Variety:F/x biz in throes of the Walmart effect:(The Studios talk about their side)


Rob note:
DAVID S. COHEN you rock!

"During my interviews for Tuesday’s article on compressed post-production schedules and the crush to finish visual effects on studio tentpoles, something got stuck in my head and I can’t get it out.
I was talking to Warner’s Chris de Faria about whether the whole system is broken. The visual effects community is raising the alarm that it is, and dangerously so. That’s part of the impetus behind the push to unionize vfx artists.

But de Faria told me, “I don’t see a problem with the system.” He noted that since he came on at Warner Bros., visual effects studios aren’t going out of business on Warner’s movies. When the studio is late turning over shots, it pays the agreed-upon late fees. The films are getting made on time, and audiences are happy with the effects.

I countered by noting that artists complain bitterly of terrible personal strains, including broken relationships and marriages, due to the long hours on a job and the nomadic lifestyle. Entire visual effects companies have closed or given up working on features due to low margins and quality-of-life issues. Experienced, talented artists regularly leave the business for the same reason.

De Faria wondered why he is responsible for that. After all, he noted, it’s the vfx shops and their management that impose those long hours, not Warner Bros. And in a strict sense, he’s absolutely right.

But listening to him, I flashed on something outside the entertainment industry: the Walmart Effect. For a supplier, getting a contract to sell to Walmart can be both the best thing to happen to a company and the worst. I think the relationship between the studios and the visual effects companies is moving in the same direction."


What’s weird is that my own personal experience working in film VFX has been almost the total opposite of what’s being talked about here; I’ve always felt that studios waste a lot of time, often giving unnecessarily long deadlines for things, often allowing artists to sit around for days waiting for new tasks, wasting time in getting your dailies in front of the supervisor for approval, etc. I’ve always seen this wastage as a serious issue from a business perspective, not to mention how frustrating and boring it is sitting around waiting to be given something to do. I’m generally a very proactive person, chasing down production to give me stuff to do but there’s only so much chasing you can do before you have no choice but to sit drumming your fingers on the desk.

Also, at the risk of sparking a debate, I firmly believe that the stories of relationship breakdowns and the inability to start families are greatly exaggerated. Sure, the VFX industry isn’t the most stable way to make a living and there are many other issues with it that I won’t bother going into, but I don’t know anyone who has had a relationship breakdown or family problems due to working long hours in this field - that’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but rather that it’s so rare that I don’t know anyone it’s happened to (and having worked for a long time in this field at a lot of different studios, I know a lot of people). On the contrary, I have many, many colleagues who have kids, own their own homes, are married, etc. In fact, I’d say that most of my colleagues are in relationships. I don’t know, maybe things are worse in the US than the UK (although when I worked in the US, again, most of my colleagues were in relationships, with many of them having kids, but then during my time in the US I only worked in one studio so it’s not really a large sample).

At the end of the day, this industry has a lot of problems to overcome but I feel that exaggerating things isn’t really helping to solve anything. If anyone wants to chime in with overwhelming evidence to prove me wrong here, I’m all ears. But in my own eight years of working in film, I can probably count on my two hands the number of times I’ve put in extra hours in the evening, and even in those cases it was never later than around 10PM or so. Over the years I’ve definitely worked with a few workaholic types who’d put in extra hours not because they were required but out of some other personal drive, but one can’t blame the studio (or industry) in those cases.


Well, as someone who has been in the industry for 20 years in both films and commercials I have a slightly different opinion.

Though the majority of people who work in this industry are able to maintain a decent balance between work and family life it is becoming more and more difficult to do so. Things have changed considerably since when I started in this business back in the 90s. Staff positions with employment contracts were the norm. The pay and benefits were generous. Even back then the hours and stresses of working on a film were considerable but as long as you had an understanding partner the relationship generally survived.

Today it’s totally different. Staff positions are rare and even those that are currently staff are likely aware that it means very little as far as job security is concerned. International subsidies have turned VFX artists into migrant workers making it very difficult to buy a house and raise a family because the stability just isn’t there to do so. Pay is down, benefits slashed and retirement plans are being phased out. I’ve known several people in marriages and relationships that have been severely strained by this industry and I know many more who have put off starting a family because of the increasing instability. Is it at an epidemic level? No. Is it any worse than any other industry? I don’t know because I’ve only worked in VFX my whole life. All I know is that it’s getting worse.

I’ve been through the glory years of the early to mid 90s when studios would hire you as staff on the spot if you had some artistic ability, a pulse and weren’t scared of computers - through the 00s when there was an explosion of mid to small start ups popping up everywhere and fierce competition between them turned the bidding process into a circus - to now where nearly everyone is a project hire, the major studios are in deep trouble and hardly any VFX studio can be considered stable much less profitable.

I remember when Boss Films, Warner Digital and Santa Barbara Studios closed down. There was concern throughout the industry but it was mild. Each of those studios had their own reason for closing and it was generally believed that it was not due to any larger issues with the VFX industry as a whole. Later when the Orphanage and CafeFX closed, it was much more concerning, but again they each had unique issues (location and mid-sized status for example) that didn’t raise too many alarms when they closed. Now with DD, R&H, and who knows who else closing or filing for bankruptcy it really feels different this time.

This isn’t a call to panic but the current trajectory of our industry is clear. Less pay, less or no benefits, no staff positions, migrant worker status, and much less stability. This is not an environment conducive to raising a family.


Yeah but in all fairness, most of the issues you’re mentioning are very US-centric, and this is an international industry. It’s a little frustrating the way so much coverage of issues in this field focus on Americans only, when Canada, the UK, Australia, Singapore and India are also significant players in the field.

The majority of my circle of friends work in other fields, and while some of them enjoy more stability, they also mostly make considerably less money, and almost all work in jobs they hate. You say that the money isn’t what it used to be and that’s true, but I’d say that on average, VFX still pays very well; in the UK, my peers and I are earning well above median earnings, so while we lack the stability that others may enjoy, we have the money to save for a rainy day, should things take a downward turn for a while (as is currently the case). In some ways, I’d say that kinda balances out somewhat, although personally of course I’d prefer more stability too, but I don’t think that’s really possible in the creative fields - not just VFX but the entire scope of creative industries, as they’re so project-based, unlike service industries and such, for which there is almost always an ongoing need.

I may have only been in film for eight years, but I also spent four or five years in commercials before that, and I’ve worked on three different continents (by my own choice, as I like travelling and living all over), so I’ve had a lot of opportunity to experience this industry at multiple levels and in different cultures and countries with different labour laws, and standards and costs of living. So I tend to look at things from quite a broad perspective, and while I obviously agree that things are looking pretty bleak at the moment, I don’t necessarily agree that we are all definitely on a trajectory to doom. Things could still change.

Having said that, I don’t think that us worker grunts really have any power in this, as it’s not to up to us to change things, it’s up to the production studios and vendors.


I’ve worked in Los Angeles VFX since 1999. I’ve seen several artists leave the VFX industry for greener pastures in animation, games, teaching, software development, smartphone apps, visualizations and Las Vegas casino graphics.

The VFX industry will fail to keep its best people if it cannot treat them as well as other industries.


Um, when a studio won’t give you inventory for months despite the fact you hired 50 artists for this contract and then all of a sudden dumps 800 shots in your lap 5 months before release forcing your entire team to work 12’s 7 days a week through the rest of the show, how the hell is that the fault of the VFX shop’s management?

This feels like telling someone whose house is destroyed by a hurricane that its their fault for choosing to live near the ocean.

I only have a few years experience but it seems like the problem isn’t neccessarily always between the studios and the vfx companies but between the directors/producers and the vfx companies too. And the studios who pay for the whole thing tend to always side with the directors/producers. So many directors now are relying on CG but really have no idea how its done and how much time it takes so they end up making unreasonable requests of their post-production crews that means working crazy hours to try to meet on time.

How is it the VFX house’s fault when the director wants to completely change the ending of the film 3 months before release and now 60 shots that were finaled are omitted and 80 new shots are added to your plate? The studios need to step in and say a) you can’t do that this late in the process, b) you can do that but we’re going to have to pay the vfx house a ton more money or hire an additional fx house so make absolutly sure its truely going to benefit the film (aka make it more profitable), c) you can but the extra costs are coming out of your end, not theirs. Won’t happen but there should be reprocussions for poor planning and/or fickleness.

As for personal lives and relationships, the hours in this industry are long, but so far, I’ve never seen anyone be prohibited from leaving early to go spend time with their families. No matter how hectic the work is, the sup’s ive had have always let me go early if I need to be somewhere for family time. Maybe ive just lucked out so far but everywhere ive worked in this industry have still stressed the importance of family and social lives and realize that happy, rested workers are FAR more productive than stressed, burned-out ones. They certainly don’t want you coming in late and leaving early everyday, but once in a while is perfectly reasonable and even recommended in some cases.


if VFX industries not as good as 10-20 years ago in 1 or 2 countries, but in the same amount of time, getting better/improving in many other countries(countries that have not or low level of vfx industries), does it still means the vfx industry is failing?

I think this is just balancing itself out, either by subsidies or different currency, or the facts that more and more people get better at vfx.

Of course, this is based on the fact that everyone can learn and be good at vfx if they work hard/smart, although I’m sure some people believe talent/skill cannot be taught and those people are rare(and probably born/lives in the same area too)

I could be wrong tho, it’s just my opinion at this moment.


I can’t disagree with any of what you said, except maybe that I have worked a considerable number of weekends and late nights (some of which i will admit are from a personal drive for perfection like you said) in my 4 years in the industry, but I’ve been thinking about this last statement a lot recently. Do you think that it will eventually fall to the artists to change things whether it is our place to do so or not?

It seems to me that no individual vfx facility will stick their neck out first, for fear that they will be persecuted or boycotted by the studios, and even if the studios did somehow all band together to try and change things, it could be construed as price fixing or breaking fair competition laws, which could land the studios in hot water.
So instead they try to weather the storm in the hope that things will improve before they are forced out of business (or enough other facilities are forced out of business that they begin to become more stable again).

All that is left is for the artists to try and do something together to force both the facilities and the studios into action at the same time. Part of me even wonders whether the studios are really hoping the artists will do something and save them having to walk that minefield.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know next to nothing about labour and competition laws (even within the UK, let alone the various other territories with a vfx industry), so these thoughts should be taken as questions rather than suggestions - I’m one of the lucky ones to still be happily employed by a facility I respect, and I definitely still love and enjoy my work, but I can’t see a good solution for the vfx vendors without the artists taking charge, which would certainly still be a very messy business…

Interesting discussion, hope it stays clean and relevant and keeps generating good conversation.


I am not IN the industry, but I would bet that what is happening here in the USA with VFX shops closing… will happen in Canada and the UK and in other first-world countries. It’s just a matter of time. I remember someone in one forum talking about the recession and he said he didn’t see the recession as that bad - the following week he came back and said he’d lost his job - due to the recession. For anyone who thinks it’s not that bad in their VFX niche right now, it may not remain that way.

Best of luck to all.


As an ex pat Aussie I really wish Australia was a significant force in vfx … lol


Pffffff, you know what I mean. Australia has a couple of studios that work on Hollywood features, which does make them a significant player, because there are only a handful of countries with studios that do Hollywood VFX work.

Just so we’re clear :wink:


That’s natural on any forum where the majority of members are probably Americans.


But the majority aren’t.

However, my comment wasn’t specific to this site, but rather about the broader coverage that the current crisis in the VFX industry is getting.


So… as newbie in this industry, am i in wrong time wanting to enter into this industry?
This threads really make me sad about it.


I’m curious. How much of London’s VFX artists work on British projects (ex: BBC’s Doctor Who), and how many work on Los Angeles productions (ex: Captain America, Iron Man, RoboCop)?

If Hollywood stopped making big-budget VFX features, would the London VFX industry notice?


Well that’s a bit of a silly question. It’s like saying if the far east stopped making trainers would americans go barefeet. Of course the UK industry would notice as I’m sure you already know. Unfortunately depending how you look at it, it is now a global market and of course the studios will take advantage of that, like every other business in the world.

On a serious note if you are interested, my company which I run when Im not lucky enough to work on a hollywood feature, just finished a bunch of vfx shots an a british film production. So yes they do happen.


In my time in the industry I’ve only worked in London, and the vast majority of my work has been on US features. I’ve worked on a couple of British films too but still worldwide releases. London would be hurting bad if they only worked on British TV and film productions.


I think you and I both know the answer to your question, so why don’t you just come out and say what your point is? Because my point wasn’t about the projects, but about the people who work on them, and drawing national lines here would be unfair. This is a global industry and there are people all over the world, from all different nationalities, who rely on international VFX work, many of whom are being affected by the current upheavals.

This increasingly pervasive, insidious notion that only American artists count, and that only American artists should get to work on Hollywood films (and I’ve seen people using these exact words, even on this site) is frankly rather insulting to the thousands of people from other nationalities who work in this global industry, who have done incredible work over the years on so many Hollywood features.


This isn’t a call to panic but the current trajectory of our industry is clear. Less pay, less or no benefits, no staff positions, migrant worker status, and much less stability. This is not an environment conducive to raising a family.

Honestly I think this is happening in all industries. Due to economic troubles in the world it is an Employers market. They can pay less and expect more because people need a job. When the
economy flips I think things will change. Part of this is all economy related.

Yeah but in all fairness, most of the issues you’re mentioning are very US-centric, and this is an international industry. It’s a little frustrating the way so much coverage of issues in this field focus on Americans only, when Canada, the UK, Australia, Singapore and India are also significant players in the field.

Yeah I have read about other areas growing and flourishing vs US market. But often when things break in the US it begins to effect the world in a positive or negative aspect. You have some winners and some losers. Failure as an example in Singapore’s movie market would effect only Singapore. Most folks globally would not feel the effects. Failure of the movie market in the US and folks everywhere feel it.

At the end of the day though I don’t think things are even VFx related as to things getting worse in US for this market. I think it is that “Wal-Mart” effect plus bad global economy. All industries are being hit, VFx included.

This increasingly pervasive, insidious notion that only American artists count, and that only American artists should get to work on Hollywood films (and I’ve seen people using these exact words, even on this site) is frankly rather insulting to the thousands of people from other nationalities who work in this global industry, who have done incredible work over the years on so many Hollywood features.



I agree. If all nations were to take that stance and apply it, oil from the middle east would be sold only there, iron ore from Sweden would only be sold to local friendly nations, and Guinness made in Ireland would be kept here for us and the rest of you would have to make do with locally cloned ratpiss.