Should you quit VFX?

When I did my extensive research for Inside VFX I was motivated by one main question:

“Should I quit and leave the VFX industry?”.

At a time when Digital Domain and R&H faulted, VFX companies began to use their competitors’ misfortune to their advantage by increasing the pressure on their artists. People who had their contract negotiations could hear excuses like:

“Sorry that we can’t offer you more, you know how the industry currently is. But if you hit those performance targets we may get you that raise next year!”

“But… you promised me a raise after I have proved myself! Look how I nice this one shot looks that I did for this one show. I worked my ass off for months and the supervisors loved it.”

“Ah well, you know you could have done the shot faster. Don’t get me wrong, we were happy with the result but the supervisor clearly said that you are no John Knoll. For the next year we would expect so much more from you. But okay— I will check back with our main office / boss / manager. I can’t promise anything considering current market conditions. In fact, the best we can offer you is another two year contract with a build-in raise of 0.5% per year… Not even matching the inflation you say? Oh, silly! It’s not industry norm to match the current rate of inflation… Yes, sign here at the bottom.”

The VFX industry is one of the most creative industries when it comes to the question on how to squeeze the last drop of productivity out of its artists (or resources as production coordinators like to refer to us) for the lowest pay possible. You don’t need dinner at home and have a life. Have dinner at your desk while you finish that shot – but you’ll get your free dinner only if you stay past 10pm. A cab ride home? Only if you stay past midnight! Overtime pay? For what? Because you are too slow finishing that easy shot?

If you try to explain why it is that you need more time you may hear:

“Why do you need more time? This shot is easy! Ten years ago (when I was still doing shots) I did five shots like that – in a day! And all I had were some rocks that I banged together. I give you three days, that’s all!”

So if you hadn’t done OT, after such a pep talk you surely would. Or you’re out. Done. Fired. If you are gifted (or lucky with your shots) and thus too quick finishing your three shots, they’ll give you six or ten to finish up in a week. In today’s VFX industry, no matter how hard you work: you are never good or fast enough. So better accept it. It’s part of the game that corporations are playing with you. You can play this game for a while maybe even years, but at some point you are going to burn out. As soon as that happens, be sure of that: the VFX corporation will fire you — or let you go — or not extend your contract, or however you prefer to call it. They won’t look back on burned-out resources either.

I was wondering about the reasons why these big VFX corporations (whose employees seemed to have so much fun during the early 2000s) changed to… well… what they are today:  Sweatshops with a sexy reputation. It seems that now that these corporations don’t have to pay so much for their hard & software anymore they could treat their employees even better, yet this is clearly not the case. Why? Well… I came to the conclusion long ago that they hate us! Yes, correct. They do not only care about you. It’s worse. They hate you! Why? Simply put, because you are the only cost factor they find so very hard to control and if they could they would love to replace you with a monkey. They could successfully pressure their hard & software even furniture suppliers down to almost no margins. They can’t do much about the office rent without losing a sexy reputation. This leaves YOU as their biggest cost factor in the yearly balance sheets and therefore you are in the way of getting your boss his yearly bonus. This problem magnifies as soon as they need a lot of artists who also need a lot of that sexy office space. VFX corporations don’t seem to be very gifted in negotiating with the six or seven big film studios so the best idea most of them come up with is to hand the pressure down to the artists. Sorry to tell you, but someone has to pay for those water-cooled desks or award winning architecture or fancy office locations. It’s you – which is why they break these fixed costs down per seat. This is the reason why they tell you that you are average when you are good and why you are slow when in reality you are just in time — maybe even fast. Those fancy wrap parties, they don’t throw them for you, they throw them for their own reputation.  After all, those parties lure more people into believing that it’s so much fun working with them — and don’t you regard fun higher than pay? “Look up on facebook and youtube how much fun we are having.”

I can’t tell you whether you should leave your VFX corporation because they hate you. At least they do not show it directly and all the time. I love doing VFX myself so I can’t tell you if you should quit the industry. What I did was to gather as many facts and information about the visual effects and film industry as I could to make informed conclusions about multiple industry trends. I compiled many years of research and created over 50 data graphs for Inside VFX. This book enables you to make the best informed decision for your future. Now that all this information about the VFX industry is finally out in the open it will be a competitive disadvantage not to read it.

Get Inside VFX now in your countries kindle store or order the book in print at your local bookstore.

What are your thoughts and experiences working in VFX? Should you quit the industry?

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