Alex Alvarez Response On Gnomon Studios

No squirrels were interned during the making of this photo.

Alex Alvarez responded to a thread about Gnomon Studios. Steve Hulett’s response is here.

I have great respect for Alex Alvarez. I owe a lot of my education to him and Gnomon. I pointed out that there is a market of vfx facilities that prey upon students for free labor through unpaid internships. Even after years of experience, when I’m sending out my reel for jobs, I occasionally get a response from a vfx boutique that says “we aren’t hiring right now but we are offering an unpaid internship”.

I started this blog hoping to guide fellow vfx artists through the mine field that is the vfx industry. It used to be that if a company treated you poorly you could just quit and go to another facility. However, with the way the industry has been, I’ve started to notice that even the good institutions start to do questionable things. Lucasfilm recently lossed a lawsuit for denying a woman a job because she was pregnant. What has become of our industry?

That’s part of the reason I was so angered to hear what was happening at Gnomon. Many of us in the industry respect Gnomon as a good institution and don’t want to see it’s demise. I want to respond to a few of the things Alex said:

Some people seem to be jumping to conclusions without taking the time to contact me or Gnomon (i.e. the vfxsoldier guy)

Sources at Gnomon have expressed concern to me over Gnomon Studios. Students had mixed feelings about not being paid and others felt the students were being exploited. There was also concern that more resources were being devoted to the studio rather than the school curriculum and the computer lab that needed updating. If those sources are wrong then I’m sorry but they matter if it’s true.

However, there are studios and companies out there in a wide variety of fields that offer unpaid internships to students. This has happened for a long long time. My first industry job was an unpaid internship at Alias|Wavefront in 1995. At this time this was a HUGE opportunity for me and in many ways it is because of that internship that I was later offered a salaried job there and eventually made the contacts I needed to start Gnomon in 1997. So my personal experience with an unpaid internship was rather positive. My .02c

People work unpaid internships all the time and it had led to many opportunities but that doesn’t justify the means of unpaid labor. What’s so hard about paying people? The Animation Guild has rules for trainees and one of them is a pay scale minimum of $23 an hour. There are plenty of other paying methods to get your foot in the door. Artists I know started off working as render wranglers and coordinators. Those starting positions were paid (some wranglers get paid more than artists!) with no questions asked, but production work? Oh we can’t pay you to do that.

When Green Lantern came in, I wanted to pay the students and was told by our compliance officer that we were not allowed to. I find this strange but it has contributed to why we are not doing any more production work. As I get more production work for myself, if I choose to ask a student to work with me on it, it will be done outside of the studio internship program so that I can pay them.

A compliance officer? Really? Come on, if you paid those artists on Green Lantern would the school be found in violation or shut down or something? It’s good to see that you want to pay them but you can see less noble vfx businesses go the opposite direction with this. Giving naive and desperate artists that just got out of school and deep in debt a lame excuse to do unpaid work is a situation I’m fighting against.

Trust me, Gnomon is not the enemy and all we aim to do is empower artists.

I trust you, but I also hope you are with me to verify that. The same goes for all artists in our industry. We need to stop turning the cheek when we see unpaid labor and overtime and stand up together. Why are guys like me so big on having minimum standards of pay for our industry? It’s so we stop the race to the bottom and begin the rise to the top. Felix Salmon says it best:

Without unions and minimum-wage laws, corporations compete on who can pay the least. With them, they compete on who has the best employees and they invest significantly in those employees.

Soldier On.

15 Responses to Alex Alvarez Response On Gnomon Studios

  1. steve hulett says:

    Soldier:

    Here’s the problem: Somebody made money creating the effects for a couple of professional-type projects. Sadly, it wasn’t the students who contributed their labor to these two films.

    Indentured labor has a long history, but it was phased out long ago. Pinning the blame for the free work on a “compliance officer” doesn’t erase the fact that some exploitation was going on.

    I mean, how else can anyone regard this?

    • vfxsoldier says:

      I would regard it more as negligence. Nobody needs to lose their job or go out of business. The kids felt uncomfortable about not being paid. I just want to see them paid. I’m hopeful that the next time Gnomon does this they’ll pay them.

      • I think the bigger issue is will the audience buy a ticket when the work is inconsistent? The vendors on Green Lantern are all over the place and I think without solid leadership and a strong vision the end product will be a mess. Green Lantern cost so much money to produce and yet the numbers at the box office were well below other VFX heavy films. Why? You have to ask yourself, who is buying the ticket, and will they pay to watch something which is inconsistent? Will there be a Green Lantern 2? I doubt it, but I can say with confidence that there will be a Transformers 4, 5 and 6. So, is it really worth it in the end to undercut the people with years of experience by hiring cheap labor? It takes years of practice to achieve high quality effects and the price that comes with that experience is not something that can just be replaced with brute force numbers. As the saying goes, “9 pregnant women will never be able to deliver a baby in ONE month.”

  2. vfx artist says:

    “There was also concern that more resources were being devoted to the studio rather than the school curriculum and the computer lab that needed updating.”
    Your sources are probably students who are totally unaware of a business’s pocket book and financial decisions. They are 2 separate companies. One’s finances would not affect the other. Goodness you are gullible.

  3. vfx artist says:

    Unless you’re looking at their accounts you wouldn’t know so it’s just speculation, rumor and gossip.

  4. vfx artist says:

    and what is your source? again, unless you’re looking at the accounts this claim is not valid.
    “There was also concern that more resources were being devoted to the studio rather than the school curriculum and the computer lab that needed updating.”
    I’ve actually taken classes at gnomon (in their computer labs) and these two companies do not even share the same “resources”. There are people who work at the school and those at the studio. They are not one in the same. Most gnomon people know that except, your… “sources”

    • vfxsoldier says:

      I think you need to re-read my article. People and students at Gnomon were concerned over resources being devoted to the studio and not the school. They were also concerned that students were being exploited by doing unpaid work.

      What does an account have to do with that? Secondly, what do you accomplish by taking the position that these students shouldn’t be paid?

      As wrong as I think your position is, I would be the first one to take a stand in making sure you get paid.

  5. Doc says:

    I agree it’s exploitative — I think if an educational institution works on a ‘professional project’ the final piece should only be used and distributed/exhibited as an educational product.

    So if Shane Acker takes his short that’s being produced at Gnomon and markets it as a professional piece I believe that’s wrong. Very wrong. On the same side of the coin I think Gnomon will be in the wrong if they try to advertise their ‘professional production studio’ as just that and not educational.

    It’s definitely a dangerous gray area for sure!

  6. lewis says:

    This is Worse than Walmart and other companies who send their labor to foreign countries and pay workers $1 a day for 60 hours a week or more. If you’re not going to pay the students for Professional work at least feed them or offer them other free services. Just like when Indie fillmakers can’t pay actors,what do they offer? Free food everyday if possible. This is like buying a new car and making the customer wash. Some of the cars on the parking lot. Or buying food at mcdonalds and having to clean up everyones mess after THEY. Are done eating.

  7. Kyuzo says:

    Has anybody even posed the question of the product?
    “Ohh, the poor students, oooh we’re so upset for them” My first job was 10 months of free work because that was the only way you could get one. Suck it up students. I don’t feel sorry for you at all. The problem I do have is selling student work as professional quality film work!? This is shifty and unacceptable.With soo many professionals killing each other to get a job for student wages,to basically undercut everybody in the industry and sell student work as professional is unreal. Apparently money is the ONLY thing moving this industry. I’ve ALWAYS respected Alex and LOVE Gnomon, but I would like to see a 3 week Gnomon student who use to be a plumber do some concept work that takes from Alex’s plate and even though it looks nowhere near his skill level get’s sold as the same thing!YES interns have been used everywhere for ever,but it’s like a FEW interns, not a whole team! Not to mention seeing Gnomon videos coming out from guys with less than 4 yrs experience,which is an infant in VFX terms. This all adds up to a sub-par product and a client who is cautious and more difficult next time.In no way is this internship/professional artist new team a good thing and I will unfortunately not support Gnomon until it decides if it is a school or a studio.

  8. Deke Kincaid says:

    I missed this article when it first came out but just saw it and did want to comment. I understand you don’t like unpaid labor but Alex is actually fallowing the law. If a school for work program exists where you are getting school credit, legally according to the Department of Labor you can not both pay the person and give them school credit. He can loose both his accreditation and the right to offer student loans. This is the same reason why both teachers, medical students and law students intern for free all over the country. Go start complaining to the Supreme Court and the DOL before people start complaining about Gnomon and Alex.

    http://www.dol.gov/elaws/esa/flsa/scope/er15astw.asp

    6. The employer and the trainees or students understand that the trainees or students are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

  9. GeUSMC disabled veteran says:

    You would expect a school like Gnomon School of Digital Arts would take all necessary steps regarding students safety, as a former student, I can say from personal experience that the safety issue is in question, no details can be revealed because of a discovery period regarding a pending personal injury lawsuit.
    However it was made clear from the lack of action from Gnomans staff members that the safety of its students are at the bottom of their list.
    Another question arises regarding a creditation, Gnoman School of Digital Arts

  10. disabled veteran says:

    You would expect a school like Gnomon School of Digital Arts would take all necessary steps regarding students safety, as a former student, I can say from personal experience that the safety issue is in question, no details can be revealed because of a discovery period regarding a pending personal injury lawsuit.
    However it was made clear from the lack of action from Gnomans staff members that the safety of its students are at the bottom of their list.
    Another question arises regarding a creditation regarding Gnoman School of Digital Arts.
    How did the school qualify for a creditation when the school could not possibly meet ADA requirements as mandated by the state of California?
    My guess is if disabled, wheel chair bound, or suffer any other physical handicap, Gnoman will find an excuse to denied entry to the school, or dismissed any students injury that happens on campus.
    GNOMAN SCHOOL OF DIGITAL ARTS may be the best school regarding the digital arts feild, however the school still has to work on providing a safe enviroment to its students with out prejudice.
    Anyone currently attending the school will agree without question, that it would be a challenge for any student with handicap to attend the school, since the majority of the classes are on the second level up, without any access to any elevators. The only way for students to access their classes is to use the many stairs and cat walks that are not well maintained.

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