TK1099 Moves On & Family Matters

VFX artist and blogger TK1099 put up a post indicating that he was changing careers and leaving the VFX industry in the interest of his health and his family.

I never knew TK1099 but I’m thankful he took a stand and glad to hear he’s moving on to greener pastures. I guess my question is what industry did he transition to? I’ve always been looking for a plan B in case I decide to have a family.

There was a recent article about the challenges of working in the film industry: 7 Difficulties Friends and Family Have With Your Film Job. It talks about the project-to-project nature of the industry and how the very long hours, amount of traveling, sporadic income, and constant job changes can lead to difficulties maintaining a family.

My personal opinion is that having a family and working in the VFX industry is pretty much close to impossible.

If I’m going to have a family, I need to assure my loved ones with a few important things:

Location

I need a location so my wife can work and the kids can attend school. In today’s VFX industry artists are not only working project-to-project but need to jump from the UK, NZ/AUS, Canada, and Cali. If I had a family I would either have to leave my loved ones and miss some of the most important moments of my life or have everyone stop what they are doing so they can globe trot with me.

Stable Income And The Ability To Save

The sporadic nature of the VFX industry leads to gaps in employment and income. The costs of having a family are much higher and incur other long term costs: Saving for college and retirement. I’ve found that the constant changing of jobs has led to many rules at various employers that prevent me from saving for retirement in tax sheltered accounts. Over the long run this will eat away future retirement savings. The film industry unions help dampen this blow by providing portable pensions and retirement plans.

Health Insurance

One of the biggest costs for families is health insurance. In the US individual health insurance can be expensive and rise rapidly for family plans. Even then, you may be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. You can be denied for the littlest and stupidest things. The way around this is to get insurance through an employer group plan. However, once again, the gaps in employment compound this problem since you lose coverage once your job ends. Again the film industry unions dampen this blow by offering portable health insurance and a “bank of hours” that covers you and your family when you are either working non-union or are unemployed. I was able to get almost 18 months of incredible health insurance through The Animation Guild after my contract ended at a signatory facility.

Now there are those that figure out a way to make it work in the industry. I’ve found many of them to be married to someone who works in a more stable industry that provides adequate health insurance. Others are usually top-level supervisors but even they have extreme difficulty maintaining a family.

VFX Supervisor Eric Alba was even quoted in the Wall Street Journal as calling his job the “widow-maker”. He writes more about the challenge here.

Motionographer has a very good article and discussion on the issue also.

Soldier On.

6 Responses to TK1099 Moves On & Family Matters

  1. very true, the entertainment industry as a whole is hard on families, just getting daycare can be an enormous challenge with the hours we work.

  2. Maple Leaf eH! says:

    It would be nice to know what the breaking point was and how many years of experience tk1099 had as an artist. I personally do question the longevity of this career and do sympathize with TK1099. The industry will continue to expand across borders and around the world and I have no intention of moving my entire family every 6 months… I actually have no intention of moving my family at all!!

    This industry has been great to me so far, I’ve traveled around and worked in different countries (US, NZ, AUS and CAN). But I wanted to move around.

    So was it the hours that got to him or the short contracts or moving away every few months that got to him. I’ve worked at some studios that expect a minimum 70+ hours during crunch time and some expect 45-50 hours during crunch time.

    As vfx artists we have way more flexibility to book days off for weddings or other functions and we have the ability to make the time up another day. But individuals that work on set don’t have that option unless they call in sick.

    This industry does need to unionize but how do you unionize an industry that has artists working in different countries every year.

    Also it would be great if a poll was set up asking how many artists have children? I would guess about 75-80% don’t have children?

  3. helmholtz watson says:

    I’ve already started my transition, I went back to my home country and am doing freelance work for some of my older clients online while am earning a new degree in a completely different field, it’s not the most pleasant thing to start all over again but I no longer trust the long term future of this career.

    I know I am sounding too pessimistic, but I think all attempts to reform, unionize or make VFX artists wages and life better will be futile for the reason that technology is advancing at a faster pace than the “actual” demand for our input and attempting to salvage whats left would be like asking for a higher wage for a human cotton picker while they are being replaced by automated machines.

  4. tk1099 says:

    I have 20 years in production with 16 or 17 years of them in vfx. I also have a wife and kids.

    It got to the point where my family and I couldn’t tell the good shows from the bad ones anymore. The hours were too long, the work too stressful due to mismanagement. I found myself drinking more frequently with the younger guys… a big warning sign that I was starting to see as a widespread vfx issue. The final straw was that the money has actually started to backslide as time and budgets disappear.

    Working as hard as I did for someone else’s business gain was never going to pay off. I know that now.

    So a few other vfx artists and I started a non-vfx business of our own.

    I was concerned to let any details. I know now out but that I’m not alone. I’m getting emails from other groups of artists that have done the same.

    I did fill out a rep card and send it into IATSE. If we crash and burn and I am forced to crawl back to the box, it needs to be better than it was before.

  5. […] VFX artists in general, the prospects of owning a home or even having a family are issues I’ve posted about and Vancouver is no different. In fact, part of the reason […]

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