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

hollywoodsgreatestrick_chart


Animation Workers Reach $100 Million Settlement With Disney in Wage-Fixing Suit

Animation workers have reached a $100 million settlement with the Walt Disney Company, Pixar, and Lucasfilm in a class action lawsuit claiming that the defendants violated antitrust laws by conspiring to set animation wages via non-poaching agreements.

Disney and its companies were the last remaining defendants in the litigation. Earlier this month, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to a $50 million settlement with DreamWorks Animation, following previous settlements of $13 million with Sony Imageworks and $5.95 million with Blue Sky. All of the sums will be put in a settlement fund.

more at Variety...


NBCUniversal To Eliminate 200 Jobs At DreamWorks Animation Glendale Campus

While Universal hasn’t officially announced which DWA titles it will be distributing, sources say they don’t anticipate 20th Century Fox releasing any DWA titles after 2017. That would mean that the Fox-dated DWA product Larrikins (February 16, 2018), How to Train Your Dragon 3 (June 29, 2018) and The Croods 2(undated) would move to Uni. Upcoming DWA titles on Fox’s calendar include Trolls (November 4), The Boss Baby (March 31) and Captain Underpants (June 2).

...read more here


Mike Monteiro: F*ck You, Pay Me

I apologize for the lack of posts the past month. I have been working on a previz gig for “China” (said like Trump) and it has been a lot of work. I will do some catch up over July. In the meantime, everyone should watch this video and if you need a good entertainment attorney, email me and I will send you mine.

The most popular CreativeMornings talk of all time, Mike Monteiro gives us some valuable advice on how to get paid for the work that you do.

Mike Monteiro at CreativeMornings San Francisco, March 2011. Free events like this one are hosted every month in dozens of cities. Discover hundreds of talks from the world’s creative community athttps://creativemornings.com/talks


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


36 VFX Shots - Before and After

very special effect in cinema 01 870x708 36 special effects digital cinema

The Reddit user Sourcecode12 compiled 36 images showing various scenes from films before and after digital special effects that have been applied to them.

very special effect in cinema 02 569x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 03 710x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 04 682x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 05 713x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 06 734x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 07 741x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 08 792x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 09 788x800 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 10 870x694 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 11 870x700 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 12 504x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 13 870x729 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 14 870x736 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 15 870x693 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 16 870x723 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 17 870x712 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 18 870x718 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 19 870x625 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 20 870x737 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 21 870x737 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 22 710x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 23 716x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 24 870x720 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 25 870x419 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 26 652x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 27 870x492 36 digital special effects in film
very special effect in cinema 28 733x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 29 711x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 30 870x732 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 31 870x740 36 special effects digital cinema
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very special effect in cinema 33 719x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 34 808x800 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 35 870x708 36 special effects digital cinema
very special effect in cinema 36 655x800 36 digital special effects in film



Vfx Soldier Blogger ‘Outs’ Himself

Vfx Soldier blog revealed his identity today to lead the visual effects protest outside DreamWorks Animation in conjunction with President Obama’s visit. The identity of the anonymous VFX Soldier blogger has been revealed to be technical director Daniel Lay. Lay, who has worked at DreamWorks Animation, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and Digital Domain, has spent the last three years writing about problems within the visual effects industry.

more here...


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."
 
 
 

VFX in Los Angeles – 100 hour weeks & homeless


Quote from Article:  'After a brief time out of Los Angeles chasing a lead on a job, Victor returned for an interview, “I was hired on the spot for a laughable 13 bucks an hour, but with little to no options I took it.”  This was a short-lived gig, followed by others and at times as much as a month passed between gigs.'


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.

The VFX Watchers


The VFX Watchers - The VFX Watchers Review Site 


is a place for VFX workers to safely review VFX Companies





Help your fellow artists protect themselves 


from poor biz practices by the facilities



Steven Spielberg Predicts 'Implosion' of Film Industry

George Lucas echoed Spielberg's sentiments at an event touting the opening of a new USC School of Cinematic Arts building, saying big changes are in store.

Steven Spielberg on Wednesday predicted an "implosion" in the film industry is inevitable, whereby a half dozen or so $250 million movies flop at the box office and alter the industry forever. What comes next -- or even before then -- will be price variances at movie theaters, where "you're gonna have to pay $25 for the next Iron Man, you're probably only going to have to pay $7 to see Lincoln." He also said that Lincoln came "this close" to being an HBO movie instead of a theatrical release.


HOW DO YOU REALLY FEEL ABOUT THE VFX/ANIMATION INDUSTRY?

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.

CLICK HERE TO TAKE THE SURVEY


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 

http://vfx.iatse-intl.org 
http://vfx.iatse-intl.org 
http://vfxunion.info 
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.

read more...

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.

read more...

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."

read more...

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.

read more...


[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!

http://www.gnomonschool.com/

http://goo.gl/maps/lv0md

#vfxtownhall

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.

HOW CAN A U.S. STUDIO COMPETE?
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

THE RACE TO THE BOTTOM

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.

http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/tb/tb130225vfx_industry_in_trou

http://www.animationmagazine.net/vfx/vfx-community-reacts-to-ang-lees-oscar-speech/

http://www.fxguide.com/quicktakes/visualeffectsprotestatoscars/

http://thebigsocialpicture.blogspot.com/2013/02/the-oscar-protest-that-you-didnt-know.html

http://www.studiodaily.com/2013/02/getting-our-piece-of-the-pi-for-real/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/feb/25/oscars-protest-life-of-pi

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/oscars-2013-vfx-artists-blast-424304

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/24/jaws-oscars-life-of-pi-_n_2756380.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false


VFX Community Planning Protest During Oscars


From Hollywood Reporter:  A small plane with a banner that reads “Box Office + Bankrupt = Visual Effects vfxunion.com” is scheduled to fly over the red carpet on Sunday.

The visual-effects community is planning a demonstration during Sunday's Academy Awards to force the film industry to focus on the economic problems threatening Hollywood's visual-effects houses.

Many in that VFX world argue that effects houses are struggling because of a business model that doesn't work, and they point to Rhythm & Hues Studios -- the VFX house behind the CG tiger in Oscar-nominated Life of Pi -- and the fact that it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 13 as the latest evidence.

A small plane with a banner that reads "Box Office + Bankrupt = Visual Effects vfxunion.com" will fly over the red carpet on Sunday, according to the demonstration's organizers.
PHOTOS: Oscars 2013: 16 Icons Come Together for THR's Oscar Issue

The plane will take off from Compton/Woodley Airport, where VFX pros will be gathered. A second group plans to assemble in the Hollywood & Vine area, near where celebrities and filmmakers will be arriving to walk the red carpet, in order to attract media attention.

Dave Rand, an artist at Rhythm & Hues, said the aim of the effort is “awareness. We are not disrespecting Life of Pi or Rhythm & Hues. We are trying to enlighten the studios that they are taking their racehorse and beating it to death.”

Some of the factors that are currently affecting the industry include intense competitive bidding that leads to companies taking on projects at low, fixed bids; globalization as government incentives and cheap labor abroad have created an uneven playing field; and tight profit margins (often 5 percent or less) that can be endangered if a project is canceled or delayed.

Organizers do not know how many artists will participate on Sunday, but according to Rand, the group will not be limited to those affected by the R&H bankruptcy.

Rhythm & Hues filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week and is aiming to quickly complete a sale of its assets. It has identified several parties who are interested in acquiring the company.

more here...


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


Flying Lotus - Tiny Tortures

Pulse Films Directs Elijah Wood in Flying Lotus New Video “Tiny Tortures”
from the album: “Until the Quiet Comes”
Gotta See – video and the making of video
http://www.pulsefilms.com/work/flying-lotus-tiny-tortures/
In this hauntingly beautiful music video for Flying Lotus' (Warp Records) track "Tiny Tortures," Pulse Films' director David Lewandowski takes us on a twisted journey into the mind of a recent amputee played by Elijah Wood, whose possessions slowly self-assemble to build him a new arm.

Elijah Wood (The Hobbit) convalesces in bed with a bandaged stump in place of his right arm. Maybe it's magic, or meds, but his room slowly comes alive to create a bionic replacement and transport him into a fractal fantasy where his limb fully regenerates. It's all a dream, maybe the result of watching Akira too often — but he wakes up to a change in his condition that proves something happened in his altered state.

"The impetus for this idea was from a director called Jaume Collet-Sera," said Lewandowski. "He was slated to direct a live action version of Akira. I really liked the idea of someone doing all this telekinetic, hallucinatory, visual stuff on a big budget level. And then the project got cancelled. The thought of seeing that all photo-realistic really excited me, and then the project went away so I said I just have to do that kind of animation. So I wrote an idea from that despair of really wanting to see really interconnected, mechanical, psychic floating objects."

Production Company, Pulse Films
Video Commissioner, Laura Tunstall
Music label: Warp Records

Director, David Lewandowski
Starring, Elijah Wood
VFX supervisor, Dustin Bowser
Cinematographer, Christian Sprenger
Line Producer, Christian Heuer
1st AD, Jesse Sternbaum
1st AC, Justin Watson
2nd AC, Jacqueline Stahl
Additional Assist, Ben Dislinger
Key Grip, Kyle Honnig
BB Grip, Tommy Villa
Set Photography, Theo Jemison


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...


Bjӧrk - Mutual Core - Art + Music - MOCAtv

wowsie wowwwwww......
One of those times when art and vfx converge.
I posted this on my art blog too!
Andy is a grad from USC, where I teach!

As The Digital Domain Turns

It's difficult with all of the events that have transpired in the least 48 hours to figure out exactly what is going on over at DDMG | DDPI.  It seems like it's a bidding war on a foreclosed house, while many lined their pockets with lots of cash from Florida and Port St. Lucie.  There is a lot of information being thrown around... below is the best assimilation of facts I could find.  Comment if you have more information.  It's a sad time for VFX and animation production studios.

The Players: Digital Domain, Digital Domain Productions Inc. (parent company of Digital Domain Productions, Venice, Ca. - feature film visual effects company,)Digital Domain Productions Ltd. (Vancouver),  DDMG (Florida,) D2 Software (Nuke), DDH Land Holdings I & II (owning property in West Palm Florida), DD International , DD Tactical (Military Training and Sims), Digital Domain Institute (School - partnership with Florida State University), Mothership Media Inc. (Commercials), DD Stereo group | In-Three Inc. (Stereo Conversion), Tradition Studios (Animated Features), Hudson Bay Master Fund Ltd., John C Textor, Ed UlBrich, Charlie Crist, State of Florida, City of Port St. Lucie, Judge Brendan Shannon, Digital Domain attorney Robert Feinstein of Pachulski Stang Ziehl & Jones, Searchlight Capital Partners LP, Prime Focus, Outten & Golden, Wyndcrest Holdings, Palm Beach Capital.

Game Pieces:
Virtual Humans, Military Simulation, FSU and DDI, DD Employees, DD Software... and more.

Monies:
$4 million emergency loan from Hudson Bay Master Fund Ltd
$15 million dollar price tag, set by "stalking horse" bid 
$130 million in government incentives
$10 million dollar investment from Port St. Lucie
$40 million bond issue that brought Digital Domain to the sprawling Tradition development on the city's western edge
$2 million Port St. Lucie paid Digital Domain to start DDI 
$51.8 million lease of 15 acres and a 150,000-square-foot production studio 

 

 9.12.2012
Digital Domain Case Is a Chapter 11 Cliffhanger  (probably the best article to explain the spider web of what has happened)   


9.7.2012

 

Digital Domain closes Florida studio, CEO resigns

Digital Domain Media Group, the parent company of the Venice-based visual effects house, said Friday that it was laying off most of the 300 employees at its new animation studio in Port St. Lucie, Fla., and shutting down the facility.

The company also announced that Digitial Domain Chief Executive John Textor had resigned immediately.

Digital Domain, which created visual effects for such movies as "Titantic,"  the "Transformers" movies and "Tron: Legacy," said the moves were part of a "strategic realignment" to refocus the company on its core business of creating visual effects digital effects, CG animation and digital production for the entertainment and advertising industries.

The company said the actions were part of an ongoing effort to "reduce its overhead and restructure long-term debt." The company said it was attempting to secure new sources of financing to meet its cash flow needs and that it would be forced to seek bankruptcy protection if those efforts were unsuccessful.

Digital Domain's studios in California and Vancouver intend to continue operating without interruption, as will the newly created Digital Domain Institute based in West Palm Beach, Fla.

via LA Times - more here... 

John C. Textor resignation letter:
To the Directors of Digital Domain Media Group:
 
I hereby resign as a director of Digital Domain Media Group, Inc. (the "Company") effective as of the close of business on September 6, 2012.

As you are aware, I am in profound disagreement with the decision to close our animation and visual effects studio in the wonderful community of Port St. Lucie, Florida.  The people of Florida welcomed us with open arms and we certainly owed them greater consideration.  We were able to hire and train local residents and have them mentored by the very best of our industry.  Our incredibly talented artists and filmmakers were building something truly special in Port St. Lucie, not just our favorite first film, The Legend of Tembo, but also our first home, Tradition Studios. I am deeply saddened and heartbroken by this decision.
 
I believe that each of you as directors, and specifically those on the Strategic Alternatives Committee, have tried to do your very best to deal with the unfortunate consequences of our life as a public company.  I also know that, in making your decision, you relied on the counsel of highly qualified advisors and legal representatives.  That said, I think the outcome was not only unwise, but also without compassion.  While I understand and support the effort to streamline costs, I believe this to be the wrong path.  It is never a bad time to reconsider a bad decision. This can be reversed immediately.

Although I will no longer be a member of the Board, I intend to stay actively involved as a shareholder of the Company, and a believer in Florida.  This decision will hopefully give me greater flexibility to independently consider other strategic alternatives for the Company, the Port St. Lucie studio and the people affected.

God bless you and thank you for your service.
 
Sincerely,
 
/s/ John C. Textor

STATEMENT FROM DIGITAL DOMAIN:
Digital Domain Media Group Initiates Strategic Realignment. Company Begins Cessation of Florida Studio Operations

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.—September 7, 2012— Digital Domain Media Group, Inc. (NYSE: DDMG) today announced that it has initiated a strategic realignment that will enable it to focus its resources on its core business, Digital Domain Productions, Inc., a company focused on creating digital visual effects, CG animation and digital production for the entertainment and advertising industries. As a key part of this strategic realignment, DDMG has begun the cessation of its Port St. Lucie operations by reducing virtually its entire Port St. Lucie workforce, retaining approximately 20 employees who will remain as part of the wind-down.

DDMG’s


Shares in movie effects company Digital Domain plunge

Shares of movie effects company Digital Domain Media Group have plunged 75 percent in four months, a collapse that has stripped $300 million from the struggling venture’s stock market value. Lawmakers and city officials have bet that Digital Domain can turn Florida into a hub for high-tech animation jobs. The company has been promised $132 million in cash, land, tax credits and financing from the state and the cities of Port St. Lucie and West Palm Beach.

what???


Building Brave New Hair

Great behind the scenes article of Brave focusing mostly on the hair solutions.

VFX Union Picnic in Santa Monica

At the request of artists on both sides of the border, the IATSE union in Los Angeles and Vancouver will be hosting informational meetings on Sunday February 13. The IA, in sunny Southern California, are hosting an informational picnic in Santa Monica, whereas here in Vancouver with a decidedly cooler clime, IATSE 891′s informational meeting will be held at the Shebeen. This is an opportunity to chat with your fellow artists, compare working conditions, and ask the questions you want answered of the union about the organizing drive, the benefits of a union, employment classifications, etc. Bring along your colleagues, enjoy some food in a relaxed casual atmosphere, and most importantly bring your questions!

Vancouver:
The Shebeen in the back of the Irish Heather on Carroll Street
February 13, 12.00pm

Los Angeles:
Dorothy Green Park, Santa Monica


What if VFX Facilities Didn't Exist?

A friend and I were discussing the future of VFX today.  To be honest, I haven't thought about animation much over the holiday.  I have been enjoying the time off and time to sleep and hibernate.  But... I go back into the big machine next Monday and with the news of another studio closing on the heels of the Asylum FX announcement - this is weighing on my mind again.  "Bye bye" vacation - back to reality.

My colleague started talking about unions and I argued: "A union at this point will only help a symptom - not the disease.  A biz model based on undercutting the competition until you are working with a budget that equals bone and ligament cannot survive for long.  VFX studios are so poorly managed and they have backed themselves into a corner where they have absolutely no position to negotiate.  To underbid a show simply to get work into the studio is not a good idea.  On top of this... the VFX studios cannot agree to organize themselves into any type of group that could lobby with the production studios for better budgets trickling down better wages and working conditions for artists."

Then, he said - "What if artists worked directly for the Production studios like everyone else?"  After our chat, I am convinced that the only way to save the VFX biz model is to start over completely and eliminate the VFX studios entirely.   Why not go back to square one and work directly with the studios on the lot?  Like all of the other production for movies is handled?  At first, I told my buddy, "...that can't work because the VFX pipeline is so different than live action."  But, maybe not?  Maybe that is the problem?  The current VFX biz model doesn't work, so why would we try to replicate it on the lot.  Maybe a new approach is a good one?  So much has changed technically in how we create animation and VFX with computers today, that maybe we need to rebuild?

Here are a couple articles discussing this issue:
talk amongst yourselves.

RSA Animate - Smile or Die

I love the animated talks by the,
It is not easy to create animation that is both 
entertaining and educating at the same time. 
I posted this back in August, but I think it needs a repost to remind us.
The content here seemed very timely.

Smile or Die

I dedicate this post to all of my colleagues who are out of work and/or have been out of work for almost a year now. I remember 2007 being the first year studios did not pay me on time and it was devastating.  Little did I know this was just the beginning.

Barbara Ehrenreich's take of positive thinking in the above video, resonated with me. I experienced this very thing over and over in the workplace over the years. If you pipe up that a project might not meet a deadline or that there is something wrong with the rigs, more times than not you would get a wrist slap or worse. So, I learned to carefully picked my battles.  The "yes" man philosophy has infiltrated the animation halls which is so surprising since being a "yes man" goes against the very nature of being an artist..  Sooooooo many seasoned animators are out of work because they are deemed difficult to work with or expensive. Here is what I say...

Forget "the Secret" and the philosophy of trying to bring the things that you want to you through positive thinking.  Use reality and logic and determine what path is best for you at this time in your life. Some of you may see animation as your final path no matter what,  even in light of runaway production and the loss of jobs to overseas studios. Great! Now decide if animation in the context of working for a studio is the only way you can make a living.

I believe we attract what we ARE, not what we think. If we wallow and say we ARE unemployable, then our actions will follow that reality and we will not look for work... or we become increasingly frustrated as we do look for work and run into obstacles. Instead, I offer this.

Maybe you ARE employable, but in a different way? Animation doesn't have to just be movies. There are commercials, games, R & D at virtual labs, software, consulting, teaching, etc. And, that is just a list of things you could participate in that are squarely using animation skills. Who are you? Are you an Artist? A Designer? A Technical Madman with a mouse? A programmer? There are many ways to see a new path using all of these skills outside of working in animation too!

I hope this posting helps some people who have been feeling really down about the future of animation.  I don't think it will ever return to what it was in the mid '90's, but once one of these overseas studios miss a deadline... I am pretty sure some work will return to the talent pool in Los Angeles.  For now, keep on trucking.


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."

VFX Soldier

I enjoyed the comments section.

Deconstruction EORS

 Bottom Line:  
Got a problem with the shady EORS like MBO and Yurcor?
File a complaint with the labor board.

Hollywood's VFX Sweatshops

"Fundamentally, visual effects is a crappy business," James Cameron told me when I interviewed him for my book, The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron. "You don't make much of a margin. A good year for us was 5%. Sure, we were doing huge volume but at a low margin." In 1998, after the VFX company he helped start, Digital Domain, won an Academy Award for its groundbreaking work on Titanic, Cameron resigned amid dispute about its direction.

 For VFX houses, there may be a dramatic Hollywood ending. With effects-heavy movies like the forthcoming Batman sequel, The Hobbit, Thor and Green Lantern coming down the pike, the demand for VFX may overwhelm the industry's diminished capacity. The changing nature of the work could alter the balance of power too: being a gifted designer is becoming more important than being a technical whiz. Says analyst Alan Lasky: "The minute you see one of these movies not make its release date due to this capacity crisis, then you'll start to see some interesting changes in the industry." Who knows? Maybe someday an effects artist will even get star billing.

...excerpts above from article in Time Magazine


Cash Money

It's so nice to get a paycheck from an employer - 
on time and without hounding them!  
This should be the standard, but it's not anymore.

Since 2007, myself and most freelancers have experienced changes in treatment of employees and disinterest in paying people on time.  Common replies to inquiries about paychecks are:

"You will be paid when I am paid." 
"Did you submit a timecard?"
"We cannot find your invoice, you will have to resubmit."
"The checks did not arrive today."

I never had to worry about simply being paid just a few years ago.  Below, are some questions I recommend all artists ask when negotiating the statement of work with prospective employers.  Good luck and get it all in writing because the person you spoke to might not work there anymore, by the time you are due a check.

Start Date
End Date
Possible Hold Dates
Rate 
(Hourly plus OT defined specifically in writing.  I advise against agreeing to day rates because studios will pro rate the day rate against OT to make it legal and you will be making a fraction of what you think you are)
Pay Schedule - when will you be paid?
How will I be paid during a holiday - Arrangements for payment when office might be closed
Invoice/Timesheet Deadlines
Contact Info - Name and email of Bookkeeper/Accountant

It's also good to memorize the California State Work Policy in case a studio is asking you to wait 30-45 day for a paycheck because it's against the law.  .

In California, wages, must be paid at least twice during each calendar month on the days designated in advance as regular paydays. The employer must establish a regular payday and is required to post a notice that shows the day, time and location of payment. Labor Code Section 207 Wages earned between the 1st and 15th days, inclusive, of any calendar month must be paid no later than the 26th day of the month during which the labor was performed, and wages earned between the 16th and last day of the month must be paid by the 10th day of the following month. Other payroll periods such as weekly, biweekly (every two weeks) or semimonthly (twice per month) when the earning period is something other than between the 1st and 15th, and 16th and last day of the month, must be paid within seven calendar days of the end of the payroll period within which the wages were earned.


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
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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
until...
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
Examples: 
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.


Review: VFX Online Town Hall with Chris deFaria, Jeffrey Okun, Scott Ross

Review:  The introduction by Lee Stranahan was well versed and made some great points.  Most importantly, the top ten grossing films of all time grossed 11.5 billion dollars and are ALL VFX films.  And, not just a few shots - HEAVY VFX films.

So, Lee asks the question, "Why is it that we are in a world where VFX films are doing so well while VFX facilities and artists who work in them are struggling?" And the discussion begins.

The General consensus I heard was:

  • Scott Ross - We need a trade union to fight for facilities and artists both on labor issues and will the government.
  •  

  • Chris deFaria - The facilites need to create a new business model and stop treating themselves like a commodity.
  •  

  • Jeff Okun - The artists made their bed and now they need either lie in it or stand up and fight.  Artists! Stop taking jobs that offer such bad conditions.  Stop whining and do something about it.
I am really upset that the one person representing the artists, ended up blaming the artists for the current state of affairs.
Artists had nothing to do directly with the collapse of the economy, runaway production and overseas incentive programs or the very small P/L margins for VFX production.  It's absolutely outrageous to say artists - "You took the jobs, so stop complaining about it."  
Most VFX facilities change the rules on your employment daily.  If you do not believe me?  How many people out there have had their end date change from what was promised on a show?  Please reply in the comments.  (Just one example of rule changes..there are rate changes, job description changes, holiday changes, OT pay changes, 50 hour weeks which are against the law becoming standard, etc.).
When I got in CG/VFX in the early 1990's EVERYONE was stoked to be in the industry.  Even the old guys loved what they did.  The old guys I worked with were making a decent wage, staying employed, building savings, had insurance, were buying houses and starting a family.  I thought I was getting into a great field.  
Then, it all changed.  I talk about this in our book... 1994 was the beginning of the end for the VFX industry. 2D was dwindling and animated CG films started making A LOT of money.  VFX had always made money, and their budgets/profits tripled.  When big money like those box office profits come into play, the rules change. Chris deFaria makes the most important point - leverage.  We have absolutely no power without leverage.  The bottom line is India, China and the rest can try to catch up, but the artists who have been doing VFX for over 10-20 years are the ones creating innovation.  Compounding the problem is the overseas studios don't have the local talent to do the job and now import the seasoned artists at half the rate.  This is a very poor business model that will eventually implode.  This is also very differnt than what happened to 2D because of the nature of the work.  The less skilled work for 2D could be shipped overseas, but innovation stayed in the U.S.

In traditional circles, the tools changed very little over the course of 80 years - pencil and paper.  CG needs innovation to happen throughout production because of the technical aspects of what we do.  Innovation will not grow in an atmosphere based solely on low wage, unskilled labor.  Studios want innovation at a very low price.  This cannot work.  If studios want the best work possible, then they will have to value the facilities and their artists.  Until we are viewed as valuable to these blockbusters, we have no leverage.  The way to do this is for facilities to create a brand out of their studio and then the best work will go to that studio rather than the lowest bid.  In addition, an organization of individuals qualified to handle legal, labor and government lobbying to push this agenda forward is critical.  I believe the artists are willing to join such an organization, but are not qualified to form one.  We need qualified leaders to do so.


Okun mentioned several times that artists are just whining and not offering solutions.  I think plenty of artists have offered solutions like guilds, trade unions, requests to the VES to help, the town hall itself came out of artists writing to Lee to ask what is next.  The panelists also discussed how most VFX facilities were started and run by artists who knew very little about business or management.  NOW Okun says artists need to start a union themselves and fight.  What a mess.  What a very hot mess.
I do hope an artist will represent artists on the next panel to offer a real perspective of what is going on for the people actually clicking on a mouse.  In fact, I offer my services on the panel if they will have me.  I have ideas of others who would be great additions if not me.

I think the best part about the whole situation is... Unlike most labor issues, there is unified bond and goal for both VFX facilities and artists.  Help the facilities and you help the artists and vice versus.  This is ultimately a win-win situation.

I welcome your comments...

Protecting Yourself as a Freelancer



A friend of mine has posted a blog recounting the way he was treated by a studio as an artist. He documents the entire process he used to protect himself with legal correspondence over a disagreement in compensation.


I have several studios who still owe me money from 2007-2008 because I did not employ the documentation he used. I am not incorporated and if I had pressed with legal action against these studios, they would have owed me tens of thousands of dollars in penalties, on top of wages owed. I didn't press out of fear of being blacklisted by the studio. Ironically, I would never work for these studios again because of how I was treated. I create a statement or work now and require the DP to agree to all points before starting any gig, so we are all on the same page.

In addition, there has been a lot of talk lately about EOR (Employee of Record) organizations and the rights of freelancers. Employees are often misclassified as Freelancers. The EOR's protect the studios by offloading the expense and liability of dealing with freelancers.


To get a really good idea about EORs and

The Freelancers Dilemma, check out these links:






This is how MBO handles your check:


If you are paid via MBO, they take 2-5% fee for processing your payroll depending on what the studio negotiated with them.

Then, the normal employer's tax is taken off your wages first... e.g. Social Security, FUTA - federal unemployment and training, and in California: SUTA - State Unemployment .

Then they will run payroll, and the employee's tax is taken off: Federal Withholding, State Withholding, Social Security and Medicare. Note: Social Security is taken out twice - you are, in effect, paying double the Social Security tax because the employer pays zero.

The only benefit of MBO, is that you can collect unemployment because you are an employee of MBO and not operating under a 1099/contractor classification. Which is only right because you are paying the employer portion of unemployment taxes in addition to your own. So, unless you collect it, you'll never get that money back. MBO gets the studios off the hook with the IRS, but it doesn't make the comply with state law regarding classification of workers, pay periods or overtime laws.

MBO also doesn't pay on-time - at least in the State of California. They may invoice the company weekly for your work, but it takes them a few days to issue the invoice. The company has ten days to pay MBO. If MBO receives the money by Tuesday, you may get paid Friday, otherwise you'll get paid the following Friday. You'll be waiting 3 or 4 weeks for that first check.


In California, its illegal:

In California, wages, must be paid at least twice during each calendar month on the days designated in advance as regular paydays. The employer must establish a regular payday and is required to post a notice that shows the day, time and location of payment. Labor Code Section 207 Wages earned between the 1st and 15th days, inclusive, of any calendar month must be paid no later than the 26th day of the month during which the labor was performed, and wages earned between the 16th and last day of the month must be paid by the 10th day of the following month. Other payroll periods such as weekly, biweekly (every two weeks) or semimonthly (twice per month) when the earning period is something other than between the 1st and 15th, and 16th and last day of the month, must be paid within seven calendar days of the end of the payroll period within which the wages were earned.



MBO helps companies evade payroll taxes by forcing each of their employee's to pay said payroll taxes on top of paying the employer's normal payroll costs in the form of the MBO fee.

Win win for the employer, and lose lose for the artist.





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