A VFX Artist In His 50’s

I can’t predict the future but I can be certain of one thing: You will get old and your health will deteriorate. It’s a fact of life and it’s something I was reminded of today.

A family acquittance of mine was a part of the first generation of VFX artists in the industry. He had helped start one of the big VFX facilities you are all familiar with and has worked at many places throughout his career. I ran into his uncle today and asked how he was doing. Not well:

He’s getting too old for the industry. He’s been working contract positions with no health insurance and the burden of the costs are too large for him to continue. In fact he has purposely taken jobs in countries like Thailand where the healthcare is cheap so he can take advantage of it.

I didn’t know what to say. All I could do was acknowledge the problem.

It was crazy to me though. Years ago, I met him for the first time when I started my career. He had almost 30 years experience and was on a first name basis with some of the big names in the industry.

Now this? Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised.

Star Wars was probably the film that kicked off the VFX industry and we are starting to see many of those artists from that time approach the age where health insurance for them is the most expensive. Working the contract jobs and buying your own health insurance is no problem when you are young. However when you are in your 50’s and have a family to support it’s a different story and it needs to be told.

Soldier On.

18 Responses to A VFX Artist In His 50’s

  1. Jeff Heusser says:

    At the beach meeting today someone said “we can just buy our own healthcare”. I hear this casually tossed out a lot in the union discussion but it is often not that simple. Imagine working for a company that goes out of business leaving you suddenly with no health insurance, add a pre-existing condition and the family costs can go into the thousands per month – if you can even get coverage.

    Many freelance visual effects artists get no paid vacation, get no sick days, no paid holidays. Are these not things that workers should expect? When did expecting these things become wrong?

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I’ve heard many arguments along the same lines as if asking for essentials is somehow looked upon as free-loading.

      Highly successful people need essentials like health insurance also. I know of a few Oscar winning vfx artists who have shown up to IA meetings. You’d figure they can just go about buying their own health insurance but that does not seem to be the case.

      Another artist I talked to was against unionization because his wife is in the Teacher’s union. He talked about how bad they are. I asked how he pays for health insurance:

      “Oh well I’m covered by my wife’s union health insurance.”

      So I guess the solution is to marry someone who has health insurance through their company or union?

  2. observer says:

    Workers have rights, vfx artists have rights. In Canada the right to freedom of association and to collective bargain is seen by the highest court in the land as a cornerstone of what it is to be Canadian. To retire in dignity is a right. To have health care is a right. To be paid for all hours worked yep that’s a right too. To not stand up for your rights? Everyone has that right as well. Unfortunately those who decide to do so undermine those who wish to exercise their collective right of action. The “I’m alright Jack” is always right until off course some calamitous event occurs and the “I’m alright Jack” suddenly realizes the power of one is weak compared to the power of many. Union members exercise their rights to collective bargain for better retirement and health benefits. Unlike the “I’m alright Jack” they see helping each other as helping themselves. Their collective action sees far greater improvements in their well being. Why doesn’t the”I’m alright Jack” see that?

  3. Dave says:

    Once someone has 5 years experience and can join VES they have an option but I was surprised when my wife was just turned down when we tried to buy personal insurance a year ago. They cited sinus medication she once took, but a friend said any woman of childbearing age will be turned down for personal coverage. Pregnancies are expensive and they will do anything to deny coverage.
    So yes even nay sayers will be surprised when they go looking, I’d say group coverage or nothing are your options.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      What are the premiums and deductibles for the VES plan?

      • Marcus says:

        I took a quick peak at the plans they offer earlier, linked through their website. They look pretty crappy with deductibles *starting* at 1500 per person and 25% co-insurance. That’s insurance that will make you stay away from doctors until your problems get real bad.

        I haven’t been in the market for personal insurance yet, but if that’s what’s remotely considered as “normal” insurance these days… boy, there’s some more serious reform in order.

  4. steve hulett says:

    We live in turbulent times. Be aware that most rights tyhat Americans thought they had are pliable just now. Right to privacy? The Patriot Act has fixed that pretty good. And the “right” of health coverage isn’t a right, not in the U.S. of A. The right to organize collectively and bargain collectively is under fierce attack.

    Even the right of private property and property ownership are now under attack. When a mega-bank can grab your house with a “robo signature,” even when your house is totally paid for, that’s a problem. And the problem is real because that scenario has recetnly happened. And if you don’t have courts that will back up your rights, you’ve got nothing.

  5. anon says:

    In 2006 the FBI did a study of bankruptcy caused by compounded medical bills.

    anywhere from 70% – 54% of bankruptcies in the US are a result of medical bankrupcies.

    Sorry L.A. but this is just another reason that studios are coming north with their work. we have cheaper, better health care and insurance.

  6. Jeff Heusser says:

    I looked into VES insurance when it was first offered, it was not guaranteed issue and if I was accepted it would have cost me more than COBRA.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      This is unacceptable. How can anyone argue that you should purchase your own health insurance when it’s completely unaffordable? Every other craft in the industry has resolved this issue long ago by having the union backed health plan partially funded by studio residuals.

      • Winston Smith says:

        Not to delve too far into a debate on healthcare, but I can’t resist to throw my 2 cents into the fray.

        Consider the conclusion of this article about the history of healthcare in America:


        “Markets can do many wonderful things, which is why I’m glad to live in a capitalist country. But they’ve made a complete hash of the health-care system.”

        A careful reading of the article indicates, to me anyway, that it’s not capitalism alone that has made a hash of the healthcare system, but capitalism responding to government intervention in the market.

        As a thought experiment, what would happen if:

        [1] Companies and organizations could no longer provide insurance through group plans (no artificial cost advantage to groups vs individuals)

        [2] Health insurance was declared illegal (so like most other products and services, you purchase your health care directly from a provider – therefore more transparency in actual costs)

        [3] Health care providers regulated only at the national level, thus eliminating artificially closed markets controlled by each state.

        [4] Government funded health care only for those with economic need.

        [5] The government increased the tax deduction and limits for HSA’s (basically healthcare IRA’s) to encourage individuals to save for their own health care expenses.

        [6] Increase income tax deductions for medical expenses (indexed to income)

        [7] Keep medicare but index benefits to income (no reason for someone who is wealthy to have their health care subsidized)

        [8] Total ban on smoking, drinking, fatty foods, soda, etc. (who wants to pay for someone else’s poor lifestyle choices?)

        Well, that last one is more silly than the others, but you know what I’m getting at.

  7. anon, you’re very annoying. You are right about the bankruptcies, and the better
    healthcare, because the Canadian multi party parliamentary system (three major parties) has led to a fairer distribution of wealth. But I assure you the studios don’t go to Canada for any of those reasons. They go most often for the kickbacks, for the hugh sums of money provided by Canadian taxpayers. There are two sets of ‘subsidies’ in Canada, one targeting domestic production (legitimate) and one targeting foreign production (illegitimate). Be honest and
    recognize the kickbacks are designed too steal jobs. Look up and read the bill passed by the Canadian parliament back in the last century (1998). The wording is crystal clear.

    About five years ago we worked on (in LA) the second Resident Evil film. One of the sequences was a miniature of the Toronto city hall’s 1080 visible windows
    exploding. We also blew up some miniature helicopter’s and provided the Canadian digital company a slew of elements for the final action sequences in the movie. WE HAVE NO CREDIT. The film was a joint Canadian, British and German production and I think the amount of money we received for our work exceeded the allowance of funds spent outside Canada and therefore the production simply cooked their books and left us off the end crawl. I have no
    hard evidence but when large sums of money are involved many people succumb to criminal activity. In the U.S., Iowa and Louisiana, two of the states with large subsidies are fraught with corruption problems. I’m sure there are more scandals too come.

    • anon says:

      Gene Warren Jr.
      I agree with most of what you state here.
      Trust me, Canadian tax payers don’t want to fund the VFX industry. Half or more of the VFX artists here in Vancouver are not even Canadian. The Tax flood gates opened and let all these asshole studios. they have driven down the rates to 2004 rates.

      Read back about what happened in NZ with Peter Jackson to realize that governments have fucked themselves by creating the tax breaks. Warner brothers now says “give us that government tit or we are out of here.” You are right. it’s a problem.

      Where i disagree with you is your assumption That US health care system didn’t bankrupt your country. And won’t again in the future. GM and Ford have both publicly admitted that it’s cheaper to make a car in Ontario then Mishegan. not because of labour but because of the H.I.

      That FBI study shows %90 in some cases. The FBI doesn’t have a reputation for liberal hyperbole.

      The computer, the OS, the 3D software, and the energy technology. You are using right now all came from government subsidies in some shape or another. In Canada we “agree” and “monitor” it. But in the U.S. it’s done on the sly.

      There are no free markets, No country wants free markets they want regulated markets.


  8. […] being no website. It should be no surprise that this swung the doors wide open to misinformation as Jeff Heusser commented on my blog: At the beach meeting today someone said “we can just buy our own healthcare”. I hear this […]

  9. […] signs of what will be a serious heart condition. Given that we are seeing our first generation of VFX artists reaching their 50′s, the future seems imperfect for those of us in the states who are unable to afford health insurance. […]

  10. […] in store for artists when they reach their 50′s and their health deteriorates further? It’s not pretty and it’s compounded by the fact that artists in the US lose their health insurance when they […]

  11. […] that he had to leave the industry because of health reasons. He was diabetic and going blind. Some cannot attain private health insurance in their 50′s. Look at this long thread on CGTalk by young artists suffering from work related injuries. I also […]

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