Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The VFX Society's Colonoscopy

From the Society's point of view ...

The Visual Effects Society’s 2013 white paper on the state of the global visual effects industry paints an image of a sector under siege that must heal its internal problems if it’s to survive the external forces arrayed against it. ...

“We tried to address the things that are within the industry’s power to effect change,” said the report’s co-author Ken Williams, CEO and executive director of the Entertainment Technology Center at USC and a co‐founder of Sony Pictures Imageworks. ”It’s one thing to sort of gnash your teeth over the uncontrollables, but we tried to identify things that the industry could do that would raise all boats.” ...

It shows an industry making the transition from an invention phase, where major new breakthroughs seemed to come yearly, to a manufacturing stage where many vfx tasks are commoditized and innovation is focused on cutting costs and streamlining production. ...

The report identifies four major areas that are bedeviling the vfx industry:

* Government dynamics — subsidies and tax incentives;

* Growing competition — lower barriers of entry and more qualified artists able to do visual effects and animation production;

* Industry dynamics — the small number of studio clients, globalization and the volatility of the production pipeline;

* Non-Business motivations — the passion to be in the film business that drives artists and facilities to make emotional decisions with a short-term focus. ...

The report says the industry’s fixed-bid pricing system, which dates back to the birth of the modern vfx industry in the 1970s, no longer works in the digital age. ...

Doesn't work? You think? ...

As I roll through one CG animation studio or another, the costs of overhead come into focus: the large administrative staffs and generous executive salaries all play a part in how expensive animation often becomes.

As we've pointed out before, the reasons facilities exist are to make movies, not to support large administrations. Visual effects studios, of course, are a different animal, but they house most of the same skill sets as Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar and Blue Sky.

The way the vfx world is now makes it designed for failure: visual effects sub-contractors that "win" are the ones which low-ball bid the sub-contract job, then go into the red when they rework a complicated shot for the third (or fourth?) time, then go out of business.

The current practice of having governments subsidize labor costs makes for an unstable environment. It's tough to build a business based on the generosity of the state, because when subsidies and rebates end, big conglomerates move on to the next big handout in Australia, Great Britain or Germany, and the studios they leave behind wither and die.

Part of the solution is to make visual effects an integrated part of the production process, not some add-on at the end to which the director and producer pay less than total attention.

2 comments:

F. Kousac said...

ves sense of self importance is streatching things. VFX are as important to production as any other support function on a film--costumes, makeup, gaffers, grips, craft service, and teamsters. No more, no loess. The answer really does seem to be unionization.

Steve Hulett said...

My opinion? (And you know what it's worth.) Effects should be part of the production.

Once upon a time, effects were. But that was (mainly) in the pre-digital age.

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