What Is The Croner VFX Survey?

VFX recruiter Lisa McNamara chimed in with some comments on my last article. I thank her and appreciate the comments from reading my blog however there was something she mentioned that generated more questions than answers for me:

Actually, when i was referring to standardized salaries, what i was thinking of was having a delineated range for each position. The Croner survey seeks to address that issue and while many studios follow its guidelines, there are no rules stating that they must adhere to them. Union shops have such a salary structure in place, but because many shops are non-union, there are no mandated salary structures.

Let me quickly answer the union thing because I want to address The Croner survey. Lisa can correct me if I’m wrong but it clearly states in The Animation Guild contracts that their contracts are essentially minimums (Article 4, Paragraph C, page 7):

Nothing in this agreement shall prevent any individual from negotiating and obtaining better conditions and terms of employment than those herein provided.

The Croner Survey

I’ve worked in this industry for a while and I’ve never heard of The Croner survey. I looked it up to find that The Croner Company is a management consulting firm that conducts compensation surveys to share between companies that participate.

So I guess it’ll be okay for me to refer the companies that participate in The Croner Survey as Cronies! If anyone has a copy of this report email it to me anonymously and I’ll release the info on my blog.

All jokes aside, the list of participants is pretty extensive and includes some of the largest companies to employ vfx artists such as DreamWorks, Disney, Blizzard, Pixar, Sony, Lucasfilm, and Digital Domain. Makes you wonder why some of them find it so easy to get together to prevent wage wars when it seems so hard for some of them to get together and stop underbidding each other.

If you’re a vfx artist that works for one of those companies then you must be relieved to know that they are sharing your compensation information to make sure that they aren’t paying you too low right? Of course not. The companies pay to participate in this to keep wages down, not up.

What compounds this problem is artists were never notified that the companies they work for were participating in such a survey and would even bother to share the results with them. Furthermore, with the recent revelation of collusion between Lucasfilm and Pixar, surveys like these only beg that the Department of Justice expand the scope of their investigation.

However, how can this be possible with only 60 days left to comment on their settlement and the fact that most VFX artists are too apathetic to even bother signing a rep card or participating in many of the VFX union meetings?

At least for the artists who are members of TAG at Disney and DreamWorks have some say to rectify the issue, but for the rest of us what option do we have? I know the old saying that “losing ain’t an option” but given the way it’s been going for VFX artists losing seems to be the method of choice.

Where Is Your Free Market System Now?

Personally speaking, what this latest revelation does combined with the Pixar/Lucasfilm collusion scandal is provide further evidence of just how much of a fantasy world some of us live in. I’ve heard so many lectures about meritocracy and letting the free market system determine your value but how can this be possible when companies share this kind of information?

Of course the response from such grandstanding know-it-alls is that since no law exists to prevent it it must be okay right?

Nevermind that it furthers the advantage against vfx artists and opens the door for illegal anti-competitive salary agreements. However, the irony here is that the law supports a mechanism for individuals’ freedom to enter agreements that involve sharing wage information and agreeing not to undercut each other by agreeing to minimum wages: That mechanism is called a union.

The chutzpah some have expressed against the very notion of a union and at the same time support for “free market” corporate collusion is galling. While sharing of wage information between companies may be celebrated by some at forums like cgtalk, sharing of wage information between artists at cgtalk will get you banned!

Why Aren’t They Going To India And China Instead?

Speaking of being banned, VFXTalk owner Jah was so convinced that he could crowdsource vfx work that he banned objecting senior vfx artists. He then exclusively offered free vip memberships to Indian and Chinese vfx artists naive enough to fall prey to his scheme. Mr. Jah proudly proclaims that a system where $500 is awarded to only one of the many laborers who try to complete a shot was the system that will replace the current vfx business model.

Unfortunately the only crowd that showed up were the crickets. If cheap labor was what this industry is all about then why are some of the biggest vfx companies lining up to pay for and share wage information in the expensive California market? Couldn’t they just outsource the work to India or China where it’s significantly cheaper?

The problem is cheap labor doesn’t stay cheap and in the end you have to go where the talent resides. As Steve Wright pointed out, bidding wars were breaking out for talent in India which caused wages to rise rapidly making it uneconomical. Furthermore, talented vfx artists in India and China are probably inclined to move and get paid the big rates at various feature film vfx houses in the UK, NZ, Canada, and US.

Does A Bear Shit In The Woods?

Steve Hulett has a post at the TAG Blog on what is the first of probably many stories we are going to be hearing: Artists who suspect and question whether they’ve been colluded against. The Hullettzer properly responds with a surprising finding:

Bears do shit in the woods.

Yes, bears do shit in the woods and for the vfx industry there are quite a few bears that are shitting in the woods, too few park rangers to clean the mess, and too few hunters to prevent the mess from occuring. Unfortunately for many of the vfx artists who’ve been camping in these woods, they’ve become so accustomed to the shit that they’ve figured if life gives you bearshit be complacent and make some mudpie. This is quickly becoming a joke folks, we got an industry to change.

Soldier on.

16 Responses to What Is The Croner VFX Survey?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by John Bestdeal, @ftwo. @ftwo said: What Is The Croner VFX Survey?: VFX recruiter Lisa McNamara chimed in with some comments on my last article. I t… http://bit.ly/gUvIg5 […]

  2. skaplan839 says:

    The Croner Animation and Visual Effects Survey Overview is a pleasant read which I recommend. Grab a copy for yourself on their site, or at this copy I’ve made available.

    It seems this survey offers the participating companies information to help determine where they sit in relation to the rest of the group with regards to how their employees are compensated. This means that companies are attempting to keep themselves competitive by keeping in line with what is established as “usual and customary”.

    What’s important to realize is that the participating companies are willing to spending some of the “razor thin” profit money on discovering what the mean compensation rate is and where they stand among the group. While no participant knows what the other is paying for the same job position, each participant has paid to determine if they are the highest or lowest paying company.

    While it may be difficult to utilize this report in a collusive manner if the confidentiality of all participants is maintained, I feel its important to note that TAG offers the same kind of survey to our members. We feel its imperitive that artists are aware of the salary ranges present in the marketplace before going in to negotiate a contract with any employer. Having that kind of knowledge with you at a negotiation table is of tantamount importance to making informed and reasonable requests or demands. We are happy to continually provide that information at no charge annually after the survey has been compiled.

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

  3. anon says:

    I have worked at one of those companies as a hiring manager. We did know we participated in the surveys (at least all supervisors and managers did, and it was by no means a secret). I can tell you with certainty that they were used to make sure that our pay wasn’t too low, at least as much as it was used to make sure we weren’t overpaying compared to our peer companies.

    The collusion to prevent workers from freely seeking other employment at the best rates they can is another matter entirely, and I’d like to see it exposed and punished.

  4. anon says:

    Okay, well, What’s the difference between VFX artists forming a union and going on strike for higher wages, Or VFX companies forming a pact to collude on a manufacture rate scale, and not hire people above or below it?

    Phrase your answer in tears.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      One of them is illegal.

      Continue phrasing your answer in fears.

    • VFX Peon says:

      The longer answer is that the U.S. has long established anti-trust laws that prevent companies from scheming together to monopolize a particular industry.

      The U.S. also has laws specifically allowing workers to form unions in order to help balance the power ratio that individual employees have versus giant corporations.

      So the difference is that America has established for many years the principle that companies monopolizing is bad and individual workers using collective bargaining is good.

      Obviously you think that this is the same thing, but companies have the option to move to one of the many states that have “right to work” laws so it really isn’t.

      Got any tears for me?

  5. Skitten says:

    We quite happily put our wages up on sites like glassdoor—and it’s very empowering for artists to see what their peers are making both at their own company and others—where it’s also presumably accessible to employers. Is this any different? It seems wage transparency works in everybody’s favour.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      At glassdoor you choose to share your salary and everyone gets to see the results.

      With croner the facilities choose and we artists don’t get to see the results.

      Sent from my iPhone

    • vfxinsider says:

      We can anonymously post our wages to see how we are getting fucked. And feel worse about having zero power to do anything about it.

      The point is that it smells like collusion. Manipulation of a large group to serve the short term goals of a small group. It a gross abuse of trust

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