And The Oscar Goes To: VFX

Nominees for the 83rd Academy Awards were announced yesterday. A reader forwarded me some numbers with this message:

Just wanted to point out the discrepancy in the $$$ area in regards to VFX vs ANY other category this year.  And, this is non-Avatar $$ year too!   Pretty damn fascinating.

Pretty sure all the other Categories having some union or guild does not hurt them.

While everyone is fighting over who got snubbed and who will win best picture, one thing seems abundantly clear:

VFX is the heavyweight champion when it comes to making money for the film industry.

It’s also important to note that the Animated Feature category would have been higher were it not for the low grossing film The Illusionist getting a nod.

I find it remarkable that the highest paid groups: Writers, Directors and Actors, are all in the bottom half of the graph. While VFX and other technical and artistic craftspeople are in the top half.

Even though the VFX category dominates the film industry, I still hear stories of people in our industry not getting paid, not getting overtime, illegally misclassified, and not having health insurance.

I doubt any of this is true for any writers, directors, or actors. Afterall, it’s all about fairness and usually that depends on how you define it.

Is it fair that first class VFX artists are the last in line?

Soldier On.


26 Responses to And The Oscar Goes To: VFX

  1. Nothanks says:

    I don’t think this graph is a good example at all because it has nothing to do with return on investment. VFX are always going to be at the top because they cost a lot to produce. A graph that would be better is one that shows the cost vs return on all movies produced over a year.

    A 1 million dollar art film that makes $25 million is a lot better ROI than a $250 million dollar VFX film that makes $300 million.

    The oscars are about the best of each category. Actors take a pay hit to go work on smaller films that have good scripts. I think its more of an example of how there is not a lot of good stories in the best VFX films otherwise the best Actor/Actress would be in them.

    • Shootsy says:

      Pleeease…by taking a hit you mean that they don’t mind taking $20k for 10 days work after their last pay check was $2mil?

      Also name one movie that has a $250Mil investment and a gross of $300Mil? I even doubt there’s one around, if you take all revenues these kind of movies make billions no matter what.

    • Gavin Greenwalt says:

      $300m – $250m = $50m profit.
      $25m – $1m = $24m profit.

      VFX film still comes out ahead.

  2. Paul MIca says:

    Thanks for posting this!

    Soldier on!

  3. skaplan839 says:

    There is no such thing as “fair” in this world. Its a novel concept and certainly a strong motivator. Instead, there is leverage.

    Its important to remember the parallel you’ve noted: VFX makes the most money and is currently the “cheapest” (read: most controlled and widest margin) part of the process. The industry will fight to keep it that way.

    Visual effects artists have the leverage to get the same basic contractual protections and benefits offered to the rest of the hard working people who make movies and tv shows. Deciding that they don’t want those protections is equal to sharpening the axe that will cut off your head and justifying it by saying that they’re trying to keep the executioner happy.

    Steve Kaplan
    Labor Organizer
    The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

    • Shootsy says:

      First of all yes there is “fair” in this world:

      Second is that as long as the hype factor of working in “the industry” will linger people will lay down. If you were to tell people that blowing leaf pays $50/hour how many do you think will stay working in VFX?

      Third if companies consider low ends job (or even mid-level now!) some kind of hazing / paying your dues bs then I’m all for these job to go outside the US and stay there.

      There goes your leverage…

      • skaplan839 says:

        Your first point doesn’t argue how there is “fair”. There is nothing fair about companies paying their employees well.

        Your second point is essentially my example of artists cutting off their own heads to better the industry. As for leaf blowing, enjoy yourself if you can get that much. I know plenty of people who would leave what they’re doing for that money. I also know plenty of vfx artists who work because they love the craft. All we’re trying to do is show them that they can get some basic protections and benefits for the job. The same ones that every other beating-heart got who made the film they’re working on.

        Finally, you haven’t taken away the leverage by simply stating that you feel the jobs belong outside the US because you don’t like how companies are treating their employees. The simple fact is, the artists are needed for the work. In Los Angeles, or anywhere else in the world, their leverage exists by virtue of their skill.

        Rebuttal? Or have you been Shootsy-d down?

        Steve Kaplan

  4. Dave says:

    Thats really interesting. Good for VFX as a whole. I see why you are a Soldier, its going to be a long battle to improve or “crawl out of the box we’ve made”

  5. Anon-non says:

    “Just wanted to point out the discrepancy in the $$$ area in regards to VFX vs ANY other category this year. And, this is non-Avatar $$ year too!”

    Alice also made over a billion dollar in the theater.

  6. […] irony here is that the VFX industry has had no power at all. I pointed out how successful VFX has been for the film industry. Yet VFX facilities continue to get their asses handed to them by the studios (who are part of a […]

  7. RealityCheck.... says:

    Without those “writers, directors, producers and actors” all the VFX in the world will be nothing but a pretty screen saver and ZERO gross..


    Avatar – compelling STORY + cutting edge VFX = $2 billion gross

    Tron: Legacy – UTTER CRAP story + pretty but hardly OMG/HOLY SH*T VFX + not even $200 million domestic (on a $180 million budget and $140 million marketing campaign).

    True Grit – Brilliant story/direction/acting, NO vfx = $138 million gross and counting (on a $35 million budget).

    You can make “figures” say anything you want. Bottom line, without a story that people WANT to see, all the digital magic is just white noise and WILL NOT have people lining up at the box office. VFX people work hard,….so do everyone else in the biz. You whine whine whine about “low pay” and “jobs going elsewhere”…at least VFX IS A GROWTH INDUSTRY. And the pay isn’t THAT bad when a “mid level artist” can approach 6 figures yearly. Try THAT if your an out of work auto worker in Detroit!! Boo hoo, you dont’ have a union, you might have to move to London or New Zealand (both way BETTER places to live I hear than “Hell-A, California”) to work. Cry me a river. It’s not just VFX…the economy is GLOBAL! How many jobs (not in the “high 5 to 6 figure variety” ala VFX, are going off shore and leaving out of work middle class in its wake. AT LEAST IF YOU’RE A GOOD ARTIST, you have the OPTION of going where the work is. Most people don’t! Go ahead unionize, and we’ll see how many more jobs leave America for ‘greener pastures’. I’m sick to death of you spoiled brat “film workers” whining how hard your cushy lives are!! Try getting a job in the real world for while and you’ll be BEGGING to go back to your 14 hour day at ILM or DD or wherever.

    VFX “soldier” my ass. You pencil necked geeks have NO idea what it’s like to be a soldier or dockworker or assembly line worker in the Real World. Stop your belly aching….

    • VFX Soldier says:

      You lost me at “Avatar – compelling STORY”

    • dave says:

      Hey “reality check”… I have been on both ends of the workforce. I served my country as a Combat Medic with the Marine Corps, and Also worked as an artist. After getting out of the military in the 90’s I worked many shit medical jobs for crap pay, getting pissed on, bitten, and having to go into crack-head, gang ridden areas to get patients in the ambulance. I also worked as a bouncer, all while pursuing my dream of working in film. I worked full time, and went to school full time in my late 20’s. When I finally got out there I found that there were NO jobs in VFX, unless you knew someone, or had experience. But still I pressed on. Finally I got a few VFX jobs, then finally landed a film job. I’m not sure of your back ground, But I am as blue collar as it gets, and my neck I assure you is MUCH larger than a pencil. Born in raised in Detroit, and ran the streets of Chicago. My dad retired from Ford, a UAW member. Not all of us have CUSHY jobs. It makes me wonder why you are on this site at all. Are you not also a VFX person? My point is, the economy everywhere sucks right now, and no one is treating anyone with respect, or paying them what their worth. You don’t have a right to bad mouth anyone in the industry unless YOU have also seen it from both sides.

      Peace out!

  8. RealityCheck.... says:

    That’s it? Your best “comeback”….so not only spoiled but not too bright either.

    A $2 billion gross means some/most people found the story “compelling” enough to see it, and see it again and buy the DVD/Blu rays. If the only attraction was the VFX, why didn’t WETA Digital or Fox release an “AVATAR VFX demo reel” on Blu Ray and watch the extra BILLION$ roll in??? Because no one (outside of geeky VFX artists) would buy it….

    You have no rebuttals to my points so you make a snarky “fanboy-like” comment and pat yourself on the back for “PWN-age”.

    “You write your snide bullshit from a dark room because that’s what the
    angry do nowadays.” – Aaron Sorkin “The Social Network”

    Written by one of those singularly talented Oscar nominated “writer, producer, actor types” who are worth THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD and certainly much more than some anonymous angry ranting roto artist (” so, you trace things…and you want $150K per year and health benefits, plus a cut of the gross???”)…Get real geek (because you will NOT inherit the Earth).


    • VFX Soldier says:

      Are you an artist in the industry?

      I want to take this comment seriously but all the ad hominems just remind me of writers who end up being vfx coordinators or something. Enlighten me.

    • drknkook says:

      RealityCheck are you an idiot? Luma Pictures did tons of VFX work for True Grit. Please check your sources before posting false facts.

  9. Voice of Reason says:


    I think “VFX Soldier” just met his match in the “beatdown” department. Add to that he/she actually makes some very valid points.

    Seriously, VFX people (and I am one) may not be pulling down “8 figures plus points” like “above the line” talent but we’re not “starving” either and I’d rather work in VFX than (as mentioned) the Detroit Auto industry…or the independent agricultural industry (aka the farmbelt).

    Hollyweird is a “story and star” based machine and awards compensation accordingly. While “pretty pictures” (cinematography, production design, costumes and yes VFX) are a key components, the “engine” that drives a movie’s success is “story” and “stars” more often than not. The best bleeding edge VFX in the world cannot make a movie a success if the story doesn’t connect with an audience (and “Tron Legacy” is the perfect example of “visually stunning but ultimately pointless” moviemaking). It’s “below the line/above the line”…VFX is “creative” (much like the other ‘crafts” listed) but still “below the line” and it’s the story/persona makers above the line who get the lion’s share of the money (and fame) just like it’s ALWAYS been in business. The “new wrinkle” is now the “business” can go anywhere where it saves them money (but doesn’t affect what’s on screen). It’s not just the VFX biz. Tentpole movies don’t shoot in LA anymore. They shoot in London, Toronto, Vancouver, Prague, New Zealand or ABLA (Anywhere But LA) because it’s cheaper and the work/production value on screen doesn’t suffer. Did “Watchmen” look somehow “inferior” because it shot on a back lot in Canada rather than LA (and most of the VFX weren’t done in LA?). The cold hard truth is…No. We as an industry have to adapt (VFX companies opening satellite operations in cheaper to operate areas) or die (VFX companies in LA folding because they can’t compete in the New World Order). Will Unionization help? I don’t know but my guess is…probably not. When any union invades a predominantly “artistic” industry, usually what happens is, it encourages “the mediocre to thrive” with they’re seniority clauses etc.

    While not predominantly considered a “creative” industry, like it or not, the iron fist of the autoworkers unions is what almost drove the last nail in GM’s coffin. Yes management screwed the pooch too but once the ship started to list, there was no financial “course correction” that could be done because of the “union anchor” weighing the company down. Declaring bankruptsy was the only way out to start again with a clean slate.

    While starting a VFX/animation only union might help to address some of the work inequities VFX workers have been complaining about, jumping into a “huge faceless byzantine “Brazil-like”(the movie) union bureaucracy” like IATSE doesn’t seem like the smart way to go.

    That’s my opinion “soldier: (and “realitycheck”). Neither of you is completely right. You both have good points


  10. steve j. says:

    Pop songs make it because of a “hook.” Yes, the rest of the song and performance quality has to be there, but without the hook, you don’t have a hit.

    For example, what about the movie “The Matrix?” Would it have caught fire based on story and acting alone, without those “frozen moment” and “bullet time” effects? It’s said that many audiences actually cheered when those visual elements first hit the screen.

  11. drknkook says:

    Here’s a link for RealityCheck since apparently True Grit had NO VFX in it at all. Check your sources next time before you comment with some idiot logic.

  12. realitycheck.... says:

    OK there WERE VFX in “True Grit”

    But they were “invisible” FX and the movie sure wasn’t sold(and the GREAT word of mouth wasn’t because of ) visual effects. The move was sold on the great story, acting and direction…unlike “Tron Legacy” which had NONE of the above.

    I’m sure if every VFX house could work within a total film $38 million budget (so maybe 5 – 6 million for VFX) I’m sure the studios would be very happy.

    Under no circumstances can you call “True Grit” a “Tentpole VFX movie”….

  13. […] unionization as two different people “RealityCheck”, “Voice of Reason”, on this post and RealityCheck and anonymous on this […]

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