The VFX View From Vancouver

I was sent a link to a site dedicated to VFX artists in Vancouver. It’s a great resource and I agree with the author’s sentiments:

As you can see there is a lot going on in Vancouver, but unfortunately with the good comes then bad. All the newly arriving studios have been going to Vancouver for the tax breaks and with the idea that it may be a cheaper place for labor.. But what the studios don’t realize is that Vancouver is not a cheap city. It is more on par with San Francisco prices for living, and with the USA dollar so weak, it makes the Canadian prices even higher when you convert the price of living, food, gas, and transit. The Canadian senior artist pool is also lacking, since most Canadians leave to work in USA, London, New Zealand and Australia in order to work on the big named films to build their experience and resume.

There’s no doubt about huge boom in VFX work for facilities in the UK, NZ, and Vancouver. US Facilities are rushing to Vancouver while facilities in the UK are either opening up shop or going through major expansions. In NZ, Weta Digital stands mostly alone with really no other major competitors for miles and miles and manages to get a huge amount of work.

Here’s what’s so odd to me. The wanna-be economist in me would conclude from the facts above that Vancouver and the UK would be going through huge wage booms for vfx talent: So many facilities competing with each other. While NZ’s Weta Digital would probably have lower wages since many VFX artists want to work on their projects and they’re the only game in town.

Anecdotally speaking,  that doesn’t seem to be the case with the artists I know. Weta seems to pay rates that would make California artists jealous! On the other hand, I ran into a Canadian artist who works in Cali. We talked about the huge boom in his hometown Vancouver and if he was thinking about moving back.

His response:

Most of the boom in Vancouver has been for students graduating from VFX schools and the wages are quite low. He is paid very well in Los Angeles and has found relatively stable employment. But some have alluded that there may be some collusion going on between facilities in the UK and Canada. Of course we all know that never happens!

Soldier On.


34 Responses to The VFX View From Vancouver

  1. bagshot says:

    Australia ?!?!? Hes kidding anyone who wants to work on grade A leaves. Weta , LA or London is where the talent goes.

  2. shadoukat says:

    @bagshot – Australia is currently the other new hot spot.. with Animal Logic, Dr. D, Fuel, Rising Sun, the newly opened Digital Domain, and Method Studios… sure there are other smaller shops also thrown into the mix, but believe it or not.. a lot of artists last year chose Australia over Vancouver and Los Angeles. I know because along with me came a lot of my friends from LA, SF, Vancouver.. and even weta folk.

    Sydney and Adelaide seem to be luring lots of talent, even recently when the projects were dry in LA and even in Vancouver between march and aug this year… a lot of people returned back to Australia to tie things over until all the studios hire again in the fall.

  3. skaplan839 says:

    Strangely enough, the recent repeal of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) in BC went largely unnoticed by the vfx community and bloggers. To me, it seems like a big deal.

    Now, I’m not intimately familiar with the way BC residents have been sold the tax incentive that pulls vfx work to the province. Color me biased, but it would seem to me the local population would be upset about paying Hollywood studios to do the vfx work in their corner of Canada through their already considerable taxes. The above linked CTV article certainly doesn’t paint a rosy future for our northern neighbor:

    “I think it paints British Columbia as perhaps a tax environment or business environment where there is some uncertainty where were subject to the whims and changes that can occur.”

    What does this mean for vfx work? Will it effect the delicious tax-funded paycheck the studios get? Who’se to say?. If so, I’ll certainly not shed a tear.

  4. Paul Griffin says:

    Under the PST/GST sales tax, any film work for export was tax exempt. Looks like it will remain to be that way. Its a non-starter issue.

  5. john says:

    The wanna-be economist in me would conclude from the facts above that Vancouver and the UK would be going through huge wage booms for vfx talent: So many facilities competing with each other.

    But some have alluded that there may be some collusion going on between facilities in the UK and Canada.

    I’ve also heard from multiple sources in recruiting/HR that the big UK studios have agreements on wages. I think it helps explain why wages in London are so low compared to LA. A reputation as a great company that works on amazing films will of course allow you to offer somewhat lower wages. But that only gets you so far and definitely doesn’t justify the fact that artists are making 40% less in London, in some cases.

    Perhaps there are that many more artists looking for job in London & Vancouver. So instead of studios fighting over the artists they can pick and choose from a huge pool of talent. I don’t know for sure, just throwing it out there.

    • dude says:

      Don’t think it’s the big talent pool in London, just the fact that the companies refuse to pay the same wages as they did 5 years ago (with our without collusion?).
      Al lot of the places have trouble finding good people, and are having to go to mainland Europe (especially France and Germany) and get people from there who might not have any film experience.
      They can pay them less, as they’re willing to work for peanuts on the cool new *insert name here* film project.

    • Aruna says:

      On VFX Wages, I have a median rate of 27 EUR / hr for a five year veteran in visual effects in Europe. For a ten year veteran, it’s 37.73 EUR/hr. Converted to USD, that’s 54.04/hr.. Times an 8 to 10 hour day = 540 USD a day, or 390 EUR or 341 GDP.

      I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like 40% less. It’s more like 8% more (Ten year vet in VFX in USA is $50/hr). Mind you that’s an average between ALL vfx positions.

      • Marcus says:

        You can’t really translate EUR to USD like that when looking at real purchasing power. I regularly go back to Europe and the way the dollar has shed value ever since the euro was introduced far outpaced real inflation in europe, plus the tax burden is much higher.
        I suppose it’s a similar situation with the pound. So making 27 EUR doesn’t really sound all that hot to me, especially in a super expensive place like London.

      • Aruna says:

        True, Marcus. That’s why wages are only one part of the equation. Cost of living and tax burdens are definitely another.

      • shadoukat says:

        I completely agree. I find that living expenses overseas are extremely high, specially in London and Australia. Which makes me wonder if the price is so high, why are the artists taking lower paying jobs to go there? and why do they studios feel that they can pay lower and not offer proper OT?

        Sure, you can do it for a shorter term contract for the pure joy of experience and curiosity, but in the long run you just end up loosing money and the relocation expenses are insane!

        I also found that being across the world had a huge challenge of not being able to communicate with your family.. the time difference is so extreme that if there is an emergency at home its not easy to get a hold of people or to just get on a plane to fly back.

      • john says:

        Aruna, yes, you are correct about the hourly conversions, however I was including cost of living and most importantly, no OT in London. The artists working 70 hrs/week are putting in 30 hours of free work. Plus, for the gbp/euro to usd conversion to work then all your expenses have to convert at a similar rate. In reality it doesn’t come out equal, though. A footlong subway sandwich is $5 but it’s also 5gbp. So I’m paying the same cost but making a lot less.

        shadoukat – I think one of the reasons people are willing to work for less overseas is because the work is more steady and the contracts are longer, plus you get a TON of vacation days (28 paid days off, including bank holidays). The big four in Soho are able to guarantee 1 year but they have steady work so you can pretty much count on more. Whereas it seems harder to get something long-term in California. ILM was offering 6-month contracts for their LA “pod.” Now I’ve heard 3-4 months for Battleship. Sony hired and then fired a bunch of people for Green Lantern. For many that was only 3-4 months of work.

      • shadoukat says:

        John- ILM has contracts that vary depending on the work they have in house. Sometimes they bring artists in for a quick “get it done” situation, while other times they try to recruit more artists for longer terms if they have a lot of films in house that need to be done.

        The same goes for all the main studios.. yes, sony hired artists for 3 month contracts on green lantern.. but they didnt fire anyone.. the artists either moved on to be on arthur christmas or finished their contracts and left to other studios. But you are correct.. studios in LA dont offer longer contracts… while australia and london use the longer term contracts to avoid having to put people up out of their own pocket.

      • vfxguy says:

        Assuming a 9-hour day, EUR 27ph translates to roughly EUR 55k pa. That’s a very respectable salary and you can live quite nicely on that in London.

        Plus 5 years’ experience does not make you a “veteran”.

        Regarding how “little” companies in Vancouver, London or anywhere else pay compared to LA. Did you ever stop to think that maybe LA salaries are simply too high?

      • Aruna says:

        Wages in Los Angeles too high? No.. Actually, I think they’re respectable for a technical position. I think wages in LA, London, NZ, and Australia are appropriate, as in, one person can earn enough to live on with a family. In Vancouver, I don’t think that’s possible at all, unless you have more than 5-6 years of experience, and even then, you might need a dual income family. There are just so many students coming out, that the studios can pick and choose their artists for low rates.

        If an artist is working 70 hours a week with no overtime, especially overseas, they need to rethink how much to adjust their rate. The “idea” is that you ask enough to cover those overtime hours. I developed an Android App that does this calculation for you. If I’m making 50/hr USD in California, I would do well to ask for 50/hr GBP in the UK, from what you’ve said about the purchasing power of the Pound. If they want to play games and work me 70hrs a week, I adjust my hourly rate to make my day rate better for me, which would be 900 a day (with no California overtime, it would be 700), THEN I would work 70 hours a week. Now, the feasibility of getting that in GBP is probably slim to none, but that’s what it would be if the purchasing power of the Dollar and Pound were the same.

        Honestly, I think day rates and salary are the bane of existence for creative artists, especially if they’re just starting out, and often that will they will get taken advantage of.

      • maple Leaf eH! says:

        @ Aruna
        “…..are just so many students coming out, that the studios can pick and choose their artists for low rates.”

        DD Vancouver has more “interns” in various departments then I have seen in any other company. From my understanding they are assigned production related shots or tasks. They should be considered as Junior artists and not as interns.

    • dude says:

      Also comparing the london wages to LA, you have to look at how many months a year you work.
      In London right now, you would probably work 10-11 months out of the year (if you’ve got 3+ yrs experience).
      Are the LA wages a little bit higher, because there’s more short term contracts, and you might not work as many months?
      A little bit like Commercials vs Film rates, where you can charge more for Commercials, because you’ll have more down time vs the lower rates for film, but with longer contracts?

  6. one would think that, with Hollywood Studios all rushing to capitalize on the free money being splashed around, that union representation would be a no-brainer. if we can’t make these tax rebate incentives go away, the least we can do is share in the benefits. Local 891 is ready, willing and able to show you how.


  7. Dave Rand says:

    DD paid and treated me very well but I did find it to be more expensive that LA or San Francisco. Apartments were reasonable but other costs were at least 50% more and the variety was lacking. Just compare and for example. Forget about getting anything in the mail larger than a letter in any reasonable time. Open a PO Box in Bellingham Washington and drive down once a month for packages or items you’d rather buy online in the USA. Packmail was a great service. I saved 4K on my new Canon %d and accessories and did not have to wait to get it. The free medical touted to be “great” and leave no need to have medical insurance through your employer was no where near the quality in the US. Dentistry on the other hand was better and cheaper. The job descriptions you’ll come up there on like “Premier Fx Editor” don’t exist and if they are not on your resume expect a hassle at the border. Your work permit, like mine can be denied and then you have to grab a room in Washington while your studio “fixes” it. They are just as rude to Canadians working in America as they are to Americans working in Canada. Whatever you do when they scold you at the border for “stealing” Canadian jobs don’t reply with a witty comment like “well actually I’m chasing my own job. I’m going to work for an American company on an American project that you guys stole with your tax incentives…but I am REALLY looking forward to when Canada make their own blockbuster films” Don’t say they it really pisses them off.

  8. Vfxartist says:

    Just something for many to think about, even those who say you are earning enough in LA, or even too much: is it based on an 8 hour day? I think many people are basing the hourly being enough based on a 10 hour day. Question is: can you live on that same rate on an 8 hour day. Thats the true value of they rate. Studios and artist-who-see-themselves-as-silent-partners will say that its imposdible to complete the work in less than a 10 hour day. Thats only when you understaff and expect each employee to do 1.2-1.5x the amount of work in the same time.

    So get out those calculators, abacuses, ipads, whatever, and calculate a liveable hourly based on an 8 hour day. Company wants you to work 10 hours, great, but then they have to pay for the extra time, not you in the form of a lower hourly for longer hours.

    Again, all of this happened decades ago in animation with artist working 10-12 hour days, 6 day weeks for flat rates. They organized to get whaf they wanted: 8 hour days, despite the threat outsourcing, etc. Read Tom Sito’s “Drawing the Line” to understand history and how it repeats.

    8 hour work, 8 hour recreation, 8 hour rest. Thats what its supposed to be. I know from all of the 35 year olds in the biz fighting to get out because working 10,12,15 hour days is not living. Yeah they started with dreams and ambitions… But in the end, they all want to get out.

    • Aruna says:

      I’m just going to leave this link here, because it does exactly what you want, and does currency conversion too.. As long as you have an Android phone, development in progress for iOS.

      But yes, in LA, wages are based on an 8 hour day, with time and a half after 8 hours and doubletime after 12. California has some nice wage laws for this. Regular hours at a vfx facility in California seem to hover at around 45 hours a week, with five of those as time and a half.

  9. Vfxartist says:

    Aruna, where you work, its ca law. But at mpc (a division of technicolor), the mill, psyop, as well as a variety of growing shops are going dayrate in LA. Some are even still with that horseshit outside payroll company tax dodge where it costs the artist higher taxes and it takes 30 days to get paid. You are in an Island called La Isla Staff, my friend. Its a growing trend that needs to be enforced. Having the law on the books isn’t enough anymore. In fact, companies often show preferance for artist who take the 1099/misclassification as opposed to the ones who fight for whats in the books.

    Again, without the means to collectively bargain minimums like, I don’t know, california labor laws, its the wild wild west…. Again! (read my post above about history repeating). But with solidarity literally bred out of artist (oh, you work flat rate, bring your own laptop, take work home, sleep under the desk, do the dishes while you render, massage my corns, etc, you’re a team player! You get the commitment YOU need to do for ME to win my emmy/oscar/VES trophy… Btw, whats your name?), the culture of self branding via social networking, and grow anti-labor climate via propaganda, its getting harder to make people understand the VALUE of labor, of the 8 hour day, and not mortgage their future, assuming it will get better all by itself!

    • Aruna says:

      I don’t disagree. Unfortunately, it means educating the populace, educating the juniors, that taking a day rate in California could severely impact their life.. I wrote something a while back about overtime, alternate workweeks etc.

      The only one with deep enough pockets and enough clout right now to impact this change is the VES. Irregardless of why they were formed, they are now in a position where they can enact change. I don’t know if a union would work, it might, but it’s not just California organization, it’s organization between Canada, the USA, New Zealand, Australia, the UK, India, AND China. That’s the big hurdle. Organizing wages, working rights, etc for all the workers in the field. It’s tough. If I had the time and the money, I’d do it, but I don’t unfortunately.

      I would love for the VES to have a lawyer on hand that can deal with items like these, especially wage, working hours and hiring questions.

  10. vfx2cents says:

    LA only pay $50 max? no way. It’s from $45-60 at least.

    • shadoukat says:

      @ vfx2cents – pay rates in general vary depending on your years of experience, position you are hired for, and also the studio. There are too many factors in consideration to assume that you will get paid in the high bracket you are mentioning.

      @ Dave Rand – its unfortunate you had such a tough time working in Canada. Personally I have gotten 3 different work visas via 3 different studios and i NEVER had a problem getting it at the border. (i did 2 driving and most recently one at the airport flying in). I also never had the experience of anyone being rude to me at the Canadian border.. i’ve gotten more rudeness and hassle at the American border as a whole. Also, considering that i pay $60 a month for basic healthcare in Canada and i used to pay close to $300 in USA and had HORRIBLE experiences and all sorts of hidden costs.. I would have to say that I am very thankful of the Canadian healthcare options and how everyone has always been very nice to me.

  11. bigdedrone says:

    For once, I would love to have the VES actually act like a guild, and enforce wage parity, 40 hour work weeks, etc. for VES members. It would have the added effect of allowing medium and small facilities a seat at the table, as they would be able to compete on wages, benefits, etc, and thus would have similar cost structures to larger companies.

    As it is, the VES is mainly just a self-congratulating group of silverbacks glad-handing each other, and looking for their next gig, while freezing out sycophantic newbies from the inner circle.
    As for myself, I want no part of it, although I’ll take my increasingly stingy yearly blue ray DVD screener collection for scant compensation.

    For just under two decades, I’ve owned or run small to medium sized VFX facilities, one of which was about to open a second office in Canada… chasing tax benefits, runaway productions, and talent there. Even at the time, I realized that Canada was a fleeting goal… the money in VFX would go to China and India soon enough, and beyond that to even cheaper sources of commoditized labor.

    Now, I’m pursuing goals in an adjacent industry, and although I see the same phenomenon happening there, my eyes are wide open…. My goals are tech and content IP heavy plays, and no longer involve ideals that are “for the love of the art”. VFX has lost me, hopefully forever, even after countless movies, and many great friendships and collaborations. I no longer want to get punished more and more in a career where it should be getting easier and easier.

    The trend in VFX is part of an insane race to globalize in an industry which, in a sane world, should be based upon merit, artistry and pre-existing talent and infrastructure, not labor arbitrage. I’ve talked to ALL the heads of the large VFX facilities, I know they are planning to globalize further, offshore more, cut benefits more, in order to eliminate the core studios in the US as much as possible while still allowing the movie studios to make their slate of VFX heavy films. Currency markets and labor markets are behind much of this, as well as “vertical integration,” where movie productions indirectly own a piece of the VFX facilities they farm out to… its like a company store.

    The VES, international organization or not, should try to enforce solidarity among it’s members by having them refuse to work at places that don’t meet a common standard for worker’s rights. They don’t like that? They don’t get the good talent! If this were to happen small and medium VFX facilities should and could support these workers, knowing that there is a common goal among small and independent studios, and the workers that make them successful… the only group who might not like it are the conglomerates and large media monoliths, as they’d not be able to suppress prices by working one tax or labor haven against another, or one VFX company against another.

    I know none of this will happen. Many, many in the VES are good people, but they fear industry blacklist as much as anyone. I would like to think that a few of the seniors would, at some point, get the courage to speak out, once they’ve got a couple million in their coffers. I was SO disappointed in James Cameron for not sticking up for VFX workers when he had the bully pulpit at the Academy Awards. In any case, the movie studio’s hegemonic phase will eventually erode, and has started to, as file sharing and streaming destroy their consumer base… and new forms of media and interactive entertainment democratize the industry. Perhaps then, those mega-companies will move on to their next victims in some new entertainment outlet, leaving unemployed nonconsumers in their wake.

    • vfxguy says:

      I love the fact you even entertained the notion that James Cameron gives a flying fuck about vfx artists.

      • manama says:

        Well said. There is such a pervasive ‘wetback’ mentality amongst feature vfx artists and company owners, it makes me sick. You’d be hard pressed to find this subservient mentality in the commercial/mograph world where the vfx/animation/design companies inherent creativity is at the core of the project and so, respect is a bit more forthcoming from the client. Thats the major problem, vfx companies/artists lack respect for themselves and so the studios walk all over them.

      • CC says:

        You must be joking.
        I see this attitude everyday in Mograph/commercial industry where designers are promoted to creatives without the knowledge needed for the job.
        Money is tighter than it was ten years ago all around, commercial jobs in the US are all fighting for the same scraps. Lotto and comcast jobs. I can’t even tell you how many of both I have worked on in the past 2 years. If you call them creative, or 90% of the jobs out there creative, then you must be seeing something I am not.
        People in this industry work just as hard as VFX guys and get taken advantage of just as much.

  12. […] off of my post a few weeks ago about The VFX View From Vancouver, I pondered how do VFX artists make ends meet in Vancouver: wages are generally lower and the cost […]

  13. […] Expensive Places To Live In The VFX Industry Vancouver’s High Costs Hurting Youth Prospects The VFX View From Vancouver Soldier On. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

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