Monday, June 10, 2013

Sad state of the Visual Effects Industry

Sad state of the Visual Effects Industry

For anyone considering visual effects as a career and for those already working in the industry-  please check out this great article by Jeff Heusser  at fxGuide:
VFX in Los Angeles – 100 hour weeks & homeless

Puts things in perspective.

This is what our industry has come to. We who make the magic from nothing and we who generate the major profits for the studios. The studios have commoditized us and shipped jobs around the world to save pennies. Those who are experienced, talented and skilled are putting in long hours and are being forced to move to other locations around the world, away from their family and homes.

Those just starting out are being fleeced by anyone and everyone selling them on this fictional dream of fame, fortune and creative riches.

For profit schools are multiplying at an incredible rate and being funded by money machines such as Goldman Sachs to sell dreams to people, young and old. The problem is those dreams don't exist. These schools are churning out thousands of graduates to an industry without jobs. The only selection process at these types of schools is can you pay or can you sign this student loan from the government.  Your aptitude and your potential talent is never evaluated. Guidance counselors never reveal the reality of the industry you're getting into or your odds. In most cases these diploma mill types of schools teach very little of value and even those that do now have cranked out so many others it doesn't matter. It's hard to stand out and even when you do it's hard to get a job. When you do get a job you will likely be working long hours and then have to move to find your next project.

All of these students are eager to go into tens of thousands of debt. They are eager to work for free or close to free. They are eager to be exploited, to lower their value and the value of everyone else in the future, to the detriment of their real future.

The student loan bubble is the next big bubble to burst with over $1 trillion in student loans here in the US.

Many coming to this website are searching for the salary of visual effects supervisors and other positions, eager to learn about making a fortune without pausing on some of the more sobering information.

Those just considering visual effects industry as a career, save yourself. Go into something with a future. Visual effects are being used  more than they ever have (every film from hollywood uses vfx and most independents) and the technical and creative challenges are increasing but the business aspects and control of the industry have turned the love of what we do into a mess. It certainly pains me to write this as someone who has been doing this a long time. Visual effects companies are collapsing while others fiddle.

Many in the industry, even those with experience, are bailing as quickly as they can. And with a visual effects only skill set, there's very few places you can work. There are few other industries that can take people who do animation, lighting, rendering, modeling, compositing, etc. Make sure if you do go to school you gain a broader base of knowledge than just visual effects. 

There are plenty of visual effects companies around the world that have no problems exploiting recent graduates who have already been exploited and fleeced from the schools they attended. Overtime is the norm. Companies encourage it, especially since it hides the sins of poor management, and it is now such a mantra for workers that they accept it as the norm themselves.

The visual effects companies who take on many of these new graduates do so at the expense of other, more experienced workers. And why do they do it? False economics. They think that hiring people at a lower wage is how they can save money. The truth is the experienced worker is more productive, the more likely to solve the problems, and the one who can make sure the project gets done in the compressed time schedule. New people should be brought in as needed and mentored so they have a future. In an industry where experienced people are being dumped for the cheaper, inexperienced people - what do people starting a career in this industry think will be happening to them once they become experienced? It's an endless cycle.

With so many visual effects graduates eager to be exploited and companies willing to exploit them, the visual effects industry is dissolving from the bottom while pressure and other problems are dissolving the top. The end result will be an empty hull.

Now there are thousands and thousands of film school graduates every year as well. Likely many times the number of visual effects graduates. Why isn't the rest of the film industry having these same problems? Well the studios are smart enough not to hire too many inexperienced people. They know the value of experience. And everyone else working in live action filmmaking is covered by a union. This provides the studios with the experienced people they need and also protect the crews from being exploited. Visual effects is the only group not covered by a union and thus is able to be easily exploited.

Related posts
See any article on the right column under the State of the Industry

Updated 6-11-2013
I'll repeat some of the links here from the schools post since not everyone follows the links and I've added many more since there seems to be some confusion regarding this issue.

Harkin, Colleagues Say For-Profit Colleges Squander Billions and Destroy Dreams
Art Institute graduate spent 70K on degree, can't find video game job, takes up stripping instead.

New links:
Yes another video and article about another visual effects student being lied to at Art Institute in Tampa.

110 for-profit colleges accused of lying, defrauding taxpayers - video and article

Read more:

For-profit colleges investigation - Great video
For-Profit Colleges Are A Spectacularly Bad Investment

What I Just Told the Obama Administration About For-Profit Colleges
NY Times list of articles on for-profit schools

Some of those NY Times articles:
Student Debt and the Crushing of the American Dream
Misleading Advice for Student Borrowers
Closer Scrutiny of For-Profit Schools

For-profit colleges wrong solution to higher education problem

See vfxsoldier for more student stories.

Update 6-14-2013
Even if you work in a subsidized area you might not be paid 

Today is also another Townhall Meeting that applies to all involved in visual effects around the world.
This is a streaming event that is being held in New York today but is being streamed globally with speakers from around the world.

Starts at 6pm New York time. 3pm Los Angeles time.

More info:
VFXTownHall Streaming location.
More info


  1. Hi Scott,

    There is a lot of valid industry specific information here. But the student loan situation does not only apply to visual effects. Can you name some examples of the institutions you are referring to? Many respected universities are for profit, and if someone goes to UC Berkeley for example, there is still going to be debt.

  2. Hi Catherine, Student loans do apply to visual effects trade schools. Obviously UC Berkeley and other colleges/universities make a profit. But they have a criteria and selection process before a student is accepted. They are not a for-profit school in the true sense that their only fixation is making money. They don't take everyone. Nor do they try to crank through as many students as possible (diploma mill as mentioned). They also evaluate the students and grade accordingly. I do take issue with colleges and universities because very few offer real career counseling. UCLA, USC, etc. all still crank out film students without discussing the issues and odds. Same issue applies to all majors. There's no one covering practical nature of any particular major from most colleges I've seen

    Please check out another post: Schools

    I'm going to add more reference links to this post so people can see what's going on.



  3. Hi Scott,
    Your article reflects many valid points. The problems are not just happening around VFX industry but more generally, in all CG related industries. I was lucky to be able to moonlight a few full time animation jobs in the course of 10+ years and it was a good career in the late 90s, but I always kept a second career open since I was seeing the industry exploited not just inexperienced graduates but also experienced talents. Like you mention, it is not difficult to work out the future by monitoring the older one in the industry. I think we just got too many artists who are willing to work for passion, and put their family or future second.

    People in CG do need to move around to where works are and mind you, the relocation benefit varies according to studio / project. I used to question how many countries we will go & live and for how long. Definitely it is fun when you "think" that traveling or working aboard is good but forever, during your career?? & leaving your life style for 3rd world countries??

    I myself am passionate about animation and when I have acquired both industrial experience and academic status, I really want to teach animation. However, the reality in both Europe and Canada shocked me. All across the board whether they are universities or diploma or private funded colleges, they are all after students' money and none of the institution I had interviewed with (including some so called top colleges) focus on delivering knowledge or expending talents. Sad that I had to turn down offers and at the end gave up teaching animation when one institution planned to double their current intake by 100% with no plan of increasing teaching staff & another one openly told me that they are in for the market and asked me not to take stand with the students...

    My advice is please please please have 2 careers in parallel, even though you are dead on working for passion, for free and for long hours. Many of my friends in the industry had to sacrifice a lot & many did manage a good life style like me and people in other trade. To be honest, I make much better money outside CG but of course, I will return to my passion provided that the project is challenging and I am not being exploited by the industry.

  4. AnonymousJune 12, 2013

    That article "VFX in Los Angeles – 100 hour weeks & homeless" is misleading.
    The choices he made were irrational.
    You can't blame the industry the way it is. Just cause you go to a school and graduate from it doesn't mean you're guaranteed a job. No industry is like that.

    Do you homework before you apply for the school. I went in one of those schools listed and finished. Worked hard, moved up, and in 5 years paid my student loans off. Faster than my friends in Universities who still have at least 10 years to go on their loans.
    Don't just go and spend your college funds blindly. Know what they specialize in.
    I've met people who are talented and not talented.. and they do just fine. Just be smart in how you approach the industry.

  5. i totally agree withh the article. i am an indian. i did my VFX course after passing 12th. nowdays Animation schools are spreading here in villages too like mushrooms!! everyday they print eye catching articles gloryfying the future of animation industry in india and attracting students!!

    but being in the field myself i know the truth that here there is limited job opportunity. students hav outnumbered job vaccancy and animation schools care only about there fees and no of admissions starting various crash course offers every week.

    for freshers jobs r being offered at only Rs7000 per month!! above that you have to pay a deposit of around Rs 50000 to the company for a year contract in big companies like Prime focus. salary of Rs7000 only... whereas here a car driver gets salary of 12000 per month without investing a single rupee in any school.. a gatekeeper gets Rs10000 per month. it sounds pathetic that calling it a creative field there is no value for the talent. apart from that job timings are too harsh and you are often asked to stay in office over night to finish the job without any extra pay or even dinner arrangments!!

    i tried taking up a job but left it as i didnt find the payment worth the labur.. looking for different career now in business industry

  6. This discussion is very focused on the topic and I’m satisfied with the researched material as is is authentic and unbiased

  7. AnonymousJuly 24, 2013

    I wanted to mention to everyone, ALL the Art Institutes are predatory. They all are $70+ for a degree and most of them provide very poor education. I've heard horror stories from the Art institute in Denver, Chicago, etc. all over the country. They are all crooked.

  8. Hi Scott, I'm so glad to have found your blog. I'm an industrial designer (graduated 2years) and I've always been a concept artist at heart so I planned to attend Vancouver Film School this summer for 3D Animation & Visual Effects. I'm passionate about design sketching and doing concept vehicles, environments, props, etc, but 3D modelling with ZBrush, Maya, and compositing VFX is not something I am familiar with. I understand that there are probably more concept artists out there than 3D modellers and VFX artists since concept art existed much longer ago. Would you think it's a smarter and more life stable idea to stick with industrial design and just practice concept art on my own, hoping to one day have an exceptional concept art portfolio to apply for a job?

  9. Projects employ more 3D artists and many other vfx positions that concept artists. Concept artists work in a range of mediums and may or may not have 3D skills. I know a number that use SketchUp and similar tools who don't know Maya, compositing, etc. Their main tools are Photoshop and painter along with traditional mediums. So don't feel you have to go to a vfx school. Now knowing more such as 3D modeling with z-brush isn't a bad idea and could make you more valuable in the long run but that's up to you and may not require attending a full school since there are online classes and other resources such as books and videos. You might explore those first before plunking down a lot of money for long classes.

    Science Fiction and Fantasy projects tend to employ the most concept artists of course. On projects like Avatar and Hell Boy they'll employ 6-12 people with many assigned a specific area - weapons, vehicles, sets, etc. I would suggest looking at the different behind the scenes or art of x project books to get an idea of the type of work. If you can achieve that to the level shown then you're ready to start.

    Many of the artists have their own web sites so I would check those out as well.
    My friend Ty Ruben Ellingston has a website here:

    Most these days are hired directly by the production and not the vfx company. A few vfx companies still have some artists on staff including ILM. There's probably not a lot of posted jobs for these positions. Many of the artists do other types of art/design projects or teach so they're not 100% dependent on the whims of production to earn a living.


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