Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Viz Effx Slump

A former TAG board member shot me this cheery bit of news yesterday. Though it's several days old and isn't precisely our baliwick, it's worth sharing. All those huge, effects-laden movies now in production or planning stages might not have anywhere to get all their c.g. imaging done:

Here's the dire scenario: As pics now in production wrap, vfx work slumps, killing off more midsized and small vfx companies. Then a new wave of tentpoles arrive, wanting more and bigger vfx, only to find insufficient capacity to complete them at the breakneck pace -- and with the sometimes huge last-minute additions and changes -- the majors now favor.

When this scenario may play out is the subject of some debate. Some expect the crunch to come late this year. Recently, though, tentpoles including Warner's "Green Lantern" and Marvel's "Thor" have been pushed back. That could push the potential crisis back to 2010 but may actually make things worse, as it means the lull would last longer.

"The studios need to be concerned about this," says Industrial Light & Magic exec producer for marketing Gretchen Libby. "Their options could start to run out for finishing their projects. There could be fewer companies that can help out at the 11th hour."

A dozen years ago, a c.g. supervisor and I discussed how visual effects houses were always on a knife-edge because of the houses' tendencies to low-ball job bids in order to get work on big effects films, and then discovering that ... whoops! ... they had low-balled so much they were losing money on the deal. So a lot of them quickly went out of business.

This was over a decade ago. The situation has only gotten worse in the intervening years. Show me a small or medium-sized effects studio, and all show you a company that hasn't been around very long.

In the nineties, the majors set up their own effects divisions, but soon discovered they could get the work done more cheaply by jobbing the work out. Soon thereafter, studios' internal effects departments closed.

But now this method of getting the work done is coming to a crisis point. If you need it fast and good, you can't send it to a job shop in Mumbai that may or may not deliver its shots timely and up to say, director Michael Bay's exacting standards. And a lot of small, local places where you probably have more input and control are out of business. So those big tent-poles that are being shot might not have their big, complicated effects ready.

A conundrum, yes?


Peter said...

Thanks for the update Steve! As a guild member and a visual effects artist, I appreciate all the info I can get!

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