Why VFX Isn’t ‘All Going To India’

Number of Roto Artist job postings in the last 5 years

I regularly check job postings on a popular Los Angeles VFX forum.

One thing that I found curiously unusual this year was the huge amount of job postings for Roto artists.

With the amount of stereoscopic 3D work, it’s no surprise that roto artists are needed.

However, since roto artists are cheaply available in India, why aren’t more producers going there for the work?

For those of you unfamiliar with the vfx craft, roto artists essentially trace elements in a live action shot on a frame by frame basis so compositors can push and pull those same elements to interact correctly with visual effects.

If that sounds pretty tedious, you’re right. The work is so tedious that it was named one of the most miserable vfx jobs in a recent article.

It’s no surprise that much of the Roto Artist work here was the first to go to India in an outsourcing wave that hit many US vfx facilities.

However, Roto artists are very important because bad roto work can make a finished shot look fake no matter how well the elements look.

One Roto Artist I know lost her job during that surge and today there are so many Roto jobs in Los Angeles that she gets calls from various facilities seeking her availability to do work.

Just to give you a small glimpse into how much work there is I curiously searched the archives of this particular job posting forum and was able to calculate the number of Roto Artist job posts each year:

  • 2006 – 28  jobs
  • 2007 – 52  jobs
  • 2008 – 70  jobs
  • 2009 – 29  jobs
  • 2010 – 113  jobs (and 2010 isn’t over yet)

Some of these posts may be redundant and some are for jobs outside of Los Angeles. However the majority of them were concentrated in Los Angeles. I could do a more in depth search to further prove the point but the surge in job postings for roto artists has been pretty substantial.

Why Didn’t It All Go To India?

There are some fantastic artists in India. I have no problem with work going there. If someone can do the same work for less or do better quality work at the same price, more power to them. However Indians don’t want to be a cheap source of labor. I know many talented Indian artists trained in India and came here to work in the LA VFX market. They want to race to the top, not the bottom.

However, I always hear the argument by some of my misinformed colleagues that no matter what we do, all the work will eventually go to India because it’s cheaper.

Afterall, we always hear the argument by VFX producers that VFX is a commodity: The same work can by done anywhere, all that matters is price.

I was explaining the point to my mother the other day. Gasoline is a commodity and it’s the same at every gas station.

So what’s the only thing that matters?

“The price!”, she responded.

I then pointed to the nice HDTV I got her for her birthday and said that the TV could be made anywhere also, and all that matters is the price.

“What about the quality?”, she interrupted me.

That realization she made is the same one many management consultants in the VFX Industry are realizing: Quality matters.

You would think that commoditization would be very true for Roto Artist work. A worker in India can do the work for much less than an LA artist.

So why didn’t all the roto work go to India with the huge surge of 3D stereoscopic work?

If you remember, Clash Of The Titans was a film shot in 2D that had all of it’s stereoscopic 3D conversion work done in India.

There was a strong disapproval from critics and the audience about the quality of the conversion. It was panned by James Cameron and Jeffery Katzenberg.

The criticism was so strong that is was part of the reason WB decided to forgo the conversion of the latest Harry Potter film.

The Indian Exodus

Steve Wright, a famous writer and teacher on vfx compositing, prophesied what he called The Indian Exodus.

He has taught in India and has mentioned some of the problems with the VFX in India: The cost was rising faster than the quality.

Others have also made the same prediction. Sramana Mitra called it The Death Of Indian Outsourcing.

While here in Los Angeles, the cost, while not being cheap, has stayed relatively the same and has usually been of high quality.

So if “simple” vfx tasks such as roto demand well paid, talented artists in LA to do it, what is the lesson learned about other artists such as animators, lighters, character tds, and effects artists?

The lesson learned is that yes commoditization has occured in our industry:

The vfx facilities are commodities but the talent is not.

Soldier On.

18 Responses to Why VFX Isn’t ‘All Going To India’

  1. anonymous says:

    having worked on a very very big 3d stereo conversion project recently that was canceled mid way through it was clear that the roto artists in india where not the problem but rather the management and home pipeline that was too quickly set up without testing (making your theory that the shops are just a commodity wrong). 98% of the roto jobs went to india and they would have send the other 2% over there as well if they could have. Surprisingly that was the one element that seemed to have worked better then anything else. also there are not even enough qualified compositors out there at the moment so you will have a very hard time to find roto artists.

    • vfxsoldier says:

      ILM probably has one of the best pipelines in the industry and a global focus. They have recently opened a pod in LA looking for roto, paint, and matchmove artists in LA. Again, why didn’t they go to India instead?

  2. duh says:

    You should be asking that question to ILM.

    Beside, you have a problem with outsourcing. Now that its not going to India or China you seem to have a problem with that as well? Apart from that, we have worked with an Indian studio before who gave us a really good output and the quality was never a problem for us. Atleast till date.

  3. steve hulett says:

    How about this:

    If price were the only consideration, all car manufacturing would be done in Nicaragua … or Bangladesh … or Vietnam.

    But that isn’t the only consideration, and never is.

  4. behrampattt says:

    “If you remember, Clash Of The Titans was a film shot in 2D that had all of it’s stereoscopic 3D conversion work done in India.”

    Depends on how you look at it actually.Given the circumstances (deadliine etc) i’d say they did a good(enough) job or the plug would have been pulled. Like anonymous pointed out,problem could have been closer to the source.

    If the execution was so bad explain this then…
    http://www.animationxpress.com/index.php?file=story&id=33091

    Dont get me started on Steve-Wrong.

    b

  5. Xavier says:

    You make some good points Soldier, but I’m afraid that you are overlooking one massive variable in your analysis: the US dollar is dropping like a brick, making any kind of foreign work less affordable to US companies.

    • vfxsoldier says:

      You are correct, quantitative easing by the US is lowering the US dollar and making it more expensive to travel or do work overseas.

      If you read some of my posts on The Hobbit in New Zealand I point out that WB has issues with the record rise in the NZD. This is true for other countries.

      I doubt this is true for India. If you look at the value of the USD to the INR, it has been relatively stable:

      http://tinyurl.com/24wf5hx

    • VFX WTF says:

      Look down…

      Look around you.

      If you can’t see 20 different nationalities in the studio you’re working in you are probably not in a VFX studio.

      Now look at India.

      Imagine trying to find 1000 equivalent skill artists in India.

      now….stop laughing.

      now look at the artist beside you. Ask him if he wants to work in Bangalore.

      • ashok kumar says:

        hi iam ashok from hyd iam working in Prime focus hyderabadm, i want go anto oyher country can u help me bye

  6. […] even the most outsourced tasks such as rotoscoping have made a huge come back in California. There have been job posts for roto artists in California almost on a daily basis. If it’s so […]

  7. […] fact, I pointed out that “commoditized” work such as roto has made a come back here in the US. There are regular job postings daily for roto artists. Why aren’t they all just going to […]

  8. Ashish .Kumar says:

    I m fresher trying for fx artist job in mumbai tell me something about fx artist job in india , and which job is better in this industry. And what about compositer job in india ,and how to try for others country for the job plz tell me . what is condition of india for this industry its good or bad . What is the reqirement for other countrys

  9. Puneet says:

    Hi,

    I m a 3D Artist.. I wants to move in VFX.. could u guys guid me.. which field is good for carrier … compositor/ rotoscoping/ stereoscopic… etc…

    If possible send me some sites which provides jobs links in VFX…

    Thanks

  10. Demetrius says:

    If you’re looking to expand your Artist Career, you should check out artalia artist consultants (artalia.net) , they are very affordable and really good help. They helped me out a lot.

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