"Paying to work for free"


I ran across this article and was a bit suprised: http://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/the-paying-to-work-for-free-vfx-business-model/

From the article: “New horizontal expansion includes government-funded Bachelors and Masters programs wherein students pay Digital Domain to work for Digital Domain”.

Is that how it is now? Students paying to work on films? What do you think about this?


It’s good to have students be able to get real experience, but I can’t see how they would be taught properly if they’re doing that much work for the studio.

And a solution for outsourcing can’t be “30% of our workforce pays us to work for us”


I think it would be cool to have larger companies set up some sort of (paid) training facilities. But actually having STUDENTS work on production material?

Apart from the implications discussed in that post (ie-thats its exploitative and just plain wrong), I think that perhaps they are greatly overestimating the abilities of students. Effectively they are saying that 30% of their workforce not only have no production experience, but have no work experience at all? I feel sorry for the other 70% who have to clean up those problems.

Sure, you could possibly (although very rarely) find a student to plug into a pipeline, but the chances of that happening are pretty damned rare (IMO).


That’s pretty messed up, but also brilliant in a backwards white collar crook kind of way. I mean, letting the students work there is neat, but I can’t see this as an ethical practice as long as the company is making money with the work of the students. It really sounds like a “because we can” kind of thing.

There’s plenty of grunt work in VFX that doesn’t require a great deal of experience. Smaller modeling tasks, roto/keying, that kind of thing. Also, I’ve seen plenty of student interns who were very skilled and required minimal training before they were chugging along at nearly the same pace as everyone else. And even if a student doesn’t produce anything worth using, they’re still paying a hefty american-sized tuition for it.

Unfortunately there are plenty of people in all branches of creative industry with no sense of self-worth who would pay to work for free.


Bringing in a bunch of unpaid interns (or worse a paying interns) and treating them like professional employees sounds like a recipe for disaster on both sides.

From the studio side you now have an unreliable workforce that your managers are going to have to spend extra time babysitting and dealing with work that isn’t that good or late. Then all the other professional artists at the facility have to deal with a bunch of eager, but really time consuming people running around asking basic questions. Anyone that goes through this whole process that is any good will probably leave the studio once they get good (because the studio is relying on a student workforce to minimize costs, not hire professional artists with experience). Once you get someone trained up and reliable they disappear.

From the intern/student side you get to start out at a facility doing production work but you are the lowest rung on the ladder with absolutely no creative input. You will have to work really hard to make sure you get a chance to sit down at the different workstations to get experience using software and feedback from other professionals if they have the time and patience to help you out. Then when you are done you have to go to your second job so you can afford to eat. If you get sick or want to take a long weekend it isn’t like you get sick leave and vacation time so you look bad against the other bunch of interns.

I see the value in paid and unpaid internships, it is a great opportunity for someone to get some real production experience and learn some production tactics you just can’t get from a school program. However, as great as it is for students it is a burden on the studio and a potentially abusive setup for the student.


If you suck at your job, is your money returned?


Something else that caught my attention:

DD CEO John Textor: “Now this was the controversial element of this and the first discussions with the Department of Education, cuz it sounds like you’re taking advantage of the students. But we were able to persuade even the academic community, if we don’t do something to dramatically reduce costs in our industry, not only ours but many other industries in this country, then we’re going to lose these industries … we’re going to lose these jobs. And our industry was going very quickly to India and China.”

That statement was made while DD was simultaneously diversifying the company to include facilities in India and China. And while DD can say they were doing that to ‘stay competitive’, I don’t think the taxpayers of Florida will appreciate the slight of hand. How can John say ‘we’re going to lose these industries unless we reduce costs’ while also investing money in opening facilities outside of the US? That seems like a conflict of interest to me. Maybe someone would like to explain this in greater detail?

And there are other ways of ‘dramatically reducing costs in our industry’ that don’t involve convincing students to pay to work on films, like getting rid of ‘fixed bids’ or unionizing the vfx workforce.




[left]So, if 30% of our labor can be free, actually paying tuition, but by your Junior and Senior year at the college, you’re working on real firms (films), as part of the professional workflow, and you graduate with a resume that has five major films, your name in the credits, and more than just an intership level of experience, then that’s the perfect kind of trade off.[/left]

[left] [/left]
[left]If you’re good enough, you can do that as a junior/senior student now and NOT be paying the company to do it. Also, since when is it the board of education’s job to worry about whether or not an industry stays or goes? :banghead: [/left]
[left] [/left]
[left]Not to mention the fact that a lot of studios are just going to look at that and say “I see you got your name in the credits, but you basically just paid them to put it there. Show me your portfolio”, so I can’t see being able to claim those credits on your resume as a real bonus in this instance. Wow. Just wow. I’m really hoping there’s another side to this story that we haven’t heard yet that explains/makes this all perfectly logical and sound, but I doubt that there is one. This is just bad.[/left]
[left][/b] [/left]


Well with naive cg artists, and the things they do I’m not surprised one bit. Line up and submit demos reels, or line up to join a contest you have the chance to win a video card. I have a test job you can do to see if we will hire you. Anybody want to clean toilets at Pixar just to get a foot in the door? You have to work for free but your name is in the credits of a short. Or I have another free job, just think of the experience you can get and cool things you get to work on.


Unpaid internship is a pretty big problem in the States.

Companies are replacing positions that use to be well paid with stupid students that are desperate to get a foot in the door but are then tossed out as soon as their internship is finished.

You can’t compete with sweat shops over seas by creating them in the US. That’s a game that you don’t want to play.


You can’t compete with sweat shops over seas by creating them in the US. That’s a game that you don’t want to play.

Agree comletely, but then, even in a sweatshop, the workers aren’t paying the shop ownership to be there … I’m by no means directly comparing the two (DD vs actual sweatshops), but that is an eyebrow raiser if I ever saw one.


If this is true, it’s disgusting. It’s outright exploitation but the saddest thing of all is that kids will be queuing up to apply. If you’re good enough to be working on a feature, you’re good enough to be getting paid. Paying someone in addition to earning them money is morally indefensible.


Its done by lots of studios its just another extension, take on a load of wannabe vfx students the ones that are any good get kept on and the rest let go. The company then carries on training them up and promotes them, but all the time there pay is kept low. Wages are the biggest cost companies have and any tactic to keep them low helps your bottom line.


I have to say I 100% agree. For a while there has been a trend in certain areas to ‘make them work harder for less’. But this idea is just wrong on so many levels… are they planning on being honest about the long hours that are required or requested? You may as well get a big giant pile of £50 notes …fill great malbourgh street with them and set light to it. I guess there will a lot of new tea boys and girls around then if this starts…I hate to think the mess someone totally new to 3d or compositing would do in production.

But of course the more experienced people will be expected to clean up this mess and probably for no extra wage… by this ‘logic’ if there is such a danger of losing it to india/where ever etc etc…then if they started working for £1 a year…do we make every artist work for nothing in the west? Coz you can be sure as god made little apples that those in charge will be having their usual wage while artists work hard for less and less.

But as with everything its a choice…how much is a person personally prepared to put up with…sometimes you just have to say ‘I’m done its no longer worth it’. But hey I could be wrong…



The company then carries on training them up and promotes them, but all the time there pay is kept low. Wages are the biggest cost companies have and any tactic to keep them low helps your bottom line.

But in this case we aren’t even talking about wages being “kept low”. We’re talking about people PAYING THE STUDIO to work on the studio’s contracts, while not earning ANY wage themselves. It’s not even remotely the same thing and is much much worse imo. It makes me physically ill to consider it …



Florida today, Singapore tomorrow; China and India next


Where do the students get the money from :surprised


They will be taking out loans I suspect…massive ones that they may end up defaulting on, which will only hurt the overall economy.
We should all be outraged. Not only is this unethical and exploitation of students, but it also defrauds professional artists by taking away jobs they should have.


This is really sad. But i wonder why are studios that desperate while on the other hand movies increasingly rely on (good) vfx? Where does the money go? Isn’t that the real problem?


Student loans or rich parents. It is routine for many families in the USA to set aside a large amount of money for their kids’ college education, since tuitions are normally tens of thousands of dollars, and they’re not getting cheaper.