The Price Of Humanity

There were a lot of reasons behind the birth of this blog. Some of it had to do with the general business of vfx and some of it had to do with the general issues workers go through.

I would even admit that some of the reasons were personal and I’d like to tell you one of the many stories that led to the creation of this blog.

The One That I Let Get Away

A few months ago, I was in the middle of a project taking a lunch break at a local eatery waiting for a sandwich. Earlier, on the way in I noticed a young woman casually glance at me.

She was beautiful and in the corner of my eye I could see her try to get a little closer to me to see if she could engage my curiosity even more.

Instead of waiting, she decided to take the initiative and jumped in front of me to grab a menu. Without even looking at it she stared at me and asked:

“Hi there. Do you know what’s good here?”

With my eyes fixed firmly on the cash register, I swiftly pointed to my far right and said:

“The sandwiches over there are good.”

She seemed confused for a second and I finalized things by stepping forward and grabbing my sandwich to leave. As I walked out of the restaurant a part of me reveled in my terminator-like quickness at shooting her down.

What the hell was I thinking?

A beautiful woman who didn’t know anything about me was genuinely interested in me and even took the initiative. Situations that good only happen in movies and I shot her down immediately.

I started back-tracking in wonder how I came to be this way. What if that woman was the person I was supposed to marry and have children with?

Can VFX Artists Have Families?

The problem was even if we were perfect for each other I felt my career in VFX would hinder our ability to make things work. You all know the story: How could I make any personal commitments to spend my life with someone when my next job could be in the UK, NZ, or Canada.

Who am I to ask that she commit to me and give up her career to globetrot with me when she wants to settle down and have children. Even if my next job was in town, how can we firmly plant ourselves somewhere to raise a family?

I know what you are thinking. Look, everyone goes through that and you just have to go forward and do it. You only live once.

However, for many of my colleagues who are married or have children, they are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to finding work. Some of them are underwater in their mortgages and forced to leave their family to work overseas.

What gets to me is the initial enjoyment I had for a moment of preventing any of that happening when the young woman approached me. I worked so hard to get into VFX to making a living out of it.

What was I living for?

I couldn’t confidently maintain a relationship with anyone or have a family. I couldn’t own a home or even have furniture for my place. My friends jokingly say I live like the Unabomber.

What I was realizing is that I was losing my humanity and becoming a total sociopath. I was taking pleasure in denying my compassion for others.

What Have We Become?

Unfortunately this situation isn’t unique. A few weeks later I talked to a worker about a story I heard of a woman who won a lawsuit against LucasFilm for allegedly being fired after she revealed she was pregnant.

While I expressed my support for the pregnant woman, my co-worker immediately expressed disgust. He felt LucasFilm was  right in firing the woman even though it’s against the law. LucasFilm denies that they fired her for being pregnant but the jury felt differently. The discussion went on about federal maternity leave law and he felt that should be done away with too.

I’d like to think these are all unique incidents but then I listen to the fxguide’s podcast with Lee Stranahan and found myself agreeing about the depressed feeling he had for the humanity of artists when we allow ourselves to denigrate our craft and deny ourselves the most important things we should live for.

Seriously, read some of the comments on cgtalk and Lee’s website and ask yourself if this isn’t a race to the bottom:

In short, nobody owes me anything, and if the industry picks up and moves to China tomorrow, then oh well. Good for them. I’m not entitled to this line of work, and I’m not entitled to it being awesome. If it’s not what I want, or I feel cheated, then I have the freedom to walk.

I don’t consider what I do at work to be art at all. Not by a long shot… There is a world of difference between wanting to be treated fairly as an employee, and having an over-inflated opinion about your contribution to the projects you’re working on. When my name comes up in the credits of a film, it’s one of hundreds. Accepting that I am not all special and deserve special treatment and glory and royalties is simply not the same thing as being “brainwashed”. It’s about being realistic. As a couple of people in this thread said, if you want glory and royalties and all that stuff, go make your own films.

See, here’s the problem. You (thats you, as in most cg people) are a worker, youre not an artist. Artists in the traditional sense create *their* own artistic vision. If youre creating someone else’s ideas, in the style they dictate, on the subject they choose within the timeframe they specify, youre not creating art, youre essentially an illustrator. You’re the modern day equivalent of an inbetweener. You take someone else’s lead and you do the donkey work creating all the textures, model assets, rigs, animation sequences.

as for the older folks..bagging grocery’s at whole foods is more respectable than working in CG after age 35. you want your children knowing you work with people half your age who think that michael bay films are cool and california rolls are exotic? get out while you can.

What I’m trying to say is we need to start thinking about being humane again. This industry can bring the best out of us and also the worst at times. I know I’ve fallen for it and look back in regret.

Soldier On.

15 Responses to The Price Of Humanity

  1. anonymous says:

    I work with several people that have families, actually now that I think of it about 10 out of 20 of them do, and they’ve been with the company for several years now. Everyone’s career path is different, some people are willing to jump from one country to the next, whereas some artist can stay in a city and go from one vfx house to the next within that city. It just depends on the individuals priorities, family first, work second, vice-versa. VFX artists have options.

  2. anonymous says:

    All these and more are reasons I’m trying to get out of the industry before my life passes me by. I’d like to see some discussion of other careers to which our unusual skill set can be applied.

  3. Rob N says:

    Sorry Soldier, but this post is off the mark. It’s not easy meeting the right person or keeping that relationship going but it’s very possible. I know boatloads of people in the VFX biz that are either in relationships or married. It’s more difficult in that the hours can be rough to be sure. However, it’s important to maintain the balance of life vs work. That part is up to the employee to take care.
    I have really liked your posts so far but this one is very defeatist and not really worthy of being on this space.

    • vfxsoldier says:

      Apologies, but I think you are misunderstanding my post.

      What I was trying to point out is that there are some artists that take pleasure in their denial of compassion to others and allow us to denigrate our craft.

      I firmly believe we should not let ourselves deny the most important things we should live for: Family.

      • Rob N says:

        I haven’t met the people that are that way, I guess. For some people, family is not important but living life and seeing the world is. For others, they love the work so much it consumes them. I’ve met quite a few in the biz and certainly have not met anyone that offhanded, which is a good thing.

  4. VFX WTF says:

    At lunch the other day. Everyone one agreed how rude it was that a few of the crew left after a 16 hour shoot. (working for free)

    “well. really. They had agreed to work on the film, what quitters.”

    Could you imagine if i asked you to
    help me paint my house. and after 16 hours of working for free you decided that that was too much?

    no one in their right mind would blame you.

    But in film. (it’s art)

    well. It’s not art. it’s learned complacency. and we are all complicit.

    • skaplan839 says:

      Learned Complacency ..

      Thank you WTF, that’s my next post.

      Steve Kaplan
      Labor Organizer
      The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE
      skaplan@animationguild.org

    • Rob N says:

      Generally if you agree to work on a free film you know you’re getting into a bit of uncharted territory. You know it’s going to run behind. You know there are gonna be issues. It’s at that point you decide if you’re doing the freebie or not. If you do it, stand by your word and do it. If you have prior time commitments let the production know so they can plan. If those people walked and were not communicative with the producing team then it’s unfortunate for everyone.

  5. leigh says:

    Well well well, I can across this from a link on Facebook, and just have to respond, considering I am being quoted in the post.

    “the depressed feeling he had for the humanity of artists when we allow ourselves to denigrate our craft”

    Thanks, but I don’t think someone who has never, ever met me and knows absolutely fuck all about me is in any position to be making any statements about my “humanity” simply because of my opinion about my day job, which, as it happens, I haven’t changed. As I said elsewhere in the discussion, and which you’ve conveniently chosen to ignore in your cherry-picking of comments, is that art is something I do in my free time, not at my job. Because art, for me, is about personal expression of emotions and/or intellectual ideas for the purposes of stirring the viewer internally, and there’s not a whole lot of room for that when I am projecting photos onto models and cleaning up the results. Did I say I don’t like my job? Never. I wouldn’t have been in this game for the last 10+ years if I didn’t have fun at work.

    Stop being so over-dramatic. And stop projecting all your own excuses for your own life (or an apparent lack thereof from the sounds of things) onto everyone else. “Artists deny compassion to others”? Maybe you do. But you certainly don’t speak for everyone.

    My personal life trumps my job in priority any day. It seems you just haven’t figured out how to do that yourself, and in the meantime are content to blame your job for that, instead of blaming yourself.

    Leigh van der Byl

    • vfxsoldier says:

      Hi Leigh,

      Thanks for finding my blog through Facebook. However there seems to be a discrepancy between what you are saying here on my blog and what you are saying on Facebook.

      Here you say:
      my opinion about my day job, which, as it happens, I haven’t changed.

      Did I say I don’t like my job? Never. I wouldn’t have been in this game for the last 10+ years if I didn’t have fun at work.

      However, on facebook you also commented on someone’s post about how unappreciated he felt as a vfx artist:

      I’m genuinely surprised that it still bothers you, ____. I thought you’d been in this industry long enough to not give a shit anymore. I know I stopped caring years ago myself😛 You need to become more jaded and apathetic!

      I’m all for keeping work and life separate but when we choose to “make a living” as vfx artists there is alot that life depends on how we make that living.

      Part of what I do on my blog is help point artists to a mechanism in the industry that creates a framework that supports living. Many artists in my industry are getting older. Health insurance is getting more expensive and as you might know, many of my fellow artist lose their health insurance for their families in between jobs. Many of them contribute to retirement but when they start at new facilities, they are stuck with waiting 6-12 months to make their contributions. These are only a few of the companies that actually provide benefits. Many of those artists are on contracts that are shorter than those waiting periods.

    • Vfxartist says:

      Leigh,

      Ouch!

  6. Anon-non says:

    I don’t know you or Leigh but I think it’s really inappropriate to quote things that other people say on Facebook without getting their permission first. It probably wouldn’t matter if this was a private “rantings on life” kind of blog, but to take what other people are saying about their job out of context and into the public for scrutiny is just wrong. Frankly, I read what she said (as you posted above) as sarcasm amongst friends just trying to get through life. If you have something to say VFX Soldier, go for it but don’t drag others into the conversation unless they are willing participants… just sayin’

    • vfxsoldier says:

      I randomly came across the comment quite a while ago and was a bit surprised at the comment I received today.

      Many of us in the industry try to shove the problems we face in the industry under a rug.

      I’m sorry that some are denying this is a problem.

      • Ash says:

        Sorry VFX soldier, but if you want to be taken seriously as someone who cares about these issues, and as a commentator with integrity, I do think you go about it the wrong way sometimes.

        When you quote someone unawares, making judgements on them as a person and their beliefs, I think they have a right to reply. Leigh set the record straight on what she really believes and I don’t think you’re helping yourself by then pulling Facebook quotes out of context to suggest she’s a hypocrite or untruthful (especially when that was presumably from a tongue in cheek conversation someone has had on a friend’s wall,judging by the smiley – I don’t even know what is being discussed as you gave no link to the source). It’s bad journalism, lowers the level of discourse and unfortunately makes me question the validity of what you write in the future.

        Lets have less of ad hominem arguments over irrelevancies and more discussion of the real issues. It just does yourself a disservice, confuses and misdirects from the real point you’re trying to make and undermines some of the important causes you’re fighting for.

  7. […] Earlier, I subscribed this reticence to fear. This fear also manifests itself in a much angrier and self righteous way. One commenter in VFX Soldier’s blog called it Learned Complacency. […]

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