Friday, December 07, 2007

Narrow CGI Profit Margins, Short CGI Company Life Spans

A decade ago, when Disney's Dinosaur was in production, a grizzled c.g.i. vet and I got into a deep discussion about the c.g. effects industry and how competitive it was. This was his take:

"We've had like a lot of changes in the effects business. Companies sprout like mushrooms and die off just as quick. Guys that were employees of one company go off and start their own c.g. effects house, are around for a year and go away. Profit margins are not big because everybody is bidding against each other for the same jobs and killing themselves to get the work done..."

The mortality rate of effects companies ten years later is still high. A few days back, I received e-mails about the effects house Meteor in Canada shutting down said my correspondent:

This is the third House I've seen fall, Rainmaker Burbank, Centropolis fx, and now Meteor ... I can't stand the business model employed by most fx houses ...

Doesn't seem real healthy to me, either:

Open ... expand ... wither ... die.

Pretty icky.

There's got to be a better way. Trouble is, the whole structure of the business seems to be as insane as the rest of the movie industry. And driving a lot of effects houses to the breaking point:

If the visual effects industry had its way, the Disney tentpole that sailed into theaters May 25 might have been named "Pirates of the Caribbean: At Wits' End."

Industrial Light & Magic topper Chrissie England, who's seen many blockbusters come through her shop, calls the editing/post-production race to the pic's delivery deadline "about the scariest thing I've ever seen." The film's vfx supervisor, John Knoll, calls it "a freakin' miracle" that the film was done on time.

The effects biz is like everything else. Do it faster, better and cheaper.

If you go bankrupt or perish in the process, tough noogies.


Anonymous said...

woah. Time Warp!

Steve said...

And then there are the canadian houses that I do it right with.

The ones that kick ass and honor their commitments.

A combination of the studio's business savvy but, to be fair, a handful of animation professionals who care more than they should.

Anonymous said...

And 2 of those 3 houses have had the same brilliant management who rob Peter to pay Paul and drive the companies into the ground only to jump ship and move on to the "next big thing".

Justin said...

It's not necessarily managements fault, but more the business model. FX houses have to bid to get jobs in order to get revenue. They bid low in order to get the job, barely able to meet the studio's schedule and budget. Then the studio changes their requests while refusing to alter the amount of the bid, the fx house uses tons of overtime to meet the ridiculous schedule, then folds when they are unable to pay their staff.

Steve Hulett said...

Which is why, with the exception of Sony, no major studio has its own viz effx unit.

Far better to job the effects out and give the tight deadlines and headaches to a subcontractor.

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