A 24-Minute Documentary on The Unsustainable VFX Industry

Hollywood’s Greatest Trick was produced by Sohail Al-Jamea and Ali Rizvi for McClatchy Video Lab, a division of the McClatchy media organization that owns dozens of newspapers around the United States. The reporting for the piece was’ done by Greg Hadley and Elizabeth Koh.

It was one of the most controversial cinematic moments of 2016.

In the final scene of “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” a figure shrouded in a white cloak turns, extends her hand, faces the camera and utters one word: “Hope.” Audiences everywhere gasped, screamed and cheered.

Nearly 40 years after the first “Star Wars” movie debuted, the character of Princess Leia had returned to the screen without aging a day, even as the actress who portrayed her, Carrie Fisher, went from 19 years old to 60.

The masterpiece of movie magic, combining old footage and recordings with digital effects to turn back time, raised ethical questions about profiting in perpetuity off the likeness of an actor. When Fisher died just a few weeks after the “Rogue One” premiere, Disney executives reportedly considered recreating her digitally in order to include her in future installments of the franchise, before ultimately issuing a statement saying they would not.

Top 50 highest grossing films of 2016


DreamWorks Animation Faces 170 Additional Layoffs

From AWN: Cuts come as DWA continues to be integrated into NBCUniversal following its acquisition by Comcast, and just two months after the studio eliminated 200 positions at its Glendale campus and in its distribution and consumer products operations.

DreamWorks Animation will lay off 170 more employees at its Glendale campus in January, according to a report by the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. The cuts come as DWA continues to be integrated into NBCUniversal following its acquisition by Comcast earlier this year, and just two months after the studio eliminated 200 positions at its Glendale campus and in its distribution and consumer products operations.

Burbank-based effects shop reports layoffs

Stereo D Burbank-based effects shop reports layoffs

Burbank-based visual-effects company Stereo D, which last summer announced plans to open a Toronto office, notified the state earlier this year that in June it would be laying off more than 225 employees, including 75 temporary employees.

Tax incentives lured Stereo D to Toronto, Sherak said, but he is “extremely hopeful” and “extremely excited” about a recent expansion of the California Film and Television Tax Credit Program, which state legislators approved last summer to try to prevent the migration of production work out of state.


...read more here

Disney Layoffs 2015

The Biz - Disney Layoffs 2015


About 250 Disney employees were told in late October that they would be laid off. Many of their jobs were transferred to immigrants on temporary visas for highly skilled technical workers, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India. Over the next three months, some Disney employees were required to train their replacements to do the jobs they had lost.

“I just couldn’t believe they could fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs exactly,” said one former worker, an American in his 40s who remains unemployed since his last day at Disney on Jan. 30. “It was so humiliating to train somebody else to take over your job. I still can’t grasp it.”


...read more Pinks Slips at Disney NYT

DreamWorks Animation Loses Money For the Second Quarter in a Row

DreamWorks Animation reported a loss of $15.4 million in the second fiscal quarter, the second consecutive quarterly loss for the company. It reported earnings per share of -$0.18, a result worse than analysts had expected that sent the company's stock down nine percent in after-hours trading.


More insider info on the TAG Blog: The quotes below were lifted from the TAG Blog.  Does anyone really believe the business model will change?  What do you think will happen if it does?

But of course, all these things take time. And as one DreamWorker said to me away from the studio:

"The company needs to get the costs of features down. Management doesn't seem to want to restructure at the top and upper middle very much, which is where it would help a lot. Production is supposed to squeeze and cut. I'm not sure how well that will work. ..."

And Jeffrey speaks to that issue:

We are also exploring the opportunities of actually making some films -- some original films on a very different scale altogether, where it's not incremental changes in the film cost, but the concepts of the movies and the style with which we would make them would have us working on a very different business model.

Dreamworks Animation Layoffs

As DreamWorks Animation Television continues to hire, DreamWorks Animation's feature division continues to shed jobs. Last Monday and Tuesday, an estimated forty to fifty DWA employees were called in for one-on-one meetings and informed their services would no longer be required.

via TAG Blog

Star Wars director JJ Abrams to defy bosses over shift to London

He said earlier this year that Disney's decision to shoot upcoming Stars Wars: Episode VII in London "really does make me insane". Now it appears JJ Abrams is looking to minimize the amount of time he is forced to spend in the UK after the film-maker reportedly began building new post-production facilities in California. 
Star Wars: Episode VII Production year: 2015 Country: USA Directors: JJ Abrams More on this film A source told the Hollywood Reporter that Abrams is building a green room, sound studios and other upgrades specifically for Episode VII at his Bad Robot production company's headquarters in Santa Monica in Los Angeles county. The move means the film-maker would be able to complete a large portion of necessary post-production work in his home state. 
The Super 8 director has shot all his previous films in Los Angeles, where he lives with his family, even covering costs out of his own pocket to remain local for this year's Star Trek Into Darkness. Disney and LucasFilm ultimately opted to keep faith with tradition, however. All six previous Star Wars movies have included UK production time, in studios such as Elstree, Shepperton, Leavesden, Ealing and Pinewood. Abramssignalled his irritation with a decision that would force him to uproot his young family in June, remarking of his children's reaction: "When you're 13 and 14, it's like, fuck that, I don't care what the movie is."

Digital Domain's New CEO on Exporting Hollywood VFX to China

"We’re moving people to Vancouver not because we want to," Seah said. "The real reason is our clients prefer it that way, so they can get rebates."

NYC Collider - June 10, 2013

missing audio in the beginning...
two hours long, go get your coffee

I have to apologize readers.  I posted this talk and didn't watch it at first.  I figured it was important and should get it up on the blog even if I couldn't take a moment to watch right away.  I sat down today to actually watch the whole thing.  What a waste of time and completely respectful to the speakers.  Out of 2 hours, there is 20 minutes of talk about the current status with the panelists.
If you intend to give a presentation and show off a live survey, you should have billed this thing as that.  This talk was billed as a VFX Town Hall which suggested to me the people on the panel would be allowed to speak.  
I seriously wish the speakers on the panel were allowed to talk and discuss the topics.  Even the audience engaged panelists and the moderator - Acuña Acosta shut it down for the live survey.  Are you kidding? Anyone can look at that online???  WOW!  If you are a moderator for a panel, you should be speaking very little.  So, incredibly unprofessional.

If you want to see/hear anything pertaining to VFX/CG/Anim Labor Issues, scrub to these sections of the recording for content:
49:14 = ~10 minutes of actual panel discussion with Q's from the audience
1:07 - Scott Squires makes some interesting statements in his 5 minute introduction, but no one on the panel gets to discuss it. 
1:13 - Panel talks for about 5 more minutes
01:16 - You get Q & A for about 5 more minutes. The Panelists  are not allowed to speak because there was another presentation after the live survey.
1:21 Online Survey starts and the panelists fight to even speak for the next 30 minutes.  Panelists finally give up and start looking at phones and watches.
1:33-1:37 Audience asks questions from the panel and moderator informs that she has to continue with the survey. So unprofessional.
1:40 Psychological Online Study about workers... ummmm.  Wow.


This is your chance to share your personal views on the current state of our industry: the 

5-minute survey designed by Jay Van Bavel, Director of the Social Perception and Evaluation Lab at New York University.

The results will be presented at the VFX Town Hall: Collider 2013, a free event going live Monday, June 10 at 6pm EST at the Hotel Pennsylvania in NYC. 

You are invited to attend the Town Hall in person or participate in the live stream at: http://collider.circles.io/

Deadline for completing the NYU/Collider Survey: Midnight PST, Sunday, June 9.


VFX/Anim/CG Labor issues Q & A

As a follow up to my previous post asking questions regarding the trade association and union the "Scott's" (Scott Squires and Scott Ross) are trying to build...

I have created a second posting here with a simplified Q & A using the comments and responses from Scott Squires for easy reading.  

I originally posed these questions in a way to make it easy for someone to offer some real answers and change people's minds on the topics.  

Here I have trimmed out any of the discussion about the current state of affairs (which we all understand) and only put the factual answers as responses, below.  If you would like to read the correspondence in it's entirety, click here.

This Q & A does not directly answer every question, but at least when I sit at a table full of artists, producers and tool makers who are discussing the current situation, I am armed with some answers and accurate information.

Angie Jones - How can a union for VFX be effective when VFX/CG/Anim facilities are located all over the world and have their own rules regarding creating or developing unions? 

Specifically, I would like to know how a union here in the US could compete with studios overseas who may or may not have unions who hire non-union workers for their shows?

Scott Squires - Yes, facilities are all over the world. The only rules governing the unions are government rules, not rules from the studios or facilities.

A guild will not fix those problems. Those are issues controlled by governments. The guild can provide more protection for the workers so they don't get dropped without pay and some of the other things have been happening in vfx.

Angie Jones - How can a trade organization enforce any regulations when an American movie studio can simply incorporate overseas to avoid any American laws or taxes against runaway production?  Even better, American movie studios could just buy cruise ships and sail to wherever the money is... and incorporate there.

Scott Squires - The Trade association is for the vfx companies. What if all the top vfx companies companies agreed on a given business model? Such as cost plus? Then the companies no longer have to underbid and go out of business. With a majority of the companies on board where are the studios going to go for their tentpole movies? They can't simply farm it all out to 10 man crews around the world. And that's a different solution/issue than subsidies.

Angie Jones - Not really an answer here and a lot of "what ifs..." Maybe Scott Ross can offer more on this Q one day?

Angie Jones - Even if a union were to succeed somehow (see Q #1) what exactly would this union do about the 1,000's of workers who are no longer employed and cannot join the ranks because they are not working as a formal employee at a facility.  

How do you create a solidarity of  a work force when no one is working... or worse, those working are forced to take jobs as mis-classified contract freelance workers for smaller studios because those are the only studios hiring domestically?  

BTW, if you are not a legal employee, you cannot join a union.  I would say 75-80% of my colleagues are freelance contractors and although employed, are not a w-2 employee of any facility.  Where is the workforce?

Scott Squires - It doesn't make sense for non-employed people to be in a union. Who is the union bargaining with? How are the contributions and benefits being paid for? I also believe there are laws in place that you have to be employed. Not every thing a union does or can do is of their own choosing. There are very specific federal laws about what they can and can not do.

Freelance contractors- Film crews are made up of freelance people. However that doesn't mean they can't unionize. They're all in the union. T
here is no vfx union. There are no companies signed on as union companies for vfx work. If and when vfx workers decide they wish to unionize they could do so. They could freelance and go from job to job and not have to worry about being paid or about benefits.

To go union all you need is for 50% of the workers to sign rep cards (anonymously) . Doesn't matter if the company has 10 people or 1000 people. The ones currently working that would qualify for a vfx union (contractor, w2, whatever) have to sign rep cards. If they had already done so in the number required, the company would be union already. 

Angie Jones - So, if you are unemployed and in between jobs, you cannot sign a card.  Once you are employed again, you can sign a card, even if you are a 1099 freelance contract employee.  I was under the impression for some reason you had to be a legal employee of a facility (read: staff employee on the books) to sign a card.  I know I am not the only one who thought this, so hopefully this helps clear things up.

Angie Jones - How about a breakdown of exactly what people get for signing a card?

Scott Squires -That's all written up in my post on the vfx guild. http://effectscorner.blogspot.com/2013/04/visual-effects-guilds.html 

send in a email to VHoltgrewe@iatse-intl.com for details not found at the sites.

1. People submit signed rep cards.
2. When the union get's a large percentage (60% or more) then they contact management and tell them that the majority of their workers want to be union.
3. Hopefully the company agrees and works out a deal. This deal will involve the people who voted to go union to provide guidance.
4. If not, then by federal law there is a vote.
5. If the vote is yes then the company is union and all working there that can be covered by the union are now union. The union works out a contract with those who voted helping to work out the terms of what they want.
6. Any shop that unionizes, the people currently working there pay no initiation fee.
7. Union people pay their dues (few hundred typically but depends on your category and wages).

If enough workers in vfx unionize then the IA will set up a separate IA local just for vfx. Until that time the closest matching union will be the temporary home. If a new union is formed then members will vote on who to represent them from fellow members.

Angie Jones - I was under the impression Union Dues were two months salary, not a couple hundred dollars... but I guess it's cheaper than I thought?  I paid more than a couple hundred dollars a month to the VES every year and I am not sure what I got for that money.

Angie Jones - - How would a trade organization go about lobbying to get subsidies to end? Specifically, how would they do this?  My father worked in the apparel industry and I listened to his woes at the dinner table as I grew up.  His choice was to create a sourcing company to find companies overseas that could produce garments cheaper than US workers.  Everyone in the apparel industry hated him at first when he started this company, and then later they all wanted to work with him because NAFTA basically did nothing to help the situation.  Sure assets are taxed when they come back into the country, but there are ways to get around that.  Do you tax every asset built for a movie set?  What if there are more revisions?  Do you tax it again?  You cannot find a American company now a days that can sew garments at the same level as India and China, it's a lost art.  How would a trade organization fix the fact that the world is now flat and we are competing globally?

Scott Squires - The Trade org would be global and as such not likely to deal with subsidies. (i.e. some companies will win/lose as subsidies change). Unfortunately the subsidies are a huge problem. vfxsoldier is in the process of trying to get WTO coverage to support their own regulations. Other avenue is to let tax payers know about the cost to them, their loss of money and how politicians are giving their money away to film studios when it could be put for public use. Not sure why ukuncut and orgs have yet to figure this out.

Trade association - it's a changing world. This is much different than the auto or garment industries. Movies are not priced to the consumers based on the work we do. The companies simply allow the studios to make more profits. We do what we can. Realize that all vfx companies around the world are having to jump through the same hoops. The vfx companies have allowed themselves to be in the least leveraged position possible. And vfx workers seem to be intent on helping them do it. As long as vfx companies simply roll over, the worse this will get. Standing up as companies is one of the first steps.

Angie Jones - Again, not really an answer here.  I was hoping the Trade Organization would form a group of lobbyists to work with government to make change.  This is probably the biggest point of contention for most people I speak with working in VFX/CG/Animation is that they feel the ship has sailed and there is nothing we can do about the subsidies, therefore, the US studios have stopped hiring domestically and will continue to form studios overseas and make it a requirement of employment to agree to work overseas.  A race to the bottom.  

I guess we can only hope that taxpayers become more aware of where their tax money is going and figure out the fuzzy math and rise up against these kickbacks.

The main problem is if the subsidies are not dealt with, there is no work force to unionize because they are all overseas or in Canada.

Angie Jones - If it has taken 25 years for Scott Ross to organize the VFX facilities - why do you think a trade organization can happen in 6 months?  Why do you think you can now turn this thing around with the complexity of the entire industry moving... not only out of California, but out of the US?  This is a time sensitive issue.  People are losing their houses, their cars, and are faced with leaving the industry entirely to keep their kids in school and food on the table.

Scott Squires - I don't think anyone said 6 months. The point is the at least some companies are starting to realize what's happening. Same as with vfx artists, it seems to take the longest time just to break through with the basic concepts and have people open to considering it. Organizing is a faster process than getting mind share.

Angie Jones - Scott Ross told me it would take 6 months on fb. I am sure he is ideally positive when it comes to this thing and I am a big cheerleader behind his/your efforts. I do hope the "Mind Share" turns around within the next six months because there will be no experienced workforce left to worry about otherwise.  This is a time sensitive issue. I know people walking miles to job interviews because they have lost their car and do not even have money for a bus ride.  It's really bad.

Angie Jones - What is the schedule to make all of these "solutions" you propose happen?  Is that schedule going to jive with the fact that it may be a day-late-and-a-dollar-short to make any change?  I would like to see a schedule.  If it doesn't happen in six months to a year... things look dire to most artists working now.

Scott Squires - Timeline. If artists signed rep cards today the union could file to unionize a company tomorrow. Workers control the speed of this. If they truly wish things to change quickly they could do so. But everyone's simply dragging their feet and wringing their hands. The trade assoc is up to how anxious the companies are.

Angie Jones - I honestly know no one dragging their feet.  Only people out of work and frustrated who have signed cards like myself but are not working.  Maybe all of these people you feel are dragging their feet, will change their minds when they read this?  

I sensed irritation with my questions and I apologize if the inquiries came across as redundant. I honestly stopped reading the VFX soldier, VFX Law and other blogs because they come off incredibly angry and ranting and I know I am not the only one.  I am hopeful the positive presentation of information here for artists might clear the air on many topics bothering us all.

I used to think - "Why do I need a union?"  

Now, I am thinking the situation is so messed up, "why not sign a card and see what happens." I am in the fortunate situation that I am teaching mostly now and do not rely on VFX/CG/Anim to pay my rent.  But, that is not the case for most of my colleagues.  Hopefully the people you feel are dragging their feet will take the "why not" attitude now. I mean what has anyone got to lose, now?  

And "Yes," as you state there ARE facilities located here in the US.  However, the only facilities hiring domestically are the tiny boutique commercial houses, because the schedule wouldn't even allow for sending anything overseas.  These houses are doing their best to keep afloat and so they hire mostly 1099 contract workers to avoid paying workers comp and taxes.  

I understand you say the Union will change this, and maybe it will?  I understand your frustration with people not signing cards, but it's up to the Union to explain what signing a card means in simple terms.  More to come on this topic, I am sure.

The State of the VFX Industry

The State of the VFX Industry and where do we go from here

I finally got a moment to watch this talk and I think it's great that someone has finally explained the complexity of the issues that lie before all artists working in CG, Animation and VFX.  Especially, someone without a thick Spanish accent, that no one can understand, and two individuals with street cred working in the business for years.
I would love to hear a talk from these same two guys, that goes beyond the explanation of what is wrong with the industry.  I would love to hear more about their specific solutions, which they seem very determined to make the trade organization and union work, and further explain specifically how these two groups/orgs could even have a chance of working... when it feels to most artists working -  the "ship has sailed (pun intended)."
I would love to have questions like these answered specifically:
1 - How can a union for VFX be effective when studios are located all over the world and have their own rules regarding creating or developing unions? Specifically, I would like to know how a union here in the US could compete with studios overseas who may or may not have unions who hire non-union workers for their shows.
2 - How can a trade organization enforce any regulations when an American movie studio can simply incorporate overseas to avoid any American laws or taxes against runaway production?  Even better, studios could just buy cruise ships and sail to wherever the money is... and incorporate there.
3 - Even if a union were to succeed somehow (see Q #1) what exactly would this union do about the 1,000's of workers who are no longer employed and cannot join the ranks because they are not working as a formal employee at a facility.  How do you create a solidarity of work force when no one is working or worse, those working are forced to take jobs as mis-classified contract freelance workers for smaller studios because those are the only studios hiring domestically?  BTW, if you are not a legal employee, you cannot join a union.  I would say 75-80% of my colleagues are freelance contractors and although employed, are not a w-2 employee of any facility.  Where is the workforce?
4 - How would a trade organization go about lobbying to get subsidies to end? Specifically, how would they do this?  My father worked in the apparel industry and I listened to his woes at the dinner table as I grew up.  His choice was to create a sourcing company to find companies overseas that could produce garments cheaper than US workers.  Everyone in the apparel industry hated him at first when he started this company, and then later they all wanted to work with him because NAFTA basically did nothing to help the situation.  Sure assets are taxed when they come back into the country, but there are ways to get around that.  Do you tax every asset built for a movie set?  What if there are more revisions?  Do you tax it again?  You cannot find a American company now a days that can sew garments at the same level as India and China, it's a lost art.  How would a trade organization fix the fact that the world is now flat and we are competing globally?
5 - If it has taken 25 years for Scott Ross to organize the VFX facilities - why do you think a trade organization can happen in 6 months?  Why do you think you can now turn this thing around with the complexity of the entire industry moving... not only out of California, but out of the US?  This is a time sensitive issue.  People are losing their houses, their cars, and are faced with leaving the industry entirely to keep their kids in school and food on the table.
6 - What is the schedule to make all of these "solutions" you propose happen?  Is that schedule going to jive with the fact that it may be a day-late-and-a-dollar-short to make any change?  I would like to see a schedule.  If it doesn't happen in six months to a year... things look dire to most artists working now.
I ask these questions not to be arbitrary or argumentative.  I ask because these are the questions that are debated at bars and dinner tables by those working in the CG/Animation/VFX industry for years, and we haven't heard any specific answers.
I applaud the ability to finally explain such a complex issue in a clear and concise way, but...
By the time anything gets organized, will there be any creative left wanting/financially able to stay in the industry?

P.S. It might be good to change your graphic representing the people working on these movies from a guy at a workstation to a paint brush, pencil or some other artistic icon.  The biggest problem is neither the audience or the movie studios see VFX workers as artisans or creatives.  Only we can change that.I also would like to coin the term VFX/CG/Animation Creatives (rather than workers) so we can change the reputation of what we do for film making. And, we should band collectively. There is no VFX only labor issues or any "sister" Animation industry. We are all in this together. Meaning anyone working on something that is not shot in camera. Period.

P.S.S. My animation students have great concerns regarding all of this since they are about to embark on the same journey into Animation and VFX and all worry they are making a bad decision.  My advice to them goes like this... There is a lot of money to be made.  That is apparent at the box office.  It's going to take a good year for everyone to decide how the pie will be split.  And, once the dust settles... I am hopeful about the outcome, but also realistic.

Layoffs and Closings in March/April, and More Overseas Production

In case you haven't been paying attention...

Layoffs at Electronic Arts

Publisher confirms some cuts, denies report of Montreal operations shutting down entirely

Layoffs are hitting developers large and small alike this week. Following on yesterday's news of layoffs at Vancouver-based Slant Six, a new round of cuts has been confirmed at Electronic Arts.

...read more here

Layoffs underway at Disney

Disney has begun laying off around 150 staffers at Walt Disney Studios. Employees began receiving pinkslips Wednesday morning.

Individuals working in home entertainment, production, distribution and marketing, as well as the company’s music and theater business in New York City are feeling the brunt of the impact, with only a small number of employees leaving the animation division.


LucasArts Shutdown Triggers Layoffs at ILM

Today’s announcement of the shuttering of LucasArts Games and the layoffs that followed has had a ripple effect within Lucasfilm: Layoffs at Industrial Light & Magic.

Lucasfilm has long had a strategy of sharing technical resources and staff among visual effects, animation and games. But with production finished on the “Clone Wars” animated series and the next Star Wars animated series not yet in production, and the closing of LucasArts, a portion of its staff was left working only for ILM’s vfx business.

...read more

VFX House Pixomondo Shuts Shanghai Office, Will Move Away From Film 

Visual-effects company Pixomondo will move away from the film business after shutting its Shanghai office in the wake of closures in London and Detroit, the company told TheWrap.

CEO and founder Thilo Kuther (pictured below) said Pixomondo, which recently completed work on the Tom Cruise action film “Oblivion,” has just laid off roughly 20 animators and artists in the Shanghai office. About a half-dozen employees were moved to its Beijing office, he said.


Chinese Partners Play With Fourth ‘Transformers’

The “Transformers” film franchise has found a few friends in China to get the fourth installment made.

Just don’t call it a co-production.

Paramount Pictures has brokered what it calls a “co-operation agreement” with state-backed broadcaster CCTV’s China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises to produce “Transformers 4,” which Michael Bay is returning to helm.

CCTV comes under the umbrella of the powerful State Administration of Radio Film and Television.

read more..

The Mill Plans to Close Its TV VFX Department

As the VFX industry awaits the results of Rhythm & Hues’ bankruptcy auction -- where parties met until 2 a.m. PDT and a decision was expected this morning -- London-headquartered The Mill revealed that it plans to close its  TV visual effects unit, with a possible loss of 25 jobs.

The Mill CEO Robin Shenfield said in a statement that Mill TV -- whose credits include Doctor Who, Merlin and Sherlock for the BBC -- has weathered losses in 2012 and that red ink has accelerated in the first quarter of 2013. The facility will continue to focus on its commercial business in the U.S. and U.K.

According to the statement, "Mill TV has suffered a number of setbacks such as failing to join the roster on Starz/BBC production of DaVinci’s Demons and the cancellation of Sky’s Sinbad sequel. Going forward, broadcasters are commissioning less high-end VFX driven drama series this year, with Merlin discontinued and the BBC not commissioning a Doctor Who series this year."


Tippett Studios VFX House Lays Off 40 Percent of Workforce

Berkeley, Calif.-based VFX company Tippett Studios laid off 40 percent of its workforce Friday, the company's CEO and president Jules Roman confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter, with the possibility of more pink slips coming.

More than 50 visual effects designers were let go, leaving a staff of 100 full-timers still working at the studio, whose recent work is on display in such blockbuster films as Ted and Twilight: Breaking Dawn.

"We're hibernating, figuring out a way to reinvent and scale down because there's a lag in work obviously and there's such upheaval in the visual effects industry, period," Roman said.


[LA] International VFX Town Hall on Pi Day

I have added a VFX news section (top left of the menu) to the blog where updates to the plight of VFX will be posted.  Not everyone is on FB or Google + so I will do my best to keep the information updated.  if you have VFX news you want posted there, please, send email to angie {at} spicycricket {dot} com

Now that we have mobilized, what's next? Let's get together for a town hall meeting and discuss it.
- State of the Industry by Scott Squires
- Moderated panel discussion with Q & A
- Panel includes Scott Squires, Scott Ross, Steve Kaplan, Gene Warren, Jr.
- Connecting multiple locations via Google Hangout
- Broadcasting live on YouTube at 8:00 PM PDT

Post questions for the panel in the comments section. In order to get an accurate headcount, please RSVP only to the location you plan to physically attend.  Big thanks to Gnomon for providing the space!




Parking: Biggest lot is one attached to Arclight Hollywood, about a half mile north of Gnomon. Walk 4 blocks south on Cahuenga through Gnomon gate at 1015 N. Cahuenga. Look for signs to direct you to the Stage area.  Easiest entrance: through Gnomon gate at 1015 N. Cahuenga, we'll have signs to direct you to the Stage area.

Austin will be watching https://www.facebook.com/events/487367104657225/ 

A Piece of the Pi

Have you noticed a lot of green profile pics on facebook?  If you work in Visual Effects or have a friend who does, you might be seeing a lot of green on your feed.  Most of my readers here work in VFX/Animation, so you should know what I am talking about.

However, I was shocked at some of my own animation student's impression of "what is going on" in the VFX/Animation field they hope to enter as a career... so let me explain.

Life of Pi cost $120 million to make, its current gross is $600 million. Ang Lee and Claudio Miranda won Oscars last night for Best Director and Best Cinematographer.  Above is what their film looked like without the work of the hundreds of VFX artists whom neither man acknowledged or thanked.

THE GREEN BOX:  For all the Non-VFX, rising students and animation folk out there, the green square you are seeing on facebook is to show solidarity for the struggling VFX and animation community.  The snubs felt at the Oscars are the symptom of a very ill industry that is on the brink of imploding.  Without the hard work of VFX facilities and artists on films like the Oscar Winning "Life of Pi", modern films would be nothing but green or blue screens and guys in funny body suits jumping around. I will attempt to explain the complex events that have led up to the current plight of our industry.

THE PROTEST:  There was a VFX protest march at the Oscars yesterday afternoon - February 24th, 2013.  From Yahoo Movies: The protest was spurred on by... 

Scott Ross, who was a top manager of Industrial Light & Magic and a founder at Digital Domain, started the ball rolling with a tweet: "I had a dream, 500 VFX artists near the Dolby (Kodak) theater on Oscar day waving signs that say 'I Want a Piece of the Pi Too.'" Since then, the plan spread online, with protest organizers launching a Facebook page, and some investing in a banner that will be flown by a plane over the theater during the red-carpet ceremonies, reading "box office + bankrupt = visual effects vfxunion.com."

Photo permission Jon Tojek 

Artists from VFX and animation carried signs up and down Hollywood and Vine to bring awareness to the issue.  The protest came out of frustration among the artists.  Contrary to what the rest of the world thinks, the artists working on movies are not rich. Artists receive no residuals, royalties or back-end bonuses from the award winning films they work on.  On a union movie set every person working on a film is covered.  They have a residuals, pension, health benefits, but not the post production artists.  Even puppeteers are SAG covered.  Thus, "If the work VFX/Animation/CG artists create is the main reason these movies are blockbusters, why don't they get a piece of the pi?"

Doing it for effects … a placard held by a protester from the visual effects industry at the 2013 Oscars. Photograph: Billy Brooks

PERCEPTION:  Perception is what this protest was all about.  It's not about punishing the VFX facilities, or the movie studios...  it's about letting the rest of the world know what is going on.  The KCRW Interview below reveals the perception of our industry.  The director - Pete Berg sums it up at 19:24 into the show - link below.

VFX Industry in Trouble: Won and Oscar Now What?

Director Pete Berg says, "The Business to be is ILM. (Industrial Light and Magic) That is who is making all the money."

Wowsie wow.  What a bunch of bunk.  This is why the artists protested. To set the record straight here.  More than 583$ million dollars for Life of Pi!  And, the artists who worked on it were let go without pay... huh?  What if I told Samuel L. Jackson he needs to take a serious pay cut to work on a movie?  What if I said, "Sam, we need you to take a 30% pay cut with no benefits, no residuals, and you need to work 16 hour days, move yourself and your family to another country with a higher cost of living and produce double the work your normally do in that time?"  What do you think ole Sam Jackson would say to that?  Would he still work on the movie?  Yet, the box office hits are the movies with more than 50% of the movie created entirely on a computer with animation and VFX.  Getting the picture now?

CULTURE:  Most VFX/Animation studios today are nothing more than sweatshops with hundreds of artists working an average of 12-16 hour days.  To make this crystal clear, the toughest run I worked in my career was 21 days (16 hour days) in a row.  I seriously thought I was going nuts towards the end of that run. I have friends who have worked 9 months without a day off.

It wasn't always like this, though. I have seen the decline in culture at the studios since 2000 as CG and VFX driven movies continued to make more and more money.  You would think if the movies are making more money, the folks involved would be too... right?  Nope, the complete opposite has been happening.  The last show I worked on was in 2011.  I have purposely only accepted work from home because the culture at the studios has become one I do not want to work in.

The schedules presented today are 1/4th of what I saw ten years ago.  A shot you would normally have 4-6 weeks to work on, is now bid at 4-6 days!!  It is insane!  No one leaves their desks.  Everyone is tense, trying to make the impossible, possible.  When I moved to LA in 2000, I was given benefits and sick days, permission to work out at the gym for free on lunch hours, 401k, and the animation facility even paid to move me and all of my belongings up from San Diego.  Today, you will not see that.  Today, your are lucky to have a job. It is a toxic, abusive working atmosphere.  Why would I stay in this field?

THE BUSINESS MODEL:  The VFX/Animation industry has a shaky business foundation on which to build a business model.

- very small profit margins
- no trade organizations to work towards raising those profit margins
- no unions to work on the artist's behalf
- subject to the whims of client, revisions and schedule changes
- no way to cover overhead in between show schedules

ENTER SUBSIDIES:  Government funded movie productions (up to 30% of the budget) pop up in London, Vancouver, India, Singapore, China, Australia and various other places around the world.  These VFX/Animation facilities find a way to pay for the overhead of keeping artists employed and the lights on, in between the schedules of each show, with this extra money in countries with lower costs than the US.

The US studio has no cash flow, everything that comes in goes right back out and now their competition has the upper hand with the extra money to float in between projects and lure cheap talent with the work.  I heard Scott Ross give a great analogy in an interview.  He said owning a VFX/Animation facility is like owning an airline.  You aren't making money unless the planes are in the air.  So, you fill the seats at any price.  He said VFX facilities are run the same.  Get the bid in low, so you can get the cash flow in to keep the place afloat.

Runaway production, overseas competition and government subsidies have forced domestic VFX houses to survive on less than 5% profit margins. Of the many studios I have worked at over the years, five have gone out of business or bankrupt:
Digital Domain,
Asylum FX,
Cinesite: Hollywood ,
Cafe FX,
and now Rhythm and Hues.

The company behind the Life of Pi's stunning visual effects, which made the movie possible, Rhythm & Hues went bankrupt as the film just passed the billion dollar mark in global ticket sales. The CG & VFX (visual effects) facilities that make the Hollywood blockbuster movies possible bid shows at a loss.  The Hollywood production companies walk away with profits.  Artists who dedicate their lives to their craft get the boot.

NOT JUST VFX:  The folks working in CG Animation for studios like Dreamworks, Disney, Pixar, BlueSky, etc. are feeling the push to create more profit too. See the breakdown below of recent closings of VFX and Animation Facilities.

From Reddit:

Digital Domain: September 11th, 2012 Closed Florida facility, laid off 350 employees
Pixomondo: February 24th, 2013 Closing Detroit & London Offices http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118066500/
Electronics Arts: February 21st, 2013 Extensive Layoffs http://www.polygon.com/2013/2/21/4014372/ea-montreal-los-angeles-layoff
Rhythm and Hues: Feb. 16th, 2013 Bankruptcy, Layoffs
Junction Point (Makers of Epic Mickey): Jan. 29th, 2013 Extensive Layoffs
Disney Interactive: Jan. 29th, 2013: 50 employees laid off
Sony: January 28th, 2013 Major layoffs
Dreamworks:  Feb. 7th, 2013 Several hundred upcoming layoffs http://www.businessinsider.com/dreamworks-animation-layoffs-2013-2
Technicolor: Feb. 21st, 2013 Closing Facility
THQ Jan. 23rd, 2013 Studio Closure, Massive Layoffshttp://www.gameinformer.com/b/news/archive/2013/01/23/thq-layoffs.aspx
Eurocom Dec. 23rd, 2012


TO MY STUDENTS AND NON VFX/ANIM FRIENDS:  If something doesn't give soon, there might not be an industry for you to enter.  At least not one in the US and not one you would like to work in.

Although the green square on facebook makes reference to the behind the scenes of VFX, CG Feature Animation is suffering the same layoffs and outsourcing.  Artists at big studios working on intellectual properties fear losing their job.  Staff positions with benefits and sick days no longer exist.  Newbie animators with little to no experience are being hired and trained only to find a sink or swim attitude. If the newbie doesn't cut it in production, they are let go.  You get three weeks to prove you can work at the same level as a seasoned artist.  The race to the bottom is about to hit rock bottom.  The next few months, will reveal what is in store for the industry as a whole.

I could go on about this topic, but I think this a good time to stop, take a breath and see what happens next.  I will say this.  I love to animate.  I had fun when I first started in the business.  I won't return unless the biz model and culture changes, though.  I am hopeful there will be change.  Artists are not asking for much... live where they already have planted roots and/or own their house and not have to uproot their families to find work every 6 months, work a respectful 8 hour day, fair pay, benefits, health care, and the like.

In the meantime, here are some more articles on the subject.









R&H Hoping for Fast Exit from Bankruptcy

Article from Variety...

The visual effects industry woke up Monday morning to news it had been dreading: One of the biz's most admired companies, Rhythm & Hues, had been forced into bankruptcy. In a single week, R&H's big release for 2012, "Life of Pi," had won four Visual Effects Society Awards, including the org's equivalent of best picture and won the BAFTA for visual effects, while the company was set to file for Chapter 11 reorganization in Los Angeles.

Prime Focus, the India-based visual effects and 3D conversion company, had hoped to buy Rhythm & Hues, and negotiations were under way through last week. However, Prime Focus was unable to assemble the necessary financing, and its proposed deal to acquire R&H fell through. On Sunday, even as the BAFTAs were being handed out in London, R&H began calling its employees and clients to inform them of the move.

Unconfirmed reports of the Chapter 11 filing appeared on the VFX Soldier blog around 10 p.m. Sunday night, and Variety was able to confirm them about 90 minutes later. Company has branches in Vancouver, Taiwan, Malaysia and two in India. The bankruptcy filing will be made in Los Angeles.

...read more

Understanding Unions: The Good, The Bad & Ugly

VES will not let me embed the video, but you can watch if you click the link below...

Honestly, in all of the years I spent hundreds of dollars on the VES, I never saw any valuable return on that money.  For this reason, I have not been a member, since 2009, when they doubled the dues.

This, however, is a great VES talk.  
Marty Schindler, the moderator, is someone I met while serving, myself, as a speaker on a VES panel, in 2002.  Marty knows his stuff.  If nothing else, watching this video is worth listening to Marty.  His guidance of this talk is on point.
It's interesting to listen to each person on the panel, objectively, and observe their directives.  It's very clear the union rep wants unions in VFX, because that means more money and power for the union. The attorney is very careful about defining unions, trade orgs and the like, without bias.  She also checks the union rep on his statements that a union would incur no costs to the VFX facilities.  How could there not be?  She checks the union rep's claims consistently throughout the discussion.  I do not hear from the union rep an argument that convinces me one way or another that the union will solve the issues that lie in front of the VFX industry.  I am not convinced a union will hurt either.

Union or not, I am not sure what the answer is since we possibly missed the boat to implement infrastructure years ago that could have protected the VFX productions facilities, and therefore their workers.  One of the most constructive comments is where they discuss how the workers and VFX vendors have to work together as a unit to make for change in a biz where there is no longer a profit margin to provide leverage with the motion picture studios on schedules, contracts and creative content.

The studio management reps on the board also give the perspective of cost of unions vs. profit margins and the reality of creating a VFX union at VFX shops that are making no profit.  All of this is compounded by runaway production and a union can only cover workers in the US and Canada.  The studio management reps actually offer some solutions to the problems that face artists and studios today, outside of a union.  One important crux of this issue is the perception of the value of VFX artists and what we bring to the table in the first place.

The bottom line, 
"You can't go further into debt every year and expect to make money as a VFX facility."
Scott Ross grabs the mic at the end of part 2, stating, "We shot ourselves in the foot."
I have to agree with Scott Ross on all of his points.  A VFX trade organization is crucial to ailing the symptoms of a sick industry that has set itself up for failure.  Since the beginning, VFX shops have been working themselves into the ground for the movie production houses.  A union could help the situation, working as a trojan hourse, by forcing the hand of the VFX management to band together and form a trade organization to deal with all of the issues before them.  The sad part is, the VFX vendors could create a trade organization all on their own, but they refuse to because they believe no movie production studio will give them work if they fight back.
A must watch.
And, here is a link to the
from fx guide

Heritage Global Partners Auction Gallery » Digital Domain

There will be a live, open to the public preview of the available assets on Monday, December 10th and Tuesday December 11th from 10:00am-4:00pm EST. The live Global Online Auction will take place on Wednesday December 12th for select assets. The remainder of the assets will be sold in a 2-day Global Online Auction beginning Thursday December 13th , and closing Friday December 14th at 10:00am EST

talk amongst yourselves...

Siggraph Is Not Even in the US This Year??

For the first time in its history, the annual SIGGRAPH conference convenes outside the United States. Vancouver has thrown down the welcome mat and embraced SIGGRAPH 2011 with open arms. The British Columbia Provincial and the Vancouver City governments are working closely with our liaisons in the Vancouver SIGGRAPH Chapter to ensure that this will be the most exciting SIGGRAPH conference yet. Remember: Make It Home!

Scott Ross for President

Everyone should listen to this interview...

This is the most articulate, solution oriented conversation I have heard yet on this subject.  If the VFX shops are awarded the money, respect, education, and deserved appreciation Ross proposes a trade organization would provide... I am confident there would be trickle down to the employees.  Ten years ago, these needs (401k, benefits, fair hiring practices) were being met.  Some shops back in the day even had car washing, dry cleaning services, meals provided, studio sponsored parties, etc.  VFX shops managed to provide these things to artists even on a "next to nothing" profit margin.  Then, times changed.  The movie studios told shops you have half the budget , twice the work, and half the time... even though profits on VFX driven films are higher than ever.  Studios told the shops, if you don't like it, the shop down the street beet your bid by 150k!  So, the VFX shops began to hire cheap labor just to make ends meet.

The VFX companies are not the enemy in this situation and the situation is not personal.  What have we got to lose?  If the shops don't organize and fix the situation now, they are out of business anyways.  Then, no one has a job. If the VFX shops paid dues to a trade organization like artists do to the VES, we might get somewhere.  As long as the new trade organization does the job presented to them and isn't fluff and just talk, like some organizations we know.  I think this is what Scott means by he would be willing to help organize as long as people made a commitment to the mission.  If shops all agreed to pay dues to get the organization started, they might have a fighting chance in this as Ross put it "race to the bottom."

I also agree completely with Ross on a Union.  The biz model for VFX shops is not one that could work with a Union. at this time  The issues that artists have with the shops  (401k, benefits, fair hiring practices) are only symptoms of the bigger problem.  VFX was never working off of fat, it was lean muscle ten years ago... now we are cutting ligaments and bone as far as budgets and any profits.  There is no room for negotiating.  A union could help after we recover from the current circumstances... possibly, but I do not see how a Union would fix the profit margin issue between the Movie Studios and FX shops.  How would a union deal with Runaway Production.  I am curious how are they handling it now?  I am pretty sure 2D ran away to Korea... no?

The one thing that did bother me in their talk was when they said the whole issue since the town hall "died because people are working."  I know more people out of work than ever.  Artists have no power, no money, no leaders, no experience in this stuff and mouths to feed.  We feel helpless.  That is why it died.  If the VFX studios have no cash, you think out of work artists do?  So, artists go overseas to help the lack of local talent for 1/3rd of their salary on even smaller budgeted movies and leave their wife and kids behind to keep a roof over their heads.  It's the unskilled talent pool overseas that needs our artists to make the incentive program work.  Again, worst biz model ever.  And I digress..  Anyways, it's the first real discussion I have seen anywhere so far.

Media industry fears new rules will kill jobs

This is the first article I have seen regarding runaway production in Animation and VFX that makes any sense to me.  If you are trying to build an industry in a region and expect incentives from the government, it shouldn't be easy to import temporary workers to do the work.  You should have to hire the local talent.  Of course, the real talent doesn't live there, so you look for loopholes to import people from the states to do the work.  Looks like those days of easy imported talent might be numbered for Canada.

"Without the IT category, Pixar, Digital Domain, Ubisoft and the like will, starting in October, have to apply for temporary work visas the way every other company in any industry does. This means first seeking a so-called Labour Market Opinion (LMO) from Ottawa's Service Canada department. It requires demonstrating that a position meets wage guidelines, brings new skills and knowledge, and does not adversely affect the employment of a Canadian worker."

Effects Corner POV

I keep hearing "All of a sudden. the folks making VFX have grown up.  Now they are concerned about their families and want stability.  This is why the issues about pay and hours are now important to the workforce."  Poppycock. Yeah, I said poppy cock.  I worked with men who were in their 30's and up when I started in Animation and VFX in the early 90's.  They were happy.  They had resonable schedules, decent pay, comfortable hours (with the occasional push) and most owned houses even in LA's real estate market because of their stability.

Today, facilities are telling the supervisors they have one day to get a shot done that would have been bid at 5 day just a few years ago.  On top of that, budgets force the producers to assign cheap labor instead of seasoned professionals to these shots.

Scott Squires has been around the block.  His career dates back to creating the clouds for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  He has a blog that everyone should be reading.  I placed some favorite excepts below concerning the recent events regarding labor issues and the future of the VFX Industry, but I also encourage you to go through his blog archive posts.  His blog should be required reading for every artist and TD working in Animation and VFX.

Effects Corner Blog
You can also follow him on Twitter

Excerpt from this posting: Response

"The VFX industry is like a tire that has gotten out of alignment and is getting more out of balance all the time. Toward the end of the optical era and the beginning of the digital age most projects ran reasonably smoothly, at least at ILM. There was still the sprint at the very end but it wasn’t super crazy. ILM was powerful enough to let the studios know how much time was involved.

With film you had to make sure you finished your shot in time to make the lab run. Once you made the lab run at 7pm or 8pm that was it. That was the end of the day for most vfx artists. Working after that cut off time was only worth it if there was a late lab run, which was only arranged in the final sprint. The next morning you’d see the dailies and would reshoot. Even if it was a small change you’d still have to wait until the next morning unless you sent the film as a daylight run (more expense). When digital came in, the render took the place of the lab run. Sometimes it took longer time to render than to process the film. You’d get your render prepped for 7pm or so and the CG supe would allocate procs in the render farm. And you still have dailies in the mornings. However now it was possible to actually see composites and other things during the day so turn around time for some tasks was much less. As computers became faster the internal deadlines became more flexible.

Certainly in the early days of digital the studios would at least discuss how much time would be required to do the vfx for a large film. The studios would use that information to determine the release date. As more projects were being done digitally the studios realized how much flexibility was available. Both studios and directors started pushing the limits not just creatively but technically and time wise. And we, the eager and hard working vfx artists, jumped to meet those goals. While we were wiping our brows afterwards, amazed at what we had accomplished, the studios and directors now used this as the new standard. Directors on their next show would say, 'You guys say you need clean plates and markers. But remember that last film where we had one shot that we didn’t do any of that and you still made it work? Well that’s what we’ll do for all these shots. That was much faster and easier to shoot'. The studios were now saying 'You did the last project in 6 months and we made changes two weeks before the release and you still did it. This time you’ll have 4 months and we’ll be making changes 1 week from release.' Some of them like to brag about this type of thing."

Excerpt from this posting: VFX Service - The Big Picture

"When I think of a service I think of a dentist, a car shop where they work on your car or a plumber that comes to your house. In these cases they do work but don’t tend to produce anything. The costs are based on time and materials.
Custom manufacturing?
Should vfx be considered as custom manufacturing? We actually create something when we finish our work, whether it’s from scratch or a montage of material provided. That’s what the studios want, not the actual service part.

Here is where things get crazier. Each shot is unique like a snowflake. It’s own little world of issues, handwork and tweaks. You try like anything to make shots as consistent as possible and to be able to run them through the exact same process but it’s never full automated. For all the talk about computers in our business it’s still a very labor-intensive process. The number of people and the time required to do a shot from start to finish would astound most outsiders.
If you go to most manufactures and request custom work you will be required to make specific requirements in writing. (I.e. you want cabinet style 32 but in this specific color of blue. You want a custom cake that says Happy Birthday. It will be yellow cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate frosting.) And that is what you will get. They seldom show you the work in progress or have your input at every single stage. The other thing is a custom manufacture will tell you when it will be done. They dictate the schedule. In the film business it’s the opposite of all of this. The studio specifies when the delivery will be. It’s almost always less than the time that would have been arrived at by a normal scheduling process for the facility."

More interesting highlight posts by Scott Squires:

VFX Town Hall Brought to you by ARTISTS

No need for art posters or self promotion here.
Just a clean and simple website with artists speaking 
on the topics and questions that artists have.
The informality of the first 20 minutes has a charm to it
At least 40 minutes into it, they bring an actual facilities owner  
to answer the questions and discuss solutions.  
(just scrub ahead if you can to the good stuff)
He is informative and very honest.
He explains the difference between a trade org and a guild.
One of the best points the facilities rep makes 
is that a guild would create more security 
for people who are freelancing and bouncing from job to job
through a "monster benefits package" of residuals, 
pension, welfare and health insurance.
Important thing to fight for, in such a transient industry.
The funny thing is:  He says that his clients say
"You get paid when I get paid."
Well, that chatter has found itself all the way down the tree.
I have heard that more times than I haven't as an artist, since 2007.
Art by John Van Vliet


  Here is my Dream Panel (5 people):
VFX Biz Rep
Consultant on business in VFX with clients like 
20th Century Fox, Cinesite, ILM, etc.
(I have been on panels with Marty and he is great)

One Big 8 facilitites Rep Possibilities
Tim Sarnoff (Sony), 
Scott Ross (DD), 
Lynwen Brennan (ILM)
One Union Rep 
 Kevin Koch
Steve Huwlett
Tom Sito
James Parris
One Guild Rep
SAG President - Ken Howard
One Seasoned Artist
(who has experienced the issues going on right now)
Anyone working right now
I appreciate these guys dealing with the issues 
and not have a separate agenda.
They dealt with issues that artists are concerned with
and specifically spoke about solutions instead of blame.
Lots of talk of how and why to start a trade union.
However, It was frustrating listening to two guys ponder issues 
they, themselves have never experienced.
I cannot wait until an artist who has experienced the issues below...
participates in a panel.

  • not being paid at all
  • or being paid 3 months after finishing a gig
  • being required to be 1099 or accept a 30-day net pay schedule
  • working for no OT
  • working a 50 hour week for a flat day rate
  • the need to place a trashcan next to you on the desk when it rains
  • cannot find work anymore because it has all gone overseas
  • has been told "you get paid, when I am paid." (up to 60-90 days)
P.S.  I want to make one thing very clear...THIS IS NOT just an issue at big studios.  In fact, my experience the small studios are the biggest offenders.

P.S.S.  I agree Digital Artist Guild (D.A.G.) would be a better name, since it covers all artists who work digitally.

Better Pipelines with Pros

This is a great article by Isa Alsup.  
Seasoned artists should definitely read this.  
Below, is just a taste from the blog post.

Age discrimination is packaged subtly in the U.S. market as well. When an ad suggests "3-5 years experience", you need to understand that 5 years is considered a maximum. Showing more experience will most likely result in your resume being tossed. Employers in this way are limiting the job pool to workers more or less fresh out of college and those with less than five years experience: effectively cutting out most workers over 30.

VFX Labor and the Animation Guild's POV

Steve Hulett and Tom Sito

Everyone working or wanting to work in VFX,
CG and animation should listen to this podcast.

Steve Hulett of The Animation Guild
discusses visual effects and labor issues.

FX Podcast with Steve Hulett

FX Podcast also just interviewed Lee Stranahan
who wrote the letter to James Cameron for the Huffington Post

FX Podcast with Lee Stranahan

Working in China?

A guest post from one of our users, with editorial corrections and comments. Reprinted by permission.
Many complain that outsourcing companies in Asia cut jobs in the West and many fear that low wages in the East endanger jobs in the West. No doubt there is a trend towards outsourcing since economic downturns force many producers to look for cheaper options abroad. (correction ed.)

I just want to shed some light on the environment domestic artists are forced to work and live in and how they think about us.

Here are some facts:

  • A junior to mid-level artist earns between 3000 to 4000 RMB (~440 to 730 USD) per month. Senior to supervising level reach 8000 to 10000 RMB (~1172 to 1465 USD). Roto/Paint Artists and Modeler sometimes even work for 1000 RMB (~146 USD) per job/model/per month
  • There are no benefits (health, social, unemployment, retirement, pension) whatsoever. Bonuses are rare, many times promised but rarely paid.
  • There are no regulations on working hours or overtime payment (Many work 7 days/week) meaning there are no unions nor any regulations nor guilds thus zero protection nor any law enforcement which protects them.
  • They can fired without notice nor can get paid if the boss is not satisfied with their performance or work. There are official holidays but unpaid of course, the same is true if someone has to take sick leave.
  • They are asked to do everything from matchmoving, rotoscoping/clean-ups, modeling, texturing, animating, compositing, etc.
  • A job interview seldom includes a showreel or a professional presentation of any kind. Most guys who run these sweat shops are either rich kids but mostly real estate guys who think that CG/VFX/Animation is an easy business to make fast bucks. Telling the boss that they know AE, Fusion, Shake, PFTrack, Boujou, Matchmover, Nuke, Flame, Realflow, 3DPaint, Mudbox, ZBrush, Dee Paint, Photoshop, Maya, 3Dmax, XSI, Houdini etc. usually gets them a job.
  • This means that all these kids have these application on their laptops, for free of course meaning you can download them from many Chinese servers including all plug-ins you possibly can imagine. Sure the government tries to implement copyright protection in China, but when I can buy cracked DVDs I wonder why there are so many police officers and government officials that can buy DVDs and copies of the latest Windows application as well. (edited ed.)
  • PC's are dirt cheap and for every IT nerd the paradise in China is Zhongguancun (Chinese Silicon Valley), which is probably the biggest PC and consumer market of electronic products in the world with billions of revenue every year. Taiwan is in close proximity therefore electronic appliances vast and very cheap.
  • To open a company costs basically nothing, 5000 RMB (~732 USD), for a license including a tax registration. BUT there is a huge subculture of homegrown businesses basically operating from rented apartments in a residential area. Many of them work on very successful ad campaigns with cracked Flames/Smokes and a fully blown post facility, with a stacked up server in the air-conditioned toilet.
  • Talent pool is huge however there is no quality awareness nor any existing standards. The ones who can speak English try to go abroad without knowing how a company is managed nor how a real pipeline works. (edited ed.) Traditional art skills (concept art, oil/ink painting, mattepainting) is really good and has a long history in China. On the animation and compositing side of things, the lack of experience and the shabby education are the biggest obstacles to becoming a professional in a western sense.
  • The companies who are doing outsourcing jobs are mostly run by Chinese who had the money to study or work abroad and have gotten used to the western style. So when coming back, there is so much money and additional resources, many of us can only dream about. Just to give an example, CCTV's (China Central Television) revenue is nation-wide and one can easily assume that money is not a problem for the people who have the right connections (meaning having the right 'guanxi'). So to start an animation business..The revenue available is, 270,000,000,000 (270 billion) RMB (~39,543,057,598 USD). In general can we say that the richest government in the world is owned by the communist part with access to several trillion USD in foreign currency reserves. (edited ed.)

Now to my reality:

Currently i work as a VFX Supervisor on 50 episodes of a TV adaptation of one of the 4 most famous novels in Chinese history. Maybe you have heard about (Monkey King, Chinese: Xi You Ji). The budget is 100m RMB (~14.6m USD) with an overall VFX budget of 15m RMB (~2.2m USD). YES!! I am not joking, the average vfx cost per episode is 300,000 RMB (~44,000 USD) including everything VFX can do from complex wire and rig removal to clean-up work to CG creatures, mattepainting and compositing. Average shot count is 200 per episode. The timeframe until completion of all 50 episodes is 8 months! This is with roughly 300 artists. The plans for the future from some really crazy real-estate guys is to build animation/vfx factories (factories, not studios or companies, comment ed.) with 7000 employees.

I work now non-stop for 4 to 5 months without a single day of rest and 15 hours on-set, of course it is winter and no heating system nor air-suction system exists. We shot for one month above 3000m (close to Tibet) in snow, drizzle, rain, ice with two HDCams and a crew of 15 production guys and 30 stunt/wire members. Lunch is outside, wake up call was 5:30. Stunt and wire crew (all Kungfu kids from famous Hunan martial art schools close to the Shaolin temple, some even grew up there as Kungfu monks because their parents couldn't afford their education or simple had not enough money to raise them) are without doubt the best of the best and the toughest guys I have ever met but at the same time warm hearted and extremely polite. No matter how long you drag them, they work their ass off to please their master ('sufu') or climb up (of course unsecured) on the roof supporting beams of the studio ceiling to fix their wires. One of our directors is a ex-stunt guy and he commnds them with a voice like a drill sergeant of a marine corp. No arguing or complaining, they obey like they have learned to as a Kungfu student.

The studio I am working barely fullfills any safety standard. Like I mentioned no air suction system, especially critial when they paint spray a newly built set besides our huge bluescreen cyc (cyc:large fabric wall, pronounced sike ed.) or when they burn diesel instead of vegetable oil for their set torches. Besides that the whole floor is covered by fine powdered sand to act a set flooring. It has already killed my on-set keying previz machine once and my assistance spit blood after 3 months of being constantly on-set. BUT the efficency is high, no bullshit, no coffee break, no safety harnesses, no union regulations, sets are built around the clock, laborers are plenty and cost basically nothing, a carpenter earns 40 RMB (~5.85 USD) per hour, some work for half or a third or that. Quality of construction is good, even though breathing in such a set is not recommended at all as the paint highly poisonous. I wear during my supervisor time a half gas mask from 3M which makes the communication with the director a little bit difficult but also lets me feel a little bit like Darth Vader :-)

So in conclusion, my explanation of why producers are pulling out their secret outsourcing weapon and are looking into Asia (China); it is cheap and fast and many things can be accomplished or even tried out which would be impossible in the West for obvious reasons like insane TNT explosions, quantity over quality, and cheap labor.

Click here for original post and comments...

Filmmakers win almost all that they asked for

Big news for Australia. Big tax credits (40% rebate on production costs).

Filmmakers win almost all that they asked for...

John Garnaut

May 9, 2007
THE Arts Minister, George Brandis, gave the film industry almost everything it wanted last night, with a $280 million funding injection over four years.As foreshadowed last month in the Herald, local filmmakers will receive a 40 per cent tax rebate on production costs.The scheme is expected to be more effective - and far more costly - than the infamous 10BA tax deductions and subsidies it will replace from July 1.
The Australian Film Commission will be merged with the Film Finance Corporation and Film Finance Australia to form a new super agency, the Australian Screen Authority.The changes are considered the most important for the industry in more than a decade.Some in government believe they will mark a ceasefire in the cultural wars played out between the arts community and the Howard Government.The tax rebates should ensure taxpayer money goes straight to film productions, rather than the financiers and promoters of tax avoidance schemes.Productions of television series and documentaries will also be eligible for a 20 per cent tax rebate.Foreign film producers will have their "location rebates" raised from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent, following one of the leanest foreign production years in modern history.Eligibility for the foreign scheme will be relaxed to include post-production and digital production.
Hmm, I wonder if the following article had anything to do with it? or vice versa.
Warner Bros. Pictures and Animal Logic have taken the logical step after the financial and Oscar-winning success of HAPPY FEET to extend their partnership. The two companies will jointly develop and co-produce a slate of animated features, with three projects, to be announced in the coming months, already earmarked for development. Warner Bros. Pictures will have worldwide distribution rights for all films produced through the deal. It's uncertain whether a HAPPY FEET sequel would be part of this package, since director George Miller is first eying a few other projects.The deal marks a significant expansion into animation for the Sydney, Australia-based vfx house after its initial outing with HAPPY FEET. "HAPPY FEET was such an incredible achievement that expanding our development and production partnership with Animal Logic felt like a natural next step," said Jeff Robinov, president, production, Warner Bros. Pictures. "We're thrilled to be in business with such a respected and innovative animation and digital production studio and look forward to many more successful joint projects."Throughout production on HAPPY FEET, which was the first 3D-animated feature ever produced in Australia, Animal Logic grew from a primarily visual effects company to a fully operational animation studio, at the same time growing its core crew of approximately 150 to more than 500 at the peak of production. Not surprisingly, this talent and production pipeline created for HAPPY FEET (which was XSI-based) will be used for future projects with Warner Bros. Pictures.Meanwhile, Animal Logic has named Jackie O'Sullivan as head of development/exec producer to oversee development of all Animal Logic projects into production. O'Sullivan has worked in the film and television industry in England and Australia as a film exec/producer in development and production for the last 15 years, including head of business affairs for the UK Film Council and gm/exec producer for Columbia Tristar Prods., starting off as a film lawyer in London in 1992. Her film credits include THE PROPOSITION and THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING. Her television credits include NEVER TELL ME NEVER, WITCH HUNT and SIMONE DE BEAUVOIR'S BABIES."While we have long relied on Animal Logic for their fantastic visual effects work on many of our films, we were their partners as they took their company to a new level with HAPPY FEET," said Chris deFaria, evp, digital production, Warner Bros. Pictures. "Animal Logic is a creative and innovative animation house, and we couldn't be happier to continue collaborating with them on these projects.""We're thrilled to continue and expand our relationship with Warner Bros. Pictures," added Animal Logic ceo Zareh Nalbandian. "The wide slate of project opportunities assures Animal Logic's ability to continue to produce engaging and innovative digital features. It supports our technical and creative point of difference."Previous Warner Bros. Pictures films on which Animal Logic provided visual
effects include 300, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, THE MATRIX and THE MATRIX RELOADED.With offices in Australia and Los Angeles, Animal Logic is represented in the U.S. by CAA.

Sony Pictures may relocate 100 visual effects workers to New Mexico

California may lose yet more film-industry positions if financial incentives are extended.
By Richard Verrier, Times Staff Writer

March 9, 2007

Sony Pictures Imageworks, one of Hollywood's leading visual effects companies, plans to move more than 100 jobs from Culver City to New Mexico if state lawmakers give their expected blessing next week to film industry financial sweeteners.

Although Imageworks would remain in Culver City, along with a majority of its employees, the decision to shift a major chunk of its operation elsewhere marks a symbolic blow to Southern California as it struggles to keep its signature business from being poached by other states and countries.

Most of the battles to date have involved trying to keep specific films or TV shows from shooting elsewhere. In this case, the move involves the kind of nuts-and-bolts operation that makes up the film and TV industry's backbone.

"It's an indication that the bricks-and-mortar infrastructure that we have long enjoyed is not completely rooted here," said Kathleen Milnes, president of the Entertainment Economy Institute, a nonprofit research group based in Pacific Palisades. "That should serve as a wake-up call."

Imageworks executives and city and state film officials in New Mexico declined to comment.

The proposed facility would eventually employ about 300 visual effects technicians and computer animators — about a third of Imageworks' current workforce — within the Albuquerque Studios, a newly opened film and TV production studio near the city's airport, according to three people familiar with the plans.

The project, however, hinges on approval of a state bill that would make permanent an existing program providing a combined 25% rebate on taxable production expenses. Sony had been seeking reassurances from state officials that the company would fully qualify for the rebate.

Los Angeles has lost thousands of jobs because of runaway production in the last decade, as producers flocked to lower-cost areas offering incentives. Increasingly, other states are trying to establish permanent film economies by building soundstages and luring post-production firms such as Imageworks.

Full Article

New Mexico Film Industry

NO BIT PLAYER: A film crew works on a production in a suburb
of Albuquerque. The state has “the best film incentive
program in the country,” a Hollywood director said.

Video Fly Over of Studios
ALBUQUERQUE — The sign inside the airport terminal here proclaims a dusty mesa a few miles away to be "Hollywood's Newest Home," a reference to a plot of land where four vanilla-colored soundstages recently sprouted.

There, in the shadow of the snow-capped Sandia Mountains, the aircraft-hangar-like buildings at Albuquerque Studios house part of a budding film industry that one local newspaper dubbed Tamalewood. This year, four more soundstages will be added to anchor a bustling movie production center equal in size to 10 large supermarkets.

"This facility is second to none in the U.S.," said Chief Operating Officer Nick Smerigan, speaking over drilling done by a worker installing a vent. "Eventually, we'll be a first call for people who are leaving L.A."

DESERT CINEMA: The Sandia Mountains provide a distant backdrop for
the Albuquerque Studios in Albuquerque, New Mexico on
Thursday, March 1, 2007. The modern facility,
still under construction, caters to the needs of filmmakers.

Thanks to generous financial sweeteners, a fairly mild climate and an aggressive state film office, New Mexico can back up that kind of swagger.

Unlike scores of states seeking film shoots that pack up and leave when they are finished, New Mexico is zeroing in on the nuts and bolts of Hollywood. By luring the support companies that form the bedrock of the Los Angeles entertainment economy, New Mexico aims to lay the foundation for a top-tier movie and TV production business. Sony Pictures Imageworks plans to move a major chunk of its visual effects business — and more than 100 jobs — from Culver City to Albuquerque Studios.

Full Article...

Globalisation of Animation and 301

There is a very real threat to animation today.


I know, I know, to animators - this isn't a real "sexy" read...BUT! This is a not a joke and could affect your ability to get a job in the future. I encourage you to read on. I tried to make the political aspects as interesting as possible.

Jamie and I experienced the truth of free-trade approaching animation when we went to Siggraph in Boston last summer, to promote our book. Turkey, India, Singapore, China, Norway, Australia and many more countries were represented at the show, stating they can make visual effects at the same quality as American artists - for less.

Many people don't want to talk about this change in our industry. They want to ignore it, make excuses, hope that the pendulum will swing back eventually, or just stick their head in the sand and pretend it's not a reality.

But think about this, There are 3 predominant industries in California:

Aerospace is half the industry it was in the state of California (in the 80's and 90's) due to same type of unfair trade practices and subsidies provided in Canada, Britain, Japan, Brazil, and others. If we look at the losses in the Californian Aerospace industry over the past ten years as an example of what could happen to the Entertainment industry??? We will half our industry by 2014. Runaway productions will not go away, but there is a way to level the playing field called petition 301a.

Without petition 301a, we will continue to watch our jobs go overseas. Petition 301a is not about eliminating all globalisation. It's just about making the playing field a little more fair by taxing corporations and studios for going overseas and hiring artists outside of the US. Petition 301a stops governments from giving money to countries to produce films and visual effects overseas and NOT hire Americans. It's against the law and the NAFTA agreement for countries to be doing this.

Here is a link to a video interview explaining more about Petition 301a:
8 most asked questions about the section 301 (a) petition

To really understand how this all impacts us as artists in the visual effects industry...we need to
a little bit of history.

It was back in 1993 that the federal government signed off on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In layman's terms, this agreement encouraged American manufacturer's to seek out corporations overseas who could make products for half what American laborers would cost. In the 90's my father worked in the Apparel Industry. He loved this new law and forged ahead with his third company that sourced companies in the Caribbean Basin and Mexico that could make jeans and shirts for half the price of American owned companies. My father had to pay a tax on the products once they left these countries for their improved value to make it more fair that he was taking jobs from Americans to these other countries. I was a teenager at the time and didn't really understand that this trade agreement could be abused in the future and actually have a huge impact on my ability to stay employed. I mean this new law would never affect me? It's still fair with the taxes applied to taking the work overseas right?


Because these studios are not being held accountable and are breaking the law. Again, this petition is not about eliminating free trade - it's just about making it more fair.

Click here to see how many millions of dollars Americans
are loosing due to Runaway Production.
Remember, this is not just artists in visual effects, this is everyone from the boom operator to the local dry cleaner and caterer that provides kraft service!

Government subsidies have changed the face of animation, visual effects, and even live action productions for film and television. Billions of U.S. dollars are being spent each year on Motion Picture and Television production in the 19 foreign countries that offer WTO inconsistent subsidy programs. These 19-different nations are offering subsidies around the world, everything from tax rebates, waiving sales tax and permitting fees, and in one Canadian province you can even recover up to 55% of your labor costs if you are a film production company.

This is Outsourcing on a massive level and has become known to the film industry as “Runaway Production.” Outsourcing or Runaway Production means that work previously done in this country is now being done by other countries who offer generous bribes to the 6 major American studios. The impact of this on the U.S. economy is far-reaching.

Billions of dollars...drained out of the U.S. economy.

The section 301a petition seeks to neutralize the effect of these unfair trade practices and would encourage film and television Studios and producers to return jobs and money back to the U.S. economy. In addition, the 301a petition relies on the trade remedy known as the Section 301. This is the same trade remedy that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has endorsed and is currently using to fight the battle over piracy. Implementing this trade remedy will terminate the 19 subsidy programs, and finally put an end to a trend that threatens the job security of film workers and small businesses throughout the world.

So, how long before any of this come to pass? The attorneys fighting this fight say up to a year. Why is this? First, we have to convince the government there actually is an infraction against NAFTA. AND GUESS WHAT? NAFTA’s final version ran to approximately 1,700 pages. When the World Trade Organization (WTO) was created, its founding document ran to 23,000 pages! Both have since grown by thousands of pages. What is in all this fine print? Regulations. Thousands of them. NAFTA created dozens of new regulatory bodies—international bureaucracies, in other words, leading to the creation of the WTO. I don’t see how one can peruse the official documents of NAFTA and the WTO without realizing that the former was not really a free trade agreement and the latter is not really about free trade. Both are about trade micromanaged and controlled by contingents of bureaucrats, politicians, and politically well-connected corporations and business groups. In other words, what NAFTA created was the opposite of free trade. It, along with myriad other workaday activities of our government, set up a state of affairs that made it harder for those without the right political connections to do business profitably in America, while making it easier to outsource jobs to save labor costs.

FTAC is supported and endorsed by these unions:

IATSE Locals 695 Production Sound Technicians, Television Engineers and Video Assist Technicians - Hollywood, California (1,500 members) www.695.com/

871 Script Supervisors/Continuity & Allied Production Specialists Guild - Hollywood, California (1,500 members) www.ialocal871.org/

44 Affiliated Property Craftspersons - Hollywood, California (5,800 members) www.local44.org/

728 Studio Electrical Lighting Technicians - Hollywood, California (3,000 members) www.iatse728.org/

720 IATSE Studio Mechanics Local, Las Vegas, Nevada (3,500 members) www.iatselocal720.com

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG)

Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), Studio Utility Employees Local 724 (1,400 members) Laborers International Union www.liuna.org

International Brotherhood of Teamsters International
and Local’s 399 International Brotherhood of Teamsters (4,111 members) www.hollywoodteamsters.org

355, 391 International Brotherhood of Teamsters (125 members) www.teamsterslocal391.org

509 International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1,662 members)

592 International Brotherhood of Teamsters (1,400 members) www.teamster.org/

IBEW Local 40 IBEW International Botherhood of Electrical Workers

Local 755 Plasterers, Modelers, Sculptors (300 members) www.local755.com

UA Plumbers Local 78, AFL-CIO www.uaplumber78.com/

West Hollywood City Council, West Hollywood California

Glendale City Council, Glendale California

Burbank City Council, Burbank California

Santa Monica City Council Santa Monica California

Pittsburgh City Council, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania

Jersey City, City Council, Jersey City, New Jersey

Clifton City Council, Clifton, New Jersey

Maryland Production Alliance ww.mdproductionalliance.org

Film NY US - A group of below the line film workers based in New York City, New York

Florida Motion Picture and Television Association www.fmpta.org/

Screen Actors Guild (over 100,000 members) www.sag.org

Local 391, Hollywood Center Studios www.hollywoodcenter.com

Raleigh Studios

Michaelsons Catering

Fantasy II Film Effects

International Studio Services

History For Hire

Jackson Shrub Supply.

So what can you do?

I would encourage you to join the FTAC. Send email to the VES if you are a member asking them to be more proactive on this issue and finally talking to your local Animation Guild about supporting this issue.

For more about how to support FTAC click here.

Welcome to Bollywood!

By Anand Giridharadas
International Herald Tribune

MONDAY, MARCH 13, 2006


After thanking the Academy and their mothers, Oscar winners of the future may well thank India, too.
Legions of Indians already do the West's busy work, whether filling out tax forms or transcribing doctors' dictations. But now India is quietly entering a preserve of high- end creativity previously out of its reach: Hollywood. While Los Angeles sleeps, Indian visual effects artists are making Superman fly, converting horses into centaurs for "Narnia" and planting an animated Garfield the cat in the hands of live actors.

The trend is confined to a handful of Indian studios, but it traversed a milestone this year when "The Chronicles of Narnia" became the first Hollywood movie with a substantial Indian contribution to be nominated for an Academy Award for visual effects. Fifty Indians worked on the movie in Mumbai, and their hearts sank last week when it lost the Oscar to "King Kong."

This is not to suggest that Indians will soon be writing most Hollywood plots or that auditions will have to be conducted from Mumbai. But the overseas assignment of visual effects work illustrates the way Indian workers are chipping away at an imagined barrier between drudge work and the creative process.

"I don't think creativity is going to be limited to the West," said Prashant Babu Buyyala, managing director of Rhythm & Hues India, the Mumbai arm of the Hollywood visual effects studio that was the lead effects maker on "Narnia."

"The idea of saying they'll never take out our innovation, they'll just do things cheaper - that's just a protective statement," Richard Hollander, the president of Rhythm's film division, said by telephone from Los Angeles.

Rhythm's India office might at first seem like yet another Indian back office undercutting the West. The entry- level salary for an artist in the India office is $2,700 a year, or $1.35 an hour, a pittance next to the $40,000 a year, or $20 an hour, commanded by new recruits in the company's Los Angeles headquarters.

And the labor-intensive work may foster an impression of the kind of repetitive drudgery that Westerners are happy to send to foreign lands. Hunched over his computer one day last week, an artist at the studio was toiling frame by frame to adjust the lighting in a scene from the coming film "Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties." The four-second shot will occupy three artists for two weeks. Doing such detailed work on a whole movie would take one artist 148 years.

But Rhythm India is no sweatshop. It is treated by its Los Angeles headquarters as a second office, not a back office, largely because visual effects are unlike most of the work shipped to India from the West. Unlike accounting or call-center work, visual effects blend technical and creative elements inextricably; every worker has to be logical and imaginative at once to make, for example, an animated lion's muscles look real.

"Visual effects is part of the creativity," said Edward Jay Epstein, author of "The Big Picture: Money and Power in Hollywood," a recent industry exposé. "There is not one movie made in Hollywood - there are at least two. The first is the actor's unit. That provides one layer. The second is the visual and sound effects, done in post-production, often with material created in computers or shot in separate stunt units."

In movies like "The Lord of The Rings," "Harry Potter" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," he added, "the second layer is even more important than the first."

The result is that workers here are coddled as artists. They work in a stylish East Asian-style maze of huts with bamboo roofs. Despite India's six-day workweeks, here they work five, and they get three meals a day, free insurance and on-site yoga. Rhythm also reimburses employees for after-work courses ranging from cooking to dancing to painting.
"It's all about throwing money on employees," said Saraswathi Balgam, director of operations at Rhythm, who gets irked when the word "outsourcing" is used. "This facility," she insisted, "is not set up to cut costs."

Rhythm's India facility does cut costs. But the company is adamant in avoiding what Buyyala called the "widget mentality" of the Indian animation industry, which in 2005 recorded $285 million in revenue. Much of that total reflects the "factory mind- set," Buyyala said, not "the creative mind-set, where you do something that's never been done before."
Hollander said, "We don't understand why, with appropriate training, we can't do the same thing in India" as in Los Angeles. "We are pushing it as fast as it can go," he said.

Five years ago, when the India office was opened, it did do the grunt work of visual effects. One common assignment was to airbrush wires from characters, like Superman, who dangled from the ceiling but were supposed to be shown flying.

The work matured film by film, and before long Indians were engaged in the art of "compositing," in which layers of images are merged - as in "Garfield," in which an animated cat is superimposed onto a real-life shot.

The Indians' greatest challenge so far was "Narnia," a movie that, at its peak, involved the coordination of 450,000 mostly animated characters. The movie was co-produced by Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media.

To make centaurs for "Narnia," Indian animators had to take shots of men riding horses, then digitally slide the riders forward, erase their legs and the horse's head and merge the rider's torso with the horse's neck. This was to be done, not once, but on each individual frame, with 24 frames every second. A two-hour movie has 7,200 frames.

Today, "Garfield" is the challenge, and the office here is already doing work that was not entrusted to it on "Narnia." In one cubicle, an artist was running a simulation of the cat galloping to test whether its knee looked realistic when bent.

It will take three years before Rhythm's India facility can do a film like "Garfield" on its own, Balgam said. It will take longer to make a "Narnia," much of whose animation concepts originated in Los Angeles and were sent to India for fleshing out.

Companies like Rhythm show how the impact on the West of sending work offshore is inevitably mixed, less black-and-white than politicians often say it is. Plainly, $40,000 jobs are being done here for $2,700, and over time Rhythm & Hues will send more of its routine work to India. Without India, some work would have been performed by new hires in the United States.

But Rhythm's experience illustrates that moving work overseas can help companies even as it slows their domestic recruitment. Before its India office came up to speed, the company bid for a Harry Potter movie but lost to a lower-cost British business. But when "Narnia" came along, with its 50 Indian workers reducing costs, Rhythm clinched the $40 million deal.

And the facility, Balgam said, capitalizes not only on India's lower wages but also on what might be called enthusiasm arbitrage.
"If you speak to this kid," she said, motioning to one of her artists, "he's working on a Hollywood film, and he's 24. What we have is that we're passionate, and we haven't seen much, and so we're still excited about everything."