March 1, 2014

'Life After Pi': A Sobering Look at the Dismal State of the Hollywood VFX Industry

Life After PiAs many of you know, Rhythm & Hues, the company responsible for the incredible visual effects work in Life of Pi, filed for bankruptcy just weeks before the film took home multiple Academy Awards, including best visual effects. Outside of the theater, during the Oscars ceremony, hundreds of local VFX artists were protesting the dismal state of the industry. Matters only worsened when VFX Supervisor Bill Westenhofer's acceptance speech, in which he attempted to shed light on the financial troubles of Rhythm & Hues, was cut prematurely. Clearly the VFX industry was in a state of turmoil. Life After Pi, a short documentary focused on the downfall of Rhythm & Hues, looks to examine the underlying issues that are causing the VFX industry to become less and less economically viable.

This film is a segment from a larger upcoming documentary called Hollywood Ending that explores the many complex challenges facing the film industry in the United States. It was directed by Scott Leberecht, an employee of Rhythm & Hues, and it clocks in at half and hour. Here's Life After Pi in its entirety:

The issues that plagued Rhythm & Hues, and the majority of the Hollywood VFX industry, are twofold. The first issue has to do with tax subsidies from various local and foreign governments. Essentially, governments can choose to subsidize production costs for the studios, which in theory, creates jobs in that region. So for every production dollar spent in that locality, the production receives a portion back on their return. Currently, places like Vancouver and London offer the best production tax incentives, so naturally, the studios will go out of their way to shoot and post-produce films there. It's all about following the money.

Unfortunately, companies such as Rhythm & Hues are then forced to build new facilities in these subsidized regions if they want to win the major studio contracts. Not only is this wildly expensive, but because tax law is fluid, what might be the most cost-effective place to shoot one year might be a production desert the next year. This state of affairs means that visual effects artists have to effectively become migrant workers in order to survive.

Next is the issue of "fixed bidding," a system in which studios accept bids from competing visual effects companies for work on their major films. This system presents several problems for VFX companies. Firstly, for the local companies in LA, they often have to vastly underbid so that they can compete with the companies that are bidding in the areas with higher subsidies.

Also, due to the nature of the work itself, which is fluid and ever-changing, the visual effects of a major film can very easily go over time and over budget. After the initial funds from the studios are gone (funds which often aren't sufficient to begin with), the costs of finishing a project fall squarely on the VFX companies instead of the studios.

These two issues of tax subsidies and fixed bidding have created an atmosphere that is not only extremely cutthroat for the VFX companies, but it has made the business model of the VFX industry (which is largely dictated by the studios) an incredibly unsustainable one. It's definitely a sad state of affairs.

What do you guys think about Life After Pi and its dismal portrayal of an industry in turmoil? Can the VFX industry adapt to these practices and remain a profitable industry? Or do the studios have to adjust their business practices to make VFX a viable industry once again? Let us know down in the comments!

Link: Hollywood Ending: A Documentary - hollywoodendingmovie

[via SlashFilm]

Your Comment

69 Comments

democratization knows no bounds.

March 1, 2014 at 11:20PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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VinceGortho

Ang Lee managed to singlehandedly piss off every single person in the VFX community.

March 1, 2014 at 11:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Henry

I was going to write an even longer riposte to this piece but I'll just say this: the doc is fine, but you'll be struck by how few people you'll see protesting the Oscars tomorrow.
Here's another list of well-paid industries where to advance/do good work you may need to move countries: engineering, banking, medicine, academia, manufacturing, shipping, food production. Why should filmmaking/post be any different?
In the last 5 years most of the major European SFX houses have opened significant branches here in LA. More are on the way. Why are they (still) coming you ask?
Because the talent and the work like being here.
R+H was a great shop in the '90s. Over the last 10 years it played hard on its rep, and its overheads were based on those glory days. It stopped selling itself aggressively to the commercial market, the lifeblood of SFX houses to chase film work, which has razor thin margins (wherever you're doing it!). I find the 'shock' about its demise perplexing. Most of the artists have already found new homes.
Also, while R+H did most of the work on Pi, it didn't do all of it. :-)

March 1, 2014 at 11:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

The offices that firms from London have opened in LA are thinly staffed and they primarily do commercial work. The main reason to have an LA office is to fulfill certain criteria for bidding on the work from the studios and haven a 'presence / screening room' for the executives, directors etc who are in LA while the work is done in London, Canada etc.

Someone also needs to explain to the UK companies that when they are in the US they need to pay an hourly rate, including overtime, not a sub-standard fixed day rate. You may be able to treat your employees like characters out of a Dickens novel in the UK, but that doesn't fly in the US.

March 2, 2014 at 1:14AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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RGB

'Someone also needs to explain to the UK companies that when they are in the US they need to pay an hourly rate, including overtime, not a sub-standard fixed day rate. You may be able to treat your employees like characters out of a Dickens novel in the UK, but that doesn't fly in the US.'

Sounds like jealousy to me.

March 2, 2014 at 3:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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When you've grown some pubes, are experienced and have a family to support you will think differently.

March 2, 2014 at 6:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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ADC

I have all those.
I've moved countries 5 times in my career. That is common in this business. As it is in the fields I listed above. Its much worse in fields like sports management and the military.
Explain the reasons why I have an unalienable right to find well paid and interesting work in my field in my hometown again? Because that hasn't been the case since the birth of industrialisation some 250 years ago.

March 2, 2014 at 2:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

You managed to not get a single thing right in your riposte.
If by 'thinly staffed' you mean appropriately staffed (and hiring!) and not bloated with dead middle management weight as R+H was, and if you mean paying 33% above London rates 'Dickensian' then sure. People like coming here for the weather, but they stay for the money.

SFX is a global business now. Has been for at least the last 10 years. And it will only get more so as cheaper and cheaper rendering engines come out. There's also been an explosion in training schools. So, lower barrier to entry, bigger talent pool. Combine that with fast internet and *presto*.

BTW this happened in the recording industry 20 years ago. No-one paid the slightest attention.

March 2, 2014 at 3:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

Why do you keep saying riposte?

March 2, 2014 at 7:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Travis

I'm glad someone mentioned how bloated Rhythm and Hues had become. One compositor at R+H asked if he could get some low poly 3d birds to composite into his shots to give atmospheric depth. He couldn't do it himself because his department didn't have access to 3d modeling tools and installation of new programs was strictly prohibited. He also couldn't bring a flash drive from home to do the assets there. The managers told him no because it would cost $20,000 to go through their pipeline. So he unzipped blender 3d (which doesn't require installation) and started making his own assets. R+H was among the best at making digital animals, but their other departments were no where near as cutting edge.

These giants do not move quickly. Pixar hasn't even used Global Illumination yet on a feature film of theirs. That's right, they are using multiple area lights to simulate the bounces. As rendering times keep going down and tools keep improving those old pipelines fall apart. A single new tool can completely disassemble an entire VFX department. For instance UCLA recently made a face scan to facial rig software called 'vuvuzella' that basically automates the process used to create the benjamin button facial rigs.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IstcFOGwvU4

WETA creates new tools for each project and is smart enough to sell the tools for more income, not to mention they have a visionary tied so closely to them. I tend to watch the game industry more for innovation because they are fighting against technological limitations and hardware changes every release.

March 2, 2014 at 8:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Dan

they used GI on Monster's Inc.

March 4, 2014 at 9:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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goldfarb

"Most of the artists have already found new homes."

It stands to reason they have since they work with excellence. Their work has won awards so they obviously are valuable and would be quickly hired by other companies doing the same work.

March 2, 2014 at 5:02PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gene

"Here’s another list of well-paid industries where to advance/do good work you may need to move countries: engineering, banking, medicine, academia, manufacturing, shipping, food production. Why should filmmaking/post be any different?"

Because to do VFX, you don't have to be on location. I can do it at my house with the right equipment. Good luck trying that with the stuff above. Plus, there are plenty of jobs in the above that can get you a decent salary without moving every 6 months.

But the other issue here that tons of people should be upset about is that the "race to the bottom" for studios involves tax subsidies. That means taxpayers are helping fund movies that they still have to go pay a lot for. Not to mention that is now money that can't be used on more pressing issues. Plus, it's not even helping create jobs inside of their own country since many move to that country for jobs.

March 3, 2014 at 11:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brett

The article and the video are based on the utter ignorance of economics. Hollywood/LA based films are ridiculously priced compared to their European and Asian counterparts, including both the above and below the title participants. Second, tax subsidies are often based off the existing national tax laws, which are, as a rule, much higher abroad (or, at least, in Western Europe and Canada) than in the US. Most importantly, while many in Hollywood fret "fleeing jobs", their brethren in other parts of the words is seeking limits on imports. In other words, where Hollywood films have 50%-75% share of the box office, the resentment is based on a feeling that these jobs and revenues would have existed, had the local movie distributors been banned from importing foreign films.
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BS. As a side note - while "rent seeking" is a well accepted mode of behavior under modern social-democratic economic model, I do find one notion to be particularly absurd. While the majority of Hollywood overwhelmingly supports the left, it nonetheless never stops from seeing breaks from the taxes that their favorite politicians had enacted.

March 2, 2014 at 12:27AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

Hollywood loves themselves some taxes unless they have to pay them.

March 2, 2014 at 1:09AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Shatto1

"other parts of the world", I meant ... duh ...

March 2, 2014 at 12:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

4 doomsday posts in a row. I'm gona jump.

March 2, 2014 at 3:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Nate

Well most of the hollywood industry has refused to embrace technology. Look at the new macpro for instance you can build a PC with the same power far cheaper. There by getting better renders with a lower amount. I would not just blame the executives but the total industry. When you tell them they start tellin you how the mac is more stable and I mean freelancers who should embrace technology the most to prove a point. The fact is that hollywood can not sell pure western stories again to the world they have to depend on ANT MAN, STEEL MAN, SUPER WARRIOR, just kiddin I mean MAN OF STEEL, SPIDER MAN that kinda stuff. You don't belive me ask spliberg himself. So which means yes most of this studios would be pushing heavy vfx movies. I was reading an article from fxphd wen the writer seems to be saying that most vfx companies are under intense pressure for both time and budget to deliver yet most are not embracing the tech to make them do that. I was at a forum were we were arguing that you can build a complete post facility that can handle a major feature of say a spider man movie with less than $1million dollar. Look at all those students graduating from film, vfx skul were would they get jobs. The key is for indy features to start matching major features but. Most of them are hamstring by technology. The truth is most of the services been paraded by most post house can be done 10times cheaper elsewhere, just that dat else where does not have the budget.

March 2, 2014 at 8:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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JustCalMeDBoss

hardware and software costs haven't been an issue in major VFX work for about 15 years now...the real cost is the artists

March 4, 2014 at 9:30AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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goldfarb

Supply and demand. Too many people want to work in film and not enough films being made resulting in cut-throat budgets. Or rather, not enough medium budget films being made to support the volume of people who want jobs. The film industry seems to be $300M per flick, or $3M per flick but not enough $30M films (numbers picked arbitrarily ... you get my drift).

Would appreciate it if someone dug up actual numbers.

March 2, 2014 at 8:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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No creative company should ever base their revenue model solely around fixed bids. Obviously there's no way to recover costs from client changes. Agreeing to a fixed bid is being irresponsible toward your employees and the health of your business. If you want to start a VFX business, and the movie studios will only allow you to operate on fixed bids, or force you into a negative profit line over a subsidies bidding war, then don't irresponsibly mess with people's lives. Get into a different industry and start up a healthier creative business where you can at least charge fairly for total work done.

March 2, 2014 at 9:39AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

And that's the point. Unless that system changes, it is unsustainable.

March 3, 2014 at 11:37AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brett

I don't understand competing against each other on a level playing field is called competition and a cornerstone of capitalism. Maybe its the fault of CGI companies who should specialise in certain fields or maybe they should join businesses. If there isn't enough work its a question of who will go under first. Asking those who use their sevices to pay a fair price never happens in the real world Just about everyone You me all of us will go for the cheapest quote at the same quality. That's why all our industries are going under and why China India are cleaning up. That's why cheap labour from abroad undercuts our wages and puts working class people out of work.
You want fair play then elect a government that will temper capitalism with rules that benefit society and not themselves IE Cheap goods and cheap labour.

March 2, 2014 at 9:51AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Mark

@Mark - But that's the whole point of today's #VFXMarch. It's not a level playing field when unfair subsidies rip out the floor of your profit. Basically it means a US VFX company cannot fairly compete. If you really want to understand the whole situation, then watch these two videos: http://vimeo.com/87721625 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lcB9u-9mVE

March 2, 2014 at 12:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

Yeah but that's the nature of any business. You need to follow the work (even if that means leaving your country). It's survival of the fittest, always has been.

March 3, 2014 at 3:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Grant

@Grant - Survival of the fittest and honest competition and has nothing to do with it. It's which country has the biggest subsidy wins. Our American government could easily fix it instead of turning its back on its own workers.

Saying it's no big deal, and that everyone should move to a foreign country just to retain their job, is quite naive.

March 3, 2014 at 8:29AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

You don't completely understand then. Someone in canada could bid $10 mil for a project while a US company bids $8 mil. In almost all industries, US would win, but in this case if the studio get $3 mil from the Canadian government then Canada wins. That isn't a level playing field because the studio has to either keep moving to the newest countries (which costs money) or bid at such a low level that it is unsustainable.

Yes, the US government could do something, but why should taxpayers be footing bills for Hollywood? It's basically which government wants to screw over their taxpayers more.

Along with that, at least products created in China/India are taxed as imports when they come back. VFX? Not yet at least.

March 3, 2014 at 11:43AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brett

People are desperate to work in film, and will sit in front of their monitors 18 hours a day, for crap money.
That's how it is in London anyway.
Abuse on a grand scale, but the youngsters all take it as they want to work in the industry.

Margins are ridiculously thin. But you take the work on as you need to keep the gears turning.
Luckily for the bosses, they are guaranteed free labour from their staff everything evening, and many weekends/

March 2, 2014 at 12:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Fresno Bob

The fx companies in London have an exemption from UK labor laws, otherwise they would have to pay overtime. You also must sign a waiver when you start at one of these companies agreeing to this.

So in the UK you have

- huge subsidies benefitting the movie studios for bringing the work to London, courtesy of the UK taxpayer.
- fixed day rate of between 100-300 GBP, which is less than artists make in LA for a 10 hour day.
- No paid overtime
- You are required to work a huge amount of overtime for free. If you do not cooperate you will not work anywhere in Soho.
- many entry level positions filled by interns / students making little or nothing.

The situation is similar in Canada and New Zealand, although in those countries they have not been able to circumvent labor laws and do pay overtime. But Peter Jackson was able to bust the unions in New Zealand.

Not exactly a level playing field. You simply can't compete with a company that can massively underbid you due to taxpayer funded corporate welfare.

March 2, 2014 at 12:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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XYZ

...and yet, people do? How odd.
And UK post houses also go bust? How do they do that with all this free talent and govt money?
And while yes, juniors are underpaid, their bosses very definitely aren't? And if you're any good you'll make £2k a day ($3500 a day) as a freelancer in a few years time?
And unionisation drastically inhibits gender/ethnic diversity and promotes nepotism (see the LA Fire Dept as a current example)? Have you seen a meeting of Local 600 lately?

One more thing: its one of the few industries that still operate an apprentice type system. Most of the management at UK post houses have worked there their entire career, and often came straight out of high school, some as dropouts. That's changing now with so many animation schools, but its still true that if you can work (very) hard and show talent, you can have a great life in this industry, just about anywhere you like.

March 2, 2014 at 3:21PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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marklondon

Oh, look. It's the studio shill who also posts on vfx soldier and every other site where this subject comes up.

March 2, 2014 at 11:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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RGB

@XYZ I worked in both Canada and NZ and this situation doesn't apply, mostly in Canada you get paid for overtime or at least you get hours in your bank exchangeable for days off, of course is hard to say that for every single studio, but most of them will pay you OT, and if you're talking about Weta in NZ, they do pay overtime and pay very well. VFX artists are mostly well paid or at least better than in other fields.

March 2, 2014 at 5:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Marcus

Reread my post. Both Canada and New Zealand pay overtime.

March 2, 2014 at 11:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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RGB

and you reread to whom i directed my post.

March 3, 2014 at 12:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Marcus

100 to 300 pounds a day is not a bad wage. at all. worst case scenario at entry level you make 2 grand a month before tax, at 300 a day that's 50 grand a year after tax and ni. In the UK at the moment the economy is on its arse, and most people are working every hour god gives just to make ends meet, plenty of my friends are busting a gut in skilled jobs and scraping together 15 - 20k, where it becomes a situation of having to choose between heating the house or putting food in the cupboard.
what makes the creative industries that important that we need to paid so much more than everyone else? it serves no practical purpose other than to keep people entertained, and the "skills" involved are easily learned by anyone with half a brain, it's no coincidence that most people who fall into tv and film are the ones who came out of school with no gcse's. get some perspective man, we have it good compared to a large percentage of workers in this country.

March 2, 2014 at 7:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Josh

It may be a good wage in comparison to waiting tables, but in the FX business 250-300 GBP for a senior level artist with no overtime is well below what they are paid in the US, Canada and New Zealand, who do pay overtime.

March 2, 2014 at 11:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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RGB

300 GBP/day is ~ $500/day. It's not the Wayne Rooney wages but, if that's the going rate for a VFX artist, then it is what it is. Should an accountant feel aggrieved for making only $500/day? A computer programmer? A plumber? A nurse? What exactly do you feel entitled to make and who exactly should set your wages? Unions wage scale is a major reason why the TV production has abandoned LA to begin with and it's only going to get worse from here due to the lower cost production tools and a different distribution system that can bypass the hundred year old studio-theater-consumer model. There'll still be major Hollywood films with stars making $70M with the first dollar gross participation but there'll be a ton of folks making a lot less and some not making anything off their films whatsoever.
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PS. As Marcus said, digital production houses used to spend way over $100M on the major animated films. Bob Zemeckis is alleged to have spent close to $200M on Polar Express. Now, a decent looking digital cartoon like Lego can be made for $60M and the long term trend is to make them for less while maintaining a reasonable video quality. Will this effect those working in the digital domain? Yes, as prices come down, the demand goes up. There'll be more jobs, even if some may not pay as well as they did during the pioneer stage of the industry. And those jobs will be strewn all across the globe. Just like the movies that these jobs have created.

March 3, 2014 at 4:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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DLD

@Josh - You have to also take into account that very few VFX workers get to work year-round. The average VFX worker will only have a job for a few months and then be let go when the movie is winding down. So you might get to work for 6 months and then be out of a job looking for work the next 2 months.

March 3, 2014 at 8:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

Some people are trying to do something about unpaid overtime and opt outs from the working time regulation in the UK VFX industry: http://bit.ly/VFXCharter

March 3, 2014 at 6:20AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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It's only "abuse" if people are forced to work in those conditions. If they choose to, that's not abuse as they're voluntarily involved.

March 3, 2014 at 2:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Will Vincent

wow. This seriously pisses me off. Like, I don't even wanna watch the Oscars now.

March 2, 2014 at 2:34PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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xml

I'm not intimate with the circumstances. But one thing I kept thinking as I watched is they needed better lawyers. I can bet the people that hired them had/have better lawyers than hey did/do.

March 2, 2014 at 4:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Gene

I highly disagree the vfx industry putting the blame on vfx subsidies, in my pov subsidies democratized this industry, back in the day if you wanted to work on visual effects for a big movie most likely you had to move to California, moreover get an US work visa which was something extremely difficult, now it's way easier to get to work on a big movie, and you can chose between way more countries.

Also, not just the fixed bid is the main reason for the bad business, internally, vfx studios operate similarly, they spend hours and hours working on little details people will never seem on screen, mostly to satisfy internal supervisors and their big egos, plus, the work in progress sometimes get to the director's eyes only after a month of hard work , only to realize the direction was wrong from the get go. Honestly, there are way many things to account for this cluster f**k. I wanted to know one top vfx artist who never spend 2 or 3 weeks polishing a 2 seconds long shot with details people will never account for. That is wasting money in my books.

VFX artists are also experiencing for the first time what everyone else in the entertaining industry already does, NOBODY is staff or has stable work, it's all temp positions. You are technically unemployed until the next gig, welcome to the biz, stop whining as I did many years ago.
From a former VFX artist.

March 2, 2014 at 4:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Marcus

Look to Australia and the work of Iloura, major Hollywood films under their belt with a healthy government VFX tax incentives program, happy staff, good hours, people enjoying coming to work every morning, bigger films every year. Thats how you run a VFX studio...

March 2, 2014 at 4:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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shaun wilson

That wasn't my experience and I think you should be wondering what happens if the government suddenly adjusts its healthy vfx tax incentive program? Take a look at Hollywood North
http://www.vancouversun.com/news/film+industry+braces+return+loss+millio...

March 2, 2014 at 8:04PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Matt

@Shaun - It's not about running a VFX studio efficiently, it's about facing the brick wall of foreign subsidies. If I'm a US VFX house and the bottom dollar bid of me making zero profit for 500 shots at $10 million is in competition with a Canadian VFX house, then I will automatically lose the bid. Why? Because the Canadian VFX house can bid the same $10 million, but the Canadian government will give the movie studio back $3 million as a tax subsidy. So now the US VFX house certainly can't reduce their bid down to $7 million (essentially paying the movie studio $3 million out of their own pocket) so the work goes to the Canadian VFX house who pays zero out of their pocket.

March 3, 2014 at 9:10AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

I think a little bit of profit sharing would be a good starting point for balancing the estimated work against the actual additional work required to complete the job.

March 2, 2014 at 8:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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@ProwlaMan - Profit sharing doesn't work in Hollywood, because they will always declare a loss by exaggerating their expenses to keep from paying it. This has been a sad fact for a long time.

March 3, 2014 at 9:18AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

This is a fine example of how out-of-touch Hollywood is with the rest of the world. I guarantee all the VFX companies that have declared bankruptcy did so b/c they failed to keep up with the times. I'm sure they all had absurd overhead costs and bloated staff salaries. The bottom line is greed, arrogance, and ignorance destroyed these companies and they only have themselves to blame.

March 2, 2014 at 11:14PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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@Mike - VFX companies have already been operating at minimum, zero, and negative profit levels for many years now. Lack of efficiency, overhead, and salaries had and has nothing to do with the current VFX crisis. The crisis is centered around foreign subsidies. This video explains everything you need to know: http://vimeo.com/87721625

March 3, 2014 at 8:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

I think this comment shows how out of touch a lot of the world is with the dealings of "Hollywood." How many people would love to know that their tax money is being used to pay these movie studios just so they can create jobs that won't necessarily be filled by their citizens and rather by foreigners? And they still have to pay just as much if not more to go see these movies they are helping fund.

And if "greed, arrogance, and ignorance" has destroyed these companies, how are movie studios still in business?

March 3, 2014 at 11:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brett

It's not greed when you operate on a razor thin margin. But it's certainly indicative of a flawed business model. Fixed bids alone are a very poor way to operate, unless you're able to pad that bid significantly for the unforeseen.

That's not to say that hourly billing is a better solution, but a adjustment to the bid when plans change should be within the realm of reason.

March 3, 2014 at 4:00PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Will Vincent

Ah yes, the entertainment industry. While attending school I both worked part time and did an unpaid internship. The internship consisted of giving guests smoke breaks and getting food orders/shopping for the staff(thanks Jerry Springer/Steve Wilkos!). I remember fondly when I tried to grab a slice of pizza left for staff in between errands and this guy slapped my hand because I hadn't gotten his lunch yet. Nothing like working all day with no lunch/bathroom breaks. Course we're interns so laws don't apply to us. Good times. I also paid 5 dollars a day for parking and enjoyed the 100 minute commute to my unpaid worthless piece of shit motherfucking cunt ass internship. That was my third unpaid internship throughout my college years. Fast forward today and I'm still struggling to maintain a decent job. The media production industry is flooded with young kids who all dream of working in hollywood. Naturally, the industry treats them like slaves and doesn't pay most of them. Those who are 'lucky' enough to get hired work a little above minimum wage for shit hours (always extremes, either 10-15 hours on an ever changing schedule or 70+ hours). Even in big cities like NYC the pay still hovers around 10 dollars an hour. How the fuck does someone survive in NYC on 10 fucking dollars an hour. You'd have to work at least 90 hours a week and just barely scrap by. And to top things off, job stability is non existent. Moral of the story: get a real fucking major. Arts/communication = scam/slavery.

March 3, 2014 at 1:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Fuckyou

So what's the solution?

March 3, 2014 at 10:52PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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For the US government to force movie studios to pay a mandatory tax on subsidized VFX. It's that simple.

March 3, 2014 at 11:23PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Razor

Just make films without fx...some lighting, a bit of handheld camera work (not too much) ..follow your uncle around for a week, see what he does. Edit it on an ipad ..there's a film.

March 4, 2014 at 12:49AM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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Brad

''Just make films without fx…'' You do not even need your uncle to do that.
Think about films like Citizen Kane,Casablanca, Lawrence of Arabia... Even Jaws did not use optical efxs.
Today Hollywood is addicted to CGI.

March 4, 2014 at 1:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:45AM

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FJ Torres

Unfortunately it seems like capitalism and globalisation is moving on from the destruction of the manufacturing sector and into the arts. It seems to me that the government subsidies and union crushing that is keeping the industry alive in Canada, New Zealand etc is only going to last so long and it's only a matter of time before most of the worlds VFX companies are based in India or China or Bangladesh. Unfortunately all the studios seem interested in is the almighty dollar.

March 6, 2014 at 5:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ryan

This subject was talked about allot at Siggraph last year.

March 6, 2014 at 5:59PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Vince

Hahahaha... Lots of spoiled brats here. If you wanted job security you should have followed a career path that wasn't in drawing computer cartoons. Computer VFX (or animation as it is in almost every case) isn't what most people would consider a "real Job". Sorry folks. There is no voice here for all of the little people (midgets/dwarves) who don't have jobs anymore because of this technology. It's much more difficult for them to find other work than it is for all of the whining rich kids on here who should have studied something more significant in college. Fortunately, all of the craftsmen and women who lost their jobs to this crappy animation had skills that they can apply to actually building things in the real world. Sorry folks, I have no sympathy for the people who ushered in the end of a real artform. There is very little that is "special" about the effects that I see today.

March 6, 2014 at 6:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Mountain Ledoux

"Why should filmmaking/post be any different?"

Well this site is about the film industry so it's probably OK to have an article about it. You probably skipped over the part about how it wasn't just Rhythm and Hues that had to lay people off and close. How about you stop being an insensitive prick for a second and take into account the emotional toll that all that time and work take on these people. I take it you're from the UK. Great people over there (you being the exception). Your career probably wouldn't exist if it wasn't for a lot of the VFX people that helped grow the industry but unfortunately suffered as well. Grow a brain and stop being a douche.

-Everyone

March 7, 2014 at 12:31AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JP

Artists have always been undervalued. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime.
VFX artists have the same problem. Until the film industry financiers know how much work goes into a CG scene they will always under value the work.
Until the work is paid for by the hour, so that altered scenes have to be paid for then the VFX industry will always be a flawed business model.
In any other industry more work would mean more pay. Why should the VFX be any different.

March 7, 2014 at 4:38AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Graham Stayte

To sum it up - subsidies are bad , free market competition good !

March 7, 2014 at 9:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lord_Q

lord_q yes but tell me, why do studios want to give less and less money for vfx and maximize profits? businesses apply pressure to governments for subsidies so they can be competitive towards same businesses in other countries. dont get confused. they key word is competitiveness. and businesses will do everything to be competitive and maximize profits?

March 8, 2014 at 4:13AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ck

i am a cg artist myself.
i actually feel sorry for these people. not so much for loosing their job to them but for the fact that they dont understand what happened.
they ask what happened? come on.
capitalism happened.
and not only to vfx but to many viable businesses all over the world.
and it will happen again and again.

we all know which side the big studios are on.
but, which side do the vfx studios think theyre on?

March 8, 2014 at 4:03AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ck

yes. addicted and not willing to pay for it. big studios are also a great global source and support for capitalism. and through capitalism they destroy the businesses working for them.

March 8, 2014 at 4:17AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ck

When enough vfx studios go under the work will become more valuable and studios will be forced to pay appropriately. This is what happens to nearly all industries, it's a weeding out process until a balance can be reached.

March 12, 2014 at 1:26AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Dandy

I have to find the Flying Sub stuff ... someone just made a 'bobblehead' of "Uncle Martin's" skiff and they are recnmisient of each other. (And Bill, really: no NCC-1701/7? For shame! The guy who owns it flies it in and out of Bremerton, WA on occasion, never had my damn camera either time I met him.) ;)

March 18, 2014 at 4:11PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I'm an outsider to this industry, but I've been studying it for awhile now.
I wanted to finish my working career in animation/VFX. This documentary gives pause for thought, doesn't it.
I'm a database administrator, a field which saw this same churn between ten and fifteen years ago.

I would most importantly observe that Life of Pi would have been lame without those phenomenal visuals, and the accolades it received are only because of the work of R&H. They were at the apex of their game. That takes staff, dedicated artisans. Like in my field, you can augment staff with hired guns and hacks, but you must have dedicated staff.

i would also observe those of you who think you are smart by being migrant, your flexibility also means you are expendable and in the coming shakeout, you will be the first to go, and the last to be rehired. Sorry Charlie.

For those of you who are stay in one place staff types, keep up your skills, work on your art, maybe work some jobs, and get your spouse to work some. The schools have churned out too many hacks. You won't see a pay raise for a little. It will be a little while before VFX companies can negotiate proper contracts.

Same thing happened in IT. This is globalization. Fucked up, isn't. No benefit to the worker; all benefits to the multi-nationals.

April 3, 2014 at 11:12PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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