Thursday, May 23, 2013

Survey Comments

Survey Comments

I did a simple survey asking visual effects and animation professionals about their working conditions.
For more details and the results of the survey see  Visual Effects Working Conditions Survey

Keep in mind when I ask about working conditions many are surprised, even at the VES board meetings. Many of us do work in places that provide reasonable working environments and that do follow at least basics of the labor laws. But keep in mind this is a global industry. Your experiences are not the same as everyone else's and just because you may not have experienced something, doesn't mean it doesn't happen. I've heard reports of beatings and other issues in places such as India and China. Even in Los Angeles there are companies that do not pay overtime nor do they provide reasonable working conditions (air conditioning, etc). Much depends on the quality and level of the company you work for.

Also keep in mind you are likely to be required (requested?) to travel half way around the world to keep working. Will the company there be providing the same level of experience as you've grown used to? As vfx companies continue to be squeezed don't be surprised if the companies start making even more trims to not only your salary and benefits but you work experience and environment as well.

Safety is one that people seem to take for granted. Are there ethernet cables and power cables running on the floors where you work that people might trip on? Are any of the exit doors locked for security or other reasons? Is the stairway door blocked with old computers or boxes? Is it in a good area of town? Are there tall cabinets or hanging 'models' that might fall in an earthquake? Was a warehouse or old house quickly converted to a vfx company workspace?

The first question of the survey was about priorities. This was the level of concern or how important it was to the professional. From none to Highest (essentially 1-5). What are the important issues to be considered when working at a job or considering to take a job?

These were focused on issues the company has some control over (versus quality of the script, etc)
Brackets are added comments from me.

Priorities of concern 
None Low       Medium High Highest concern - (Required)
1. Safety on job
2. Working environment (temp, ventilation, etc)
3. Ergonomics (monitor placement, chair, etc)
4. Meal breaks
5. Rest breaks
6. Compensated for overtime
7. Minimizing overtime
8. Turnaround time (time between work days)
9. Health Insurance Coverage
10. Vacation time
11. Sick leave
12. Pension
13. Credits
14. Credit placement
15. Deal memo
16. Demo Material [Being able to show material on demo reel]
17. Being misclassified [Independent contractor, technician, manager, etc to avoid overtime or other issues]
18. Having to move to keep working [Are you concerned about having to move elsewhere?]
19. Other (please specify)

The second question was about how well the company you work for meets those concerns?
If a pension was high on your concern list but the company did not offer a pension plan, then it would be rated None.

How well does your current company meet your concerns? (or last if not working)
None Low Medium High Maximum

The following are a list of the comments from respondents who answered Other in either question.
The first list is those who commented on both questions (priority and company). After that are the comments regarding only priority question and last, comments regarding the company meeting those demands. Comments in [ brackets ] are my responses.

Priority and company responses

Vancouver, BC   Canada 
Priority: having a notice greater than 2 weeks before getting fired.

Company: training, introduction to the team and project

Altadena, CA USA  
Priority: training, introduction to the team and project

Company: Appreciation for work and a supportive environment focused on quality work.

Bielefeld, Nordrheinwestfalen Germany
Priority: Health Insurance Coverage is through the state, although I worry a lot about paying the Coverage!

Company: None = meaning, they didn't deliver what I wished for  Maximum = Totally satisfied with what they did  ---- don't know if I got that right! -------
[Yes, that's correct]

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Priority: No job security, short contracts, no carrier advancement

Company:  No job security, short contracts, no carrier advancement

London,   UK
Priority: Not mentioned: Sexual Harassment Policies

Company:  Cant Answer for Credits and Credit placement yet, as movie not yet released.

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Priority: I want to be able to have a family and not uproot them every 6 months. I make decent money but not enough to handle that without concern

Company:  They hire 200+ animators and then lay them all off at the same time making finding the next job very difficult

Los Angeles, CA   USA  
Priority: please no relocation. hard to find stable jobs when everything and everyone is constantly moving from one place to another. I want a life w/people I love *biggest priority*

Company:  had to leave loved ones behind and relocate to canada to work at this company. great studio, loved the work i was doing, but very lonely personal life. life outside of work just wasn't satisfying/happy enough, so chose to go back home. now struggling to find work at home. wish I didn't have to choose between a great work life vs a great personal life.

Barcelona, Spain
Priority: at least be heard...

Company:  it seems nobody cares about the content

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: This company went bankrupt.

Company:  This company went bankrupt.

London,   UK
Priority: I put None for Health Insurance because I happen to work in the UK where we have the NHS. But, if I have to keep moving around the world like I have over the past 10 years, this may change.

Company:  - Not compensated for overtime at all. Most people (everyone?) in London,   UK are on day rate.
- No pension that I know of.
- Not sure about film credits this time around. The last time I worked for DNeg was years ago, and I did get credit then. Of course, it was below the catering.
- I am misclassified: have a lead title informally and a senior artist contract.

London,   UK
Priority: None

Company:  Great

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: 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.

Company:  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, Noisy, etc...

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Priority: Challenging work - High Priority
Being involved in meetings/dailies and not a grunt worker - High Priority

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

Berkeley, CA USA
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,

Company:  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...

El Segundo, CA   USA
Priority: 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.
[I'm not making any assumptions about what people have experienced. What are your concerns, priorities, etc?
Also I made no suggestion regarding job security in the survey.]

Company: I believe we as artist also need to look at ourselves. Everyday I see everyone around me wasting 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.
[Maybe you should help them or flag management?  This survey isn't putting the blame on anyone. Just trying to get different experiences]

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: consistent enforcement of state, local, and Federal labor laws: required, absolutely

Company:  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.

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: If the environment is abusive, I have quit with minimal notice.  In one specific case, I was threatened with being fired, and then the supervisor asked my coworkers if they knew anyone who could replace me.

Company:  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.

Priority: Advance payment 50%

Company:  No contract


Priority responses only

Los Angeles, CA   USA,CA USA
Priority: I think marking pretty much of all these items as a "high concern" has made me realize this list should be retitled to "reasons to leave"

No location
Priority: Salary scale model for all studios to use via standardization with min 3% salary raise.

Los Angeles, CA   USA  
Priority: Compensation fee schedule for canceled bookings, Penalties for truncated or extended schedules.  Priority:  Highest.  
Parking or compensation for parking lot fees or alternate transportation where public transportation is unavailable or unworkable.  Priority: High

Mumbai, Maharashtra India
Priority: Training and development activities

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: How the management treats the artists personally.

Sydney, Australia
Priority: Salary / fair pay

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Priority: Having to recover for sick days even thought they are specified on the contract     Having more duties than specified on the position and being told that I don't deserve a promotion and the minimum salary for the position.

Stuttgart, Germany
Priority: Less everyday working hours!

Fort Lauderdale, FL USA
Priority: Can no longer find work in Florida. Too much competition with college grads which has severely lowered wages and increased competition for the few jobs available. Over 18 years professional experience and struggling to find suitable, stable employment at a reasonable wage.

London,   UK
Priority: Breaks, vacation, safety, credits, Material and environment are already good in UK

London,   UK
Priority: i am afraid i seriously am not understanding what the above represents; MY concerns or the concerns of the company as represented by the deal memo? the wording of this is vague at best. i have responded to the survey above assuming it has to do with the deal memo content.
[Not everyone gets a deal memo of any kind. Some don't know what a deal memo is. So the question was how important is a deal memo and it's content to you.]

Burbank, CA USA
Priority: Salaries dropping, too many art school grads flooding market

Culver City, CA USA
Priority: Residuals?

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: When facilities ask me to bring in assets from other jobs they know I have worked on. I have refused to work at certain place where someone asked me to bring in something.

New York, NY USA
Priority: Re: Health Insurance / Pension - I secure my own, so provided the pay is high enough to offset those costs, they are not concerns for what positions I seek.
[So will your job always pay high enough and rise as quick or quicker than the speed health care is rising? ]

New York, NY USA
Priority: Its all about quality work and being treated as a human being.

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Priority: Finding work

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Priority: Contract length and job security is absolute top

Sam Francisco, CA   USA
Priority: I'm pretty lucky

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Priority: Top concern - unpredictability in length of contracts, location of work, viability of companies, future of industry.

El Segundo, CA USA
Priority: moving is NOT an option for me (or my family), so "NOT having to move for work" is "required"

Baton Rouge, Louisiana USA
Priority: 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.

El Segundo, CA USA
Priority: Not sure what's going on with that last question but no, will not move just to stay in VFX
[Is having to move a high concern? And your answer is yes, it's a big concern.]

Montreal, Quebec Canada
Priority: Quality of project. Experience and learning. Who i am working with. Money.

San Francisco, CA USA
Priority: Experience and expertise is considered a detriment more and more.

Nicaso, CA USA
Priority: Opportunities to move up or lead new projects without simply doing the same 'cog' job for years

San Francisco, CA USA
Priority: Consecutive days worked is a big problem.

Berkeley, CA USA
Priority: Not sure what a deal memo is.
[Demo memo is a written agreement with the company so your pay rate, position, and other details are clearly stated. See VFX Deal Memo for more info ]

Glendale, CA USA
Priority: Note I work for a unionized company

Culver City, CA USA
Priority: Why would being force to move to keep working be a requirement that anyone would want?
[Is having to move a high concern? ]

El Segundo, CA USA
Priority: Movable start dates without compensation. Poor communication about end dates.

Santa Monica, CA USA
Priority: Loss of VFX jobs in and around the Los Angeles area, and the length of unemployment between contracts.

San Francisco, CA USA
Priority: Working on good scripts and challenging movies is very important.

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: 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.

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: No mercy for working moms.

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: Quality of shows high, working with your friends high

Montreal, Quebec Canada
Priority: Overtime used as leverage to lower salary

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Priority: Confirmation about availability is required.  Currently only production side can has confirm, but worker can't.

Venice, CA USA
Priority: Highest concern is the frequent layoffs and employers unable to guarantee work for more than a couple of weeks.

Company responses only

Perth, Australia
Company: In the last 2 years I have worked in Sydney, London,   UK, Bergen and Perth. What I have answered here applies to all places.

Carlsbad, CA USA
Company: I am a 6-month contract worker and do not receive benefits (health, 401k, vacation, etc) from my employer

Woodland Hills, CA USA
Company: We get no overtime pay (exempt, full time) but do get royalties.
[I assume you work in games?]

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Company: I am currently working outside of a production environment since few jobs in animation remain in L.A.

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Company:  Haven't had to move… yet.

Company: I think what you're doing is a giant waste of time.  It's the not MY responsibility to force a company to do what *I* want.  I can work in another industry if I don't want to work this way.  I'm so tired of the whining.  How about getting VFX companies to simply be run by normal human beings instead of people who will take any job for any price so James Cameron will visit their facility?  The problem with the industry is not going to be fixed by a union.  It'll be fixed when all these terribly run companies go out of business and ones with sound practices take their place.
[ First the survey doesn't force any company to do anything. It's simply trying to get a guage of workers around the world. As to getting them to work the way YOU want - you have no problems if companies break labor laws or treat people poorly? So should those who have been beaten not mention it since it would be whining?

"It'll be fixed when all these terribly run companies go out of business and ones with sound practices take their place."
How do you suggest the problems be fixed? What are the sound practices and how will the terribly run companies go out of business? (Evidently we're not to speak of any of this according to your note) ]

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Company: My last employer was a pretty good place to work. This is not typical.

London,   UK
Company:  We actually got paid day-rate only. If we worked weekend we could take day-rate or comp day. No per hour OT.

Wellington, New Zealand
Company: Perhaps this should come under 'deal memo'? Length of contract - contracts seem to be getting shorter and shorter and are less likely to be honored anyway. You might get a six month contract but be let go half way through it with no or almost no notice. There is absolutely no stability

New York, NY  USA
Company: No loyalty to employees, extremely low wages

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Company: currently freelance

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Company: You don't have a place to put notes for items 4-10, so I am putting it here. In item 9, [Overtime compensation] I have to put down that I am paid a flat, because I am a salaried employee. But in item 8, [Are you compensated for all the hours you work? ] I feel like I am more than adequately compensated for my overtime, because I factored that into my salary negotiation, and I am paid what I think my time is worth. The important point here is that you don't have to be paid "overtime" per se, at an increased hourly rate, to feel well compensated for your additional time at the office. In fact, having to punch a timecard to keep track of my time would be annoying as hell. In my current situation, I come and go as I please, as long as my work gets done. I prefer that over some kind of crappy union timecard punching situation. I've done that. It's a system that works well for mediocre people who can't demand their own deals.It's not for me.

[ A flat rate is fine when both you and the employer know what the time required will be and if it's consistent. What happens when your employer requires the entire project to be done working 16hr days, 7 days a week? Did you factor that in? Does anything in your contract prevent that from happening? When your time is fixed there is no incentive for the company to avoid overtime. It's actually more cost effective from their accountants stand point to have you put in as much time as possible, since that's all free to them.

"I come and go as I please, as long as my work gets done. " The problem is for most people  working in vfx it is a team effort.  In those cases people can't come and go as they please, they have to be there to make sure the work and hand offs are made.

"punch a timecard to keep track of my time would be annoying as hell."
First there are other methods of tracking time than punching a timecard. Second, so the company has no idea how much time you actually put in? Without knowing how much time you and others are putting in how do they determine how much to bid?

"It's a system that works well for mediocre people who can't demand their own deals."
So you have full protection from anything the company decides to do? And you've never been burned even once? Congratulations. ]

Hollywood, CA USA
Company: I am on a work visa and I can never feel safe because there is always more and more lack of money which push the companies I worked for to restructure and get rid of employees

Glendale, CA USA
Company:  It should be noted that I currently work at Dreamworks and am therefore covered by TAG. But I am still very much concerned by and supportive working conditions, rates, and guild membership for all of us involved in the field.

Vancouver, BC   Canada
Company:  Too many work hours.

London,   UK
Company: I had different treatment in my previous country, in France.  I kinda threaten of legal action my employer before leaving so I get every single hour paid, with special rate and stuff. Because the first month they tried to paid me really low (nothing actually at first) because I was 'on training' ....  So I write a letter summing up a very accurate timesheet, stating roughly : Pay Me.

Miramar, Wellington New Zealand
Company:  I am not in the US.  I work at a company in a country with a national health plan.  The company doesn't provide it, but doesn't need to.

Wellington, New Zealand
Company: I'm not sure I understood this question correctly, so I answered as if high means the company is meeting my concerns, and low if not. Also I have no idea what deal memo is.
[Yes, that's correct. High means they're meeting your concerns]

Hillsboro, OR USA
Company: I had to move from California to get this job

Redwood City, CA USA
Company: concerned about layoffs / outsourcing to India and China

Los Angeles, CA   USA
Company:  This is kind of a mixture of my current employer, with whom I recently started work, and my previous employer. Where I don't yet have experience with how my current employer works (like credits or demo material - basically the last 6 lines) I've given a response reflecting my previous employer.

I think there are quite a few similarities in the comments, no matter where in the world they came from.

Keep in mind the film business is all freelance. Film crews go from one project to another (just like actors, etc) and have gaps between employment while they try to locate additional work. That's one of the reasons why film workers are paid a bit more than similar workers in other industries. It's also one of the reasons why they are unionized. Many in visual effects have gotten used to the idea that visual effects is a permanent position and the amount of work is a constant.

As always please leave comments if you have additional thoughts.


  1. This is very important work u did, we all know that working conditions differ from one country to another or from one company to another. The best issue is to found a global society for graphics designers that will shed the lights about all these issues. Good job.Thank you

  2. We've shed light on all of these issues already. Now is the time to start implementing solutions

  3. I really like the way in which writer has encouraged us to share our point of views on this article and happy to see the active participation of readers on this.


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