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 I'm a visual effects artist - 17 years in the industry, creating vfx for commercials, TV shows, and movies that make a lot of money for increasingly fewer people.

  Today, in Los Angeles, from 1pm to 4:30pm at Hollywood and Vine, there will be a demonstration to raise awareness of how billions of dollars are being made by corporations and studios, while the workers and companies who actually create these stunning effects are increasingly going unpaid, declaring Chapter 11, or going fully out of business. How can this be?

How can the company that could win an Oscar tonight for top visual effects for "Life of Pi" have to declare bankruptcy last week?

Who is eating this pie? Why are the workers treated like crumbs and swept under the red carpet? Who will fight this injustice? (I'm not waiting for Superman).

Follow past the orange reel change cigarette burn marker to continue this story...

 There are going to be many reasons for the demonstration. Some will be there to promote unionization of visual effects workers. Some will be there to fight against foreign film tax incentives given to the studios to entice them to "run away" with their productions. Some will protest the trend towards contract-only hires, eliminating the need to provide health care coverage, or retirement plans, or even job security.

  Personally, I have been 1,500 miles away from my family for the last 8 months, just to have a job, since a global corporation closed their profitable vfx studio where I lived, and moved all that work to a foreign country because of the tax incentives offered. Unemployed, I had to move out of the US to where the corporations decided to next set up shop.

  What is clear above all of this is that there is a crisis in the vfx industry, when some are making billions while those creating the effects go bankrupt. That theme, whether it's the "47% takers" or the "99% vs 1%", or the Occupy movements, possibly even to the "Arab Spring" - the idea or theme of protesting gross injustices seems to be a global phenomenon.

  And tonight, when you see the big fuzzy tiger in the Life of Pi, think of the bankrupt company and all the vfx workers who MADE that tiger and now who are out of jobs. Then look at the audience and the amount of wealth therein.

  One can almost hear them saying "Let them eat Pi .  .  . "

  Here are some links for more background information:


Hollywood Reporter

  And for detailed info on the demonstration, plus a COOL look at the BEFORE/AFTER of the Life of Pi tiger (blue stuffed doll -> awesome tiger), click here:


2:26 PM PT: Well well, even FORBES allows an op/ed to take direct aim at the top 1%, managing to corrupt yet another industry and rob the workers, and the taxpayers, while creating the very distractions that keep us from noticing them stealing in the first place!

It is truly, maniacally, pathologically brilliant. And it works.

2:47 PM PT: A quick Twitter update - Facebook "committed" signatures were over 500, and a Twitter report estimates 250 demonstrators so far!

A small airplane sporting a banner "box office + bankrupt = visual effects" is set to fly around the Hollywood & Vine area at around 3pm PST.

3:10 PM PT: UPDATE 3x - Twitter and Facebook support is coming in globally from others who recognize this is not simply about one single industry.

The small plane/banner has taken off - the march has been halted near Hollywood and Wilcox due to police presence - literally snipers are on the rooftops, as one might expect in this day and age.

3:14 PM PT: UPDATE 4x - ooh lookie, pictures!

3:24 PM PT: UPDATE 5x - Twitter estimates between 376 and 395 demonstrators, with the airplane circling above. Even jaded Angelinos are "mildly surprised" at the turnout.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Before people think this was a (6+ / 0-)

    Super high paying job, you might check again.

    Many of these jobs, despite how professional they were are not mega-money positions.

    Fortunately, several other VFX studios around Hollywood helped find many of the people at Rhythm & Hues jobs.

    Several moved on to their own company:

    But others were offered positions at WETA and LucasFilm (now Disney).   Many of the studios really stepped up on this one.

    But what happened with Rhythm and Hues had a lot more to do with the way their deals were setup; just bad management, in the end :(

    But good news for the staff is that many have found places to move on.

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 11:55:49 AM PST

    •  Minor add-on (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      peacestpete, Joieau, worldlotus, kaliope

      I don't mean this to diminish the way in which the VFX industry is being paid.   I have too many good friends there.  I'm just saying that it's an industry that isn't high paying jobs and gets taken for granted.  Fortunately, in this instance, hopefully many find a place to go.

      But the real issue here is that residual base benefits are not negotiated to VFX houses as they are with others.

      (sorry about that, read that back over and realized it might sound too dismissive)

      Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

      by Chris Reeves on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 12:15:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The pay level at those jobs (0+ / 0-)

      was once considered real high for people doing regular digital work. There is no way that kind of pay would ever make it's way back to the world of motionless 2D work. It was there at one time though. $200/hour was not considered outrageous even in fly-over country.

      Once the cost of the tools come down and the society that produces the artists can no longer offer jobs to all comers for every talent level, then the costs always come town as people rush to find the next big thing that will allow them to make the big bucks.

      Once desperation sets in, that is when the wage levels move down to incomprehensible levels  Pay so low that it would make the pay levels you referenced as low seem like nirvana.

      •  The $200 tv commercial (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

         When the great recession hit, the West Coast ad agencies rapidly contracted and consolidated their offices in LA, leaving cities like Seattle, San Fran, Portland seemingly forever.

          The local vfx houses who relied on some of that ad agency revenue when making local/regional tv commercials suddenly were forced to compete for the micro-market "Stan's Repair Shop" work, and then you saw the bloodletting.

          Shock Doctrine. Disaster Capitalism. Force the workers and companies to be at one another's throats, and make out like a bandit in the meantime.

          It's brilliant, honestly. Deplorable, morally and ethically bankrupt, but damn brilliant.

        -- Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

        by vfxartist1 on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 01:09:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't know how much Stan's Repair Shop (0+ / 0-)

          shit I've done but Idrew a line in the sand when they said they wanted a site like Amazon's for $200.00 :-) . I kid you not, I had one bad client bring in another bad client. I asked the new potential bad client what he was looking for:

          BC - "A website"
          Me - "Ok..., what do you want on your website"
          BC - " I can't tell you".
          Me -(by this time, not surprised at all) Ok, can you tell your friend and maybe he can tell me?
          BC1->BC2 - [whisper] Not intelligible "credit"

          BC2 (trying to hold back laughter)- He wants to make a website where people could check their credit reports."

          I went to Yahoo (Google not on Radar yet) and typed "check credit reports" and 9 million results appeared at the top.
          Me- "Something like one of these?
          BC1 - " I have to go"
          BC2 [now red from holding back laughter] "Thanks D."
          Me - "anytime"

          BC1 looked sick.  It was a common problem back in the late 90s as people saw the  winners of the great lottery and figured "if they could make hundreds of millions, why not?" That's when the get rich quick schemers got on the web. "I made $396,341.23 in less than 4 days  just for working 1 hour a day. I didn't have to sell anything either"

          Imagine what she can do for a whole year.

          That's when the creepy people came. Now it's people who real businesses who make real money and want to see people bust their butt for $0.30 an hour. Honestly, I can't decide which is worst. This  was/is on the real  seamy under world of web development.

  •  I wasn't aware this was happening- yet! (6+ / 0-)

    I was aware it was happening in commercial design studios and to commercial artists becuase I have been smack dab in the middle and had my head handed to me numerous times. . This really got started in 2000 when equipment prices started dropping which meant competitive barriers started to drop and the rise of the "good enough" attitude brought on by the recession of 2000-2002 . A attitude that hadn't been seen since the 80's when Desk Top Publishing first made waves.  People were simply amazed they no longer needed to pay typesetters or designers  for that matter .

    There was a "good enough" attitude then but it slowly gave way as more designers showed what was really possible with computers in the 90s. Then people started to ask "why is my stuff looking like shit?"

    Then it happened everywhere. The Boundaries between jobs dropped as designers took their own images with amazing digital cameras that cost 50G in 2000 and were under  $700 by 2008.  Artistic photographers offered design. Then as this recession started I saw people offering all those services for $6.95 an hour.

     It was offshore of course. Even top designers were shoved out.  Large corporations and Govt took those functions inside. Companies like Amazon have in-house studios where the old model of paying Photographers by the shot and the set gave way to hourly pay working within a template that doesn't require talent as much as it does subservience. .  

    It happened with Govt: Here they were privatizing the military , security and many other services that should have never been privatized and then the govt and academia started competing with Printers, designers, Photographers, commercial artists and all the support people in that business.

    No one wanted to pay anything extra. No more (so it seems) hassles with copyright, work for hire, scheduling  and other perceived inefficiencies with dealing with the outside world. Instead it was either outsourced for so cheap when it was a project that had no hard deadline or done in house where employees could be ordered to produce the work that was ordered.

    I suppose this was inevitable in your industry although I didn't think you were there yet. The demands for better and better life like effects in just about any work with a moving picture seemed like your end was the high side of commercial digital art  that couldn't be touched because budgets were huge, reputations mattered and upfront investments in people, tools, location and much more were several orders of magnitude higher than the us low level suppliers. They apparently still are but the paychecks of the people at the top has forced the work to different locales.


    Well, this won't help you much, but there was a time when people at the top of our  heap were earning large sums of money who are no longer employed. Eventually the demand to push the entire cost structure down from the very top leaves the rest gasping for air. It isn't so much to be competitive as it is to leave vast pools of profits for the very few. You're just seeing what we have been going through for the last 25 years. The end game is no different either. Absorption of new technologies will be done if the people at the top want it not because it's the best thing to do.

    That means a lot of good ideas won't see the light of day. If someone does manage to come up with new ways to create even more realism in your world, those companies will be quickly bought out. A few will get rich and the rest will lose their jobs.

    Example: It's hard to conceive that 700 Million dollars went to a small band of programmers who engineered  a mobile app out of a few Photoshop filters . I know some of us old timers were doing a major WTF? . Someone spent 700 Million dollars on a application that makes no money? WTF?

    It's  crazy time again. For many of us who have already been through it for decades now, a certain level of weariness along with wariness has set it.

    It's the people who are too dumb to know it can't be done who will make small fortunes if they are talented and have no constraints on their imaginations. Many will be screwed blue and tattooed, but either way  their work will be absorbed into the big machine where further enhancements will be made by off-shore engineers.

    The never ending downward pressure on wages even for the most talented goes on. One of these days the movie execs that are stealing your livelihood will look up and see no profits. No one can afford to go to the movies. No one can afford to buy DVDs. No one can afford to maintain a fast enough internet connection to stream video and no one can afford to pay the monthly tabs for TV plus their smart phones anymore.

    By the time that happens, people will be empowered enough by inexpensive  tools that more and more indie producers will do what Musician's , Artists, and writers have done, go direct to their audiences where work will rise and fall not on who has the biggest ad budget but who really has work were telling other people about so it goes viral. New compression schemes will develop where a full length HD motion picture could be downloaded at the library in under 10 seconds.

    That's the big picture to keep in mind. Don't let yourself get too beat up that you miss the opening for the next big thing  when it comes.  If you get in, make sure you save every last cent and invest in tough lawyers for when the next level of big money people come sniffing around and the cycle repeats itself.

    •  Well said (5+ / 0-)

      Believe me, I worked in the television commercial world, alongside ad agency creatives who worked print as well, so I'm at least passingly familiar with the tech revolution that changed many things in our industries - but the one thing that hasn't changed is the need for talent.

      In spite of the pressure from studios to "do it cheaper faster better", all for the benefit of their bottom line of course, quality will suffer. People are getting used to brilliant vfx, but the studios are pushing the budgets down all the time, in spite of record breaking box office receipts.

      The paradigm is changing for vfx as well. Netflix is creating original content outside of the studio system (mostly). Amazon is gearing up to allow independent productions (vfx laden or not) to follow the iTunes model - straight to the consumer.

      Will the studios notice and stop the incessant pressure to drive down costs? Brings to mind the infamous feature film producer quote "If I haven't put a vfx company out of business by the time the film is finished, I haven't done my job."

      I'm not holding my breath for enlightenment.

      -- Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

      by vfxartist1 on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 01:05:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Eye-opening diary (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        vfxartist1, worldlotus, Dburn

        if only for those who work or who have worked in the design worl

        I never liked you and I always will.

        by Ray Blake on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 02:34:58 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Design/VFX/Advertising - all like hot dogs... (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          worldlotus, Ray Blake, Dburn

          If you enjoy the product, you should never really know how it's made...


          -- Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

          by vfxartist1 on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 02:41:00 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  And me thinking all VFX artists (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            FiredUpInCA, Dburn

            are making big bank. Never underestimate studio greed. No wonder they like FX over story.

            I never liked you and I always will.

            by Ray Blake on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 04:22:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  What we do (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Alexandra Lynch, Dburn

              We handcraft these shots. I am sitting here, right now, going through frame by frame making adjustments.

              I get that the studio accountants would like to run this industry like an assembly line, but this is craft work. And then, as just happened this week to me, when the studios get sloppy and allow changes in creative looks or changes in the edit to substantially change or even omit shots, who has to eat the result of the sloppiness? The vfx companies, and in turn, the vfx artists.

              Less than a month from a major feature film deadline, and the edit still is not locked, and final shots are now omitted. The studio won't eat that cost. We will.

              -- Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

              by vfxartist1 on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 04:38:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Unbelievable. This is why unions (0+ / 0-)

                are so important in Hollywood. Without them, you're swimming with sharks.

                I never liked you and I always will.

                by Ray Blake on Mon Feb 25, 2013 at 11:40:52 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  There is momentum in signing up with IATSE (0+ / 0-)

                   I think this issue would have gone away silently had the Oscars not slapped vfx artists in the face with the JAWS playoff and cutting their mics.

                    As it stands now, artists are motivated, communicating via FB and Twitter which is still new technology, especially for organizing among diverse populations.

                    We'll see if this has legs, but I believe it's standing.

                  -- Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

                  by vfxartist1 on Tue Feb 26, 2013 at 08:40:02 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

  •   i saw the vfx campaign on Ain't It Cool News, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and remembered i saw this earlier today. thanks for posting.

    "Let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation....It's how we are as Americans...It's how this country was built"- Michelle Obama

    by blueoregon on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 06:13:01 PM PST

    •  Thanks for your awareness (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      blueoregon, RiveroftheWest

       I'm sad to say I have to bring these issues home to my industry, but as I said before, this is only one fiber in a larger thread weaving throughout the world. I don't believe we have to pull the entire rope ourselves, but if each one of us pulls on a single string... amazing things will happen.

        Thx for your awareness, blueoregon

      -- Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

      by vfxartist1 on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 06:39:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Life of Pi WINS (0+ / 0-)

    Wins the Award for best VFX

    Gandhi's Seven Sins: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Commerce without morality; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice; Politics without principle

    by Chris Reeves on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 06:37:19 PM PST

    •  IATSE (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tmservo433, looseleaf, RiveroftheWest

       In part, they sponsored the airplane that flew over Hollywood this afternoon, sporting the banner "box office + bankrupt = visual effects"

        The outrage over the Jaws theme played on top of a tribute to vfx workers during an acceptance speech is fierce and emotional right now on Twitter and Facebook.

        The Hollywood establishment couldn't have done more to advance vfx artist participation in unions if they tried.

      -- Some people are so poor, all they have is money.

      by vfxartist1 on Sun Feb 24, 2013 at 06:56:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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