What I tell myself everyday.

To all the people watching, I can never ever thank you enough for the kindness to me, I'll think about it for the rest of my life. All I ask is one thing, and this is.. I'm asking this particularily of young people that watch: Please do not be cynical. I hate cynicism - for the record it's my least favorite quality, it doesn't lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen. I'm telling you, amazing things will happen." - Conan 'O'Brien

June 22, 2011

Fixing it in Post (from david stripinis)

This is a really informative post by David Stripinis about the evolution of the VFX business in general to its current state. Please go over to his post to read the whole thing.

Some excerpts.
"But the real key moment was their second project as the new ILM - Raiders of the Lost Ark. Both Star Wars and Empire were done for 20th Century Fox under the auspices of Lucasfilm. Raiders was still a Lucasfilm production, but for Paramount. They made a few more films for Paramount, before MGM and Universal and suddenly the VFX Vendor System was how we worked. This system is the fundamental flaw to visual effects as a business, though it did not become apparent for many years."

"Knowing the scope of the work and what was expected, companies could give a reasonable estimation of the costs. This system worked fine for years. No one was getting obscenely rich, but people put food on the table, roofs over their heads, and could even put a little towards stuff to do in their free time."
"CGI allowed for things never possible before in film. But that wasn’t what was revolutionary. It was the freedom it allowed filmmakers to improvise on set. With the camera, with the action, with everything. It took a few years for everyone to realize and fully leverage this capability. Don’t like the sky? Change it later. Boom mike in shot? We can paint that out for you. Have no idea what the creature is going to look like? No problem, we don’t need to decide for another 6 months. ‘Fix it in post’ became the rallying cry of lazy filmmakers everywhere. Rather than having a definite plan of what was going to happen, or even a finished script, productions learned to just wing it. How can you effectively bid on what the fire breathing dinosaur will be doing in the third act when it wasn’t in the movie when you signed the contract?"
"Price for anything is determined by a simple equation: ( Materials + Labor ) * profitMargin. Materials can be steel, leather, corn - whatever. For CG, materials are things like software, hardware, electricity, and the building you put it ( and your labor ) in. Facilities like ILM, BOSS and the like had banks of SGI’s and hundreds of licenses of Alias, Softimage, and Prisms. They had teams of custom software engineers and extravagant benefits like ‘health care’ and ‘air conditioning’. They were competing against startups that were thrown together in someones spare bedroom with five guys from work. Sure, they couldn’t do all 800 shots in the movie ( remember when 800 shots was a big show? ) But they could do that one sequence when the hell-pigs attack the kid in the pool! And for half the price ILM was asking for! We started to see shows split amongst multiple facilities. First just two, maybe three. Today, it’s not uncommon for a movie to have nine or ten different vendors. Often working on different elements in the same shots. This gave rise to the production VFX supervisor. One individual who’s job was to oversee all the different VFX vendors and maintain one common vision."

"Magazines like Time and Newsweek noticed, and touted ‘Computer Artist’ as one of the top ten careers young people could go into. Studios and governments also noticed. Studios, seeing the rapid rise in the costs to produce films with VFX audiences were ‘demanding’, looked for any way to lower those costs. Politicians, always eager to claim they created high paying jobs for their constituencies, began offering tax incentives for doing VFX in their states, provinces or countries.

And so the race to the bottom was on."
"The problem is that any change that makes the lives of VFX workers better makes movies cost more, or less profitable. And that’s something the studios definitely are not in favor of. So when an organization like the Visual Effects Society ( VES ) says ‘the studios are not the enemy’ they are flat out wrong. But because the VES is headed by facility owners, managers and producers who have a vested interest in maintaining a good relationship with those same studios, do you think they wiould ever say that? The other problem is, it’s not the vendors, for the most part, treating artists poorly. It’s the clients ( aka production companies / studios ) putting pressure on the vendors with insane schedules and change orders, all with the promise of future work that may or may not materialize. I don’t need protection from my employer. My employer needs protection from the client."

"Artists are afraid to speak up because they’ve been made afraid that they are replaceable with the guy who just took some courses at a skillmill like Gnomon or fxPhd. So those that are irreplaceable need to step up. And it’s remarkably easy in concept to do."

  I do not have any thing much to add to his comments. I think its pretty spot on. Perhaps only that Singapore is one of the countries playing the subsidising game as well.And this is extremely necessary for the local talent to have enough skill set to be up to speed.

  And that I think the relationship between the film and vfx industry have to change. And may change to move forward. Withe cost of making movies going higher and amount of vfx work increasing, co-production and co-investment of  making movie. Might be feasible to reduce the risk by co-producing. But the Studios would want to keep as much of the profit as well as the well known creative accounting by the studios when it comes to profit sharing with its investors are well noted. It could be a production company and vfx studio makes movie and have the studio doing the distribution. Or like what Kevin Smith did with his own movie "Red State" where he self distributed it himself.

Perhaps in my naive mindset, it does seem that Owning/coi-nvesting in IPs and developing IPS that are relatively well known could be the way to go for the VFX studios?


  1. The future model is the Story tellers, the visual artists and actors doing a deal with apple/netflix/youtube.

  2. The profit share, IP ownership ideal is the best. It goes against the idea of a big corporation owning everything. It's actually quite communistic.

    The best version of that is where the ARTISTS who suffered bringing the project to reality get an ownership stake in the product. For example, an animator owns 1/500th of the Iron Man property.

    In this scenario, the best for the artist, the VFX facility CEOs don't even fully own the IP. After all, what's the difference between ILM and 20th Century Fox when it comes to the artists working on the movie? Nothing.

    Now does anyone think the studios, corporations are going to sit back and allow that to happen? IP is the only currency worth anything. They'll do whatever they can to own 100% of the IP.

    Publishing companies won't consider publishing a comic book unless the artist gives away the rights to it. They just absolutely refuse to let the creator own the property.

    At the end of the day, I think the studios will do whatever they can to keep IP out of the hands of anyone but themselves.

  3. I think it will happen in the future. Not 5 years. But maybe 10 years when the speed of the internet is fast enough. The problem is again, there will be a influx of all sorts of movies. Crap and not. Its a free for all.

    Problem is who will pay for the content? Youtube is still not making a profit. And original content is harder to market then something that is familiar. It will be a interesting few years in the future once they resolved how they can monetize movies straight to the consumer.