hours for ½ hr minimum.

15 minute break every 3 hours.

No paying to work, including paying for training.

Clear deal memo for all workers specifying pay, hours, start and end dates, etc.

No withholding of training fees, moving fees, etc.

Work shall be non-abusive (we are professionals)
No screaming
No bullying
No sexual harassment
No beatings

All hours worked (approved or requested) shall be paid by the company.

Overtime will be paid at x rate above 8 hours, y rate above 12 hours.
(Yes, I understand that not all countries have such laws or rates in place. Let’s either try to get in some reasonable minimums or at least make this section variable with different grade levels. Grade A for the company if it complies. B if it only does for x. F if it provides no compensation for overtime.)

Ability to turn down overtime work without dismissal or retribution.

 x hours notice before being assign overtime.

Cap of x hours in a day, y hours in a week.

Turnaround time
Minimum of 12 hours from time of checking out before starting to work again.

Health care
If the local government does not supply health care coverage then the company will provide x minimum.

We can't put in things like permanent jobs.
Lets focus on the real issues.
For now let's not deal with wages themselves, let's focus on the working experience.

Please feel free to add in the comments or as I stated groups in different areas could start developing a defined list of what they feel is important. This could be an item to discuss at one of the vfx townhall meetings in the future. If a group wants to take this and run with it so much the better.

What are the things that are important to you and that all vfx professionals should have in their workplace?

What are the things you feel are missing from your workplace?

What are your hot button issues?
Not being paid OT?
Too much OT?
Not having demo material?
Being misclassified?
Forced to travel?

and write up specifics in the comments below (click on Comments link if you don't see a list of comments). You can do so anonymously.  I'm hoping to get survey results and feedback by May 1 or soon there after.

If you have ideas beyond just the workers that applies to the whole industry then consider posting comments on the  What's The Solution? post

Here's the original post about this concept:
Global VFX Workers

Reference for what might be included beyond what might be obvious would be to review local labor laws to see what they mandate. California Labor Laws example  World wide list of labor laws

The various film unions contracts provide good guidelines for what should be included. Many non-union productions and writers still adhere to union guidelines even when they themselves are not.
Animation Guild contracts  Film union contracts

The various organizations that deal with worker rights world wide provide a good reference.

FLA - Fair Labor Association

FLA Code of Conduct

FLA Complete code and benchmarks

Frame of reference:

FLA is in use by HP and Apple in China and other locations.

Here's their HOURS OF WORK section:
"Employers shall not require workers to work more than the regular and overtime hours allowed by the law of the country where the workers are employed. The regular work week shall not exceed 48 hours. Employers shall allow workers at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven-day period. All overtime work shall be consensual. Employers shall not request overtime on a regular basis and shall compensate all overtime work at a premium rate. Other than in exceptional circumstances, the sum of regular and overtime hours in a week shall not exceed 60 hours."

"Calculation Basis for Overtime Payments
  1. Employers shall compensate workers for all hours worked. 
  1. C.7.1  The factory shall comply with all applicable laws, regulations and procedures governing the payment of premium rates for work on holidays, rest days, and 
  2. C.7.2  Employees shall be compensated for overtime hours at such premium rate as is 
    legally required in the producing country. 
C.7.2.1 In those countries where there is no legally established overtime
premium, employees shall be compensated for overtime hours at the prevailing industry premium rate or at the internationally recognized overtime rate, whichever is higher.
C.7.3 Employers shall not set production targets, piecework, or any other incentive or production system at such a level that the payment for overtime work performed is less than the premium pay required by law or the FLA Workplace Code.
  1. C.8  Overtime Wage Awareness 
    Workers shall be informed, orally and in writing, in language(s) spoken by workers about overtime wage rates prior to undertaking overtime."
"Forced Overtime
The imposition of overtime where workers are unable to leave the work premises constitutes forced labor. "

[ Think of it- 60 hrs maximum in most of the world as defined by some of the largest companies.]

EICC - Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition

EICC Code of Conduct

"Working Hours
  1. Studies of business practices clearly link worker strain to reduced productivity, increased turnover and increased injury and illness. Workweeks are not to exceed the maximum set by local law. Further, a workweek should not be more than 60 hours per week, including overtime, except in emergency or unusual situations. Workers shall be allowed at least one day off per seven-day week. 
  2. 4)  Wages and Benefits 
    Compensation paid to workers shall comply with all applicable wage laws, including those relating to minimum wages, overtime hours and legally mandated benefits. In compliance with local laws, workers shall be compensated for overtime at pay rates greater than regular hourly rates. Deductions from wages as a disciplinary measure shall not be permitted. The basis on which workers are being paid is to be provided in a timely manner via pay stub or similar documentation. "

Visual Effects Society Bill of Rights
VES Bill of Rights

Ergonomics and safety (see computer)

Apple Code of Conduct  (imagine if companies and studios had to follow some of these)

Overtime around the world

Kronos report on Overtime violations

"Paul DeCamp, national chair, wage and hour practice, Jackson Lewis LLP, and former Administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division
"Seeing that significant numbers of employees around the world believe their employers have violated overtime laws should serve as a wake-up call to employers everywhere. If your employees perceive that you are out of compliance, you are at risk for a wage-and-hour lawsuit which can be incredibly costly even if you are ultimately found to be in compliance. Investment in wage and hour compliance should be seen as part of risk management for any smart business."

For Trade Association reference
Kansas Code of Ethics for Certified Arborists

"14. I will not compete with another arborist on the basis of charges for work by underbidding through reduction of his quoted fee after being informed of the fee quoted by a competitor."

Google the topic of interest and you'll find plenty of information.

Related Posts
Global VFX Workers


  1. Moni HarrionApril 08, 2013

    Allow present and laidoff VFX artists to get files of their work (like roto mattes) for their portfolio. Stereo D will not allow artists to get their work AT ALL unlike other studios. Please add this!!

  2. Wow, Scott. This is epic. Your research is thorough and forms a great jumping off point for anyone interested in the future of the VFX industry. I hope others step up and help fortify this idea into what it should be: a blueprint for how our industry can be truly self sustaining as we move forward.

  3. Hmmm forced labor. Sad part is many like playing the part of the martyr. Makes them feel valuable only to get screwed later.

  4. a contract is a contract is a contract. If the project is pulled it is should not fall on the shoulders of the artist. There is enough to do to improve the studio in every studio i have ever worked at big or small

  5. Great work Scott,

    I'd add 2 points I did not see.
    -Overtime 1.5x and golden time 2x kicking in after the 8th continuous day of work. Some CA companies, Sony? follow the letter of the law on this, others like R&H have found loopholes. Its no panacea but it makes month long death marches without breaks more expensive.

    -Kill fees at some %of lost wages when a job is postponed or delayed. We all know shit does happen on a show. And to borrow a plumbing analogy, it flows downward. When there's a bigger financial hit for shit happening, it tends to happen less.

  6. I've been getting in survey results. Thank you. I'll keep the survey going for another week so please fill out if you haven't already.

    Here are some of the comments from the survey. I'm posting these here to show what fellow vfx workers are thinking. I'm hoping it will inspire others to post their thoughts as well.

    I had to break into 2 comments since Blogger can't handle it.
    A few people didn't know what a deal memo was. A deal memo is a written employment agreement that covers your job title, rate, start, end dates and other details.
    Deal Memo
    Needing to move has been the end of numerous relationships and even a Divorce. I've taken my own steps and sacrifices to minimize this but it's a major issue for most.

    moving is NOT an option for me (or my family), so "NOT having to move for work" is "required"

    I'm 50 yrs. old. I can't keep moving for the job. I need time off. I need a vacation. I need a like.

    Not sure what's going on with that last question but no, will not move just to stay in VFX

    Experience and expertise is considered a detriment more and more.

    Top concern - unpredictability in length of contracts, location of work, viability of companies, future of industry.

    Consecutive days worked is a big problem.

    Opportunities to move up or lead new projects without simply doing the same 'cog' job for years

    Quality of project. Experience and learning. Who i am working with. Money.

    "Challenging work - High Priority
    Being involved in meetings/dailies and not a grunt worker - High Priority"

    These are difficult to answer; the company I work for does a great job of meeting my needs and treating me fairly. The concern is that if we close, I'll be unable to easily find another job. So,

    I think this is a little miss leading because it assumes that everyone has experienced these situations. I for one have never been "misclassified" And NO ONE can ever offer complete job security.

    [Scott Squires - Some people may not experience any of these but simply because it hasn't to you doesn't mean it hasn't happened to anyone else. That's the purpose of the survey]

  7. More survey comments:
    consistent enforcement of state, local, and Federal labor laws: required, absolutely

    Movable start dates without compensation. Poor communication about end dates.

    Loss of VFX jobs in and around the Los Angeles area, and the length of unemployement between contracts.

    Working on good scripts and challenging movies is very important.

    Lack of will power, or maybe power in general, of vfx houses to push back on studios/clients regarding feedback and notes. Endless revisions and complete changes of mind on clients part.

    No mercy for working moms.

    Quality of shows high, working with your friends high

    Overtime used as leverage to lower salary

    "Confirmation about availability is required.

    Currently only production side can has confirm, but worker can't."

    Highest concern is the frequent layoffs and employers unable to guanatee work for more than a couple of weeks.

    Work space is consistently much worse than it has to be in most companies. Even when there is a good spaces available artists are placed in the worse possible spots that can be found. Cold, Dark, Cramped, Noisey, etc...

    Too many work hours.

    "Most work is low difficulty
    Not involved in creative talks or meetings. Hired as a grunt worker to pump out finished characters."

    Again...if my company stays in business, all is well. It's just that it's looking like it might be difficult to stay in business...

    I believe we as artist also need to look at ourselves. Everyday I see everyone around me waisting countless hours and taking 4 hours to do something that should only take 1. If we would simply work with integrity then perhaps we would not be in as much of this mess as we are. Not to say there are not sweatshops out there but we cannot put all the blame on them.

    VFX supes treated employees like servants, not collaborators; lots of going to the top of the org chart for concerns that could be resolved with more directly-targeted phone calls; complete mayhem on a project where people slept over in the building to complete a botched job by another division; bad integration of recently-acquired facilities and existing employees.

    I had to move from California to get this job

    concerned about layoffs / outsourcing to India and China

    Some of this is the difference between previz in a production office and previz at a vfx or commercial house. Because production offices are temporary and on location, they tend to have older office furniture. VFX and commercial houses tend to have better, ergonomic chairs.

    No contract


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