Post-Production : VFX working Conditions are fine? Oh thanks, boss, I guess we were just too exhausted to notice. by Nicholas Boughen

Nicholas Boughen

VFX working Conditions are fine? Oh thanks, boss, I guess we were just too exhausted to notice.

London Executive says working conditions in VFX are "fantastic", there are just a few disgruntled employees. We say "bollocks". Tell us what you think. http://academy.cg-masters.com/nicks-rants-and-raves/dont-like-quit-serio...

Nicholas Boughen

Thanks so much for this response. It really helps illustrate some of the major problems facing digital media, and in particular visual effects, today. To begin with, I’d like to address the very common attitude, “If you don’t like it get out of the industry”. For some reason, people in the entertainment industry feel it’s OK to abuse employees and try to tell them that if they aren’t tough enough to put up with rampant abuse, they should leave. They try to trick us into believing it’s glamorous and a great honor to work on their next ridiculous super-hero sequel. They try to manipulate us into taking poverty pay and working killer overtime because it’s the next great blockbuster and doesn’t that make you so lucky. That’s all crap. Demanding life-destroying hours is employee abuse. Employee abuse is not OK in any industry for any reason. But it’s not really entirely the employer’s fault. It’s their job to get as much as possible out of their employees for as little pay as possible. As long as artists permit employers to abuse them, it will continue. It’s up to employees to do something about it. More and more senior artists are just not putting up with this nonsense, exactly as it should be (and is in most industries). And as the skills shortage increases, they will have more say in the matter. This change is happening now. Secondly, I’d like to talk about the description of working conditions in film and commercials. From my own experiences (28 films and over 200 commercials) I think you’ve made a pretty accurate description of the current state of affairs. Here’s the funny thing though; the companies struggling to keep the lights on are the ones paying absurd amounts of overtime because they’re working people insane hours. If they would simply stop blowing all their profit on overtime, they wouldn’t be in so much trouble. “But that’s just the way production runs!” say most people. Bollocks. That’s the way we run most production because that’s how we believe production runs. If I accept an awful situation as “that’s just the way it is” then I am implicit in and responsible for the problem. Luckily, for every problem there is a solution. Production schedules can absolutely be run with minimal or even no overtime provided the management skill exists in the project management team to make it happen. Of note, most industries in the modern world make their deadlines on 40 hour work weeks. So…what’s the problem with the entertainment industry again? Oh yeah, ‘that’s just the way it is’. I’d like to particularly address the observation “Someone working on a shot only has to know what the person on either side of the shot is doing to enter and exit…” This brings up one of the primary reasons VFX is so bloody expensive. Most digital artists think they are an individual working at an individual workstation on an individual task and they only need to talk to the person who feeds them the task and the person to whom they feed their work, otherwise they can slump down, put on headphones and ignore the world. But the reality is that a group of individuals working in the same room is not a team. A team is a collaborative with a common approach, common understanding and situational awareness of what is going on around them. When a collaborative becomes situationally aware, it becomes a “high-performing team”. A high-performing team is capable of doing up to triple the amount of throughput as a group of individuals working in the same room. High-performing teams are not possible when artists are burnt out, though. All the more reason not to do overtime. Regarding the remark “The owner is about the money” I don’t see how this could be any other way. The owner of a business needs to make a profit. That’s what business is. That’s what keeps the economy growing. This should be celebrated, not vilified. But if an owner is really about the money, they should be limiting or removing overtime, not simply throwing up their hands and saying “that’s just the way it is”. Eliminating overtime massively reduces the cost of production. Then we don’t have to worry so much about the rent, electricity and so forth. “Expect pressure, expect long hours and expect to be burnt out.” No. Don’t expect this. Expect to be treated like a human being. Expect your employer to respect your health and your life. And if they treat you like this, quit and go elsewhere, because there ARE studios that will treat you well. What kind of an asshole treats human beings like discardable meat products? “Sadly those environments are about commercial benefit, and not story telling. So if you are a VFX artist working in an Ad or for a company that focuses on making it's bread and butter from Ads, then that's how it works. You will burn out and in 3-5 years you probably won't even want to do VFX.” Commercial art is about commercial benefit. I, for one, don’t really see anything sad about this. I think it’s great to make a living using my art skills. As commercial artists we sell our skills to create someone else’s story. I agree, if you want to tell your own story, the VFX industry is not the place to be. If an artist expects to tell stories, then she hasn’t been taught what it means to be a commercial artist. However I take issue with the remark “That’s how it works.” This implies that there is no solution and we just have to accept the situation or get the hell out. Alternatively we could identify a problem and create solutions. There are always creative solutions to problems. There are proven alternatives to massive overtime. Commercial artists absolutely do not have to accept the status quo or get out. And I know hundreds of people who did not burn out in 3-5 years. As far as I’m aware, not many people have ever made $5,000 per week as a VFX employee. I agree, that’s a pretty unreasonable expectation. But they should expect a livable wage and reasonable working conditions. Those who believe these goals are impossible probably have too myopic a view of the industry and need to step back, take a more objective view of the situation and realize there are multiple efficiency problems in today’s way of doing things that, cumulatively, can significantly reduce costs making it easier to provide normal work environments. VFX is still an emerging industry. Things change fast. Accepting that today’s general reality is an unchangeable fact going forward is to be ignorant of historical change. For your consideration, the industrial revolution is as perfect a parallel as history has to offer.

Nicholas Boughen

Hmmm... not really sure where the skills vs talent thing crept in, but I definitely would like to point out there was no intended inference about you personally. The response was "in general". And I certainly never suggested that telling someone to get out because they lack talent is abuse, nor inferred it. It's pretty clear that "abuse" in this context refers to studios deliberately burning people out and telling them to quit the industry if they don't like it. This conversation seems to have meandered spectacularly off topic which is producers who claim there is no problem with working conditions in VFX when there clearly is. Making people work insane hours and damaging their lives and health happens to people whether they are talented or not. It's still wrong. I do agree with many of your points, though.

Stage 32 Staff - Julie

This is an awesome debate from both of you... I just asked other VFXers to join in.

Lina Jones

That's right a piece of paper don't mean nothing without the skills to back it up!

Nicholas Boughen

That's for sure, Lina. As a VFX Supervisor I couldn't care less if an artist has graduated high school as long as they can do the job. Alle, you're absolutely right about uni degree holders thinking they're industry ready and then getting sadly disappointed. I'd like to add that I have witnessed many very talented, experienced folks get bulldozed by nasty corporate culture. I have heard those same people upset about bizarre work hours and a seeming disregard for their health from management. I don't think talent means you don't need rest or don't want to see your kids on a regular basis. Creative talent doesn't mean you're OK with working insane, burnout hours. And it doesn't mean you're immune to burnout. To the contrary, actually. In order to remain creative, a commercial artist absolutely requires rest and life balance. And I know for certain that because someone spends more hours at work does not make them better, more loyal or more productive. It has been my experience that the more senior, talented artists tend to complain less, and that is because they are valuable enough not to have to put up with any crap. They actually have a say and can make demands. And, yes, I think it's somewhat like other businesses. Not all. DVFX is still an emerging industry trying to find the right business model so things tend to be more chaotic than other more established industries. That will settle down over time. My experience has been that the large studios are the worst to work for and the smaller the better because you work side by side with the owners and get to know them. People tend to care about each other in those environments. I still can't agree that if the working conditions suck, that's just the way it is so if you don't like it quit. If the working conditions suck, let's try to make them not suck. VFX doesn't have to be run in a constant state of crisis. It just is because that's what people expect. It seems you and I have had pretty different experiences, Alle. Interesting to hear it from another perspective.

Antoine M Dillard

A lot can be said here...IMO a degree means more than just a skilled individual. I've meant so many artists that didnt go to school, were phenomenal, but were lazy. They couldn't get through a production if their life depended on it let alone a class. The willingless to learn & hunger trumps skill any day. A degree means you've been properly trained, motivated to see things through, have a good foundation and knowledge of related software , and take what you do serious enough to persue it as a career. The degree itself means nothing, but everything it represents means much much more than most people in our industry give it credit for.

Antoine M Dillard

Also, I 100% agree with you Nicholas the VFX work conditions NEED to change. There is just no arguing that.

Nicholas Boughen

Antoine, I don't have anything against a degree holder per se. It's the presumption that a degree means a person is capable that I take issue with. I have met many lazy degree holders and many hard-working people without degrees, also many hard working degree holders and many lazy people without degrees. So I don't believe a degree is any indication of potential for success. I definitely can not agree with the idea that a degree means you have been properly trained. I have retrained degree holders who spent 4-5 years learning nearly nothing. I'm confused by the remark "the willingness to learn & hunger trumps skill any day". In industry, the only thing that matters is skill. An employer will hire a skilled person over a hungry, willing, unskilled person any day. As someone who has spent many years recruiting crews, I can say that degrees have little bearing on whether or not a person is hired. Someone can come to an interview with 5 PhDs, but if they don't have the skills, I can't hire them.

Antoine M Dillard

Well, people are gonna be people & a degree isn't going to change that. If you're lazy & unreliable then you'll continue to be that unless you really want to change degree or not. The truth is that you have a degree you've been properly trained PERIOD. That's why accreditation companies exist, to make sure the school you attend meet the minimum requirements of whatever courses they offer. I'd like to point out as well that school is only a foundation not a mastery of your profession, that comes with industry experience. Now if they didn't pay attention, forgot everything they learned, or went to an unaccredited school that's a whole other issue. I realize that there are accredited colleges that drop the ball after accreditation but again I'm talking about the many not the few, the only absolute in life is death. So in keeping with the 90% to 98% of schools & their graduates then in fact YES they have been properly trained. My Remark of "the willingness to learn & hunger trumps skill any day" means that someone who is willing to learn and isn't married to any rules or concepts that define their role or the company's role is a MILLION times more valuable than someone who posses all the skill in the world. I have had the responsibility of hiring people for various companies I've worked & let me tell ya the most skilled people tend to have egos, because of experience, productions they've worked on, and awards they've won. Any employer that is willing to hire a more skilled person over a person that has a good foundation, hungry to do good work, & that can be molded into exactly what they need is a foolish employer.

Nicholas Boughen

Well then I am very happy to be counted as a "foolish employer". It would be absurd for an employer to pass up a skilled, able candidate for one who is not skilled but might be able to do the job in the future because they are so ready to learn. That just doesn't make any business sense. I would happily take a highly skilled team member with a bit of an ego over an unskilled person any day, because the skilled person can get the job one in one tenth the time, in other words at one tenth the cost. Who has the budget these days to train unskilled workers? Shouldn't they be getting their training at university? However regarding the point about ego, being skilled does not mean having an ego or being arrogant. Being skilled means only being skilled. Ego is independent of skill. There are also many people who are not skilled yet sport impressive egos. Most of the highly skilled people I have worked with are not egotistical or arrogant. And when they become very highly skilled and experienced, they become even less egotistical. Simply put, skilled workers can do the job. "Willingness to learn" and "hunger" without skill is useless to an employer that is on a deadline and simply needs people who are qualified to do the job. And I categorically refute the remark that "if you have a degree you've been properly trained PERIOD". This is simply not true. I have retrained numerous degree holders who were taught almost nothing, who were not prepared in any way for the industry and who were given no professional skills. I have reviewed demo reels from hundreds of university graduates who could not be hired because they were not properly trained. University is about getting grades, not acquiring training, skills or ability. If a university graduate were "properly trained" then they would be ready for industry. Very few are. ( I am talking about accredited, famous universities.) The concept that universities "properly train" people for industry is a myth. Universities provide a list of courses one must pass, offer numerous methods of acquiring the necessary grades, take no responsibility for student success or failure and then hand out paper degrees like they are worth something. In post production, they are not. Degrees are not competence, they are merely the appearance of competence. The greatest artists do not require the appearance of competence.

Antoine M Dillard

I can see this is no point to continue to post here. This is supposed be a topic about working conditions and it (for strange reason) turned quickly into "Who is best for hire" debate. Plus I feel like my views are somehow offending you. So this will be the last thing I post. Attitudes like that is EXACTLY whats wrong with our industry today. Is it any mystery why so many artist can't find jobs in the US & Entry to mid level positions exclusively exist overseas? Is there a doubt in your mind that your attitude is exactly why companies like Rhythm & Hues went bankrupt and almost closed its doors? Experienced artist means a bigger payout and alters company's overall overhead, I really hope I don't have to spell this out for a man in your position. I mean really sit down re-read what you wrote and think about what you typed. If you can't step back objectively and make that correlation, then you'll never see it. We can go back and forth arguing each others points about who to hire, and what candidates are best to hire. Obviously, we feel that our ways of doing things is the best way & that's fine. It's good to have an opinion & stick to your guns, that's part of what makes a good leader. Foolishly (There's that word again ;) ) not being able to see things objectively and know that good advice can come from anywhere is also a stumbling block for most leaders (food for thought). Just reading your posts I can CLEARLY tell that you've never been to school or have an strong issue with people that have (also 100% okay) but don't let your blinders be your weakness. Take Care Nick

Nicholas Boughen

Well I'm all in favor of a good debate, but a good debate does not include making baseless presumptions about the other such as remarks like this last one. First of all, I spent years in post secondary institutes, first as a student and later as a teacher, so I have real knowledge and experience to back up my position, not merely opinion. Second of all, i have no problem with people who have chosen to go for post secondary credentials. I am one of them. I just know that a credential does not necessarily make someone hire-able. I know this from 30 years of experience as team leader. I guess it turned into a "who is best to hire" discussion with the remark "hunger and willingness to learn trumps skill any day" as this implies that it is better to hire eager, unskilled people than it is to hire skilled, experienced people. But perhaps I misunderstood your meaning, sir. "Objectively" means without passion or bias. The choices and decisions I make in regard to hiring and this discussion are based on the need for a company and team to be healthy and successful. I know from many years of project management experience that it is very difficult to be healthy and successful without skilled workers. It doesn't get much more objective than that. Speaking of slowing down and re-reading remarks, perhaps it might be in order to re-read the remarks about how hiring unskilled people is better for the company than hiring skilled people. Hiring skilled people is not the reason Rhythm & Hues went bankrupt. Digital media expanding outside of the US was not caused by hiring experienced workers. If anything, the refusal to hire unskilled workers probably slowed down globalization. Experienced artists are far less expensive than inexperienced artists. For example, a senior artist can do 4 - 5 times the amount of work that an inexperienced artist can do and 8-10 times the amount that an unskilled, trainable person can do, but only costs two to three times as much. The mistaken belief that junior, inexperienced people can do the same quantity or quality of work as skilled, experienced people is one of the things that causes the culture of crisis in the industry today and is a primary factor in the current awful working conditions. Honestly I find the concept that it is better to hire unskilled people very odd. So odd, in fact, that I discussed it with several industry colleagues just to see if I was really missing something in the discussion, however they found the remarks odd as well. Perhaps we are having a miscommunication and not understanding each others meaning properly. You are obviously an intelligent person with experiences and views you consider to be valid and I would like to understand. To clarify, when I refer to "skilled" workers, I mean "someone who is capable of doing the job". Therefore it would not make sense for me to hire an "unskilled" worker regardless of their good intentions and desire to learn because they are not "someone who is capable of doing the job". It will cost me tens of thousands of dollars to train an unskilled person and it will dramatically slow down my ability to react to client needs. It will also seriously slow down my leadership and middle management teams who will spend a great deal of time hand-holding the unskilled workers. If there were big, fat profits in VFX, one might be willing to do this to mold future talent. But profit margins are thin. Nobody can afford to do it. I would like to better understand the logical path that hiring unskilled workers is better as I can't see how it is good to have a company filled with people I am paying but who can't do the job. But alas, I suppose the debate is ended. Have a great day and thank you for taking so much time to discuss this topic. BTW, no offense is taken at all, I'm just seriously confused by the logic that it's better to hire unskilled people than it is to hire skilled people.

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