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.