Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What’s the solution?

What’s the solution?

In my PI VFX Town Hall talk I listed many of the problems of the visual effects industry.

Too much competition
Broken business model
Massive Overtime
Unpaid Overtime, broken labor laws
Health Care

I also listed a number of possible solutions with their pros and cons.

Possible solutions
Making our own content
Residuals and royalties
Working for the studios
Post-production supervision
Global working conditions
Trade association
Visual Effects Guild

None of these are perfect and none solve all the industry problems.

Solution to these problems will take involvement of the workers, the companies and the studios themselves even though none of those groups seem to be particularly eager to attempt to solve the problems.

Yet I continue to see posts, tweets, etc that there must be other solutions. Solutions that are perfect and that solve everything. People have stated they are working on solutions and will be releasing these new solutions any day now.

And yet they still have not provided them.

Finding problems with proposals and criticizing is the easiest thing a person can do. How about people actually make suggestions of a solution?

John Berton, another visual effects supervisor, reminded me of what Chuck Jones has said:

 Because this was not a brainstorming session in the usual sense, it was a “yes” session, not an “anything goes” session. Anything went, but only if it was positive, supportive, and affirmative to the premise.  No negatives were allowed…. 
The “yes” session imposes only one discipline: the abolition of the word “no”.
…if you find you cannot contribute, then silence is proper, but it is surprising how meaty a little old stringy “yes” (which is another name for a premise) can become in as little as fifteen or twenty minutes, when everyone present unreservedly commits his immediate impulsive and positive response to it…A good premise always generates the most astonishing results.
Jones, Chuck. Chuck Amuck: The life and times of an animated cartoonist. New York: Chuck Jones Enterprises, inc. , 1989. pp 150 – 152.

Rather than focusing on every negative of every proposal and ending up with nothing, review the positive aspects of the options and proceed to choose the best ones.

So please step forward and provide your solution. Your answer.

If you don’t have one then consider the positives of the various solutions suggested here and elsewhere and support those.

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  1. From what I've been witnessing through all of this, is that VFX peeps each want what will benefit them the most as individuals. Which tells us the VFX industry still doesn't stand together.

    When people can stand together for the craft and industry as a whole, including the voice of VFX shop owners (which have not heard a peep from in the public forums) then I believe more positive solutions will be voiced and/or supported.

    ...before I hear the union proposal again, let me state: that is yet another aspect of differing among artists. So the questions should be, what will bring the industry together in order to produce change or forming a union per se? The common bond of creativity? Higher incomes? People need to agree and come together for a sole purpose. Why are they in this industry and where does the passion lay?

  2. >The common bond of creativity?

    Lack of creativity isn't one of the problems we are faced with. Without money coming in for living on (company or individual) creativity itself means little.

    >Higher incomes?
    No. Most vfx workers are covered reasonably.

    >Why are they in this industry and where does the passion lay?

    Actually these are the wrong questions. It's not an issue of passion. The issue is survival of the industry. The issue is labor laws and a string of business issues.

    For those with specific work issues you have you chance, even as anonymous, to list them on the previous post.
    Link VFX Pros United

  3. The one solution I have is to report labor law violations throughout the VFX, Motion Design and Game Development industries. I think that's probably the only effective way to change the behavior of companies who have made violating overtime laws, misclassifying workers and routine 60+ hr weeks as part of their business models.

    Hopefully the lawsuit against Yurcor & The Mill is successful and leads to some changes in the industry.

  4. Solution 1: Cry and take the beatings like kunta kinte


    Solution 2: Break the chains with leverage and consistency.

    I don't think that lawsuit will end EORs or make much of a dent. So few complaining about them. I hope the artists win though, of course. It's like fighting the giant “boss” in a video game. Takes 100 shots to win. 10 down, 90 to go...

  5. Your list missed quite a few concerns and suggestions from the international (Non-Los Angeles) workers.

  6. That's point of these open comments. Post your concerns and suggestion here. Each area and person may have different issues and solutions.

  7. AnonymousMay 24, 2013

    I of the main concern value for your work ! ie higher income increasing standard rates getting what you deserve even if u done a roto job!

  8. Educating artists, especially young artist in key areas such as contract negotiations, local labor laws, and financial planning amongst other things will greatly impact the artists work experience and create a positive self worth that will translate into making beneficial decisions when it comes to a proper work/life balance.

  9. (this is some further thoughts on an idea I had which started as a series of tweets to Scott)

    What if VFX were treated like principal photography?

    Call it VFX Production or Principal VFX, if you will. This would be a phase in the overall schedule where the director focuses on realizing the look and feel of all of the VFX shots. Not everything has to be finished, but the idea would be to settle the creative aspects and work the shots at a high enough resolution so that when editing, the director sees what needs to be seen on screen.

    This is based on a handful of observations:

    1. VFX is production. It’s so much of what constitutes a shot, and when it’s over 1,000 shots and half the budget, it really is principal.
    2. Dave Rand’s makes the point that the physical presence of the director can save a lot of time and money on the VFX work and result in stronger work too.
    3. Scott Squires’ thought that having someone like an AD to ride herd
    4. VFX houses bid on a script but are expected to execute the cut.
    5. When a film moves into editing, there’s a mental shift from capturing takes to crafting the whole story.
    6. Back in the old days, some VFX work used to be pre-pro (matte paintings, process screens) in order for the effect to wind up in camera, but slowly moved to post over several decades.
    7. The kind of instructions and choices a director makes on VFX work often resembles production choices.
    8. Moving VFX, especially creative aspects, further up the schedule will reduce the burden of work during the final push.
    9. In post, the director is pulled in a lot of different directions, compared to production where the day is scheduled to handle so many setups within so many hours.
    10. Digital is pervasive. Just because its digital doesn’t mean it should be VFX.

    In this proposed style of work, during Principal VFX the director moves from setup to setup throughout the day. She works with the artists, producers, and supervisors necessary to get the creative work accomplished for each setup. There is buy-in from the director and the team gets a strong sense of the creative vision first hand.

    VFX work generally focuses on ‘shots’ derived from the edit. This approach shifts thinking to creating VFX ‘takes’ instead to later be edited.

    There are various challenges to this, especially turnaround time for VFX and whether it can realistically happen in front of a director. Also, can time in the overall schedule be carved out for this? Is a studio willing to commit the heavy VFX work earlier than their accustomed? The ideal would be an absolutely completed shot that can be treated as final, but the goal is a shot that is creatively set.

    Why bother? It’s key to think of production as different from post. Production is where one gets the performance and the scene (and captured into the camera). Post is where all the scenes get shaped into the overall story. The creative focus is rather different. Having a set schedule for Principal VFX work means elements are delilvered beforehand, shots/takes are created and accepted by the director and producers. Extensive reworking of VFX in post is then considered at the same level as a reshoot.

    This shift also changes how the unions involved in production might interact with VFX. Asking the DGA to see this as production work changes a directors involvement, as well as pay. It can also affect how production design, costume, props, etc. transition from production to VFX. Predicting what impact this has on unionizing VFX workers is beyond my ken, but I like the idea of aligning the various specialties of VFX with existing unions and their respective crafts.

    ps: Chris DeFaria and Framestore seem to be way ahead of me on this thinking (http://bit.ly/11BOJap, http://bit.ly/19egOJT).

  10. David, Thank you for thinking outside the box. Certainly some valid issues. Just a few notes:

    >> 6. Back in the old days, some VFX work used to be pre-pro (matte paintings, process screens) in order for the effect to wind up in camera, but slowly moved to post over several decades.

    There were glass paintings in the very early days of photography but majority of matte paintings of any significance were done after photography. For rear projection plates were shot before photography. Likewise even today blue/greenscreen backgrounds are ideally shot before the screen work is shot so perspectives and lighting can match.

    >>10. Digital is pervasive. Just because its digital doesn’t mean it should be VFX.

    Not sure what this means exactly. Fix it work? DI?

    >>VFX work generally focuses on ‘shots’ derived from the edit. This approach shifts thinking to creating VFX ‘takes’ instead to later be edited.

    As in live action typical takes are a finer increment of (and lesser) time and cost on set or post than a shot. A take is usually making minor adjustments to actor performance or camera motion. A shot is where the expense lies along with the time. A shot involves setting up a camera, relighting, possibly different background or location, as well as a different intent of the actors and director.

    >>Post is where all the scenes get shaped into the overall story.
    The have to shoot the scenes with the intent of the overall story. In edit they refine the visual storytelling but the concept of the story is alive through the full process.

    (more in next comment)


  11. As virtual production becomes more common there will be more rendering and compositing right on set. Initially this is lower resolution but does provide the director with a good feel for it. Just as motion capture may be able to provide a feel for the action before the motion is refined. Computing speed and other technologies along with the skill set and experience will increase in these areas with possible more VFX workers on set. In these cases the models and environments will have to be completed (or at least close) before photography starts.

  12. Chris does have some ideas for new post workflow but it isn't always clear as per the articles linked.

    >> On how the VFX business might reinvent itself, DeFaria responded, “I think in the future it will be even more decentralized and entrepreneurial.” He described a potential model where a Los Angeles office would handle R&D and production management, but can be nimble enough that much of the actual work is handled in other cities and countries or at “pop up” VFX companies, which DeFaria defined as three to ten artists doing work while relying on accessible tools.

    So here the work is farmed out to small teams working independently and around the world at lower cost locations.
    The problem here is assuming a small team will work for all tasks. If you have 500 shots of a given type is there enough time for a small team to do them all? When you split up the work too much then you have problems with consistency. When live action shoots you seldom have more than 1st and 2nd units because it's difficult to keep everything, including the feel, consistent. An additional unit or two is fine for insert shots or aerial shots but would be difficult to intercut. There is actually a certain efficiency of having large companies on some projects. It can cut down on the communication and hand off issues that are incurred when you have dozens of smaller companies trying to pass elements and assets around.

    And is the time and budget all still fixed? Because you've added yet another layer or 2 of management. You have the production management now delegating to small teams which will need some business/management component. So each will still have to bid and pass up the chain. You've possibly made the hierarchical even deeper and more complex. And at a time when work is being spread out to 12-15 companies each ranging from 20 people to 500 people you will now need 2 to 10 times as many companies involved, assuming small teams is something like 12 people. Because in the end it will still require the same number of people unless the time is greatly extended or until a number of years in the future where the speed and interactivity can make doing a full feature film of a given complexity reasonable for smaller teams of people. and for those who know how long dailies take with a dozen companies now it will take even longer with more tracking.


  13. "...the day is quickly coming when there will no longer be visual effects departments operating as separate entities. They will instead need to be more seamlessly incorporated into the individual films’ production. “You already have visual effects appearing in every single line item,” he points out. “It’s in vehicles, it’s in extras, it’s in cast, it’s in set design. It’s all throughout the budget of the film. And yet we’re still making films with this notion that down the hall we’ve got these visual effects. And anytime you need these digital tools you call digital effects. Which is insane.” He likened it to having a production department for hammers and having to go see them every time you need a hammer. "

    I like the first part of incorporating vfx into the film production. This is the way it used to be done. You'll note that this is a bit different than the concept of having entrepreneurial teams working in other locations as per the previous article. So the concept here is you have modelers in the art department that are designing CG models to be used for the visual effects as well as basis for the full size vehicles or sets. So part of that issue will be responsibilities, capabilities and skill sets. So now the art department is tasked with doing the CG models. So who will make changes in post when the director wants a change since the art dept will be long gone. Now maybe the idea is to get everything bought off on. Who will light the CG models? Is the camera dept now in 2 tracks - live action DP and a CG DP? Is the live action DP overseeing the CG lighting? Will the studios every be open to spending the time? Will wardrobe and makeup now have their own CG modelers as well? S
    So are animators now actors and when in the timeline do they come in? What dept are the compositors in? If it's virtual production are they folded in to camera or into scenics dept? You'll still need a vfx supervisor to be able to fit together all the unseen parts of the scenes.
    The other issue is follow through. The art dept has to make sure they work on camera for the DP. Are they also confirming that they will work for vfx shots with the CG DP?

    In the current IA plan vfx artists will be placed in their closest relatable local (i.e. matte ptgs in art dept, etc) until there is a vfx union.

    Visual effects is not hammers. There is some advantage to have all vfx artists work directly for the studios. Much more direct communication with the director and any costs from changes or additions are directly linked as real costs. Studios and directors can be more efficient and save money or they can make a lot of changes and spend more. Now they're directly in charge of the costs and times.

    So part of this will depend on are all existing departments open and capable of dealing with both the real world and the virtual world? How do the schedules lay out in those cases and what happens if there are interaction problems? On the set if there's an issue for the PD regarding the set, then a discussion will happen and it will be adjusted if need be. With the virtual world will they still be involved?

    The interesting thing here Warner Brothers could actually make this happen if they were interesting in doing so. They control the money and the awarding of projects. They can set up skunk works on a project and handle it as Chris has mentioned. I suspect the dept would be open and if these vfx workers were folded into the respective unions that would be possible. As I say there'd be some details sto be sorted out in terms of who's in charge of what and the timeliness involved but it's not out of the question.


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