Two Heart Attacks By Age 37

The Animation Guild Blog has a post about an email sent by a VFX worker:

I am coming to a serious decision in my life….I’m getting ready to possibly leave the country I love (maybe for good) so i can find a new job. That’s how tough times have become.

I had two heart attacks by the age of 37 in this business. I got caught working 100 hour weeks on some summer blockbuster. On the 75th straight day of work (mandatory 7 day weeks/17 hour days) I fell asleep at the wheel and did two 360’s on the 10 freeway hitting 3 people. That was my only day off. I didn’t mind at the time I was making like $1000 a day.

The real problem occured after 3 months. I never looked in the mirror. With all the catered breakfast, lunchs and dinners, 12-15 hour days, I had shot up to 290lbs (I was 200 when i started the job). THats 90lbs in 3 months. Too many breakfast burritos…..and I smoked 2 packs a day….and drinking tons of coffee…….They took me to the hospital with chest pains around 120 days.

Certainly this artist made some bad choices: The over-eating, the smoking, etc. However it’s important to point out that as we are seeing our first generation of VFX artists hit their 40s and 50s, I’m starting to hear more stories similar to this.

Lee Stranahan mentioned 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 mentioned that I was developing a heart condition.

I haven’t been blogging much. Even though I work long hours, I have to run 4 miles a day to stay healthy and don’t have time to do anything else.

There’s a reason why the 8 hour work day was created: Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest. After 8 hours of work productivity and health goes down.

Health is the most important thing and working in the industry compounds many health related problems. It’s difficult to see a doctor regularly when you are working long hours or constantly changing jobs and health insurance plans.

There is also the stinging bite of COBRA health insurance. In the US, when you are laid off, you are offered to continue employer health coverage and the average family’s monthly premium for COBRA is $1,137. It’s named after a venomous snake for a reason.

The Obama stimulus plan included a provision that lowered that average amount to $398. Unfortunately that program expired today.

Soldier On.

29 Responses to Two Heart Attacks By Age 37

  1. Grimley2 says:

    One of the mitigating factors of my leaving the industry was my near miss on the freeway. Our long work hours were starting to tip into all-nighters. We were instructed to go home to shower and come back for morning dailies without sleeping (big mistake). On the way back I zoned out and nearly ran my car under the back of a truck…somehow without thinking I managed to turn the wheel hard and I before I knew it I was up on the shoulder.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I forgot to mention my close call… I worked up to 2am and then was back at work by 6am. I drove home that day thinking about how many hours I worked when I realized I was sleeping at the wheel! I quickly snapped out to find I almost hit a wall. I see the comments on cgtalk and the anim guild forums and they all say “oh it would be different for me.” It’s not. Trust me I tried to avoid the bad habits myself. The long hours break you down.

      • Dave S says:

        My friend smashed his car falling asleep at the wheel during the long crunch on one of this years summer Blockbusters. He was ok and no one else hurt, but car was totaled.
        Not good.

  2. The long hours do break you down. You as an artist have to stand up for yourself. I worked at a company that told me on Friday that I had to work the weekend. Well, I was a new artist and did that. After about a year at the company, they tried it again. I told them no. Very simple. I said that working the weekend would be ok with some notice so I could plan for it accordingly. I did not work that weekend. The next week, they told me on Wednesday I needed to work the weekend. I planned accordingly and worked.
    After 6 months of 14-16 hour days 6 days/week I was given the option by my wife to get divorced or quit. I quit that job and it was one of the best things I did. Since then I have worked long hours here and there for certain. Most of those times (not all!) it was for a project that everyone on the team believed in.
    FYI, There is no mandatory overtime. That is just not legal, etc.
    Exercise your option as a person to say no. If they fire you for this you surely have some kind of legal case but in reality you don’t want to work for these employers anyway. There are plenty of jobs out there for talented people that work hard and have a great work ethic. Talk to your fellow artists and find these companies and people that treat you properly. They exist.

  3. rfk says:

    “First generation of VFX artists”…? Dude, you don’t know the real old timers. Those guys are in their 60’s now.

    I hate to be obvious, but working hours like that is bullshit, and working hours like that *without overtime* is heaping bullshit. Hell, if you *try* to work over 30 days in a row on a union contract *they will send you home*.

    And 18 months of union health coverage when my contract ends is one of the biggest unsung benefits.

  4. CaseyB says:

    I think Rob was stating the first generation of sit at the computer FX artists. The old timers were doing practical effects which required moving about a modeling stage and setting up cameras. Probably much more physical then the 8+ hour sitting job.

  5. vfxguy says:

    10 weeks without a day off? The guy’s an idiot, plain and simple.

  6. fx80 says:

    totally preventable ALL of this.. i agree with Rob on this one for sure. Stop being a pussies and say no, if the company fires you then they dont value you anyways. best to move on to greener fields. You might say ” ohh but the job market is bad i can just give up a job!” well then by all means work your self to death and be an idiot, id rather be jobless or doing something else than doing something stupid like not sleeping for days. But what this guy has done was to himself and has little to do with the VFX industry. The industry is only fucked up cause we let it be like it is.
    I hate when people say its industry standard to work long hours. Thats utter bullshit. Thats your standard then.. and certainly not mine.

    • manama says:

      Agreed, I’d say this guy is like 90% at vault for the problems that have occurred in his life. Nobody is forcing you to work these conditions.

    • Meow says:

      Seriously, people cling with dirty, broken fingernails in some fx sweatshops to their shitty roto jobs making $16 hour, working 80 hour weeks, no days off for months, because they are promised a 401k? Work on a picture, finish it, then move ON!

  7. manama says:

    obviously at *fault* !

  8. sidfargus says:

    If you weigh 290 and smoke two packs a day.

    You dont have a basic sense of self preservation.

    The job didn’t give you a heart attack. Lack of intelligence did.

  9. Dave S says:

    I’ve come up with techniques to leave after 10 hours during these long crunches.
    One such technique is leaving, and when someone asks you if you’re going, you say, “yes just set off a few renders (or sims) but the farm is tacked so I’ll just check them in the morning.” all of which is true.

    I keep telling other artist:

    A Company’s job is to hire and schedule appropriately
    An Artist job is to create the best art in the most efficient way they can.

    Don’t let a companies miss-management be your burden of responsibility. Just do the best you can and leave the management to the company. Tell them how long something will take and tell them the costs if they want to cut corners. Too many artist feel its their job to correct errors in management/bidding. Its not!

  10. ZZZZZZzzzzz says:

    Here’s the deal.. This douche didn’t have to work that much. There was no one with a gun to his head saying “work 100 hrs of vfx or blast”. He’s a nerd. He loves sitting there. He loves the stress. He chooses not to eat healthy. Chooses to not exercise. I have zero sympathy. ZERO!

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I get it. A number of people have expressed no sympathy for this individual. The broader point of this post is about the difficulty to get health insurance in the industry as you get older or get ill.

      Do those people gain your sympathy? And if what is your solution. The artist in the email came to the startling realization that he may have to end his career because he is uninsurable.

      • ZZZZZZzzzzz says:

        If you don’t get insurance at your job, purchase your own. There are several affordable individual health plans, whose costs could very easily be worked into your hourly or day rate. If this fool wants to do doughnuts on the freeway, smoke 2 packs a day, and eat like shit until his heart explodes, let him. If this makes him uninsurable, then that’s his own fault. Still zero sympathy. Nice try, Soldier..

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Even for those who can get individual coverage, its too expensive for artists and their families.

        Secondly, what about those who get illnesses beyond their control?

      • From the letter: “I didn’t mind at the time I was making like $1000 a day.” — I think he can afford to buy his own health insurance at that point.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Actually no he could not. He was uninsurable.

      • If you read the letter, that quote comes from *before* his heart attack — at which point he was presumable still insurable, unless I’m missing something.

  11. jo-jo says:

    ZZZZZzzzzzzz, have a bit of sympathy mate! You’re right that the heart attack was this fella’s own fault but it is what it is. Hopefully he’s learned that eating crap and smoking that much is bad. In all seriousness though, its not hard to work a 10-12 hour day and still stay healthy…

    Can’t comment on the American health service… but from my view it’s totally FOOKED…. I’m English and have the NHS which is probably the best thing about this country… well, it certainly ain’t the weather!!!

  12. rss says:

    I must have missed the part where he was forced to stay at this job.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      He can only get insurance through the employer or else he is uninsurable.

      • rss says:

        That’s more a problem with American health care, not with the VFX industry. You can get “stuck” in any job.

        But this guy is/was making $1000 a day. If he wasn’t able to save, at the very least, 60% of that, then he’s got problems beyond a McDonald’s habit. Two weeks’ salary should have him good to go on COBRA for over a year. Or did he blow every penny like so many VFX people…

  13. I just have to make a few points here. You can say its the employees fault all you want. However, its also on the employer for not saying “Go Home!!!”.

    In the normal working world the floor supervisor in a factor, or the manager at your desk job tells you to go home when you are clearly overworked or been working too many hours.

    VFXSolder makes the same point I have been realizing myself over the 6th show in a row where I work Saturdays and work 10+ hours a day. WE, artists, are humans not computers and are not built to work these crazy hours. It’s a proven fact that most people beyond even 10 hours start to loose motor skills, even have vision problems.

    Even with all the “preventable” items this man was doing to himself. It still does not allow for the employer to knowingly allow people to work such hours. IF the person is not telling the truth that its clearly on there shoulder. But both parties have a responsibility to keep them-self and others out of harms way.

    IF I smoke, drink, eat bad, that don’t make it right for the employer to in a way force me to work 60+ hours a week. Two very distinct problems come out of this scenario.
    1) The heart attack is clearly the fault of the person
    2) The overworked conditions are that of slave labor and has been banned in all other industries; therefor, the employer is at fault if they are making you choose between working more hours or not having your job.

    Legally NO employer can force you to work more hours than state/federal mandate. AND, they can not fire you or lay you off because of not working beyond the state/federal laws.

    Of course, if you want your job and to continue to work in this industry; its so small that if you piss someone off you’re SOL. You might as well quit if you try a lawsuit against any of these companies.

  14. thejerkstore says:

    Im/was a VFX artist that is actually healthy looking and would ride my bike to work and eat pretty healthy… However i’m now 32 and have strange chest pains sometimes. It feels like i’m going to have a stroke at some point… Its the fucking stress. The ridiculous hours… Cortisol in the blood thats what will kill us prematurely.

    Thankfully my new job is not part of the VFX industry and I now have full coverage.

  15. cpbrown says:

    you just have to be prepared to say no to stressful jobs… and remember stressful is not just the hours and deadlines its also dis-empowerment!
    Working 12h per day on a job you own is one thing, doing it under supervision is much, much worse, as the crunch is a result of other people’s failings… its stress on top of genuine resentment.

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