The “Paying To Work For Free” VFX Business Model

Audio from Digital Domain Talk at Roth and Gabelli & Company Investor Conferences

An investment website is recommending investors consider buying stock in Digital Domain. This part caught my eye which I tweeted:

New horizontal expansion includes government-funded Bachelors and Masters programs wherein students pay Digital Domain to work for Digital Domain

Soon after my tweet I get an email from a new VFX blogger called OccupyVFX who was able to find audio of the presentation given by Digital Domain’s CEO John Textor. The whole 22 minute presentation is posted above but the surprising part starts around 15:40 when Mr. Textor talks about their new VFX school in Florida called Digital Domain Institute:

Classes starting in the education space, what’s interesting is the relationship between the digital studio and the college.  Not only is this a first in a number of ways that we’ve talked about, but 30% of the workforce at our digital studio down in Florida, is not only going to be free, with student labor, its going to be labor that’s actually paying us for the priviledge of working on our films.

Now this was the controversial element of this and the first discussions with the Department of Education, cuz it sounds like you’re taking advantage of the students.  But we were able to persuade even the academic community, if we don’t do something to dramatically reduce costs in our industry, not only ours but many other industries in this country, then we’re going to lose these industries .. we’re going to lose these jobs.  And our industry was going very quickly to India and China.

So, if 30% of our labor can be free, actually paying tuition, but by your Junior and Senior year at the college, you’re working on real firms (films), as part of the professional workflow, and you graduate with a resume that has five major films, your name in the credits, and more than just an intership level of experience, then that’s the perfect kind of trade off.

It’s one thing to work for low pay, it’s another thing to work for free, but it’s unfathomable to be expected to pay to work for free. The company intends to make money by not only creating content through huge subsidies provided by the Florida government, but by having a workforce of laborers who not only are working for free, but paying a tuition totaling $105,000 for non-residents which does not include food, housing, or transportation costs.

All of a sudden the things I’ve been blogging about in the VFX industry have rapidly become a reality. One of my first articles was criticism of a similar program being offered by Gnomon. I also wrote about how some companies capitalize on the allure of prestige starry-eyed prospects get. I pointed out instances in Montreal, and Michigan where rich US studios took advantage of generous government subsidies and still managed to leave VFX professionals unpaid. At one point I even warned:

Variety’s David Cohen tweeted what sums up the situation best:

Problems at Maxsar Digital & Kerner Optical point up a #vfx management practice that must stop: using new deals to pay past obligations.

The common #vfx practice of using new deals to pay old bills is why some refer to the entire vfx business as a Ponzi scheme.

Remember that tweet. Tattoo it to your arm if you can because if you think these Ponzi-like schemes are limited to just small facilities, wait until you get a load of what some of the bigger facilities are trying to do to get subsidy money.

And then Imageworks New Mexico closed as its clients changed their focus onto larger subsidies in Vancouver.  The Department of Justice found VFX powerhouses like Pixar and ILM engaged in collusion and we now learn Steve Jobs was involved.

And the reaction by VFX professionals? Apathy.

Former Digital Domain founder and ILM General Manager Scott Ross recently commented with a statement I can’t help but agree with:

I did however get frustrated by the oft times lack of motivation by the workers, the owners, the studios and the director/producers. On the LinkedIn thread, there were only a handful of participants…. this issue has been haunting our Industry for years….APATHY TO DO ANYTHING except complain.

Look businessmen are going to do what businessmen do. They will do everything they can to take advantage of the environment to maximize the amount of money they can make. Sometimes that involves doing something unethical, wrong, or even illegal. It’s our job to prevent such practices.

We’ve let ourselves succumb to fear, uncertainty, and doubt by disregarding obvious facts. Do you really believe that your jobs are going to India and China? Just yesterday Steve Hulett posted on the Chinese VFX industry inability to find skilled talent. It’s laughable to think that the Florida Department of Education gave 100s of millions of taxpayer dollars to DD to build a school of paid free labor in a noble effort to prevent an industry from going to India or China. Even with all that free money DD is still opening a facility in India and China. Someone surely got taken for a ride there!

And where are the VFX jocks that have routinely chastised those of us who urge organization to prevent employers who try to engage in such exploitation? The reaction is “well I can just say no to working for free myself.” Look at what is happening now. A major VFX company is now turning the routinely accepted practice of free labor into a major part of it’s business plan.

I understand the skepticism about unionization. I know some of you could care less about portable benefits and enforcement of labor law but there is something else to this. It’s about solidarity. The idea that lets others know that if you mess with one of us you can expect to hear from all of us.

Soldier On.


236 Responses to The “Paying To Work For Free” VFX Business Model

  1. Wow, Florida is going down a sink hole as quick as it can with both their laws and their tax approach. A year ago they took $1.7 billion in education funding and gave it to the corporations and rich. I guess this is part of what they bought. Yeah, that smaller government thing is certainly working now.

    So to be clear – to compete with an area that has a lower cost of living, we will simply lower the wages here. Not only that, but we’ll make people pay to do so. And they’ll like it. Foxcomm USA here we come.

    The fact is it still costs what it does to live in the US. They’ve only lowered the wages. Oops, those aren’t actually wages.

    So what do the brilliant politicians, taxpayers and students think will happen when these students graduate and have degrees in visual effects? They won’t be able to find work and will be unemployed. Why should vfx companies hire and pay graduates when they can get 30% or more paying employees? Imagine if the rest of the industry approaches it like this. And they will in order to compete. Most vfx companies have little shame. It’s not only a race to the bottom, DD has added a rocket back to get there as quickly as possible. And Florida is simply giving them a big push down the hill.

    To those of you who are students or thinking about entering visual effects –
    This is a very competitive industry. Yes, 500 TV channels, the world of multimedia, tent poles, China opening up, blah, blah, blah. But at the end of the day there is only so much media that can be consumed (and paid for) and only so much visual effects work.

    The industry is in trouble because there are tax incentives that tilt the entire competive field and visual effects companies continue to try to do fixed bids for very complex and changing work. Pressure from the studios in terms of cost and time makes everyone a loser. it’s incredibly competive for both companies and workers. Many in the U.S. now have to travel overseas or to other locations simply to keep working. If you’re living in the US you’d better get your passport and working visas arranged.

    There are already too many for profit schools churning out too many graduates in visual effects. Same as the film schools. The idea that it’s cool and interesting, etc doesn’t solve the problem of way more people than there are jobs available. Do you have any idea of the number of ‘directors’ graduating from film schools versus how many actually make it? History major might be a more practical solution for getting jobs.

    Some of you are going to go all out and make it. Some of you are going to fall at some point by the wayside. Year after year of cranking out graduates at all of these schools will simply make it more difficult for everyone. How long do you plan to work in the visual effects industry? Because based simply on the number of new people and the fact that schools stoop to working their students, how long do you think companies will wait until they can get 50% of the work force as paying students?

    Students across America are going into debt big time just to go to college or schools. The average graduate is $25,000 in debt on graduating. Some are as high as $150,000 or more in debt. That’s going to take a long time to pay off even at vfx salaries.

    Don’t forget with 30% labor from paying students all vfx workers will end up being paid less.

    Don’t pay big bucks to this school to simply learn vfx. You might as well apply to some vfx companies who would charge you less.

    Instead of trying to actually solve the industry problem, DD seems to have sold a bill of goods to Florida and students for very short term gains.


    • Ryan DeYoung says:

      Florida is much better than California in terms of taxes and laws my friend.

    • JTJR says:

      While, I certainly do think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your general assessment of the industry, your crack at the “smaller government thing” is hilarious.

      You do realize that government subsidies and programs are a major source of the current insanity, right?

      • Smaller government in almost all of these cases has been taking money from people projects and giving them to corporations. Who gains from this project? Only DD and their investors. That’s a good use of tax money. Smaller government also seems to mean telling people (especially women) exactly what to do. I do know that cutting taxes on the top 1% and trying to make up for it by taxing the poor and sick even more is insanity.

      • JTJR says:

        This is a reply to Scott Squires below. There is no reply option after a certain depth I guess.

        Scott, you’ve got it backwards. Listen to what i am saying. I am against the government giving money to DD in order to allow them to get cheap labor. What moral right does the government have to take public funds and subsidize private business this way?

        The studios love getting these subsidies For two reasons. First is the obvious direct funds and cheap labor for current projects, but second is the eventual flooding of the labor market of skilled VFX artists. When that happens, we all lose our specialized skill advantage and lose the ability to effectively negotiate for a high wage. Simply put, the government and the studios are trying to make our profession a ‘dime-a-dozen’ occupation.

      • JTJR says:

        I find it both amusing and scary that you say that “smaller government… has been taking money from people projects and giving it to corporations”.

        Does that actually make sense in your brain? What is “small government” about government taking money from people and giving it to corporations? That is called corporatism and in its extreme form a part of fascism. I think VFXSoldier somewhere earlier pointed to political donations from some DD bigwigs to Florida politicians’ campaigns. After the deal is made, they then hold press conferences and send out press releases to news stations in order to paint a rosey picture. The reporters read from the script and spoonfeed the public a sugar coated story. This is how it works and it is screwed up.

  2. faulknermano says:

    Only after a year or so in the vfx educational field here in NZ, I’m continually astounded at the lengths people can stomach exploiting folks who are in a disadvantaged position (e.g. students).

    There was a situation in the school where I used to teach where a commercial project was being done by students completely for free. The said project had an original budget, but it went over and client wasn’t happy with the end result. The producer then got the idea to approach the school whose management she had more than an acquaintance with; she struck up a deal and the school buttered up the project to the students by telling them that they will be supervised and thus have an educational component to it. It was false: there was no such supervisor and students were left to work and receive feedback via email, which, apparently, went on for the whole year.

    Granted, this is not nearly as bad as paying to work, but the it comes from the same cesspool. All this feels like a confidence trick.

  3. rhd says:

    ‘couldn’t care less’ not ‘could’.

  4. Dave Rand says:

    Interesting that they are boasting about going from a non profit organization to becoming a student film company. Great way to create a stunning brand name in the investment community. Selling my shares today..

  5. I think the other thing to highlight from the investment article is this section: “New horizontal expansion includes government-funded Bachelors and Masters programs wherein students pay Digital Domain to work for Digital Domain, a pending 100MM grant to bring the digital effects industry to Abu Dhabi, U.S. military contracts for immersive military training simulations …” So all of these programs that they are pointing out as good value for investors are really being funded by government contracts and taxpayer subsidies. We’re ALL going to be paying for it, and Digital Domain and its shareholders are privatizing the profit.

    • Ciaran says:

      “and Digital Domain and its shareholders are privatizing the profit.”

      Believe me, DD shareholders are not making any money.

      • Listen to 7:40 in the Ted Maxtor talk above:
        “We’ve got a core business, that is growing, and is profitable – in visual effects. We have a co-production business, where we’re really just participating economically in films that we’re already working on. And here is where we’re going into something you know, much more adventuresome, we actually got the State of Florida to pay for it. An $80 million grant and incentive package funded by the State of Florida and the city of Port St. Lucie to launch the animation studio in Florida.”

        They say they’re profitable. They’re growing – and they’re taking directly from the public till.

      • John Textor not Ted Maxtor, sorry about the name mix-up.

      • JTJR says:

        Maybe not, but DD has 4 feature animations in the works. Clearly, they are looking for the big payoff that can come from such releases but are no longer guaranteed.

        DD would be insane to do all this on a purely VFX model. Let’s hope they do better than SPA.

  6. silentalibi says:

    Sure, it’s awful as a principle…

    I don’t even pretend to know all the facts, but for what it’s worth – speaking as someone who’s about to graduate from a pretty highly regarded VFX degree in the UK, knowing what I know now and assuming all the fees were the same, I’d rather have done that. No matter how good formal education is, I don’t think it’s anywhere near production experience in terms of getting students ready for the industry.

    Having said that… It’s not really fair, shame on them for enabling this. Hopefully it won’t become an acceptable, trendy business model.

  7. Just WOW!! The additionally horrible part of this is students would be chomping at the bit to be exploited before they even officially enter the industry. I also have a feeling the kind of work these kids would get to do would be roto, plate cleanup, maybe some prop modeling and basic set dressing. Perhaps not great experience if you’re studying to be a character designer, animator etc. That and what about reels? Seems like students would leave with their names in the credits but without a solid, focused projects for their reels that demonstrate their capabilities. Seems like a very bad idea at best.

  8. Allan G. Smorra says:

    Your industry would benefit by organizing and joining the AFL-CIO. Any soldier can fight a battle, it takes an army to win a war.

  9. Pssst says:

    Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Britain’s Unite Union says Labour lost its way during its 13 years in power leaving workers with fewer rights “…oil companies allowing a race to the bottom… the very social infrastructure that has been built up over the last 60 years is being stripped away…”

  10. I guess the next step after the “We can get anyone to replace you; hundreds of people are dying for your job” mentality is the complete devaluation of the worker.

    Stay classy DD.

  11. Scott Ross says:

    There is so much to say here… and I’ve not the time today ( it’s my fiancee’s 61st birthday)…. but here are a few tidbits:

    DD’s effort here is a perfect example of the new American form of capitalism…


    Please take a look at DD’s bottom line…there are no profits. DD has had sizeable losses since the new team took over the Company. Please take a look at DDMG’s trading price… it opened at $8.50/share and has been trading at around $5.50/share.

    Textor is one resourceful fellow.

    He’s doing everything imaginable to make sure that his investment in DD works out well for him. He’s had a cashflow problem for years because DD has consistently lost money since 2006. He’s needed cash to stay afloat and see this investment through. He had a failed IPO in 2008. He said after the failed IPO that he was going to get a better price from Private Equity investors. That didn’t seem to happen. He then started closing down divisions and had layoffs. He then hit upon an idea to make promises to the state of FLA and raised cash through taxpayer dollars to the tune of $135 Million. And finally, he had a shaky IPO in 2011 where the Company was to price at $12-$15/share but opened at $8.50 and seemed terribly undersubscribed. Mr. Textor personally bought $10MM of stock at $8.50 at IPO. Approximately one month later, DDMG’s board approved a stock repurchase program of….. $10MM.

    What we haven’t talked about is the number of options or who owns options at very low option prices. It will be interesting to see what happens come May 2012, once the insider trading lockup provision has expired.

    BTW, the above is not the root cause problem of the VFX industry. The root cause is NO MARGINS…. and the solution will never be addressed as long as apathy, petty bickering, fear and lack of leadership persists.

    • jonavark says:

      Personally, I don’t care what DD’s bottom line is. Nor is it any of my business if they are so arrogant and desperate as to set up a program for artists to pay them to work for them. If anyone takes that bait they deserve what they get.

      But Scott… what’s your solution to the leadership problem?

      I am confused about your desires here. At one point it seemed clear that you were ready to lead the effort to develop a trade association. But your public attempts and the discussions that ensued put you off. Though, in the position of a TA wouldn’t you need an incredibly thick skin and extensive diplomacy to carry out that task?

      The tax incentives are probably going to be an insurmountable problem. Though, I had the thought that an effort to modify them so that only residents of any particular region would be allowed to work in these locations might be applicable. Keep the incentives but prohibit nomadic movement of artists from around the globe to populate the companies taking advantage of them. At first it might seem counter productive but in the long run I can see how a positive result might occur.

      • Scott Ross says:

        The bottom line of companies, especially leading companies in any industry is critically important to the health of that industry as well as to the workforce that works within that industry. You SHOULD care about the bottom line. A lot.

        I’m not sure what the solution to the leadership problem is. The VFX industry is fractured, mistrusting, apathetic, fearful, political and whiny without a results orientation. It has been the bane of this fabulous industry since I can remember. And it just keeps getting worse. My hope is that at one point it will get so bad that everyone will band together and a leader will emerge.

        My desire is simple…. an industry that I helped build is falling apart. I would like to add some perspective that will hopefully shed an informed inside look at what the problems really are and how they might be solved.

        The tax incentives are difficult to address, but, let’s not forget where the problem lies. The tax incentives draw work from the major motion picture studios. The major motion picture studios allow for these tax subsidies to work. The major motion picture studios are making a fortune. The major motion picture studios are US based corporations. The US is in the middle of a need for jobs. Presidential candidates are all about keeping jobs in the US. One of the major exports of the US is entertainment.
        Difficult, but with the necessary resources, leadership and unity, not insurmountable.

      • RE: “bottom line of vfx companies”

        Guess what? If employees aren’t being paid, *you have lost the #vfx industry*

      • Scott Ross says:

        duh….. of course employees need to be paid… and competitively.
        And… companies need to make profit….
        Economics 101

      • Dave Rand says:

        I’ve written and spoken and acted on what I’m about to write many times. I don’t claim to be an expert but I’ve made some observations along the way. I’ve worked for 14 major visual fx companies over the last 20 yrs. and been on the staff of five that all failed for the same reason….being forced into a business model that involves bidding on work without a solid blueprint. Construction would not do this, they would find it LAUGHABLE. It’s the reason DD has lost millions while the bulk of their films go on to make 100’s of millions. As Scott has pointed out many times without leverage at the shop level this will never change. As VFX arists we have even less leverage so ultimately we will be exploited.

        We do work for the most highly leverage corporations on the planet. They walk above the law, above the press, above our politicians, and recently, even above the unions attempts at organizing us.

        Entering a business relationship with entities like this and surrendering all your leverage to them is a fools game.

        No one should be struggling or having to get students and governments to pay for a product that is highly profitable.

      • jonavark says:

        “You SHOULD care about the bottom line. A lot.”

        No.. I shouldn’t care about DD’s bottom line. That’s the job of the people that own the company. In fact if DD fails and disappears it is fine with me. Something or someone will take their place. That’s how it works as far as I am concerned.

        If I did care about it what am I supposed to do anyway? It is a company that decides its own fate. If they fail, it is because of their business model and decisions they make. Not my problem.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Scott did you get a chance to listen to the whole audio presentation?

      The DD CEO actually says that vfx education is highly profitable. He points out one education company churning out unqualified vfx artists and making over 150 million a year.

      DD in Florida is one of the few vfx facilities that also actually receives subsidies. It’s usually the studios that get that rebate.

      In other words this is a very profitable business model.

      • Scott Ross says:

        This COULD be a very profitable business model… at present all the government subsidies are not accounted for by GAP as revenue and therefor not as profit. They are calculated as liabilities on the balance sheet.

        I know that SCAD, a reputable college in GA is very profitable, although much of that comes from very savvy real estate deals by their President.

        However, Mr. Textor seems to be taking a few highly risky positions:
        1. DD will need to fulfill its promises to FLA by 2014
        2. DD will need a hit w Enders Game and Tusker
        3. There are several high profile law suits
        4. Their stock has not been performing
        5. As a public company their financials will be there for everyone to see.

        That all being said, DD is highly unprofitable now and has been since my departure.

      • fxdurden says:

        Yes. Very profitable. For Mr. Textor. Pretty much everyone else involved is going to be left holding the bag. And I can guarantee you that’s his PRIMARY goal.

        He’s going to put together this huge CG feature that’s going to be run like all other major DD shows being run lately — that is, it’s going to be the biggest cluster f$%k ever — with the added benefit of 30% of the workforce not knowing a damn thing about CG and thus producing complete crap (Most likely putting in 70-100 hours + per week, mind you).

        In the end, the company will crumble under the weight of all this myopic absurdity once the state of FL finally gets it’s act together and pulls all the subsidies, but only after Mr. Textor has cashed out of the entire thing and left this once majestic ship to drown in the weight of his avarice.

  12. Isn’t DD pretty squarely in violation of the FLSA: , regardless of whether they call this an “internship” or a class assignment?

    • skaplan839 says:

      I have a call in to USDOL that will ask that very question. I’m supposed to hear back from them today.

    • I would think so. Esp. this section:
      ” … if the interns are engaged in the operations of the employer or are performing productive work (for example, filing, performing other clerical work, or assisting customers), then the fact that they may be receiving some benefits in the form of a new skill or improved work habits will not exclude them from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime requirements because the employer benefits from the interns’ work.”

      Maybe they’ll get minimum wage but DD will pocket the difference between their wage and the bid.

  13. pn says:

    As a former student one could see the draw to work on a film while in school, it is something to put on your CV when you leave school, you have actual experience and the work is ‘high’ quality (at least as a student you would think it is). Most likely teachers are not allowed to advise their students that they are being taken advantage of. This brings up larger issues with work, education and the future of the younger people in America.

    As Scott says, the problem is the new form of American Capitalism.

  14. Matt Moses says:

    Wow. This will all run its course.. sooner than later.

  15. Thing is, to my mind at least, people WILL pay, because not only are you going to “college” (which you would pay for anyway) but you are also getting feature experience. Even if you showed them the quote from Textor it probably wouldn’t change their mind. I doubt they are giving these unnamed students credits (although they should) but that would be yet another draw.

  16. bob says:

    Not really news the CEO of Dd announced his intent to use their students for production at least a year ago in a press release.

    “Cheap labor is good, but free labor is even better.”

  17. Just posted to Film Works facebook page. This is disgusting.

  18. anon says:

    Yeah, and if we only pony up a $3 million budget to Scott Ross, he’ll bring all our jobs back, we’ll get decent hours and awesome benefits.

    Funny, he didn’t seem that concerned with these issues when he was running DD, but now, finally, he’s really, really on the side of artists.

    Pardon me if I don’t wanna buy Ross’s snake oil.

    • Scott Ross says:

      Frankly Anon, I don’t want your money… but if an organization is gonna work to right these wrongs, it will need capital to do so.

    • Scott Ross says:

      In addition, I ran two successful VFX studios for over 18 years, employed thousands of men and women, gave awesome opportunities to many and I’m proud of my career. Given the economics of the VFX industry, I always supported the artists, never missed a payroll, offered stock options, paid overtime, offered a health benefits program and had some awesome parties too!

      What did you do Anon?

      • Scott Ross says:

        oh, and yeah… a bunch of Academy Award nominations, wins and Sci Tech Awards as well…

        and what did you do Anon?

      • skaplan839 says:

        Save your energy Scott ..

      • Dave Rand says:

        Big plus sign in my book next to Scott Ross

      • friendly_anon says:


        Really all you gotta is tell us what we need to do. Besides signing a union card, there no real straightforward course of action. Call a meeting, start a petition, something we can move forward with. I believe you can get the job done and if you take the first step we’ll follow.

    • jonavark says:

      “What did you do Anon?”

      unnecessary. Boasting is one thing but comparing it to an anonymous poster’s achievements is another.

  19. Greg says:

    How is this school DD is starting different from Calarts, started by Disney in the early 60’s?

    Students pay to go to that school, and the school offers intern programs at various studios including Disney. It’s considered one of the better art schools.

    I went there in the 80’s, worked as an unpaid intern at one of the large studios in Hollywood, and found it to be a great experience. Got me in the door, met people that are otherwise hard to meet, saw how production works from the inside, and definitely helped my career in animation and CG.

    Although the $$$ amounts are certainly much higher these days,
    there is a supposedly fair trade here.

    The wording of “Pay to work for free” is perhaps a negative way of describing an intern program. Perhaps another way to put it: “Pay a school to learn your craft, and the school offers an intern program to get students in the back door of a large studio for a chance to meet people and establish relationships with people in the industry, and have those people answer your questions while you work next to them.”

    Rampant capitalism and bad work conditions of the industry aside, as I think that’s a separate issue, having a studio start a school and offer an intern program seems like a great idea to me.

    As long as the internship is fair for the student, it should be fine. Internships are a two way street; the student doesn’t have to do it if they don’t want to, and can stop at any time if they don’t feel they’re getting a fair arrangement. If it’s an unfair arrangement, it simply won’t work.

    • The Disney deal was much different. Walt Disney Donated a bucket of money to the school to build a new building. This was to invigorate the school so that the school could produce higher-skilled artists. In this instance, Disney was not only expecting to bring in interns but were willing to hire those interns at very competitive pay scales.

      The difference here with DD is that DD is getting artists to do work that contributes to the end product (e.g. the Film). Disney has had and will always have interns. But they are NOT allowed to work on Full Features or any product the produces some money.

      I know this because I worked at Disney for several years and also know people who went through the intern program.

      There are clear Labor Laws to what DD is trying to do. They can not use interns to do a job that would normally require some kind of pay. Now, if DD pays the interns, they may… I say may be able to get away with it.

      But I hold to my original statement. Who wants to work in Florida for one VFX company when Los Angeles has more than 10 including several major players. Granted DD now has a good rep for the work they produce. But for Florida to become a place where good talent wants to move too; you need at least 5 solid companies producing work.

      Even Vancouver and other oversee’s companies have difficulty attracting top talent. Unless they do all the “big” work at the Florida facility I don’t see what DD’s management thinking. And even then it needs to be the next Harry Potter film or Hunger Games film for the studio’s to attract talent in Florida.

      What is crazy about all of this is that States like Florida are being retarded for giving out huge tax breaks to Film companies. DD will be there for a period of time. Once the tax break is gone you can bet DD will close that facility just like sony just did in ABQ, New Mexico.

    • The problem here is several fold. It’s illegal since Federal law has very specific rules and laws regarding internships. The link is in one the replies here. You can’t have people working for free. It’s fine for educational reasons but if it’s doing fully production work and displacing workers then it’s illegal. If a teacher there gave the students the same shot 9which was already finished by production), had them work on it and the actual shot compositor providing feedback, that would be fine.

      But in this case it’s specially to use these paying students to do production work. 30% of the work force will be students. That means 30% of the people who would have worked in visual effects are not hired. I think think that’s a much different approach than CalArts.

      In this case the school and the production company are one and the same. The production has announced it’s plans to use the same students they’re teaching to be their paying workers.

      The school/production company is accepting money from the state to fund this. The state is under the mistaken belief they’re producing high tech workers who will have no problems finding work.

      The school/production is double benefiting from this arrangement. They make money directly from the students paying student fees and because they don’t pay these workers, their labor costs are 30% lower. That means they can under bid other companies who actually employ paid workers or they can profit much more.

      And once they’ve produced these students, where will the students actually work? The school/production doesn’t need paid workers. Those positions are already filled and in any case 30% of the available positions will be filled by new students. Why pay for workers when they will pay you?

      And if this loophole and business model is exploited here it will be exploited by many firms, visual effects and non-visual effects.
      Imagine any company considering not only slashing their work force 30% to save money but to charge them on top of that. It’s that issue of people being taken advantage of by companies that the Federal law exists to prevent people from becoming simply free workers for companies.

      Students seeing and learning from watching people work on the job is fine. But having them do full work unpaid as part of their plan is exploiting them.

  20. Mark Duckworth says:

    Not too many years ago I was a students who paid far too much to go to a private art school to get an education I could have had for far less from various books and DVDs. From there I transitioned into the industry via a six month unpaid internship. An internship where I ended up doing commercial work for nothing. I remember well the mindset I had at the time: “I’m not getting paid, but I’m getting my foot in the door!” Seems that is the same mindset that DD is counting on now. The same mindset that could have dire consequences on our industry as it is exploited on a whole new level.

    How much more will it take for us to finally come together and actually take action?

  21. argh says:

    Five films?! So they’ll be likely doing shots by their 2nd year? Screw india, I’m sending my roto to a bunch of 19 year old kids in florida!

    I’ll reserve judgement about whether this will save the failing VFX business model, but there’s a lot that’s really messed up about this.

    Anyone want to take bets about what the starting salaries will be when they ‘graduate’?

    I mean, what company wouldn’t want to hire a bunch of people they know are:
    – passionate about the work to their own detriment
    – trained in exactly what they need to finish shots, no more and no less
    – unfathomably deep in debt

    This is the most basic kind of conflict of interest that causes people to be exploited.

    Since DD is now a publicly traded company they have a legal obligation to their shareholders to maximize their profits. They can be sued, as companies commonly are, for making decisions that may lower their stock price.

    Given that this school will cost them some overhead to run, and the output of their students directly affects the companies bottom line, take a wild guess what’s going to happen.

    And if the state of Florida really thinks that dumping hundreds of millions of taxpayer’s money into a private company will somehow generate enough good will for DD to provide a good education for tuition paid despite their direct financial interest in not doing so, I have a bridge to sell them.

  22. Disgusted says:

    Wow, just when I thought they couldn’t go any lower. You know, this BS business model will only work if experienced VFX artists agree to sell their souls and teach/work there.


    • raphael protti says:

      You hit the nail on the head.. I have teaching experience at a school who tried to implement that model… I’m not sure it’s working too well for them. For one, The students aren’t all stupid. They aren’t paying for the studio to crank out content at a profit, they are paying to get the experience they want and will make sure they get their money’s worth, which will invariably go against the interest of the studio as a BUSINESS…

      It might sound so clever, but let’s see how it works out in practice. I wish DD good luck putting shots for Transformers 4 in front of their student – artists and get quality work out within budget. And I question who is being taken for a ride here… The students or the potential investors who are being baited with Dickensian business models. Yeah, as in Charles Dickens…

      As an experienced artist, supporting this practice would be akin to gouging my left eye out. I know better. And there would be no need to “organize” if we all refused to compromise ourselves systematically.

      Anyways, to address the apathy comments, you make your own bed, as they say. I’m using whatever energy I have left at the end of the day to get out of this industry, not to save it from Wall Street.

      • sinistertopiary says:

        “Anyways, to address the apathy comments, you make your own bed, as they say. I’m using whatever energy I have left at the end of the day to get out of this industry, not to save it from Wall Street.”

        Ditto. Although, as I and many of my peers have discovered, this is an industry more difficult to get out of, than in to — as the adage goes. But I have known a few to succeed.

        Having been in this industry for such a long time (>20 years) it’s depressing to see so many kids come in to this industry with great verve and excitement, only to see them disillusioned within months looking for a way out.

  23. John says:

    “couldn’t care less” … not… “could care less”

  24. Anon says:

    Congratulations to all the artists who ghosted hours over the years making producers think it’s ok to keep cutting back the bid days. You think those extra hours now and then for ‘polish’ weren’t hurting anyone?

    • Anonymous says:

      Sadly there are too many of them. A certain major studio in the LA area with satellite studios in the southwest US and southwestern Canada even gives special recognitions to these people who manage to produce SO much work in such little time! Of course they pretend to not know they ghosted hours. See no evil hear no evil. This is indirect message that if you ghost hours, you will also have “special recognition.”

      • Anon says:

        It’s infuriating. I bid shots based on what they should take, not on what the producers might want. I ask for 10 days on a 10 day shot, they say do it in 7. The artist spends 10 days on it, but only charges 6, and my next bidding session, I get told to do it in 6. It’s a pain that just keeps on giving and it’s incredibly selfish and short sighted. BUT…like you said, there are some sups that reward that little bit extra and they are a huge part of the problem.

  25. taco_sal says:

    I can’t wait for DD to open a money lender company next to the school. Student loans at discount!

    Don’t worry, you can pay them off over 10 years while working at DD, in an industry that you love!

    • friendly_anon says:

      Jesus man, don’t give them any ideas. I’ll bet you ANYTHING they’ve already talked about starting a financial arm.

  26. […] would like to take a moment to thank VFXSoldier for bringing Digital Domain’s exploitative hiring practices to everyone’s attention. Much has been said on this topic already, but as I repeatedly beat […]

  27. sinistertopiary says:

    A CG Supe I work with just told me that a friend of his started teaching at this VFX school in Florida for DD, and that they’re working on some kind of secret military visualization he’s not at liberty to discuss.

    So… students pay for the privilege of doing secret military work at a college where a high-end production company overseeing the work is federally subsidized.

    That, in a nutshell, is, as Scott Ross says, the American model of corporate capitalism — and one that furthers the interests of the military/security state to boot (which is a vital aspect of that model).

    A great example of America’s more user-friendly version of Arbeit Macht Frei.

  28. Wasn’t this the same business model as Tom Sawyer’s picket fence? “Hey, this is really fun. You should try it. What will you pay me to let you do it?”

    If this model works and is legal, expect studios to create their own filmmaking classes. As is, they might be able to take some special tax deductions for education when they send work to DD.

  29. P says:

    We all know what its like to work on a film right? How is one supposed to go to class whilst trying to hit a mad milestone? A movie deadline is not going to wait while you study the theory behind log and linear. OH wait, i see what they did there… at least they’ll be ready for the real world, working over time to learn and get their shot done..they’ll be burnt out before they over saturate the market!….phew.

  30. Mike says:

    Dr. Ross has made some very good point… particularly, the apathy in the industry…. there’s still opportunity to organize into a viable group of vfx professionals, and the time is now. We have to be visible, and proactive. It’s risky, but look at what the non-active alternative is- how much worse do we let the industry become before we become active?


  31. Dave says:

    Seems woefully absurd. -Paying money to help devalue the labour costs of the industry you’re trying to get into, thereby losing money in the present while actively reducing the remuneration you will receive in the future.
    Seems to play right into the hands of people that are doing all they can to exploit any cost savings they can find. Particularly with the sales line of doing this so we don’t lose an industry, while already pushing so much of their work overseas.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Couldn’t have said it better. I would love to see this fly on an episode of shark tank.

      • Lurker says:

        I think it would fly pretty well on Shark Tank, as it seemed all they cared about was shipping work overseas in order to save a couple of $100 a unit.

        Wait…so actually, they’d probably disagree as the work is still in America.
        Blast! So confused at the suits and their money greed.

  32. anony - mouse says:

    Well, I have only seen a few good student films. None worthy of my money in a theater. A studio built on talent like this will get what it pays for.

    Compete. Gates/Jobs built computers in their garages. You have the tools to make games and feature films in your garages. Plympton and Bakshi do it.

    I think trained artists should be able to make better films than what producers have been putting in the theaters. Chinese artists will make films for Chinese culture. Compete where you have the greatest leverage. Put the studios out of business. You can do this without unionizing.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Hello sir!

      I would like to be taught on how to make a movie like avatar in my garage. I hope to win an Oscar and out all of the big 6 studios out of business. Please pay me 1 million dollars.

      • anony - mouse says:

        Well, you make fun of me . . . I can understand that. However, you are one artist alone railing against well heeled business folk who are organized. You cannot fight on the same playing field, and this single thread is not working towards that. Bakshi and Plympton are making a lot of money without creating Avatar.

        Education for the arts is a major profit center. Now is a boom time, and schools have very little accountability, per current government standards.

        So now you want to start a school? You are joining a crowded space. However, partner with someone savvy to WASC (like me, someone who can fast track you) – or think in a new way. We now have millions of channels, web pages, content sites hungry for films. Ignore the competition. Competition is the American way. Be better. Make watchable films. Create something worthy of your title as artist and lift, guide, and inspire human beings like only you have the tools to do.

        I was recently in China. Education over there is rapidly advancing. SCAD has set up a school in Hong Kong. So have several other universities. Studios interested in Chinese labor will have employees available soon. However, like India, they will raise their prices to a level that makes it unreasonable to work overseas. Dreamworks China will have a ready work force, but eventually it will cost the same as one here. Chinese factory workers flee from factory to factory with fervor to gain the best life for themselves. This already happened in India when studios tried to set up there.

        This will sound like ‘dirt’, but it really is not intended to be. I am trying to stick to the facts. DD is taking advantage of a few flaws in the system – but they are operating much like schools already in existence. In fact – you may be surprised at which studios are making deals in china to create education centers to serve their cost centers.

        SCAD understands the profit model of education. (SCAD Film Dean only has a BA and no production experience). Art Institutes does too. SCAD understands that it turns out a lot of lesser-skilled artists, as they accept over 1200 students any one year within the electronic media programs under the film school, and have recently instituted an ‘art teacher’ degree. Many SCAD grads end up teaching at the Art Institute. Per Title IV standards, a graduate only needs to have A job (fast food counts) – not a job reflecting the training paid for – to allow a school to continuing distributing government funded financial aid.

        Training like ‘Animation Mentor’ is cheaper – but still represents a problem. AM uses private financing, has over 600 students at any one time, charges $16,000 . . . but are there jobs for 600 new animators a year – plus all the animators trained around the world? Meanwhile, AM makes over 10 million a year. The success of this institution is what fueled the business plan at DD. All animators will accept the offer of $100 an hour to teach there (most of you will now go and apply!) 😉

        Studios may not advocate one school over another to students requesting information. It is against the law. Therefor, a school will never really be able to set itself apart from a school with a good marketing team. DD can now employ an excellent marketing plan.

        A for profit school can make a lot of money due to a flaw in the system. WASC is a reasonable accreditor that requires schools to operate in a manner that encourages a healthy learning environment. It is tough to achieve since 2006. China will only deal with American schools that are WASC accredited. However, most for-profit schools are accredited with lesser institutions that do not force the school to adhere to standards. Interestingly, these schools still qualify for Title IV funding. This gap is is a rich profit center. Buy an accreditation to appease the uninformed students and parent, and maintain the minimum government standards for Federal Aid, then you can charge the highest tier of tuition permitted by the government. The student remains unaware of the repayment costs. These Title IV requirements are stiff on paper, but I worked with a school in Los Angeles with only NASAD accreditation who received Title IV funding with none of the required infrastructure. They will earn millions before they are held accountable.

        New accountability standards are in the pipeline. However, these schools have lobbyists. Since they will be functional businesses, likely they will be bailed out in tandem to being caught for misuse of funds once the standards catch up with them.

        Nationally, we are fighting back in a very creative we. We are now encouraging our children to become scientists instead of artists. STEM is the new buzzword. Perhaps this is the wise solution in the long run? Until then – you cannot fight this as individual artists. Compete and make good product and rise above. Then YOU will be putting together a business.

      • jonavark says:

        “Compete and make good product and rise above. Then YOU will be putting together a business.”


  33. Rather-Stay anonymous says:

    I can see how someone eager to enter the industry might see this as a way to get in.
    I did go to school for CG, it was a vocational school, it took 12 months, and they gave me a good base to go off of and learned a package I barely use anymore, but the majority of the stuff I know today, has come from further learning on my own, mostly tutorials, and co workers I’ve worked next to.
    I’ve been at it for about 6 and half years, and have been making 6 figures for about 3 out of those 6, now those numbers are not based on just what I know, there has been a lot of hustling for work, networking, growing some tough skin and learning the art of negotiation, and of course delivering a good results.
    I know some people need to be shown the way, but I seriously think that a subscription to digital tutors and Gnomon gets you to where you need to be.
    What DD is doing, is abusive.

  34. While I wish to share in your outrage and disgust, I have experienced this same sort of arraignment at another school for another degree back around 1990. I was getting an Associates Degree in Hospitality Management at a school in Northern Michigan and I had to spend a complete semester working 40 hrs a week at a local resort, unpaid, as part of the courses “work experience.” I had to work at various positions in the resort, learning each of positions while working under a paid employee. On top of that I had to write reports on what I learned and still do homework work from a couple of classes.

    While I can find no program like that today at the school, you can find different work experience programs practices are still instituted at colleges and universities around the nation and around the world for different course and different degrees.

  35. Dave Rand says:

    Part of my education involved internships. The work experience was several hours a week under the professors supervision. The purpose of that internship was completely geared towards my education and not the profit of the institution I was posted at. At no time did anyone adopt a business plan that included me :

    “paying for the privilege to work there”

  36. When I worked a gig at a VFX facility, while I went to college for film studies, the facility paid me a fairly standard entry-level wage to work there. I asked them about internships; they said they didn’t have any. The people I knew who were already there then helped me get a real job that I could do while I went to school.

    I pulled a real paycheck, met a lot of great, hardworking folks, and went on to stay in the industry.

    Ironically, that first gig was at DD; I got it a week before Scott left. Times have changed since 2006.

  37. CanadianArtist says:

    I’m in the industry, and I have an idea: teach the animators and artists BUSINESS during school. If artists knew their worth in dollars, and not just in passion, we wouldn’t be in this position right now. Even musicians have royalties for the work they create, why don’t we? Knowledge is leverage, yet we blind ourselves with the idea that we are talented and unique. We are, yet, we request nothing in return, all the while games like Modern Warfare rake in millions that are lost to the artist. Get this through your thick skulls: we are not in competition with each other, we should know what we’re worth, and should demand what we deserve. We’re athletes and deserve the pay that they make…entertainment is entertainment.

    • LA_Artist says:


      Please try to keep in mind that no Animator in the history of the Animation Industry has ever received “royalties.” No, not one.

      And you think there is a chance that the VFX artists could reverse that trend? I wish.

      The guys who make the deals and get entertainment produced are drinking the kool-aid and sending the work to the cheapest bid, and that will continue until it hits bottom.

      There are things that can be done, but the VFX industry is so woefully dis-organized and arguing among themselves that nothing effective is being done.

      – LA_Artist

      • VFX Soldier says:

        In 2009 the iatse received over 300 million in residuals that is used entirely to help fund the health and pension plans of its members:

  38. I have to point out a few major points maybe overlooked.

    1. The VFX industry is not in Florida… DD is having a hell of a time getting people to move to Florida. The talent is in LA area plane and simple. I know this because the recruiters are contacting me every few months.

    2. Any independent VFX company other than ILM, Tippett, and Sony are stupid for going public. A public company is only interested in profits. This destroys the company focus.

    3. Management. It appears that DD is suffering from too many idiot cheefs and Indians that don’t care what happens. Even not working at DD I have worked at enough studios to know that the management is more than likely to cause more harm than good. Especially if that management went from a small company to a large company with no management restructuring.

    4. Government. The government seems to not understand the VFX world. I have sent several emails and made calls to both federal and state labor departments and both point to the other. Maybe the DOJ is better. I think the best course of action would be a lawsuit of some sort. But that too would get covered up. Those who worked at Escape or Orphange know what I’m talking about.

    I’m fighting the big fight. Keep on marching forward.

  39. vfxArtist_and_Educator says:

    I want ask a very basic question.

    What has anyone here done to contribute to the state of education in this industry ?

    Although it runs contrary to the constant rage comic that is this blog and all those who choose it as a place to air their dissatisfaction and dirty laundry, it might actually be of more benefit to promote good initiatives and applaud those trying to create good future talent.

    Here are two links to some forward thinking programs in the United Kingdom.

    Click to access Undergraduate_Course_Accreditation_Guidelines_Animation_opt.pdf

    For all this talk of marching forward and effecting positive change that I hear on this blog, there is precious little from those actually trying to make it happen.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Uh. Why don’t you try searching my blog first?

      I’ve written about education in the VFX industry and my recommendation is simple. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars you should go to a local junior college and transfer to major in computer science in a regular college. You can teach yourself vfx with plenty of videos and online tutorials along the way and practice. In the post below I go over some of the insane prices for some of these schools. The school you mention in your comment is a 3 year program that will cost $USD 60,000 for tuition alone! WHAT A SCAM!

      • vfxArtist_and_Educator says:

        Your comment reveals your total ignorance of the landscape in the UK and the what is being done on the issue. The next gen initiative is constructed precisely in response to the recent rise in the cost of tertiary education as a scheme to create alternative education solutions which don’t require years of paid education resulting in worthless qualifications.

        this is being driven primarily by industry here to make it easier for people to start their careers in vfx or to transition into vfx from other industries.

        Just because DD are doing something you might consider exploitative, does not immediately mean that everyone else is out to make a quick buck. That prejudice is exactly what prompted me to comment in the first place.

      • jonavark says:

        A quick buck? Well I can see how that interpretation is true in some cases.

        I will say this. More than one of my assistants has made this very comment:

        “Wow.. I learned more here in 6 weeks than I did in a year of school”

        Given that.. there is a very real possibility that paying to learn at DD would result in a higher quality of graduates. But I do find the notion that they are doing this predatory and disturbing.

    • jonavark says:

      Professionals earning a living working in VFX have absolutely ZERO responsibility to educate anyone. That is an absurd notion at its base. We’re educating OUR children and feeding OUR families. The ability to do that fairly IS the thrust of this blog.

      I find your assertion that it is our responsibility laughable.

      • vfxArtist_and_Educator says:

        If you position yourself as a commodity then you will be treated as a commodity. That is not somewhere that I would like to be in a capitalist economy.

        your first responsibility should be to educate and train yourself, that’s what differentiates a highly desirable knowledge worker from a replaceable button pusher.

      • jonavark says:

        I don’t think your initial post was about educating and training myself now was it? I believe you asserted that we have some responsibility to educate others. We all do that in the process of making our livings.

        I position myself as a professional. If you would like to consider me a commodity then by all means do so. I do the same work and make the best wage I can regardless.

  40. vfxArtist_and_Educator says:

    I don’t mention any school. I merely point out two publicly funded schemes designed to produce better education criteria, in effect to stop the problem of schools overcharging and under delivering.

    getting 60 grand into debt is an insane and untenable position and the exact opposite what someone getting into a career should do.

    People also need to wake up and realize that education is not a one time thing that guarantees a happy ever after result. In this and any other evolving tech service industry education is an ongoing process that everyone needs to participate if they want to stay relevant and employable.

    • jonavark says:

      Again.. not our problem. If you make a living educating in VFX that’s fine. Expecting that to be part of a professional artist’s job is not realistic.

    • jonavark says:

      Also.. during every project I have ever done where I need to hire, I am also training and educating. But only if they’re making shots happen and getting the project where it needs to go. Beyond that, it is up to the individual to figure out how to learn on their own.

      • vfxArtist_and_Educator says:

        make up your mind a few posts up you said you had no responsibility to educate anyone, now you state that you educate as an incentive.

        I am by no means referring just to professional educators. Everyone knows someone in their area who gives away tools and scripts and plugins for free on the web.This has long been a part of vfx culture, doing so raises their profile and makes them more desirable as well as contributing to the notion of a commonwealth in an industry benefits all its members. No one is saying that people who are receiving education don’t have to show initiative.

        FYI it is realistic, some of the best and most productive people I have met in this business actively give out free training, tips and tricks. I have even seen companies where contributing to employee mentoring and education is taken into account for promotion.

      • jonavark says:

        Nope.. I didn’t say I educate as an incentive. As a matter of course I teach skills to people I hire. I made the point that I teach people who are already productive. I should have said that I don’t hire people who aren’t and teach them to be so. There’s the difference. And no, I do not have the ‘responsibility’ to educate anyone at all. I do so only when I feel it is necessary and relevant to what I am doing.

        I freely distribute the code that I write as well. But it isn’t my priority. I also freely and openly assist other artists asking for my help for free. But I am very busy trying to earn a living and don’t publish a blog with tutorials or training.

        In fact, most of the research I do is in the attempt to circumvent horribly written software, usually from Autodesk. I do more searching for work-arounds than I do for techniques.

        You seemed to be asserting that one of the responsibilities of this website should be training and I disagree with that.

        In fact, the notion of “trade secrets” is still alive and well no matter how much free information is out there and I believe it should be. That’s how people compete.

        I am going to assume that since you claim to be an educator you are paid to do so? Isn’t that different than what you assert should be an objective for everyone?

  41. We have nothing against teaching and educating students interested in visual effects. Many of us have done so in different classes, books, online tutorials, etc. Most of us are eager and willing to share. The VES also sponsors a number of educational events.

    BUT you have to understand UK visual effects are partially publicly funded via tax incentives. The UK visual effects industry is growing and they need skilled people. And the UK government is pushing education to fill that need. Some of the UK success is at the expense of those in the US and as such the US visual effects industry is not growing. Also most states and the federal government here are cutting back on education support so we make sure the tax money goes to corporations and the rich.

    So we encourage people who are actually interested in visual effects. We do not actively try to encourage people to get into visual effects. Nor do we encourage students to enroll in for profit centers that are more interested in making money than in truly educating students in the art form. There are plenty of lower cost alternatives

    In this example DD is taking full advantage of the students, the people of Florida and the visual effects industry. Would DD do any of this if there no large profits? No.

    • JTJR says:

      “The UK visual effects industry is growing and they need skilled people.”

      What a bunch of Malarkey. If the industry in the UK was growing in a healthy and natural way, you wouldn’t need your government handouts to distort the market in your favor.

      “We encourage people who are actually interested in visual effects. We do not actively try to encourage people to get into visual effects.”

      That’s another blatant falsehood. So, what you are saying is that your government and schools in the UK are pure at heart compared to the US counterparts. Give me a break, man.

      I don’t like DD taking money from our government, but don’t try to pretend that the UK is different with their subsidies. The government paying people to learn VFX floods the market and brings down all of our salaries. It ends up benefiting the big studios and the politicians only.

      • Scott Squires says:

        I think you’re misreading some of my posts. I’m not defending the UK incentives, I’m pointing out their education and needs approach.

        Elsewhere some people had mistaken sarcasm in some posts for actual viewpoints.

  42. Foo Bar says:

    excellent post, which needs more exposure, can you please submit it to zerohedge, I’m sure tyler will post it there for you.

  43. Dave Rand says:

    Actually student programs like this will become more and more important and crucial to these shops survival as seasoned talented artists will begin to refuse to teach in their schools or work on their productions because we’ve been put in this difficult position by those practices.

    I have many friends at DD and I really enjoyed working for them, but this upper level management broadcast has put us all in a hard place.

    Shops that look down on our lack of leverage as a way to make up for bad business models and client management. Those colluding with one another to keep our wages down with back door deals will also find it difficult to find the talent they need to function. I have many friends a ILM and PIxar and I’m in complete admiration of their work but they have also put all of us in a difficult position by making us choose based on their management’s bad calls. Sadly my recent interview at ILM turned into my expressing these feelings and I was escorted out.

    We are not a commodity. They need to tell the studios to stop forcing them to work on a fixed price with no margins.

    I you want to do something about these situations speak out …yes … don’t work for them ….even better. Get organized, get leverage, only then will the shit stop rolling–

    …and maybe a better business model will be accepted.

    • Ashes says:

      I highly doubt people will refuse to teach. How many people took positions in India and China to teach so they could open up shops and charge 50-70% less then other places? It’s the same thing, offer enough money and someone will do it.

      • Dave Rand says:

        India’s private sector is quickly becoming one of the largest contributors to funding of content. They’ve been adding a great deal of talent and finance to the mix. Reliance Media being just one of the leaders there. India’s middle class is a huge market.. larger that all of North America combined. This type of contribution to the global expansion of visual fx is welcome in my book. China and the rest not so much, not yet anyway but all that infrastructure built on America’s and others dimes will eventually attract more local private money..That is my observation anyway. Right now there is an imbalance.

        As for deciding what to do with your life and what compromises to make based on your beliefs and family obligations…that’s a personal choice for sure. For me… I’ve made mine. ILM, Pixar, and now DD are off my radar and on my personal “blacklist”. Other artists may have trouble finding and need to take what they can get, but at this point I’ll always encourage artist to avoid them. Nothing against all my good friends that work for those companies but their HR departments need to hear at least some sought after artists say “because of your management’s statements and actions I feel it’s my duty as a visual fx artist in this day and age to politely decline any offers to work for you until you change your position on how artists should be treated. I disagree with your current behavior and find it exploitative and offensive to the growth of our industry. There are other more fruitful ways to be competitive like creating a strong brand name that can begin to dictate how you work and how you get paid by your clients. It’s time to stop putting the byproducts of your bad business model and client management on the backs of your talent.”

        That’s my part in taking action rather than just finger pointing. The other is putting my name behind my statements.

      • Ashes says:

        I admire your stance Dave, but the fact is in a few years there won’t be a DD or Sony or many other majors houses left in North America. They will be moving everything they can over seas.

        I highly doubt India is going to be bring work back to the US or Canada. They have enough problems keeping their own people employed and they have every right to keep their projects at home. So, I agree with your assessment of the rising
        middle class in India, I don’t think it’ll help a lot of people outside of India in our industry. Just my two cents.

      • Dave Rand says:

        The global demand for visual imagery will be fueled by not only motion pictures and games, but by education and communication…eventually becoming one of the most powerful tools we use to not only entertain but communicate as a species. Sounds far fetched? Look at what’s happened in just 20 yrs and the growth has not been linear.

        As for India…there are already many of us working on their dime in the US as your are reading this.

        Read soldiers post on agglomeration It’s very enlightening.

      • Ashes says:

        Yes, there are going to be other industries for vfx artists to work in, but a huge chunk want to work on highend films, not games or tv or communication interfaces.

        The Indian money will dry up once there are enough trained bodies back home. I’ve read the post and agree some of it, but not all of it.

  44. Razor says:

    DD Institute:
    Interesting part of the D4900 – INTERNSHIP (near bottom of page) reads Minimum 150 hours over two semesters. Average semester is 14 weeks, so 75 hours would be a min. of 5-6 hrs. per day a student must work.

  45. billyshakes1492 says:

    See why we cant get anything done online..

  46. […] Ikea Commercial Google Driverless Car Digital Domain’s Slum of a Business Plan James Cameron Reaches the Deepest Point on Earth Angry Birds Space, Art Installation Share […]

  47. goodanon says:

    Remember a couple of years ago when there was a roundtable discussion of topics like these?

    Why did they stop?

    IMO that one podcast generated a lot of ‘buzz’, a lot of talk and that is what is needed to tackle these problems. No one talks about these problems on a global scale anymore because everyone is caught up in their own situation, again just like before a piece of media propels the issues into the spotlight.

    Just talking about these issues is enough to get the ball rolling.

  48. Pssst says:

    Again it’s funny to see how this blog seems to cater to narrowly focused ‘entertainment workers’ that fail to see the parallels between ‘their’ digital VFX ‘industry’ and the bigger issues facing developed economies all over the world…
    When are the Y/X generations going to realize that the greediest generation that ever lived, The Baby Boomers, will try everything to suck up every last cent of their children’s future before retiring in luxury thanks to pro-globalization and extreme capitalism?

    The West is doomed to a long period of austerity, as the middle class is squeezed and governments curb spending. Some 50m Americans lack medical insurance; 60m lack regular bank accounts. Such people are crying out for new ways to save money. A growing number of Western universities are taking the frugal message to heart (at least when it comes to thinking about things other than their own tuition fees). Santa Clara University has a Frugal Innovation Lab. Stanford University has an (unfrugally named) Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability programme. Cambridge University has an Inclusive Design programme. Even the Obama administration has an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation to encourage grassroots entrepreneurs in health care and energy.
    Globalisation is forcing Western firms to provide more value for money. Logitech, an American firm, had to create a top-class wireless mouse for bottom-of-the-range prices when it took on Rapoo, a Chinese company, in China. John Deere had to do the same with its small tractors when it took on Mahindra in India. At the same time, globalisation gives Western firms more tools. Some are building innovation centres in the emerging world. PepsiCo, for example, established one in India in 2010. Some Western firms routinely fish in a global brain pool. Renault-Nissan asked its engineers in France, India and Japan to compete to come up with ideas for cutting costs. The Indians won. The Tata Nano may not have changed the world, but frugal innovation will.

  49. […] Soldier posted about this yesterday, and I’m gonna point you guys to it(here’s the link).  It’s making people angry, and we’re going to talk some more about it after […]

  50. Ron Jones says:

    Th arts industry cam be totally uninspiring to work in, and it’s because of programs like these.

    Why is it so mandatory for the industry to take advantage of young growing artists, instead of help them.
    Students barely have any cash in school as it is for these kinds of programs as it is.

    What a sad joke pf a program.


  51. JTJR says:

    There is nothing wrong with internships and apprenticeships. They have been around for centuries. If a 20 year old college kid is willing and able to do your job better than you can for the price, then you are to blame.

    Just because you’ve had the privilege of working in the field that you are passionate about, does not mean you are entitled restart privilege for the rest of your career. And you certainly don’t have the right to deny younger people with the same dreams.

    Now, what is really screwed up is the fact that the government is involved by either paying the school or paying the studio to “allow” a student to do commercial work. This is beyond insane.

    Basically, it means that you, as a VFX veteran are paying taxes so the government can give an inexperienced worker an unfair advantage to steal your job or salary level away from you. Think of it as if you are paying some kid’s rent so he can afford to work for free and undercut you right out of a job.

    What is this world coming to?

    • Dave Rand says:

      So next time your asked to learn something new on your job you’d be fine with reversing your paycheck and even paying your employer to teach you how to do your own job better so you can make them more profitable…even allow them to boast about how JTJR is now paying us for the privilege of working on our projects because there’s ton’s of kids now willing to pay us if he won’t ….tell that to the wifey and kids.

      This is what’s called having zero leverage in a business relationship.

      Even the slaves got food and shelter. They did not pay for the privilege of learning how to plant and pick cotton or build pyramids.

      • JTJR says:

        What is this scenario you speak of where my employer will ask me to learn something new and expect me to pay them to teach it to me? Are you saying that I am only as valuable to my employer as to the piece of software I know? Think again. Anybody in that situation only has themselves to blame.

        However, I agree it is really screwed up that any public funds should be used to send students to work at VFX shops. If a young person wants to intern, that’s one thing, but taxpayers also paying Hollywood so I can “teach” that kid and lose my job is immoral. That is the ultimate lack of leverage.

        Government funds aside, it sounds like you are lamenting that you chose a career in a rapidly changing industry in which you need to constantly learn new things to keep up. If you want a career in a cutting edge industry, you had better keep yourself cutting-edge. NURBS wizards were once king, but not any more.

        When we entered this industry, almost anybody that knew anything about CG was valuable. We all have known very mediocre artists and TDs that were paid very well simply because they learned how to use a piece of software and had a film credit or two, not because they were particularly brilliant at their job.

        Kind of reminds me of when I bought an HTML book back in 1995 and thought I was a web wizard.

        Anyway, CG is for the masses now and we all have to accept that we are not a totally isolated specialized niche industry anymore. My 14-year-old niece is animating with Maya at home. I have fun teaching her things, but it also freaks me out. In ten years, I may be competing with her for a job.

        Luckily, I have much more than pure Maya knowledge to offer an employer.

  52. […] you’re following the news here or over on Cartoon Brew, or even at VFXsoldier, you’ll be familiar with American VFX shop, Digital Domain.  They state with great pride on […]

  53. Kony says:

    We need our own Joseph Kony style movement, starting with John Textor.

  54. Ronen says:

    why join an industry that you are paying to work for, knowing that after you graduate.. the next person will take your position for free or pay to be in your position, instead of you being paid to work.

    This is totally crazy.

  55. outtahere says:

    time to get out of this insanity. my exit plan has been put into effect. this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

  56. overit says:

    Who is going to step up to the plate? When is enough, enough? Florida tax payers are being raped, students and politicians are being conned, and the top cats are laughing all the way to Abu Dabi. With no union or guild, this is what happens.

    In 10 years time being an fx artist will be ranked right up there with working at Wal-Mart, expect you get paid and insurance at Wal Mart.

    Boycott DD, Boycott DD films, boycott Florida! Fuck, do something.

  57. James Hattin says:

    Maybe DD could make money with this venture. I don’t think they’ve ever been profitable.

  58. Anonymous says:

    Let’s create an online database that blacklists any student or professional who decides to move there to work on their “film.” I feel bad for those already working there since it’s not their fault, If you choose to go there to work, then you are endorsing the this scam.

    • Ashes says:

      As long as you add any professional working at a company who’s government paid to work on a film. So, please add the UK, Australia, and Canada.

      But seriously, let’s not get into tactics that would made MacCarthy proud.

      • punk says:

        Ouch – the Human Resource departments already do this . . . why not just work on getting rid of all the recruiters and human resource personal? They appear to be the ones creating this problem. It must be because most fell into this occupation because they did not do well at art school, so they take it out on the artist.

        VFX soldier shared the article on the collusion between Pixar/ILM . . . HR spearheaded that.

        Techies – can you create a recruiting/hr program that could serve the needs of artists and hiring studios? Figure out how to attach hiring paperwork to a dating web site? Can’t be that hard . . . .

  59. […] what I said on twitter when I was sent the audio for my post on Paying To Work For Free. There’s been a huge […]

  60. […] Special thanks to VFX Solider for calling this to my attention with their article.  […]

  61. […] of you have read VFXSoldier’s excellent post on some of the more questionable labor practices of Digital Domain Media […]

  62. […] blog VFX Soldier obteve um discurso no qual Textor fala aos investidores, em Novembro passado, revelando como a nova […]

  63. […] The timing of this couldn’t have been better. It comes on the heels of my post of a business strategy of Digital Domain to have 30% of their work done for free by having s…. […]

  64. paulpsoucek says:

    Reblogged this on paulpsoucek and commented:
    This is incredibly screwed up…

  65. […] The “Paying To Work For Free” VFX Business Model […]

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  67. says:

    VFXSoldier you missed some important points…..end games.

    1) So you graduate with five films you’ve worked on. But WHO is going to hire you? Because how can you the new graduate compete with FREE labor. So it becomes a worthless qualification.

    2) If Florida ever stop giving tax rebates, DD are GONE.

    3) What will Autodesk / Foundry / etc have to say about using educational licenses for professional work?

  68. non-smoker says:

    DD management is smoking some mighty good stuff:
    When was the last time anyone here saw a new student, or graduating one for that matter, producing work on par with his or her experienced colleague?

    A truly talented student may be an exception to the rule, and maybe some wire removal and green screen stuff gets done by said students, but otherwise, they are dreaming.

    In the end the real work will be done by some experienced artist, as part of his unpaid overtime, who will be given the student’s shot without being given the credit for it. The management will pretend the shot was done by the student, and everyone will be happy, except for the experienced artist.

    Come to think of it, I went through the same experience at the most major VFX studio, and today I am not there, while the kid who could not do his work is a supe. Go figure. (don’t blame me, I fought tooth and nail for recognition of my contribution, which is why I am not there any more)

  69. clave says:

    DD has done a number on Port St Lucie and West Palm Beach. Some of the taxpayers living there realize this. Now they have moved on to China.

    I am sure they use these kinds of salary charts (see glassdoor link) to convince them (their parents) to pay, and pay to work. Probably middle class and foreign kids will convince their parents to cough up their retirement, no worries for the 1% — they just tell the students: “mush”! We’ve got deadlines to meet..

  70. […] week VFX Soldier unprotected a scheme by Digital Domain to offer students during their taxpayer-subsidized university module a event to […]

  71. anony-mouse says:

    The Germans pay their apprentices $1000 a month to learn on-site (see NPR article below). Interesting to see how different countries, and the culture of the corporations within, deal with education and the economic health of their country. Germany is a healthy financial standout in the European Union during this economic crisis.

  72. […] The “Paying To Work For Free” VFX Business Model Questions And Reactions: Paying To Work For Free LA Times Report On Digital Domain Institute […]

  73. […] Paying To Work For Free With all the furore going on recently about Tesco and the like taking advantage of the unemployed to come and work for free, this caught my attention. Imagine if you had to pay someone for that privilege for coming to work for free at their company. A VFX company called Digital Domain are offering students the opportunity to work for free on their productions. But the students will have to pay them. $105,000 a year. What the fuck. That's not all. If you've not heard of Digital Domain, they are a company that do a lot of VFX work for big budget film and TV. They're massive, with offices across the world. So imagine the horror when people discover they are getting SUBSIDY from the government to the tune of $80 million for their promise of high tech jobs. It's a fucking joke. If this is some how a 'success' and people sign up to this shit it sets an ungodly precedent, not just for the VFX industry but for the creative industry as a whole. The fucking arrogance of these people is astonishing. Read more about this shit here and here. […]

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  75. Pangolin says:

    A part of the problem is solvable by auditing shows produced by US corporations and slapping import duties equal to the amount of foreign government subsidies, plus 10% to cover program costs. That means you, Canada and the UK, who’ve been for years flouting WTO and EU rules. Poor countries’ structural advantages should stand, as they aren’t unfair. Canada should have a film and TV business; but they shouldn’t be allowed to outright buy OURS!

    Then there’s the problem of state incentives in the US, for which some Federal rules might be called for.

  76. Dada Life says:

    just another full sail scam. dont buy into it. Look at how well Full Sails placement program works…

  77. […] blog VFX Soldier has obtained a speech that Textor gave last November to investors in which he revealed how the […]

  78. […] blog VFX Soldier has obtained a speech that Textor gave last November to investors in which he revealed how the […]

  79. Stevef says:

    I think a lot of this discussion is not relevant, the business model DD is currently using has created nothing but huge losses. See

    How long can that continue?

    • It will continue as long as they can persuade investors, government officials and students. That’s why they’re looking at every other businesses besides vfx to make money. Schools, content, etc.

      Not making money hasn’t hurt many internet companies (Instagram?) as long as you can find a willing investor.

  80. […] conversation has been ongoing in our comments section, over at Cartoon Brew, and at ground zero, VFX Soldier, where Textor himself has entered the dialogue.  John Textor has made himself remarkably […]

  81. […] The “Paying To Work For Free” VFX Business Model […]

  82. shanyewest84 says:

    Scott – A wage scale based on a maximum hr work day seems like the most obvious first direction, no? That would allow competing companies to offer their bids in a realtime fashion that doesn’t undermine the quality of their work. If one company finds a solution that allows them to bid the job for less days, it’s natural they should have the best shot to get it unless creatively the client decides the other approach is worth the extra money. It’s that way in physical production. Yes certain companies with inferior talent may go by the wayside but that seems like the fairest way for the strongest to survive and flourish.

  83. […] Related links: Original VFX Soldier post (March 26th, 2012) […]

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  85. Jamir says:

    Hey guys, I ran into this discussion while looking up some DDI stuff. I can see where a lot of you are coming from and the pros and cons about it. I am no Einstein to the way this industry works, as I am only a student at sophomore level looking to get my foot in the door. Currently, Im attending Academy of Arts University. Anyways, I don’t see what the big fuss is about? I was interested in transferring my BFA to DDI just for the simple OPPORTUNITY of gaining valuable vfx knowledge from some of the industries veterans, while at the same time, putting those tips and tricks to work on the next generation of feature films. I think every student I have spoken with at the Academy about this new school that digital domain has opened up agrees that the opportunity is pretty much unmatched at this point. It does however, seem unfair to those who have been in the industry already. This method will attract a lot of young talent who are indeed in debt and hungry to work in a very competitive industry and are also willing to work for free. Or how many of you who have already mastered everything there is to know, and have nothing else to learn say “pay to work”. Yes it may sound obsurd and Digital Domain may take advantage of a lot of students, but what about the small portion of really talented young people who will get to shine above everybody else? What about the contacts and life-long relationships they will make? What about the experience they will gain and the quality of work they will be able to add to their demo reels and resumes? Last time I checked, Any company worth mentioning requires at minimum *3-4 years experience on feature films or equivalent* just to be considered for an interview (any student at DDI will obviously automatically have that upon graduation). The Pioneers and Veterans of this industry have made it difficult for the younger Era of artists to get their foot in the door and be able to do the same thing many of you have now been doing for many years. Im not particularly pointing fingers, but the bar has been set really high with all the amazing work that has been pushed out, specially within the last 10 years. From what I have learned thus far, this industry in itself is a big “Gamble” and successful people will learn to gamble with it or not be a part of it. Im sure many of you (those who have been successful in the industry) have gambled many situations to be where you are at right now. What Digital Domain has done right now (one of the most successful houses in the industry) is open up another lane for amateur artists to gamble on as a method of breaking into the industry. Many will attempt, some will succeed and others will fail. But nonetheless it will open up more jobs and more opportunities in this field which we ALL need. Regardless of your point of view, it is just a gamble method in attempt to keep the industry alive, as well as themselves while making money of their own idea (I hope that doesn’t sound new in any way). Some will see it as “Paying to work”, particularly those who have already worked in the industry and know a lot about how to “work”; Others will see it as a simple opportunity to “Pay to LEARN”. Regardless of the outcome, I think we can all agree that working on a high end film is a great amount of learning experience we all wish to receive, at least those who are serious about this industry.

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  87. […] being mistreated in India at Prime Focus. I’ve written posts on work-for-free programs in Florida by Digital Domain. I’ve written posts on uncompensated overtime in the […]

  88. Voxel Muerto says:

    […] visuales como parte de sus estudios sin cobrar un centavo. Según VFX Soldier, en su historia “The Paying To Work For Free’  VFX Business Model” (El modelo de negocios de pagar para trabajar sin paga), Textor explica que “lo interesante es la […]

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  90. LA CHUTE says:

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  92. […] week VFX Soldier exposed a scheme by Digital Domain to offer students at their taxpayer-subsidized university program the […]

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  124. […] practices that hurt professionals in the industry. Your business plan at the time was to utilize Florida taxpayer subsidies to build a school where students would pay thousands of dollars to Digital Domain to work on VFX projects. You went […]

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  147. Jaded says:

    And now disappointed TDs are leaving jobs they think are dead ends and taking their young flying mokey office politics into my development jobs. Now these jobs are also treating staff like cheap throwaway people.

    What the companies and governments do is one thing, apathy is another, but when colleagues turn on you because they fear a random sacking and throw you under a bus, and succeed because they earn less or the boss knows they are dependent on a visa and you have local employment rights, this is how you end up with whole industries believing their cheap international business model is the only way to go.

    I missed the VFX wave because I am a smart developer without a PhD, and young artists take pipeline TD jobs for pennies. There is nothing in the middle with communication skills and masters degrees building functional tools and pipelines.
    I would have to take a year out to put the word Bournemouth on my resume just to be looked at. And now I lose my non-games non-vfx jobs to agressive young lads who have significantly more office politics skills than code skills.

    In truth, it is not much worse in VFX than elsewhere, corporate jobs also do not provide reasonable training and have no sense of true efficiency and will bully you out if you go against the grain. If you are a sucker who takes a job that pays low and invest your hope in something cool and exciting and AAA, you will lose. We all learn that outside VFX too.

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