A vfx artist wrote a blog post:
Fast forward to 2010. With a decade of practice, India’s animation companies are now every bit as good as Hollywood houses, at a tenth of the price. If I was an entrepreneur, I’d be stupid to go with a Hollywood house. Just sayin’.
A common cynical thing I hear from some artists who have been laid off is “my job got outsourced to India” or “I better not ask for a raise this year or they will outsource my job”. I’ve posted in abundance that vfx jobs are going to the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia because of government subsidies, not because the labor is cheaper.
So when I look at the evidence and get asked which countries are most threatened by outsourcing of vfx work you know what my answer is?
India and China.
The first image we have in our head is some poor Indian kid working hours out of a hut doing vfx. This is just not the case. As Technicolor’s General Manager in India said:
I see Indian studios themselves farming out work in the near future.
Why? Many of us are making the wrong assumptions about these developing nations.
The Cost Of Living Is Lower In China and India
False. In the global economy iPhones, iPads and other items have become a part of everyday living. What really blows many of my colleagues away is the cost of homes in countries like Shanghai, Beijing, Banglore, and Mumbai. Look at some of these ridiculous prices for such small apartments that rival LA and San Francisco:
- Banglore – $84 – $138 per sqft
- Shanghai – $255 – $283 per sqft
- Beijing – $392 – $570 per sqft
- Mumbai – $1109 – $1950 per sqft !!!!
The Wages Are Lower In China and India
This is true but not for long. Given the high cost of living, salaries in these developing countries are rapidly increasing. Year after year, Indian wages have had double-digit increases. Chinese laborers have protested and even committed suicide at a Chinese iPhone factory fighting for huge increases in wages. US salaries have either fallen or stayed stagnant.
The Quality Of Work In China and India Rivals The US
This is laughably untrue. Ask any vfx worker who has had to deal with Chinese and Indian vfx vendors and they will tell you the pain and the amount of extra iterations needed to get a vfx shot right. Will the work that they do improve? Yes. Will the work they do someday match ours? Yes, in maybe 10 years. However that is based on the assumption that US vfx work will not improve. As great as the developments have been in vfx, it’s still the tip of the iceberg. The level of improvement of vfx work in China and India has not kept pace with the rise in wages.
Catch 22 For India And China
The dilemma India and China face is that the first word that comes to mind for many producers is: CHEAP. The dwindling cost advantage has even made some Indian’s call for “The Coming Death Of Indian Outsourcing“:
The reality is that wages are rising in India. The cost advantage for offshoring to India used to be at least 1:6. Today, it is at best 1:3. Attrition is scary.
As wages rise in these countries they themselves will eventually be forced to send work to other countries with cheap labor. The cycle will keep repeating and continue. At some point, producers catch on that this costs them more money for very little quality. The video above is from Roadside Romeo, an animated film produced in India. It cost Disney $7 million over 2 years to make the film. The worldwide gross for the film was $2 million, $55,000 in the US. I’m pretty sure I could get a small group of US vfx workers and make something spectacular with the same time and budget.
What producers fail to miss is that vfx isn’t just about creating art, it’s an involved process that requires problem solving. Every shot is it’s own unique problem. It requires tools and convoluted pipelines and methods to solve those problems. If it was so easy to outsource vfx, why hasn’t that happened for flash animation? Flash is much easier to learn and execute than most vfx programs and while there are Indian vendors that offer Flash animation services, there is still a job market for Flash animators here in the states.
The American Dream
I am in no way saying that all Indian and Chinese artists are bad. There are many excellent artists there. The problem is they hit the pay ceiling too fast in those countries since it’s expected their work should be cheap. So what do those artists do? They leave and some of them come to America.
One Chinese artist I worked with barely knew any English. His new car had dents and scratches all over from his bad driving. When we would go to lunch he would pull the parking brake at intersections so he wouldn’t accidentally run a red light. He was new to the country and struggling to get used to living in California. It made me wonder why he came here when he could have just stayed in China. He tells me in broken English:
Work looks easy now. What’s the next step? I don’t want to get old and die like this. I’m greedy man!
No. You’re not Greedy. You’re an American.
It’s the thing we all too commonly forget. Every human being yearns to live to their fullest potential. Nobody likes to get ripped off whether they live in Mumbai or San Francisco. We all want the same thing and in vfx that means rising to the top, not racing to the bottom.