Should You Work For Free?

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Should you work for free? I say hell no!

However, it surprises me how often I run into VFX artists who argue you should. Many argue that you need to “pay your dues” or that the project is so cool that the free beer and pizza is worth it.

Reminds me of a funny story. I was talking to a senior artist who was a former Animation Guild member. I began to ask him why he left the union facility and he explained while he was a talented FX artist, he wanted to work in look development which he didn’t have on his reel or resume but was talented enough to do.

He said the reason why he couldnt work in look development was because the union prevented him from doing so.

Confused, I explained to him that TAG didn’t have categories that artists were locked into. He clarified how the union prevented him from changing departments:

They wouldn’t let me work for free.

Wow! This senior artist was under the impression that the only way he could change departments was if he was willing to work for free. I guess having a union preventing that is a good thing but in the VFX industry we are eager to prove something and sometimes many of us are inclined to “pay our dues” and do it for free.

So when should you work for free? Well luckily there is a website that has been created to help aid anyone with payable talent or knowledge who is thinking about working for free:

The website provides a very useful and simple diagram that VFX artists can use when making crucial decisions regarding free or paid work. The diagram is easy to read with some general questions. Each question can only be answered with either Yes or No. It’s also color-coded for easy reference. I really like how the No answers are in blue and the Yes answers are in green. Best of all, you can recreate the diagram in different languages!

Perhaps a copy of this can be stapled to contract offers and vfx school diplomas?

Soldier On.


15 Responses to Should You Work For Free?

  1. citizen says:

    Hello, new background image.

    Lots of people willing to work for free – particularly those who want internships or ‘get their foot in the door’. Unless you’re a special VFX rockstar, how do you compete with that?

  2. […] the “Should I Work for Free” diagram the other day, VFX Soldier has a post on it today, check it […]

  3. .... says:

    Never…ever…ever…ever.. work for free in VFX.
    You’d be surprised how much networking can help you out if you go to the free functions while in school and meet people.
    I was told by my mentor in school that the first 3 years of vfx were a write off, and to accept low wages. And I thought, “F*** that, I’ve got bills to pay.” I know I was no superstar, but I was and am worth more than min wage. Especially in Vancouver where if you work for $8/hr, you’d need three jobs to pay your friggin’ rent.

  4. Fresh meat says:

    There are barely any film jobs at all (in the U.S.), the industry is over-saturated with artists, and the only ones being hired for the few jobs there are, are the senior artists. Newbies have no choice but to work for free to show they can do the work and maybe get some experience.

    Even if you have friends who have friends from different shops, they can’t get a junior artist into a senior position. They couldn’t even do the work, so seriously, how do compete with that?

  5. VFX Soldier says:

    @Freshmeat and @citizen,

    What location do you work in?

  6. Fresh meat says:

    Los Angeles.

  7. citizen says:


  8. VFX Soldier says:

    @Freshmeat and @citizen,

    As far as Los Angeles is concerned, there is actually a lot of paid work for recent graduates. Just today Disney had a ton of job postings for their The Talent Development Artist Program. Since Disney is in the union there are wage minimums that prevent working for free.

    As far as the southwest is concerned, there isn’t much of a vfx market out there. You would either have to apply to LA, San Fran, Vancouver, The UK etc where the vfx market is.

    • .... says:

      What about ILM Singapore?

    • mananama says:

      what about every major city in the world with an advertising industry? Seriously, why is everyone so hung-up about working in the moo-vies? There are far more numerous places globally that do stellar work in the field of commercials than in features.

  9. Joe Walsh says:

    Toronto has a lot of people working for free. Just to get their foot in the door. People are willing to volunteer long hours just to say they worked on something. It’s a toss up.. WOrk on something for free.. or have nothing on the demo.

  10. behram says:

    tee hee.


  11. […] a reminder I suggest the crew of Project London read this chart to help determine whether they should work for free. If the answer is yes, I have a car that needs […]

  12. […] again, if you are conflicted, please refer this “Should I Work For Free” […]

  13. anon says:

    I’ve been running for over two years now and while our free jobs board keeps humming along, I just don’t have time to keep the news up to date. So I’m looking for help, not paid help of course. Don’t be silly no one pays for the internet 🙂

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