Friday, May 25, 2012

Visual Effects -- Then and Now

We got asked today: "What visual effects work has been union?"

My short answer was ...

Back in the time of old style visual effects (stuff like this ... and this) lots of effects work was under union contracts.

It was all analog, you see, meaning the effects -- painted mattes, models, rear projection, front projection, and film process work -- were done the old-fashioned way: in the camera, in the film lab, without the aid of computers. All these disciplines were inside studios or a few outside suppliers that had been organized under union contracts.

But all that changed a couple of decades ago. Analog work was displaced by digital code, and old-line effects houses (you know, the one with union contracts?) began to die off, replaced by digital facilities of all sizes and descriptions. Most of these newer places had no union contracts, but there were exceptions. George Lucas's Industrial Light and Magic had a small digital division in its early days, and Local 16 in San Francisco had a contract for the work. This became significant when the "handful of computers in the back room" became the whole company, and a local of the IATSE had the work.

And the Animation Guild, holding contracts with Los Angeles animation studios, commenced representing digital artists when those studios moved to computers. (TAG also repped visual effects workers under an IA contract at Disney's "Secret Lab," also inside Warner Bros. Animation when that studio contracted effects for live-action features.)

But most computer effects today are done without benefit of union contract. Except for Sony, the big studios no longer produce effects under their own roofs. It's cheaper outsourcing to small independent studios for simple shots, and to large indy studios (ILM, Digital Domain, Rhythm and Hues) for the complicated shots that contain lots of water or collapsing buildings or flying monkeys.

I won't kid you. It would be nice if the flying monkeys (and other things) were done inside the studio with union wages and benefits, but such is not the case.



Chris Sobieniak said...

Sad really. This is why I doubt ever wanting to get into that line of work at all.

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