The State of the VFX Industry with Scott Ross & Scott Squires

As many of you know, the VFX industry is going through its own turmoil these days, with many of the hardworking artists taking the brunt of the dissatisfaction. Back in March there was a protest at the Oscars after the Life of Pi incident after Rhythm & Hues went bankrupt even after winning the Academy Award. If you want to know the future of the industry and potential solutions to the problems that VFX workers face, get the scoop from VFX giants Scott Ross and Scott Squires from their recent presentation at NAB:

Yikes. So it's tough times for VFX artists. At least they seem to still have a sense of humor about it...

Government subsidies remain a huge proponent in the instability and inefficiency of VFX jobs, but people are mobilizing. VFX Soldier is running a campaign to help end these subsidies. VFX workers are speaking out, and the figureheads of the industry are actively seeking retribution.

Much of the discussion for the problems VFX artists face revolve around the question: "Do visual effects make better movies?"

Well, as Scott says in the video, it's not necessarily that VFX make better movies, but they make some movies possible. Personally, I usually don't go for VFX driven films, but I still think it's an incredibly important part of the evolution of filmmaking, and hope to add some fuel to the fire for creating a better paradigm for these artists to work in. They should get paid for the work they do: making the impossible possible.

What are your thoughts on the state of this shifting industry? Are you a VFX worker? Share your experience and join the discuss in the comments below.


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in capitalism things have to collapse to change

June 1, 2013 at 12:29PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


@Andreas, it's certainly looking that way. Unfortunately the state of society in the U.S. is that if you want something you'd better create a special interest group with lots of money to throw at politicians in order to buy access to making the changes you want to see. I'm not a VFX artist, I'm primarily a freelance Audio and production guy, but I've done VFX work. There's a serious gap in all things freelance and even as in the audio world I'm struggling with and personally hate the fixed bid model. The work that comes to me wants it dirt cheap, and if I were to unionize or fold into any associations I lose a lot of potential jobs and have to spend more money using the official channels those associations have set up to search, bid, and find work. I'm definitely doing my homework by watching the current events unfold for the VFX industry, and I hope to see some positive changes soon, not just for my education but for all those working in the field!

June 1, 2013 at 1:27PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I'm a former vfx worker, worked in many of the big vfx facilities and gladly never faced some of the trouble mentioned by many, for me it was always fun to work, good pay and all, of course you have work long shifts in the crunch time, but thats the industry.

American vfx workers are complaining about subsidies as the main villain, enough with that, get over it. It won't end because they want, period. They have zero influence in what other governments decide for their people. Back in the day if you wanted to work on a big movie you had to find a job in California, a feat achieved by only few lucky foreigners due to a long time difficult US visa process, and because of the subsidies now, Canadians, British, Australians, Kiwis, etc can have a piece of the pie too.

The industry is worse for studios than it is for employees/ artists I can tell you that, it's a transition time where stable work is shifting to freelance work, a lot of people are not used to that yet, but it's pretty common in any other position in the film industry.

June 1, 2013 at 1:18PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Hollywood wants the foreign governments to quit subsidizing their film industries. The foreign film industries want their governments to stop Hollywood films from being imported. Neither group cares about the consumer, who will get screwed regardless. (it's also highly ironic for an industry that, by and large, favors the high tax politics to be seeking special tax breaks for themselves ... in California, where the entertainment lobby wields a lot of political power, it managed to do just that under the guise of preventing the "runaway production").

June 1, 2013 at 1:52PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I use to be a vfx artist and ran a small vfx shop. I got out because the business because its...well...a crappy BUSINESS to be in overall. For one, you have to get the gear before you start unless you get funded. Or as a business owner use reels of staff to get jobs. Either way its expensive to get started and hard to find work.

The reason its hard to find work is because of the price to deliver vs. the expected price of the client. Vfx is highly technical and thats not a good sales pitch for the client, they don't want to hear all of that crap, yet most artists and studios need the money so then the degrading begins.

I think the biggest problem for the industry is the fact its not respected and they care to much about vfx and not money. If word gets out you can vfx done for pennies and vfx studios are working for pennies its their fault. If your not making money then stop and do something else or use your skill in a different arena. Vfx artists and studio suffer from the starving artist syndrome. They care so much about the art and getting recognized for their work they sacrifice self respect and profit. And any business person is going to exploit that because they will make money off that mind set.

Now I outsource almost 100% work overseas, I have 1 US employee for all 3 businesses I run now for tax reasons. Its the smart thing to do because I can get better or equal work in any category for $3/hr or $300 a month for 40 hours of work per week.

The vfx industry CHOSE to be in this situation, they didn't have to do the work at a loss. As I said before, its a common problem with most creatives, they think their art matters more than money.

June 1, 2013 at 2:10PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Wow, I really like your strategy here! Others are complaining about the worldwide economic situation and you are taking advantage of it. Smart! Are any of your companies in VFX or are you out of that game doing other stuff all together?

June 1, 2013 at 3:02PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


For the most part out. I will still use some vfx for small business videos or promo videos. But I don't use any of it for movies or anything like that. Its easier to make money impressing local business owners by doing things for their biz than trying to bid on entertainment or commercial work. I'd rather have 8 pizza shops at $800 than work on major production. So now I spin the vfx knowledge into marketing videos for local biz owners and my selling point is it would be hard for their competition to make a similar style video and I can make it look like they paid thousands of dollars in marketing and productions. Thats about as far as I'll go vfx wise.

June 1, 2013 at 6:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Hey Ice, curious to learn about your services. How can I learn more?
You can also tweet me @NealWiser

June 1, 2013 at 7:57PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM

Neal Wiser

Wait, $800 for 8 pizza shops? Instead of $800 for one "job"?... what do you guys consider VFX?

It sounds like a lot of you "VFX guys" did titles and day for night or lens flare additions and consider yourself VFX artists. Do I have this right? That's not VFX, that's dickin' around w/ after effects you guys. I think the articles about proper, skilled talent like modelers/texture artist/matte painters/animators/riggers/nuke compositors and the like.

June 6, 2013 at 1:17PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM



June 6, 2013 at 8:36PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I could be wrong but I seem to remember Rhythm and Hues going bankrupt in the mid 90's, and also James Cameron's Digital Domain which did the digital FX for Titanic also seemed to either close shop or get sold to somebody so that alot of staff can be laid off after the big job ends. In business jargon the CEO's call it Creative Distruction or more simply cutting overhead.

June 1, 2013 at 2:13PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Subsides != subsidies ;)

June 1, 2013 at 5:12PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


39 minutes of veterans confessing/demonstrating how badly they were running their business for years unable to set acceptable working standards for themselves not even being able to say no to absurd requirements form studios from fear of loosing a client

this is what happens when you are very competitive. you ask for less money, you deliver in less time you work underpaid and more hours and you drag everyone else down with you. you spoil the fun for everyone.

this is called bad practice.

(maybe they should also talk about the "outsourcing" and the "internship" aspect of vfx)

June 2, 2013 at 5:48AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


I must say the world has looked up to VFX artists from the US to lead us. Will be heartbroken if that is discontinued for cheap labor. The first English film i ever saw was Terminator 2. Imagine when my country was churning horrible movies (where even audio was not in sync many a times and editing was laughable) what I would have felt watching T2 as a 6 year old. Few years later watching Jurassic Park left me even more amazed when news reached that some of those models were animated. I hope all this gets sorted. Greed no matter what Gecko says is not good.

June 3, 2013 at 5:49AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


The visual effects industry, especially in California, has truly serious problems. In the search for the answers which have continued for over twenty years, the visual effects industry would be better served as team players in the production process. Whether true or not, the way these giants Scott and Scott treated the cinematographer on Life of Pi is insulting. It may be the same truth, but would be so much more productive if presented as a team effort, rather than the Oscar for cinematography was voted by by ill informed Academy...and, we will show you why it was us that made the images look Oscar worthy.

The visual effects industry has used the word "Respect' often in its demands' for recognition and compensation. How about showing some respect for the folks with whom you work. It is just a matter a grace and honor.

Your goals will only be enhanced with the respect and support of your fellow filmmakers.

June 3, 2013 at 4:15PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Exactly the problem. Live action has such contempt and lack of respect for VFX and the numerous times it saves a productions ass that those words don't come from one bad gig but decades of twisted logic. I've been both on and off set (commercial/feature) and it is awful how little acknowledgement VFX crews get. Live action crews will literally make a shot worse for clients to "see proof of concept" and then heap countless hours of needless work and blame on the studio.

VFX guys tend to be more often the abused housewife than the abuser and I can't point to one time where the VFX sup or artist ever mistreated the shoot crew on a job so I call bullshit on that notion.

Everyone does realize that the VFX crew is work-for-hire right? So it's hard to swallow that they'd essentially mistreat their "bosses" and risk losing a future client. Do you have any personal knowledge or experience witnessing this?

June 6, 2013 at 1:35PM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


While I sympathize, it's hard to really get on board when they tell a lot of half truths. One example at 14:00. Production costs vs profit. $11M vs $89M. The profit was not $89M, that was box office (in small print). Marketing often costs as much or more than production. How much do theaters take off the top? While the profit was still large, ... wait for it... they took the risk. It would surprise me if the final profit made after all expenses and profit sharing was around $10M. If VFX artists and the companies want to take 10% of what they make now in return for a portion of the ACTUAL NET profit, they could negotiate for that maybe. As it is, they have a guaranteed income the way it's done right now.

July 26, 2013 at 2:38AM, Edited September 4, 8:21AM


Answer to all your troubles- Go into production by yourself. Write a screenplay, produce, shoot direct, etc....
Like Sky Captain and The World Of Tomorrow! Wait a minute... Maybe that is not such a god example, right?
If they think they have it bad think about the WRITERS. They get paid about 3% of the total budget of a film.
Considering they create the ideas the film is based on that is not much money if the film becomes a blockbuster. But how many films do?

''As it is, they have a guaranteed income the way it’s done right now.'' Right. Unless they want to dive into the pool and get wet. Good luck to THAT.

March 4, 2014 at 10:42AM, Edited September 4, 8:45AM

FJ Torres