Once Again, Why VFX Isn’t ‘All Going To India’

Ra.One

This October, India’s biggest VFX film will be released starring Hindi superstar Shahrukh Khan. Some pretty good VFX in the trailer.

So will this film  put Indian VFX on top be and as Steve Wright say, be the “final nail in the coffin” for unionizing Californian VFX artists?

In my opinion, surprisingly not if you read the details about the film according to the star himself Shahrukh Khan:

Talking about the advent of VFX in Hindi movies, Shah Rukh said Indian cinema was on the verge of losing out younger audience to the western cinema. “We have to rope in the best brains in the West to work on visual effects in our films. The world has taken the best brains from India for their development and now India should also do that,” he said.

It turns out that while there was VFX work done on the film in India, there was also VFX work conducted in Canada, France, Thailand, and the US.

Of course who cares? The argument has always been that EVENTUALLY all the work will go to India and China as they get up to speed on how to do quality VFX and it will be cheap, cheap, cheap. Right?

Not exactly according to this article on the film in Animation World Network:

Mamta Narang: What’s the total VFX budget of Ra.One?

Keitan Yadav: At this point in time, this can’t be disclosed, but all I can say is that this is the most expensive and one of a kind VFX movie done in India to date. The VFX budget is enormous like the budget of a big Bollywood blockbuster.

And there seems to be all indication that the advancement of the Indian VFX industry is going to cost more:

MN:Harry, do you see Ra.One advancing the Indian VFX industry?

 HH: Yes, some of the big VFX movies didn’t do well. But I do see Ra.One as a turning point. The Indian industry has started recognizing the value of VFX. Still, we need higher budget films with a focus on VFX.

However the most important thing that matters in VFX is quality. Rhythm & Hues was one of the first vfx facilities to open a division in India back in 2001. So it’s been 10 years, how much has the quality improved?

MN:In India, the animation and VFX industry is booming. How would you guys rate the quality of education on a scale of 1 to 10?

HH: 3.

MN:3?

HH: Yes, 3. Well, that’s the fact. Most of the faculties that are teaching in institutes have been trained by their institutes. That’s why VFX falls into a loop. We need to learn a lot apart from this. In the case of Ra.One, we have Jeff, who’s the lead vfx supervisor and we need more collaboration like this to be on the global map. Budget is a big constraint; if we have higher budgets, we can dig more.

Well looks like vfx teacher Steve Wright has his work cut out for him! You’ll remember I criticized him for trying to instill fear in Californian VFX artists who were contemplating unionization. Tag Organizer Steve Kaplan recently penned a piece about his argument.

He said that the work would just go to cheaper locations like India. Yet ironically it was Steve Wright who wrote an op-ed piece called the Indian Exodus where he went over the problems with the Indian VFX industry: The quality was stagnant and the costs were rising.

I’ve written many posts about the issue. A similar situation occurs in China and I’ve called outsourcing to cheaper developing countries a boogeyman argument. Most of the people trying to say VFX will go to India and China are just trying to scare you. The real reason VFX goes to other countries is because of government subsidies for US studios to do the work there.

What this latest bit of news reveals is a measurement of progress in India but also shows that cheap work doesn’t stay cheap especially when you consider that foreign currencies are rising against the dollar making it even more expensive for US studios to do work elsewhere.

That’s not to say that there isn’t quality talent in India. There are many superb Indians doing VFX and like you and I, they want to be paid appropriately for their talent. So many of them leave India for Australia, UK, Canada, and the US. Read this post written passionately by a VFX artist in India.

There is also one interesting wrinkle for the Indian and Chinese VFX subcontractors that has been pointed out at the FXDag blog. Many of them are on crack:

When I’ve asked Chinese and Indian counterparts about their software licensing, I’ve been quickly assured that it’s all above board because they only use “open source” versions of Maya, Nuke, Fusion, Softimage, Photoshop, whatever downloaded from the internet for free.

Unfortunately the Chinese and Indian definition of “open source” is pretty much the same as the American definition of “software piracy”.  The use of “Crack” across Asia is epidemic.

Soldier On.

21 Responses to Once Again, Why VFX Isn’t ‘All Going To India’

  1. vfxguy says:

    “The real reason VFX goes to other countries is because of government subsidies for US studios to do the work there.”

    No, it goes where it goes because it is cheap. It doesn’t matter whether that’s because of government subsidies, or the cost of labor, or the exchange rate. The studios don’t give a damn as long as the balance sheet is looking healthy when they start splitting out their points.

    You’re right, all the VFX work isn’t going to India. Give it 5-10 years.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I love the cynicism! Keep it coming.

      You are correct that studios will go to where the work is the cheapest, however subsidies artificialize the cost of vfx and are usually meant to be introductory. That spells big trouble for those depending soley on them.

      “You’re right, all the VFX work isn’t going to India. Give it 5-10 years.”

      Didn’t they say that 5-10 years ago?

      • maple Leaf EH! says:

        With ILM and R&H opening shop in Vancouver, I’m sure its all about subsidies!! The rates in Vancouver are about the same as in LA.

      • wtfb says:

        They also said the same thing about computer science jobs making their great exodus to India when I was getting my undergrad. Never happened… actually, the opposite did occur – I ended up sitting with mostly asian and indian students in my Masters lectures and companies are still struggling to fill demand.

        Does this industry really need to go through that BS again? Just like CS, VFX has evolved quickly from somewhat of a “handyman” teach-yourself job to a pretty technical profession in most specialties.

        Are you really a “vfxguy”? Cause I don’t get where that attitude is coming from… but it sure helps keep worker bees thankful to work on “cool stuff”.

      • Marcus says:

        well, that was an odd Name it filled in for my post up there!

      • vfxguy says:

        I know you love the cynicism – that’s why I keep posting!

      • Doug C says:

        Regarding the comments about rates in Vancouver, they are most definitely NOT the same as Los Angeles. Artist salaries are at least %20 below Los Angeles rates if not more.
        Also, studios in the states routinely require VFX productions to have a “Canada” component to their bids. This is because their is a direct reimbursement from the Canadian provinces right back into the pockets of the film’s producers which is just this north of a bribe IMHO.

      • mananama says:

        Well, they’d definitely want to be paying me more if I was forced to live in LA too.

      • A Lighting TD says:

        From several legit sources directly from studios operating in both LA and Vancouver, the salary for artists in LA and Vancouver is about the same, but the studios could bid about 25% lower than solely LA based studio because of government subsidies. The requirement is the artists have to be Canada residents (ie. not temp. workers who live in Vancouver for only 3-6 months), and it only subsidies production cost (ie. TD works, not software or R&D works).

  2. FakeBenBernanke says:

    I chuckle every time Soldier mentions foreign currencies “rising”. It’s the US dollar that’s sinking, not everyone else that’s rising! The Fed is trying to print it’s way out of trouble, Zimbabwe-style.

    When Soldier decries foreign subsidies, I can’t help but think that the US VFX industry is being subsidized as well by means of a low US dollar and rock bottom interest rates.

    • FakePaulKrugman says:

      I’m pretty sure just about every country that the U.S. competes with has centralized banking and currency inflation.

      Just look at China. They are purposefully keeping their currency super low in order to make their products/services cheaper than other countries.

  3. VFXcorpse says:

    Well I’ve heard from several studios today… Word is if your staff in LA no worries…if your a freelancer move to Vancouver…. I love my work but I’m sick as $#!^ of the musical chairs when it come to jumping country to country.

  4. Sumyung Gai says:

    Hollywood studios will be digging their own graves if they try to offshore VFX work and here is why. There is strong international demand for Hollywood entertainment because of the superior VFX. If Hollywood off-shores its competitive edge, then it enables its competitors in India and elsewhere for that share of the world market.

  5. VFXcorpse says:

    No,… what it’s doing is forcing local talent to move offshore
    …across the border or whatever you want to call it, thus lowering the income of said artists and empowering the offshore studios…. otherwise the artists are forced to do something else for a living.
    Neither is a pretty choice if you want any semblance of a life.

  6. Dave Rand says:

    Just a couple topics ago here on Soldier I posted my thoughts on this topic. I’ll copy that here as I still stand behind it.

    “…….t’s my belief that countries like India and China, who’s middle classes each are bigger than that of all of North American, will one day soon be busy making their own stunning digital imagery (and meant to be consumed by their own masses). It won’t be long before distribution, content, and the fat box office takes will be “outsourced” as well and everyone will be looking for a better and smarter way to do things.” The rest can be found here…
    https://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/european-union-reviews-film-subsidies-for-us-studios/

    You can train just about anyone to bolt bumpers onto cars but creating art is a talent you can not teach that. We are not a commodity but a very limited resource and soon their will not be enough to go around and those that are truly talented will be fought over. One day our species may catch up, but that will take time. For artists to evolve as a greater percentage of our species they will have to be given a flourishing environment to do so. That has only just begun and is no where ready to meet the capacity at hand.

    Other components are rapidly evolving. The technically talented are advancing the tools required at an exponential pace. The speed and capacity of microchip is still doubling in increasingly contracted periods of time. I feel that is because the need for technology has been nourished since the industrial age.

    Visual imagery is quickly becoming the dominant way we communicate as a species as well.

    Not to get “al Darwin” on everybody but those are my thoughts. I would not be afraid of India and China, advancements they make will only help advance everyone.

    Subsidies or not, I’ve found time and again that in the distance I can throw a paperclip I’m hearing more foreign accents when I work in subsidized environments and none of them are local. I see the frowns I cause on HR folks faces when I say this, although it is their wish that we’d all believe we are commodities and found everywhere, they know this is not true. Not too long ago in Montreal one of them told me she had a” stack” of resumes that she had to go through and would give me some names for my crew. Her assistant laughed, later telling me. that “stack” was three, and only one of them would fit and he is 5,000 miles away.

    Don’t be afraid, just focus on your craft, and your ideas on how we can work better, smarter, and be vocal about it.

    • Man in LA says:

      “Not too long ago in Montreal one of them told me she had a” stack” of resumes that she had to go through and would give me some names for my crew. Her assistant laughed, later telling me. that “stack” was three, and only one of them would fit and he is 5,000 miles away.”

      I see what you see – all the time. And I draw my conclusions and possible scenarios and explanations from this, spanning the world…

      Well put, Dave!

  7. meh says:

    Of particular concern is the large pool of migrant labour.
    At the end of 2009, China had an estimated 229.8 million rural migrant workers, of which about 149 million are thought to work outside their registered home area.
    The official average monthly wage for these workers, many of whom work in manufacturing and assembly, amounted to 1,417 yuan, though unofficial reports suggest many earn less that 1,000 yuan a month.
    Moreover, because these migrants work outside their registered area, the low wage rates conceal enormous personal sacrifices, which include long working hours, poor housing conditions, and, most significantly, a loss in welfare benefits associated with the household registration system known as Hukou.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-13945072

  8. VFXHeaven says:

    To whoever is saying that the rates in Vancouver and LA are similar: open your eyes, you guys must be getting shafted in LA🙂

  9. […] VFX industry here and here. I also posted reaction to articles on how Indian VFX is actually being outsourced to the US and other higher priced countries and the demise of the Indian Animation […]

  10. […] I wrote about Ra.One a few months ago and pointed out that not only did they rely on VFX from outside of India, but the supervisors had some negative opinions of the quality of VFX education in India. […]

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