What’s Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander

If any of you were long time readers you probably remember there was a great blogger who called himself VFX Law, an anonymous production side CG Supervisor by day and law school student by night who wrote some great posts with insight into the VFX Industry.

One of his memorable posts was about who were the big decision makers at the studios. If my memory serves me right they are Warner Bros’ Chris De Faria, Disney’s Art Repola, Sony’s Neal Moritz, Marvel’s Victoria Alonso, and a few other kind people that we all have loved through the years.

Well Animation World Network has a good interview with Victoria Alonso up on their site. At one point Ms. Alonso mentioned the challenges of sending work around the world is security:

I think the most important thing in the last five years that we’ve had to do is to adjust to this global way of working, because our films have very tight security. Fans are very happy to get their hands on our information before it comes out. And although we appreciate how happy they are to get their hands on our stuff early, there is a time and a place for everyone to know because we don’t want you to see something that is not ready to be seen.

My guess is she’s alluding to the Wolverine piracy leak incident where the whole film was on the internet before it was even out. I get that. The industry doesn’t want to lose money off of piracy.

Then there is talk about my favorite subject subsidies:

If you get the same quality out of any country or any state that you go to, then if I’m the studio I go, “Well, hold on, if I send it here, or I send it there, and I still get the same imagery, why wouldn’t I go to a place that gives me $30 million at the end of the day.” It’s a lot of money!

I get that too, hell it’s free money! Of course you all know my objection as the subsidies are a violation of international trade law blah blah blah.

Here’s my point. Steve Hulett alludes to this on the TAG blog a lot: There is no right or wrong, good or evil, fair or unfair, legal or illegal in this world. There’s just leverage.

Ms. Alonso and many studio execs decry piracy. Yet I’m sure many execs turn a blind eye to an overseas vendor that uses pirated software. Unfair? That’s just leverage.

John Textor openly markets his intent to have 30% of his work done by students who he expects to pay $100k+ in tuition. Wrong? That’s just leverage.

On a flight the passenger next to me is watching a pirated version of a film I worked on. Illegal? That’s just leverage.

So if a student has a choice between paying for expensive classes and expensive software to learn the trade what do you think they’re going to do?

That’s just business. You want morality? Go to a church. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Soldier On.

41 Responses to What’s Good For The Goose Is Good For The Gander

  1. Billyshakes1492 says:

    you got to stand up for your right.. if everyone thought like that…. where would we be…. burning down rome…

  2. Yannick says:

    What are the chance that the DD students actually use student licensed software to do there production placement?

    • Anonymous says:

      Any student doing commercial work for DD would use commercially licensed software. It’s in the end user license agreement and no government funded entity would risk violating that. Software is no longer the expensive part of making visual effects (since the 90’s).

  3. David Rand says:

    This may be a bit off topic but while working outside the US I came upon three incidences of pirated software being used in production on three major motion pictures. Since these studios have all closed after going bankrupt, one still being opened under a new name, I’ll leave their names out for now.

    The first two times I demanded they purchase licenses after complaining and listening to them brag about their genius key generators. I cited that not only is it wrong but the fines and legal consequences could close down the whole shop if it were discovered by the software makers.

    I had to go over the systems dept heads and complain to the American producer to get the license issue fixed. He at first did not believe me… but investigated himself and got the licenses. At the third location, several freelance artists reported the use of crack software in production after being tipped off by a systems admin. They called Autodesk’s hotline and reported it after trying to use this information as leverage to get paid. A follow up with AutoDesk two months later revealed that they had received the complaints but had done nothing about it.

    We all know you can get almost any version of any of our software illegally online. Has anyone else had experiences like this and was anything done? Do you know of a case where a shop has been reprimanded or had legal action taken against it by a software vendor?

  4. jonavark says:

    I have been to many small LA shops and at every one of them pirated software was being used. I will NOT use it in my shop. Partially because I make, or have made, a good deal of my living as a software developer and mostly because I can’t deal with the guilt. Ethically it is wrong. I suffer because of it. Plugins I wish I had, doing things the hard way and writing my own scripts to get around the monumental list of bugs in the most popular 3D apps.

    On the other hand, we have companies like Autodesk monopolizing the 3D market and not bothering to fix bugs. Real bugs .. Advertised features that simply do not work. They release a product called xxx2011 and discontinue development of that product in 2011.

    We’re getting hit from both sides. Our competition here and overseas has no problem using cracks and the venders have no problem selling bug infested code.

    Thankfully the open source community is working on some apps that look promising. But it is still a sideline..

    • On the other hand, we have companies like Autodesk monopolizing the 3D market and not bothering to fix bugs.

      If it cheers you up, alternatives exist to Autodesk, though they may not be as widespread in Los Angeles studios. I’ve used LightWave to earn a living at Los Angeles studios since 1999. I also own a license of LightWave at home for my freelance work.

      SideFX, maxon and NewTek still make software. Autodesk has not purchased Houdini, Cinema4D or LightWave 3D just yet.

    • On the other hand, we have companies like Autodesk monopolizing the 3D market and not bothering to fix bugs.

      If it cheers you up, Autodesk doesn’t completely monopolize 3D just yet. I’ve worked in the Los Angeles area as a LightWave 3D artist since 1999 and as a RealFlow artist since 2006, and neither software package gets made by Autodesk.

      Houdini, Cinema 4D, and LightWave 3D are still alive and kicking. 3D specialists still have ZBrush and RealFlow, and the most popular render engine I’ve seen for MAX/Maya in Los Angeles is made by Chaos Group, not Autodesk.

      • jonavark says:

        Autodesk doesn’t ‘make’ Mental Ray either. And while VRay is indeed a very good renderer it doesn’t solve the problems within the apps themselves. I have lightwave. It’s pretty strange compared to the current crop of apps. Not really a contender in my book. We’ve done lightwave projects here and I found the entire setup clumsy. But there are many who get along just fine with it. It’s a very good tool.

        In all seriousness, Maya, Max, Softimage are the top contenders. Especially if you want to be able to staff artists easily for quick turnaround projects.

        The problem is Autodesk’s predatory, monopolistic approach while using it’s customers as beta testers.

  5. Ned Wilson says:

    Hey Soldier,

    Just a bit of semantics here, but I believe that Art Repola is out, and has been replaced by Dave Taritero.

    More to the topic, I have worked for many places in the Los Angeles area that use cracked copies of software. I would say that a good rule of thumb is that if the place has less than 10 employees, you could rest assured that somewhere, there is a cracked version of something running.

    More often than not, it’s not the studios running cracked software, but the individual artists bring it in themselves and run it unbeknownst to management.

    It’s a calculated risk. We all know that if it is determined that a facility is running cracked software, at least in this country, that facility will most likely be bankrupted and shut down. That is if the software vendor decides to press charges.

    Unfortunately, returning to the topic at hand, we all know that it’s wrong and immoral to pirate software. It happens, from time to time, and there are blind eyes turned, but that doesn’t make it right.

    Chasing after subsidies is wrong, and bad for the industry in general. It puts huge stress on taxpayers and provincial governments, it breaks apart talent centers, and it contributes to the global race to the bottom.

    Unfortunately, what’s good for the goose is not good for the gander in this case. The major difference? Pirating software is illegal, as is downloading movies. The consequences can be disastrous. Chasing subsidies? Maybe not legal according to the WTO, but they don’t choose to enforce or prosecute. So, the studios have no compelling legal reason not to engage in these practices.

    • Conrad says:

      Sure tax incentives break apart talent centres in some places but they create them too. I think it’s probably fairer to say they they move talent centres.

      I worked at a company in London that was full of cracked software. They weren’t working on feature films, mainly marketing stuff.

  6. fizz says:

    I guess none of you have had to deal with the legal documentation that studios such as Marvel, Sony and WB require as part of a contract. For the last few years all the big studios have insisted that all VFX vendors be FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) accredited, this means that the VFX facility needs to show that they don’t have any pirated material – of any kind – on their system, this includes cracked copies of production software. To maintain FACT accreditation the facility needs to go through an exhaustive independently-verified audit on a yearly basis. Sure, there will always be individuals who bring in cracked software on their laptops, but the last few places I have worked with consider this to be grounds for instant dismissal.

    Marvel, in particular, have very strict security requirements for all their vendors, even going as far as demanding that staff have to turn in internet-capable devices like smart phones when arriving for work in the morning. This apparently stems from the Wolverine thing. Though that actually turned out to be the work of someone at Fox in LA and nothing to do with VFX vendors. Unfortunately, a Rising Sun logo appeared on a title slate so the knee jerk reaction was to blame them.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Fact is exclusive to the uk. That doesn’t stop an overseas facility from using pirated software. The point is that one potentially illegal practice in one party is readily accepted by another party.

      • soldier says:

        I certainly know for fact a number of facilities in Asia that use pirated software to operate and the studios turned a blind eye on those issues, so long as their project doesn’t get leaked out. It’s also quite common for those companies to purchase a few legitimate licenses, receive supports from software companies, and pirate the rest.

      • fizz says:

        My point is that Victoria Alonso doesn’t turn a blind eye to software piracy. Being happy to take subsidy money doesn’t mean – or even imply – that she is accepting illegal practices at the vendors that she awards. Unless you know different.

      • Ymir says:

        One study found that 64% of ALL (not vfx exclusive) software in India was pirated. 86-89% in China was pirated.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Does fact even concern itself with pirated software? I only see film piracy as their concern.

      Sent from my iPhone

      • fizz says:

        The studios require FACT accreditation in order to establish that the vendor has achieved an accepted standard of security at their establishment. All forms of copyright infringement are covered in the audit, this includes pirated software licenses.

  7. vfxguy says:

    I just find it funny that soldier thinks he knows how the vfx business works yet he had never heard of these “big decision makers” until vfxlaw mentioned their names.

    Tells us all we need to know soldier.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Oh I never claimed that. This blog is about the vfx artist in the trenches thinking aloud and observing what I’ve learned. It apparently keeps you coming back right?

  8. Matthew Bell says:

    “There is no right or wrong, good or evil, fair or unfair, legal or illegal in this world. There’s just leverage.”

    Ha ha ha, fantastic! Yes, true, but not the truth that we all need…. the problem is that then this just becomes one great big Fffk You to everything & everyone at all levels by all people. It’s global apathy. It’s just everyone choosing the lowest route, everyone betting on the drugged up horse, all just watching the lowest denominator, all just looking after themselves & screw all the rest. It’s all “Me me me, fffk you, it’s for me!”. This mantra spreads & extends to everyone in society. Fat cats & vagabond alike. I know the notion might seem to run counter to all animal nature and to the violent & harsh nature of life & evolution, but I thought we were more than just animals or apes, right? We are human beings, we are human doings, we are meant to be smarter than this, we are the ones capable of finding new ways & adapting faster than any other living creature on this planet. Individual people are like individual synapses, we function better by interacting, transferring & affecting one another positively. Karma is inbuilt into the social system/network. We can do a hell of a lot more, feel & hell of a lot better & built & design a better everything for everyone if we don’t all always just choose to take the lowest rode to serve only ourselves. Maybe it’s just a pipe dream but I hope we wake up to that one day. Instead of using ones leverage to put some form pressure on the system & force people to do things & things to happen, we should use the “Weight” of powerful & or large groups of people to lift up our collective abilities & achieve meaningful goals. No matter if you’re a Rothschild or an untouchable, doing stuff like that means something to anyone who’s not totally enveloped only in self leverage. Don’t just exploit your leverage. Pay it forward. It will pay dividends.

    Human Nature Vs Human Potential… what a conundrum. We waste ourselves. What a world the monetary system has incurred… oh what a world. Millions of minds rotting & idle as time marches us to the grave. We need organisesed integration into a global collective to achieve our true potential. But one that does not consumes or defeats the individual self.

    PS: I stoped talk just about VFX at around line one. ~:^P

  9. Pssst says:

    …America’s failed trade policy, which has allowed the nation’s manufacturing base to be gradually offshored to low-wage nations, leaving only low paying service sector jobs in their wake.
    Because free trade agreements knock down trade barriers, Americans are now forced to compete with China’s 113 million strong manufacturing workforce, each of whom averaged a wage of 81 cents-per-hour, just three percent of their U.S. counterparts pay, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mexico, whose 10.7 million industrial workers average just $2.92 per hour, is only slightly better.
    Even though other Western nations have liberalized their economies and experienced some structural change as a result, most have not been affected as adversely be free trade policies as America.
    “They have not seen the same rising in inequality or hollowing out of their middle class,” Heather Boushey, a senior economist with the Center for American Progress, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, pointing specifically to Germany, Japan and other European nations.
    http://economyincrisis.org/content/service-economy-taking-over-us

    • VFX Soldier says:

      So what’s taking them so long? Hurry up and take my job. I’m getting bored here.

      • Ryan says:

        What do these kind of comments add? They’re just jibes & razberries we pull at one another like school children. You have a good, stable, health full time job in the industry? Good for you, must’ve worked hard for it. Bet you’ll have to work even harder just to try & keep it. Isn’t that exactly what it is we’re discussing here? You can’t be both self self-righteous & an insufferable inflammatory comment jerk at the say time. But hey, maybe you can, it’s your blog.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Hey Ryan,

        Sorry about that. It’s sort of an inside joke. The commenter above is actually a frequent one who ALWAYS posts “end of the world” links and never responds when I challenge him/her on the facts.

        Be my guest Ryan, try asking Pssst a question about the link. Enjoy.

    • Pssst says:

      I guess the answer to ‘when’ depends on your definition of VFX as either service or as a type of ‘manufacturing’ – can studios ‘industrialize’ VFX any further?
      http://www.image-metrics.com

    • jonavark says:

      pssst… you really need to stop reading things from the Center for American Progress. From your other posts here it is clear which side of the fence you are on.. but seriously.

      The US has minimum wage laws. For whatever reason. The rest of the world doesn’t. People are free to hire anywhere in the world. Simple economics. We built a society that was unbalanced with respect to the rest of the world. It shouldn’t come as a surprise when it caves in. Everyone wanted the American Dream but we’re not alone in the world, as we are finding out. Nor are we that special, thanks to a failed education system and the lack of focus on invention and the demonization of entrepreneurs as some kind of capitalist devils. You’re in that crowd for sure.

      If people elsewhere can actually live on 81 cents an hour then what, exactly, do you propose to change the situation? You continually post apocalyptic view points… without any solutions.

      The “Western Nations” you speak of.. which ones are we talking about here? Which ones have weathered this without harm?

      • Pssst says:

        If there’s any theme to my posts it’s that there is no entrepreneurialism left within industrialized VFX, it’s all a rigged game controlled by multi-national corporations that throw crumbs of work to the lowest bidding company whose workers have to fight over who gets the best shots so they can have a hope of securing their next gig.
        If you look at the evolution of American Liberty it’s about having unrestrained free market access to dominate every market without government restrictions to protect workers rights. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty#United_States
        The listed countries that have weathered the Washington consensus better are the ones that have put in place their own protections and have strong enough economies to negotiate the weight of American free trade laws.
        The solution is to stop thinking VFX artists are any different to any other workers being torn apart by globalizised corporatisation then stand up with the rest of the 99% and occupy VFX.

      • jonavark says:

        that link? WTF?

        I gave you the benefit of the doubt by looking at it. But you didn’t answer my question. Please address the billions sent from the U.S. to these “western nations” that are so successful.

        “it’s all a rigged game controlled by multi-national corporations..”

        Leftist anti corporate college dribble 101.

        “stand up with the rest of the 99% and occupy VFX.”

        Instead of chanting.. why don’t you follow your own ideas through to the end and tell us exactly how your form of anarchy would relieve the pressure.. if you can.

        You post a lot of lofty nonsense here without following through.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        I have to give pssst credit. He/she has been doing this for years. Just a ton of odd comments. If anything it’s a testament to this blogs commitment to having and open and free dialogue.

      • jonavark says:

        yes.. soldier.. and I appreciate your openness. Please forgive me if I occasionally address this nonsense. During this discussion I have seen more than a few “Occupy” references and none of them.. NONE of them follow through with exactly what that would accomplish. When I was a little kid I told my dad I was going to leave home and he asked me what I would use for money to eat. You can guess how stupid my answer was. This kind of BS is no different.. whining about Baby boomers, evil corporate overlords and how much better it is everywhere else but in the US. I think “Pfft” is a more appropriate nickname.

      • VFX Soldier says:

        We’re a professional industry looking for a professional way to deal with an unprofessional problem.

        Sent from my iPhone

      • fizz says:

        “The US has minimum wage laws… The rest of the world doesn’t”. You might want to do a bit of reading on that one.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_minimum_wages_by_country

      • jonavark says:

        Thanks Fizz… I stand corrected, though the list does point out that China and India don’t have min. wage laws. Which is what I should have said. I appreciate the correction..

      • Pssst says:

        >>“it’s all a rigged game controlled by multi-national corporations..”
        >Leftist anti corporate college dribble 101.

        BS – some have stood against the rigged game and won
        http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/27/business/media/27movie.html?pagewanted=all

        >You post a lot of lofty nonsense here without following through.

        You guys built, supported, exported and benefited from the system but now you think it’s broken. It’s just the end result of american greed. I don’t know if you fix it from the inside but there’s a lot of wannabe professionals waiting to be trained in a new exciting VFX ‘career’…
        http://westorlandonews.com/2009/09/28/youth-unemployment-hits-52/

      • fizz says:

        @jonavark – no worries. Interestingly, the UK minimum wage is higher than any of the US minimum wages. In London there’s a thing called the “living wage” which is higher still. However, the Germans have it even better, with six weeks paid holiday as standard on top.

  10. jonavark says:

    Soldier said:
    “We’re a professional industry looking for a professional way to deal with an unprofessional problem”

    Given that, what are your thoughts on turning the sentiments on this site into real action?

    • VFX Soldier says:

      I know people say I’m just sitting around and blogging but that’s not true. I’ve been working on something in my very spare time that I hope to propose and get feedback from readers.

      It might be a good idea or a really bad idea but it will be a call to action.

      • just_a_word says:

        Solider,

        Bring it on. I might just encourage you to not wait for consensus before getting the ball rolling. People respond to momentum and persistence. If all they have to do is say “ok” to something waved in their faces then you’ve got a good shot. No discussion, no commiseration, just sign up.

        If you could count on a large group to be engaged and proactive, we wouldn’t be here in the first place, right?

  11. edwardh says:

    Did you just really write “CG Supervisor by day and law school student by night”?!
    Can somebody like that really exist? I mean… I can imagine somebody doing that if they’re working a maximum of 40 hours per week (although that probably still would mean virtually no friends and no hobbies for years). But that seems very optimistic to me in our industry? Unless of course he happened to work at a great company during a great time period.

  12. Hello i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anywhere, when i read this article i thought i could also create comment due
    to this good article.

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