Self-proclaimed Ex-VFX Labor advocate David Stripinis tweeted that he was amused that I didn’t respond to his latest post. Sorry I couldn’t respond but I was a little busy. However, as you can see his post is getting a lot of feedback.
When Stripinis was pro-VFX labor he routinely chastised those in the US for fighting a “lost war” as he called it because it’s over for US VFX and its all going to India and China:
It’s not that I don’t think the time has come. I think the time has come and gone. The boat has sailed. Elvis has left the building. Pick your metaphor.
The labor market for VFX has only gotten worse in the past year.
While we are all entitled to an opinion based on personal observations, but it best if we base that opinion on the facts. Has the US VFX industry been injured? Yes, but it’s far from dead.
National Employment for Multimedia Artists and Animators in the Motion Picture Industry
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics collects national employment data for the US. In 2002 they started to collecting occupational wage and employment data by industry.
Here is what national employment for Multimedia Artists and Animators in the Motion Picture Industry has looked like for the last 10 years:
Here is hourly wage data for that same group over the same period broken up by various percentages. These have not been adjusted for inflation.
If you subscribe to the idea of VFX commoditization, the idea that VFX can now be done by anyone anywhere and the only thing that matters is price, then you would certainly believe like Mr. Stripinis that it’s over for unsubsidized and expensively priced VFX locations like California and that work will go to cheap locations like India and China.
Over the last 10 years we’ve seen Rhythm & Hues build 2 facilities in India and 1 in Malaysia. Imageworks has also built one facility in India. Yet we haven’t seen the bottom fall out as far as employment is concerned.
Yet with all the global subsidies and low cost labor locations a tremendous amount of work is still done in the US VFX industry. However I’m not saying the industry hasn’t been injured, it soldiers on but it is far from being dead.
The subsidies have stunted growth and have demolished profits for US VFX studios as they have had to open facilities in Vancouver. Gone are the days of staff positions. If you aren’t on a project at the company you work for, you were laid off. Smaller companies have transitioned to offering no benefits and employee misclassification. This is why I advocate for a union: Portability of benefits so they can get health insurance coverage for their families in between projects and enforcement of basic labor laws with wage minimums.
As I’ve said before, what makes the VFX industry in California unique and it’s ability to weather the storm is agglomeration. There is a huge talent pool that is based close to not only the big 6 studios, but a thriving games, commercial, tv, and animation industry.
I didn’t post the employment numbers of multimedia artists and animators in other industries but there is something else to consider: BLS employment numbers don’t count self employed independent contractors.
Below are BLS projections for the next 10 years in that occupation. In 2010 it estimated that 58.8% of professionals in that category were “self-employed” independent contractors:
So is the US VFX industry dead? I’m sorry to say it’s not. If any of my readers can point me to government data research in their own country that has estimates for VFX workers in the films industry let me know and I’ll post it up.