Computer Graphics World

March/April 2013

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©Twentieth Century Fox Corp. Editor'sNote continued from page 2 New Zealand as a thriving VFX hot spot, with Australia and Canada well known for producing outstanding work as well, while India, Singapore, and a number of other countries are now proving their mettle. Indeed, VFX has become a global business, and the color of green (money) has become the driving factor – as it is for other businesses. However, VFX is a business that does not have a level playing field. The studios in California are hard-pressed to compete with studios elsewhere. Not for lack of talent, as this area is still the epicenter of VFX, but rather because "elsewhere" provides subsidies so their studios can bid lower on projects. The end result is that US studios in non-subsidized locales must either discount their prices to subsidy levels in order to compete for work, or they have to maintain their prices (so they can turn a small profit) and hope that work is not given to the lowest bidder. Neither is a long-term, viable strategy. So, one by one, giants in the industry have begun to fall – and continue to do so. So, what is the solution? Unfortunately, no one at this time has a simple answer. The industry, especially in the US, is asking for a ban on subsidies – to create the level playing field. However, why would a studio that is being subsidized forgo that advantage? After all, despite this being an artist-driven industry, it's still a businessdriven industry. Sometimes, though, the cheapest is not always the best. Moreover, we already have certain areas "out-subsidizing" one another. Vancouver built quite a VFX nest recently, only to see business now being lured east to Montreal. Then there is the matter of the artists securing better working conditions. Some see the answer (not a simple one) in the formation of unions, others do not. But how do you rank the workers? They are artists, not factory workers doing the exact same job. Immediately after the Oscars, the VES – the industry's global honorary society – issued a call to action, pressing upon California's governor and state legislature to "immediately expand its tax incentive program for the entertainment industry and to include a focused approach concentrated on the visual effects and postproduction sectors of the industry." The VES also plans to hold an international Congress with the The artistry created by those working in visual effects is not always apparent on a live-action film, but is easily visible in this shot from Life of Pi. goal of determining follow-up actions. Solutions are needed, and needed now. The industry is in crisis. (Just after the R&H situation, news broke that at DreamWorks, about 350 people will lose their jobs by year end, this coming on the heels of a big financial loss on the movie Rise of the Guardians.) Most likely after this issue prints, there will be others looking at a similar fate. What does this mean for the movie industry, which relies heavily on VFX? One of the popular images in circulation illustrates the value of the work using versions of a still from Life of Pi. Without R&H's work, the still depicts Pi in the boat floating in a water tank against a bluescreen backdrop, while the final contains the tiger, the shimmering ocean, and a beautiful sky. Another uses the shot with Pi stroking the tiger in his lap – both the gorgeous finished scene by R&H and one containing a blue stuffy tiger in the pre-R&H scene. Best of all is the blood-spattered shot showing what would have happen had a real tiger been used instead of the realistic CG animal created at R&H. The point is well made. VFX practitioners – individuals and studios alike – have had enough. They want, no, they need, this situation rectified. Many served the VFX and movie industry well over the past decades. Many have missed birthdays and holidays working to make deadline. They enjoy what they do, and they are good at it. It's time the movie industry gives them the respect they deserve. Twitter and Facebook activity continues with words of anger from those suffering and words of support from those sympathetic to the cause. Signs carried during the protests read: "Respect VFX." "Oscar nominated work, bankrupt studios?" "This is the first time I've been outside in 3 months." "This sign was added in post." "I want a piece of the Pi too, stop subsidies." "Give US VFX workers healthcare stability and their fair share." What Others Think One person wrote to us pointing out that in Prague, VFX artists are paid far less than those in the US. "With artists who will work for next to nothing, it is easy for international companies to compete with the US. I don't think tax breaks will cut it." Jay Roth, former 3D Division president at NewTek and current partner at EverWitt Productions, noted that the situation outlined in the grievances has been endemic and pervasive, and was present when he started in the business in 1980. "The plight of the VFX community is real; they are on the bottom of the totem pole and clearly not appreciated by the 'glitterati' or the producers and studios who treat them as lucky to have a job. VFX people have been funding Hollywood since Jaws." As he pointed out, most of the top 10 films on anyone's list contains films reliant on VFX (in some cases, heavily so, such as Life of Pi ). "Actors on these films are paid in the millions for their on-set performances, back-end royalties, along with licensing and merchandising revenues. No one begrudges them their due; however, the VFX teams are often just as responsible for the success of the film as the performance of the actors. But you would never know it from their compensation, benefits, and the like," Roth said. He added that the VFX community is very motivated, activated, and, thanks to social media, fully connected now. "The stories of abuse are worldwide. Hopefully posiMarch/April 2013 CGW0313-review-edit-backpfin.indd 47 47 3/14/13 12:05 PM

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