The Unofficial Truth about The Industry (Part 2)

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Old 08 August 2013   #1
The Unofficial Truth about The Industry (Part 2)

I am still amazed at how my post, The Unofficial Truth about The Industry, is still relevant in todayís world. I often feel like I should do an update, but after writing one up, it turned out be itís own new thread. So here, I present you with The Unofficial Truth about The Industry Part 2, with common questions Iíve received, and my thoughts.

How has the industry changed over the years?

The computer graphics industry is now a global multi-billion dollar empire that spans entertainment, industrial, and public use, and within each are several sectors:

Entertainment
1) Visual effects for feature films, television, and commercials
2) Computer animated feature films and tv shows.
3) Video games and computer software applications.
4) Stereo conversion and remastering.

Industrial
1) Architectural previsualization
2) Medical and forensic animation
3) Legal and professional animation

Public
1) Computer generated performances (ie: Tupac by Digital Domain)
2) Displays, including art, billboards, banners, and other ads.
3) Internet based content and viral campaigns

Within each of these sectors there have been many changes- perhaps too many to list. I would like to focus on my particular experience in the entertainment industry.

So then, how has CG changed in the entertainment industry?

First, computers and the programs needed to create high-end computer graphics are now readily available to anyone in the world, regardless of location. Second, the industry has heavily invested in the internet, file-sharing, and new technologies that allow remote reviewing of work. And finally, companies have taken advantage of cost differences from one location to another by investing in local infrastructure and resources.

The result is a global workforce of computer graphic workers who are capable of producing high-end work at varying degrees of costs. Talent used to be the sole factor in setting oneís price, now it also comes down to where in the world you live. For example, I expect to pay less for animation done in Mumbai and Shanghai than done in London or New York.
Tax Incentives have played a role in the entertainment industryís expansion by accelerating the otherwise natural process of decentralization of work. This would have occurred either way, despite what some may argue. Looking at other industries proves this, and there is no sense in getting upset about tax incentives and subsidies, as many have.

Computer graphics, in particular games, film, and cg features, are just a few of many industries that are subsidized throughout the world by various governments. This is neither a new concept nor is it something that can or will be stopped.

I bring up the tax incentives because here in Los Angeles, where I am based, many of my co-workers or friends have been forced to move out of the country to find work. They blame two things: Californiaís lack of investment in the film industry, and other governmentís investment in the film industry.

Indeed, these have played a part, but I assure you that the internet, hardware and software entry costs, and the increase of global talent played a much larger part. Even without tax incentives, places like Weta Digital, Double Negative, Animal Logic, and MPC would still have found a way to survive and establish themselves.

Likewise, Pixar has opened in Vancouver and Dreamworks is investing in China. This is to be expected.

So a few changes have occured to the job market, and there are now some new problems:

Why are there so few entry level jobs now?

Due to globalization and reduced barriers to entry, an entry level job in computer graphics is difficult to obtain because most entry level tasks are considered routine and low-risk jobs. Those jobs are now being done overseas or in lower wage environments. You are more likely to get an entry level job in India doing VFX than you are in Los Angeles.

Why are there fewer jobs overall?

Again, due to globalization and reduced barriers to entry, competition between companies has increased dramatically. It is not uncommon for a company owner to decide to bid below cost to a client in order to obtain work. The hope is that they can turn that around on the next client and make up the difference. Often this backfires resulting in closure.

Secondly, the available capital to entry level employers has diminished significantly since the collapse of the American banking system and the EU. The result is tighter rules on money and less investment capital available to startups. New companies are no longer able to use lines of credit to make it between projects, and are also forced to lower margins due to increased competition. The combination of competition and financial industry woes has affected the global economy, and computer graphics is not exempt.

Iím a senior artist and I still canít find a job, why is that?

The answer to this question also has two parts. With the surge of computer graphics as a whole, the educational industries have capitalized on students who are looking to join the field. This has created more workers available. Many of those workers now have access to the same tools, or perhaps even newer tools, than artists working in production. The work they produce can be higher level than someone with several years of experience.

For a senior level artist, they will feel pressure from wages being lowered in regions that they are not working in. For example, a senior animator in Los Angeles may have made $50/hour, but in Vancouver for the same job at the same company they are being paid $30/hour, thus applying direct downward pressure to the wages of the animator in Los Angeles.

Your problems are new grads, in over supply, who are able to produce high level work for cheaper than your current rate, compounded with your competitors who are doing the same job in a different location for less money overall. Therefore the only solution is to either take a pay cut, move up the ladder to a higher paying job, or move to a different part of the world where your skills may be in higher demand.

A highly skilled animator in Wellington working at Weta will make more money than a highly skilled animator at Framestore working in Vancouver, for example. The artist in Wellington is exempt from the Framestore artistís wages applying downward pressure because Weta is in demand and therefore the artist is in demand. The two go hand in hand.

Why are staff jobs so few and far between now?

Most computer graphics related jobs are project based. It used to be that projects would overlap and/or there would be larger profit margins and reliable clients with regular cash flow to allow artists to stay employed between projects.

With increased competition, less certainty about future clients, and cashflow strains, businesses are unable to offer as many full-time staff positions as in the past. As a result, many computer graphic related artists are contract employees working project to project.

The film industry is built around this model and it seems as though feature film visual effects are catching up. Meanwhile computer generated films seem to be able to generate more stability for employees, but due to increased supply of animated films there is now more competition at the box office. Not all CG animated feature films result in full-time staff jobs, and there are many companies trying to move to a project-based business model to save costs.

Video games is still one area that offers employers access to ownership of the company and possibly a piece of reward on original IP the game developer is making. However, many game studios are wary of giving out ownership or project bonuses due to the high availability of artists. Why would they give you a piece of something when someone else will do the job for a salary or even on a contract?

What can I do to make myself more employable?

This question is difficult to answer. Two options exist:

1) Become a very specialized and very technical person with a deep understanding of something specific, like backend pipelines for Nuke, or character rigging, or perhaps software development for simulations. These jobs are still in high demand and low supply, with few people technically capable of executing these jobs at a high level.

2) Become an amazing generalist. A generalist nowadays must be able to model, texture, light, shade, render, and do a final CG composite. Many can also rig, animate, run simulations, and write pipeline code when necessary. The best generalists are still in high demand and can therefore bring in higher hourly rates because of the cost savings they offer. When one employee can do the job of four, they can charge twice as much and still save the employer half the cost of doing the work.

What does the future for computer graphics look like?

In the entertainment industry in particular, the studios are making less films and therefore there are less visual effects that need to be done. The work that is being done tends to go to the larger shops who can handle big projects. This is the current trend.

There is a new market of online content, such as Netflix and Amazon, both developing original IP into streaming shows for subscription based audiences. I believe this may be the future for visual effects.

For feature animation, the sector is very strong and still produces massive windfalls. Despicable Me 1 and 2 comes to mind as more recent successes. I expect this market to continue to do well and produce new jobs into the future. Those jobs may be in lower paying markets or markets with incentives, but there is a demand for talent in this area.
For video games, that market is also still very strong, and with the release of X-Box One, the new PlayStation console, Steam, iOS and Android, the possibilities are increasing for artists in these areas. The video game marketplace is huge and is constantly growing.

In general the employment questions still have similar answers, with some minor changes here and there.

If you feel like youíre completely hopeless and donít see a future in computer graphics then you must be looking through a tiny crack in the window. If you open it up youíll find there are many areas that are growing and opportunities exist in places now that did not exist at all as recently as ten years ago.

The one thing I would advise now more than ever is to avoid overpaying for education. The cost of education has gone up faster than the wages that can be earned in computer graphics. Self-education has become more important than ever. There are good programs out there, and at a reasonable cost, so look to those approaches first. Online classes, in my opinion, are one of the best ways to learn right now.

Hopefully this helped flesh out the original post a bit better, and offer some new insights.

-dc-
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Old 08 August 2013   #2
You can apply this to most industries today. Particularly the issue of "moving where the demand or work is".

We have observed people from Europe coming into our country looking for work (and not just in CG). Like you said, the economy affected everything and everyone.

Originally Posted by -dc-: There is a new market of online content, such as Netflix and Amazon, both developing original IP into streaming shows for subscription based audiences. I believe this may be the future for visual effects.


A recent talk given by Kevin Spacey, citing the Netflix series "House of Cards", supports your theory:

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Old 08 August 2013   #3
I might get slammed for asking but... what about Motion Graphics? Does that fall into the same category? I know Motion Graphics is different than FX work but they do overlap to an extent. But I'm just curious if the state of motion graphics work is different or in the same situation as FX or what not.
 
Old 08 August 2013   #4
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan: A recent talk given by Kevin Spacey, citing the Netflix series "House of Cards", supports your theory

Very true. Two points, the first being unafraid to make an (informed) investment and the second being to embrace the new market. Consumers will no longer accept the standard consumer model because they don't have to. A really inspiring speech.
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Old 08 August 2013   #5
Originally Posted by Kanga: Very true. Two points, the first being unafraid to make an (informed) investment and the second being to embrace the new market. Consumers will no longer accept the standard consumer model because they don't have to. A really inspiring speech.


A third point you haven't mentioned is Metrics.

Netflix's decision to purchase 26 episodes of "House of Cards" outright and make them all available on the same day - kind of jumping a premiere and a box set all at once - was done based on what they felt their Metrics told them.

A lot of large media corporations use Metrics, but I find Machinima, Netflix, and other web-based groups who have had the Metrics from day one and viewer no. 1 really seem to look at them more often, think about them more often, and therefore are less afraid to make a statement about pitches on paper. They don't need Nielsen ratings, and they don't need to do surveys. The very medium they are using to distribute generates Metric data for them!

Like Spacey said, Netflix didn't ask them to film a pilot. They simply dialed up their data, and made a decision. This kind of agility doesn't exist in many other places short of some powerful Media Mogul going with their gut.

But for groups like Netflix the economics helped as well... Going online, you broadcast 1 episode or 26 episodes it costs the same. You leave it there 1 day or 1 million days, it costs the same (because electricity is booked elsewhere and so are your computers and other assets). No time slots to worry about either.

And, as I have noted, no ratings board! (hooray!)

This is different from the airwaves/cable based broadcast medium.

It's things like these that are changing the market, and changing how artists and CG workers need to thrive in that market. Netflix is one example, but there are many global broadcasting platforms everywhere where the same (new) rules apply.

I didn't want to really raise this, or to plug it, but the IP Incubator thread and that crusade Roberto Ortiz is leading - encouraging artists (who due to skills, globalization, and tools availability as in the OP above are now much greater in number than has ever existed in time) to make their own material - this online streaming phenomenon is driving that as well and could be a possible destination.

Spacey and Fincher went online with 26 episodes, fully paid for, fully uploaded, and now they're planning a second season.

If they can do it. Anyone can do it. The old paradigm was looking for work. Maybe the new paradigm is making your own work. After all, as Kevin Spacey says, these days not everyone will require YOU to make a pilot to prove your concept.
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Last edited by CGIPadawan : 08 August 2013 at 07:51 AM.
 
Old 08 August 2013   #6
Can this thread be stickied please? Tons of good advice here
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Old 08 August 2013   #7
another home run -dc-

Great info!

-George
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Old 08 August 2013   #8
Originally Posted by CGIPadawan: If they can do it. Anyone can do it. The old paradigm was looking for work. Maybe the new paradigm is making your own work. After all, as Kevin Spacey says, these days not everyone will require YOU to make a pilot to prove your concept.

I am sure the names involved helped inspire confidence in the product,
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Last edited by Kanga : 08 August 2013 at 01:27 PM.
 
Old 08 August 2013   #9
Really great insight on the current state of Computer Graphics -dc-. Thanks for taking the time.

Originally Posted by ebbandflow: I might get slammed for asking but... what about Motion Graphics? Does that fall into the same category? I know Motion Graphics is different than FX work but they do overlap to an extent. But I'm just curious if the state of motion graphics work is different or in the same situation as FX or what not.


I've been in the motion graphics world for quite some time and there are some differences with VFX:
-Entry level jobs still exist and are decently payed.
-Specialists barely exist. Especially pipeline devs.
-Local industries exist everywhere. Local TV stations, advertising agencies, etc...

Thoughts on mograph standards:
-Generalists are the norm, but with more emphasis on art and design than technology. Of course if you are great at both, then you'll be in very high demand, having a direct effect on your wages.
-The internet has made it easy to collaborate and outsource, if you are reliable and good you can work from anywhere once you've built a client base, because there is no need to tap into a pipeline like in VFX (for the most part).
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Old 08 August 2013   #10
There are many small indie producers that are searching for options in developing and delivering content. There is only one Netflix, and it is not sufficient enough to serve them all.

Technology adoption and integration is the biggest challenge for most local producers, and in most cases, having to do it on a limited budget is not all that straight forward. Many broadcasters are exploring online only broadcast agreements with local producers, but much of that taking place is dependant on ... subsidies .. OH Nooooooo!

Will we see sometime in the near future ... multiple web channels with Netflix being only one of many?
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Old 08 August 2013   #11
Good post. And great to see such a level headed view on the subsidy issue.
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Old 08 August 2013   #12
Originally Posted by Kanga: I am sure the names involved helped inspire confidence in the product,


Names always help but don't forget that House Of Cards was declined by many other networks - even with those names. I believe the format got attention before the names attached did.

The points raised are inspiring. It is odd to see an old fart ( meant affectionately ) having to spell out what audiences, young and old but mainly young, really want now. I often compare watching an entire season in one session as like watching a 10 hour film.

I am long past believing I have a career in this crazy industry, but the few folks who I help should lap this up really. They started out loving CG but most of the time now, stories are being fleshed out instead of trying to create crazy effects.

I'd love to see Youtube support small content makers who can offer up a 'pilot' but immediately access the rest for a small fee. An on the fly Net flicks rather than an account subscription.
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Old 08 August 2013   #13
Originally Posted by grrinc: I'd love to see Youtube support small content makers who can offer up a 'pilot' but immediately access the rest for a small fee. An on the fly Net flicks rather than an account subscription.


Actually vimeo allows this already through vimeo pro. Users can offer premium content and set their price point.

Netflix has several things going for them. They got there first, and being first is huge in any business. They have deep pockets so they can afford to take risks. They also have infrastructure in place. Almost every TV is WiFi enabled now, coupled with WiFi blu-ray players, Roku, Apple TV, etc, all running Netflix, Hulu, etc, built in. They have a huge library of rotating content, not just one original show to offer.

As a side note: I am a huge fan of House of Cards, and Orange Is The New Black, both from Netflix. They have high production value and are very well put together. I tried to watch Hemlock Grove, but it was just not to my taste.

The "tastemakers" at Netflix clearly get it. They could have easily produced complete bombs and total flops, but they didn't. Just goes to show that producing quality content can give you a great reputation. Now we expect that level from them.

It will be interesting to see what competition arises in the future. Without a doubt, internet streaming is the future. There is a model out there based on "pay per screen" which basically says you pay for the size of the screen you're watching something on. Let's say you wanted to watch the next Star Wars on a 3D IMAX screen, you could pay $35 to do that, but if you wanted to watch it the same day on your iPhone you could do that too, but maybe that only would cost you $8. Or you could watch it at home for $25 on your big screen. The idea is to capitalize on simultaneously releasing content everywhere at once. I believe this will happen in the next 3-5 years and will become the norm.

The barrier to entry has been lowered for new film makers with digital cameras and tools available. That means more content to choose from. Just like YouTube or Vimeo, there is a lot of quality content out there but you may not be aware of all of it. Most of you have probably seen The Third and The Seventh by Alex Roman. If not, watch it here:

http://vimeo.com/7809605

That is one small example of high quality content that is out there and available to consume, without having to pay for it directly.

This is also a result of disruptive technology. Look at Aereo for example:

http://aereo.com/about

They threaten the entire infrastructure of network television. I'm betting they'll win, because audiences demand it.

People want content. The great news for anyone in Computer Graphics is that people want high quality content and they like to see things that they have never seen before. CG is still the best medium to show viewers new ideas and concepts that they would never have otherwise seen, and it means there will be a lot of jobs in the future where we get to showcase our talents. Let's hope the right people come along and help us capitalize on it. The work-for-hire model will always exist, but at some point the content creators will be able to leverage their talents in this new arena. At least that's what I hope.
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Old 08 August 2013   #14
Originally Posted by leigh: Good post. And great to see such a level headed view on the subsidy issue.


Thanks. The subsidy issue is, in my opinion, a non-issue. If you could look at a map of the entire world and place dots for all the computer graphics artists that are living throughout the world working on feature films, those dots would be spread all over.

People are angry for the wrong reasons.

Let me explain my view a bit further. The majority of people I talk to about the subsidy issue, once you dig deeper, are really more upset about being undervalued as employees.

At some point in their career they may have been one of a few. Now they are one of many. They still have talent and a great deal to offer, especially those with experience, but the fact of the matter is there are more choices out there now and employers can afford to be picky.

Couple this with the fact that many artists are forced to move on a regular basis in order to continue to find work, and they become upset at the world around them for not allowing them to settle down where they want to.

I have lived and worked in Los Angeles since 2003. Prior to that I lived in San Francisco. My entire film career has been here in California. But I have also worked on video games, internet content, music videos, and commercials, among other things. Limiting myself to just feature film visual effects would have forced me to move to stay employed. There again, I have accepted that in order to live where I want I must be flexible and adapt to the situation. I am still here.

That said, those of my friends that have moved, or past co-workers that have moved, often complain that they "had no choice" in the matter, and that they were forced to follow the work. I disagree. No-one can force you to move. What forces you to move is the acceptance that if you want to continue to be employed at an exact-specific job, then OK, you may in fact have to move to get that same job somewhere else. I think of feature film visual effects animators and artists, compositors, etc, that I know that have had to move for work. They could've found other ways to make it.

One of my friends went into advertising. His skill set transferred over nicely. Will he come back to feature film visual effects? Someday, perhaps. But for now, he is living where he wants to live (here), by being flexible on his rate and his skill set. He has learned new skills in the process.

Subsidies exist for so many industries it is almost not worth discussing. As a VFX Supervisor, I get that subsidies play a role in my job. On my last film, we spent 5 months in Louisiana to shoot scenes that were supposed to look like North Carolina. Louisiana not only gave us a great incentive to be there, but they also helped us with the process and were very involved in making sure the producer's goals were met. Los Angeles and California has a more snobbish entitled attitude towards film makers, and those of us from here know it. That's why when we go film in Louisiana or British Columbia we feel like we actually get better service. The crews may not be as experienced, but they are eager, and the states are extremely helpful.

Subsidies also allow producers to make more films. Their money goes farther, and without subsidies coming back to the production company, they might take less risks, resulting in fewer jobs for everyone.

So, everyone has a choice to make, in my opinion. You can either adapt to the world around you, move for work if you need to, or find creative ways to stay where you are and not be so hell-bent on doing that particular job you're so used to doing. There's nothing wrong with doing something different to get by, especially if you love where you live.
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Old 08 August 2013   #15
Absolutely, I agree with that latest post of yours 100%.
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