More Free Work & Investigations At For-Profit Art Schools

The San Francisco Chronicle showcases work done by students at the well respected Academy of Art in San Francisco on a recent independent film:

“The academy class came in and provided an unbelievable, impassioned labor force to push a boulder over a mountain,” said “Beasts” director Benh Zeitlin, 29, who shot his feature debut on a shoestring $1.5 million budget, rallying a grassroots collective of friends and supporters.

Mr. Zeitlin is enthusiastic because of the critical acclaim the film is getting and the distribution deal successfully reached with Fox. So how was such a low budget film able to get so much VFX work done?

Under the moniker Studio 400A, the academy’s hands-on Compositing in Production class offers its visual-effects services for free to independent filmmakers.

Ironically The San Francisco Chronicle recently did another article on the Academy of Art that wasn’t so glowing:

Four former recruiters for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco are accusing the private art school of defrauding the government out of millions of dollars in financial aid by using illegal tactics to get students to apply.

There have also been some major national media reports on the Art Institute.

NBC did an investigation on the Art Institute where some students are racking up $145,000 in student loan debt.

PBS’s Frontline did another investigation on the Art Institute and other For-Profit schools as they target recently discharged soldiers to take advantage of GI Bill funds so they can go to school.

Lastly, I posted the video above concerning a potential Full Sail student on whether he should attend the For-Profit School. I want you to listen to John Iadarola’s analysis because it’s spot on. It’s exactly what I’ve suggested to potential VFX students in my interview with Bob Oedy and many times on my blog.

My advice is simple:

  • Avoid For-Profit schools.
  • Attend a local community college.
  • Suppliment your education with online/DVD VFX training videos.
  • Transfer to a traditional 4 year university and major in Computer Science

While the For-Profit schools are nice they charge way too much. Community colleges are a cheap and good way to get the first 2 years of school out of the way. In the meantime you can learn VFX at your own pace from home for a fraction of the costs. Finally you can transfer to a traditional 4 year university where you can get a Computer Science degree.

The idea is you will probably have an easier route to get into the industry with a CS background rather than submitting a reel against the pros. Once you are in you can build your relationship with producers and artists. The VFX industry is incredibly small and with the volatility in today’s market driven by international subsidies, you can weather the storm with a CS degree by being able to jump to other IT industries.

Soldier On.


120 Responses to More Free Work & Investigations At For-Profit Art Schools

  1. Quinn says:

    I would also throw in the option of attending a traditional art school. Learning to “see” is also a valuable skill- color, light, design & composition can all help escalate you through the ranks over a tutorialed button knowledge.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Been forwarding this to friends looking to enter vfx. I went to a for-profit and was fortunate enough to have acquired a manageable amount of debt. The experience was great but in hindsight, expensive.

  3. I gotta reply to this one. I teach at USC and I do videos for Gnomon and have a good relationship with both places. I had a director come to me with his project and had visual effects that were needed. It was a short, and there were not that many shots (less than 30) so I decided to take it to Gnomon to have students work on the project. They would get real experience working with a supervisor and a director. In trade they got to have the footage and (hopefully) improve their portfolio. Was this a studio production? No. Were there piles of money? No. Were the students passionate and eager to take on the challenge? Absolutely yes. I did my best to give them guidance on how to make the work better. As I got busy (supervising 3 commercials at once) have to admit my time was super fleeting and I was not able to give my time to the students as much as I wanted to. That’s my failure to them.
    Gnomon students worked on that film and did a great job. They’ve worked on other projects for other people as their classwork as they are trying to build up their portfolios.
    I’ve spoken to people at the school and been at a graduation ceremony. The people behind the school are passionate about getting a good artistic education to their students. They care if the students get work.
    I don’t see a problem in getting students to help with these kinds of projects. If the project itself is looking to be sold then if you’re honest you work out some kind of payment system with the people who worked on the film. They call it deferred pay and SAG (yes yes a union) has provisions for that.
    Hopefully this is not taken as a rant but merely an opposing viewpoint from someone who has seen the other side.

    • skaplan839 says:


      While I must tip my hat to you for teaching at USC, Gnomon has had its time under the microscope for questionable activities with regards to which projects their students are working on,

      While I praise the school for bringing Meni Tsirbas and Shane Acker in to work with their students, I was one of many who called Gnomon out for publicly announcing and praising their students for work done on Fringe and Green Lantern (TAG Blog post on subject, A. Alvarez’s response with VFX Soldier’s comments). I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Alex after the uproar the posts in the CG Society forums caused. Before we sat in his office, he took me on a tour of the facility where I was shown pictures of music videos that students had worked on as well. In the end, when asked directly who was paid for the work done on any of the projects, the answer was never “the students”.

      If you are suggesting that bringing production work into a scholastic environment, where students have made a significant financial investment for a degree, is a good idea, I’d put you in the same class as John Textor. If, however, you’re saying that bringing cutting edge material (which can include plates, assets and the latest technology) into a scholastic environment benefits the students as they get the best education possible, I couldn’t agree more. In the future, when making this argument, I’d suggest you use fxphd as your example though. They seem to be able to do this without bringing production material in and subjecting the students to what equates to slave labor.

      Steve Kaplan
      The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

      • I cannot or will not comment on what FXPHD does because I have no real knowledge of what they are doing in that regard. I have a lot of respect for them as a training community because I know a professor or two there and I know the crew is dedicated to creating great knowledge bases for the techniques showcased therein.
        If I as a supervisor bring in a project I deem worthwhile for students to learn on then that’s my choice. The short was not a commercial (aka for profit) job so there was no fiduciary duty on anyone’s part. Everything was made clear to the students before starting with the director and I making a pitch at the school to see who wanted to be involved.
        I am not running a company that has millions of dollars in the coffer and using unpaid (or paying) labor for the work. I think I was pretty clear about that so I’d appreciate not even attempting to lump me in with certain people who have stated as such. I do enjoy helping people improve their skills and hopefully the students that worked on that project learned a few things and enjoyed themselves. That’s all that can be expected in many cases from one of these situations. I met talented young artists and have respect for the work and dedication they put into their craft.

      • skaplan839 says:

        You’re skating the line with your comments, Robert. If you bring your production work in for students to work on, I can see how those students would be excited. If the work they complete ends up in the end product, and the students don’t get paid, then I say again that you’re no better than John Textor.

      • Steve Kaplan, you have offended me to the point that my reply would be just as unprofessional as you have treated me. I don’t play that game and for that reason alone you don’t deserve my time.

      • skaplan839 says:

        I see no reason for you to be insulted, Robert. Unless you were doing what I suggested.

        If, as you say, you had access to footage you shot, which was being produced for a short for your own viewing, there is no reason not to praise you for sharing that material with your students.

      • I feel like I now need to defend myself. This is awesome. The short has been in festivals. That’s all. Unless there is something I don’t know, there has been no positive finacial windfall resulting from this short with regards to the director or producers. Thanks for making me have to defend myself. Seriously, kudos.

      • skaplan839 says:

        My whole point has been that for work that has financial backing, asking for students to work on it in the name of “experience” is reprehensible. If you short is a labor of love, then giving students the tools to learn the craft is commendable.

      • Craig says:

        Slave labor?! Wow. That’s rich. Typical hyperbole from a union rep.

        What is the effective difference to the students between working on a fake project at school and working on a real project?

        I mean really, Steve. If the school never told the students that this was real work, what would it matter? How are they *slaves*?

        Both projects are going to require unpaid labor, right?

        If anything, a real job will teach them more about working on such projects than internal jobs.

        You are just an idealist. You just don’t like the idea of people agreeing of their own free will to do something you don’t approve of. You would much rather stick your nose in and decide for others.

      • skaplan839 says:

        You think getting students to work on funded projects, like music videos or commercials, is a good idea since it helps the students?

        I’ve never argued that the students don’t benefit. In fact, I’m sure students would be ecstatic to work on production material. I do think it hurts the industry a great deal. Excluding the skill level problem that has been raised already, what do you think the effect on wages would be if production work had a large student component?

        As I mentioned, the realty is that students aren’t going to be working on tent-pole material for obvious time and skill reasons. However, utilizing student labor for even low-skilled work is cutting corners that I’m surprised you’ve championed, Craig.

      • Craig says:


        OK, so now you are saying that students working for free on a non-student project can actually benefit those students?

        Now we are getting somewhere.

        But aren’t you the guy that earlier said that this practice is like “subjecting the students to what equates to slave labor”?

        So, are they “subjected to slave labor” or are they benefiting? Who are you to decide? The decision should land in the individual’s corner.

        Now, let’s address your recently stated concern then, that it “hurts the industry a great deal”.

        “Excluding the skill level problem that has been raised already, what do you think the effect on wages would be if production work had a large student component?”

        First of all, I’m not exactly sure what you mean by excluding the skill level problem. A person’s skill level is not a trivial factor. It is the key element to the entire dynamic. Just ask any Olympian.

        I take it you are worried about floods of students taking over work from more experienced artists, and significantly driving down wages by doing so.

        That is a totally unfounded fear. Granted, it is one that plays nicely into protectionist agendas.

        Let’s see. I wonder what actually would happen if studios had at their fingertips boatloads of cheap (yet unskilled and inexperienced) labor. Oh wait! They already do. They are called new graduates and entry-level applicants. I believe other people have commented here on the giant mail bins of these reels we receive each month.

        Going back to a question I posted a few other times without any response… why would my studio and others not fire me and all my colleagues and hire all these cheap kids? I mean, if they paid them minimum wage my company could hire more than ten of these kids for what they would save by letting me go. Now, take into account my colleagues who are paid very well and you are talking some major savings!

        Do you think the accountants just haven’t figured this out yet?

        No, of course that’s not it. This fear is as old as time. I’m not even going to bother explaining why this wouldn’t happen because I think everyone here already knows.

        Expecting a major part of your workforce to be students is completely unrealistic except for one situation and that situation is where a third party injects money to distort the natural market. This is what we have in Florida with DD. There, a vast amount of public money is being spent in order to allow a company to accommodate a high volume of students that would not otherwise be feasible. If DD could figure out a way to educate students and create DAVE projects on their own, then good for them, but the reality is that they cannot do it without being subsidized by the government. This is public money and it is wrong.

      • skaplan839 says:

        Craig –

        I think I’ve made myself clear. And its obvious you like to type.

    • Ashes says:

      One thing I do want to ask you Rob, how many classes do you teach? It just seems that with supervising multiple projects, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for students. When I was in college, most professors taught at least 5 classes a week and had open office hours for students. Just curious how things are working now.

      • Full teaching is only one class and that’s at USC. I have a good relationship with Alex Alvarez at Gnomon and that’s how the project ended up there. I previously have hired students from the USC class and they have been paid proper salaries as they are working on production work.

      • Ashes says:

        Ah, okay, that makes sense. I was think, “When does he sleep?” 😉

    • LETSMOVEON says:

      Robert, I completely support your approach, your open willingness to enter a discourse on an important electric issue, and do so with integrity. I agree with your stance, and believe wholeheartedly that you did nothing wrong–you provided very valuable opportunities for the students and exploited no one.

      I apologize for people who have little other to do in life than bear the union flag and stir up whatever / whenever possible–they seem to need to bait people into losing composure by name calling, by attacking, and sowing discord. It’s just the way of some. The unions often serve valuable purposes, just as management and owners of companies serve many needs: jobs, investment, etc. But there are always abusers on both sides that live obsessively for their cause, be it union or profit, at the expense of the members or the employees. Ignore them, and stay your course.

      • Thanks! I try to do my job with as much integrity as possible. I try to treat the people I work with fairly. We are a team trying to get things done for our clients. So when I say “people I work with” I even mean our clients. We are trying to complete a project and everyone needs to give and take a little. I give a shit what people think of how I handle myself of course but certainly when ludicrous and pedestrian comparisons are thrown my way I feel the need to defend myself and my work ethic. It this kind of “discourse” that makes me loathe the union mentality. I have said it before in this forum/blog and I will say it again : handle your own shit properly. Take control of your career. Make choices, and stick by them. Every job is difficult and the fact that our jobs are “cool” makes it harder to separate emotional connection from the logical reasoning of business. I don’t support companies taking advantage of their employees. However, I get to see the side of the coin where I watch checks come in and see how much it costs to run a small business in the vfx world. To put it bluntly, it’s a minefield. Sometimes I don’t want to know how the engine runs but I feel it makes me a better supervisor so I deal with it because I am an adult and it’s my job to manage these kinds of things. Once again, it’s a learning experience and every day in this job we are fortunate to be able to learn and grow as people. That is what makes this job so damned cool.

      • skaplan839 says:

        “Have little other to do in life than bear the union flag and stir up whatever / whenever possible”

        I’ll proudly wear that on a T-shirt.

        While Robert’s pride and ego may have been bruised, I’ll gladly question anyone who takes professional work to students in the name of “giving them some experience”. If there’s anything we’ve seen in this blog and in the industry, is the need to question the corners that are being cut in the name of costs.

        Don’t apologize on my behalf. If you want to make amends, do so for the industry that fosters this type of behavior. I’ll continue to make sure that labor issues and the treatment of artists continues to be on the forefront of the discussions we have.

      • Mr Kaplan, you did not attack my pride or ego. You attacked my work ethic and motivation. Please make sure your statements are accurate. Once again your reply is patently wrong and I feel that I need to defend myself….against someone who has the “treatment of artists” on the forefront of discussions. Treat me and the communication appropriately and correctly. If this is the level of communication we can expect from the union that is the 839 then I fear you have done your union a disservice here in my eyes. Thank you for clearing up any lingering thoughts I had about unionization and the people who would potentially represent me. I am completely done discussing any of this with you.

      • skaplan839 says:


        I thought we made clear the distinction of your specific case vs. the topic at hand. I find it strange that you’d further your comment by using a straw-man argument equating me with union representation. It’s apparent where your stance on unionization is. I’m sorry to see that.

        If you’d ever consider sitting down and discussing unionization further, I’d gladly meet you for lunch to have that conversation. My treat.

      • Craig says:


        Great post. Unions do have a place in our economy, but just like corporations, they are just collections of people and they are not always beneficial.

        Listen. There is just nothing wrong at all with letting students work on real projects. I’d much rather work on a real music video or short film for a director who has passion for his project than just some internal design-by committee student project.

        In then end, it is the same amount of work, so what is all the fuss? The fuss is about unions being protectionist. Unions want to have a say. Somebody applying to a company, signing a contract, loving their job and being paid well is the nemesis of union leaders. Union leaders often want to convince everyone that they are needed (well, your dues are at least).

        Someone please tell me how the students are hurt by working on real projects as opposed to fake.

      • skaplan839 says:

        “The fuss is about unions being protectionist”

        We’re such a pain in the ass, aren’t we Craig? Damned collectively bargained agreements and their worker-friendly stipulations. And those damned labor laws .. such a nuisance! What about WEEKENDS! Who the hell came up with that stupid idea!?

      • Craig says:


        Again. I never said labor unions were always a bad thing. They can provide organized strength to counteract the strength of organized corporations. It is everyone’s right to join a union. That doesn’t make them pure and those that run them saints.

        Light reading:

      • skaplan839 says:

        Wow .. the teachers union, again. I’ve never seen anyone pull that out to vilify unions before. Kudos for an original argument.

        Unions are a group of people who focus their inherent leverage to bring a balance of power to the workplace when negotiating conditions and standards. As they’re made of people, and people can be inherently flawed, unions can have their flaws too.

        However, I would rather have a system in place that gives the workers the ability to make those mistakes than just give up that leverage and believe that employers have the best interest of their workers at heart.

        Cuz, that’s been really successful.

      • Jack says:


        Wow .. the [insert] ‘weekend, child labor laws’, again. I’ve never seen anyone pull that out to defend unions before. Kudos for an original argument.

        Both corporations and unions have there place.

      • Craig says:


        Sarcasm? Really?

        I’ve got a question for you Scott. When you go get an oil change, do you make sure the garage has your “best interest at heart” before you let them under your car? I mean, it’s your car. There is a safety issue there. Think of your family. No, of course you don’t. You use common sense. You get recommendations and you go back to the places that treat you well. That’s how reality works. Expecting everyone you deal with to have *your* “best interest at heart” is the most unrealistic ideal there is.

        I found this phrase of yours particularly interesting:

        “I would rather have a system in place that gives the workers the ability to make those mistakes…”

        Of course, you are talking about people abusing union power, but that sentiment is exactly how I feel about somebody agreeing to work for free if they feel it will help get them obtain leverage in their next job application. People should be free to make mistakes as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. In fact, mistakes are a major way that people learn and grow.

  4. Daniel Hayes says:

    Spot on. I started out as a sysadmin and moved into wrangling/pipeline dev/data io positions where I was trained by pros while I was paid, with full benefits. Now later in my career I have a ton of technical skill to back up artistic experience. I’ve given this advice to a ton of young people – its just easier and more rewarding to break into technical jobs.

  5. Rachael says:

    So many grads come out of Savannah College of Art and Design with 100K+ in loans. It just blows my mind. On one hand, I can’t help but blame the government for letting them take out those kinds of loans. It will take a life time to pay that kind of money back. Additionally, parents should be sitting down with these kids and crunching the numbers with them- showing them exactly how much debt they’re getting into for the rest of their lives and what those payment plans are going to look like. By the time they pay those loans off, they’ll have been able to buy a house!! Not a huge house or one in LA, but a house in many parts of the US. I strongly believe loan counseling should be done before accepting at a college.

    On the other hand, I know what having a big name college on your resume can do for you. I would say yes, 75% -90% is having the demo reel and getting in the door. But that last percent, when you’re in an interview and they say “Oh, you went to SCAD (or RISD or Fullsail) they have excellent students.” That just tips the scale. So perhaps the answer is somewhere in the middle. Go to community college for the first 2 years and then transfer to an art college if you really want. Ultimately, people are going to do what they want, no matter what we professionals tell them.

    • reonimation says:

      I have yet to hear of any recruitment claim that Full Sail students are great, quite the contrary, actually. And as for transferring credits from public schools to for-profit, the credits are usually nontransferable.

  6. Thanks for creating the awareness among the VFX and 3D aspirant as many of my friends including me suffered from the same loss. We attended the for-profit college, worked almost 24*7 but in the end, no jobs. Best thing to learn is the Internet as you will get to learn from the professionals with low cost and ease. You can also create contacts and share your work widely.

  7. LMP says:

    I believe that computer science degree will help if your passion is programming and your love for VFX is the software side of things and the computer.
    You need to be an artist and understand art in order to create it. So, for me there is a question of what side and area of the spectrum of VFX you want to be in.
    For an artist a computer is a tool, and you learn to use the tool.
    Computer science creates the tool.
    Regarding trade schools, universities, etc.. This is the US. Everything is about how to make a buck, business, capitalism, even if you have to sell your mother. For profit or not, education costs in the US are astronomical..Again, it is a question if you want to play the game or not…

  8. edwardh says:

    Computer science? Why? Unless you’re going to develop pipelines, plug-ins and whatnot, that’s likely not going to be a lot of help. With Art, however, it’s a whole different story…
    And not necessarily traditional art. I’m sure these days there are many universities that offer programs that are very heavy on digital art and combine that with some traditional background and/or computer science. Which is just fantastic for VFX.

    And if you don’t get a job in this industry, you may just be able to score a job as art director at a small ad company or something (as has happened to a former colleague of mine). Which is quite a bit better as regular programmer in terms of lifestyle prospects AND also great if you want to get into VFX more because of artistic than technical aspects.

    • yet_another_anon_vfxer says:

      * There will be opportunities to learn what’s happening when you push those buttons and why doing certain things might hose your RAM usage or send your render time through the roof.
      * Artists who can script are in high demand.
      * Studios will eat you up if you have a CS degree.
      * You are likely to find a school that’s actually a good school, and isn’t just farming children for gold.

      * A school offering a CS degree will prepare you better for being a working professional. I’m sorry, the attitude in my vfx school was all fun & games, people watching porn in class instead of listening and when confronted saying “durp durp it’s reference material durp” and staff considering that valid. Teachers literally giving up on the class and letting them do their own thing instead of kicking out the problem kids, because they weren’t paid enough to care… you will not have those problems at a school that offers a CS degree.

      * Schools that have a CS degree (especially big state universities) will have amazing resources for learning about all of the interesting stuff in the world. Take history of Chinese religion and philosophy, study Egyptian mythology, or take medical classes. Or go to a vfx school and settle for a hobbled-together laughing stock of an excuse for gen-eds, one of which is a class actually called “Science Class” with a curriculum pulled from 6th grade. (Oh, and a Math Class that’s about what ‘sin’ and ‘tan’ do and how triangles are nifty.)

      * Getting a CS degree from an accredited university probably costs a quarter to a third what a vfx “degree” does.

      * You would have a skill set that will get you good work outside of VFX if, oh, say, the entire industry collapses around you.

      My claim to know: I did both. (Probably should have stuck with the engineering, but vfx was too much of a calling.)

  9. These are the downsides of VFX industry but what about motion graphics artists. Is it the same for them too??

  10. reonimation says:

    It is excellent that these for profit schools are getting their laundry aired. I’m one of their students, from Full Sail.

    My frustrations are all these articles seem to be leading down one road, How are we going to correct this from now on? That shouldn’t be the answer! What of the students who are already victims of these practices? Tough? We need to have retroactive kickback.

    I’ve been in the industry now for a long time, with all the moving, and insanely large student loans, I barely break even. If anything, I’m slowly drowning. I’m not asking for handouts, I’m asking for fair practices. I’d love to turn back time and go another route, but it’s too late for me now.

  11. VFXliberty says:

    No one forced you to sign for those loans.

    • reonimation says:

      This is such a crap response. No one forced people to move into those houses that were backed by bad securities either. Still doesn’t make it right.

      By your logic, one paper that I signed when I was just getting out into the world, should be the very foundation of my life. And I should just deal with it?

    • reonimation says:

      I really simply cannot stand this logic, its what is dragging this country down, selective support. Those not in need feel those in need should just suffer, deal with it, they got themselves in this mess anyway. When the tables are turned suddenly its the opposite story. These are peoples lives, these are families, these are kids, and its entirely the foundation of the industry.

      I went to Full Sail. I did my research, and at the time I went it was viewed as a great opportunity. Remember the article, these schools are spending billions to advertise and manipulate the markets opinion. How was I, not even a legal adult, or my parents (sadly aren’t blessed with film making accounting) were supposed to be market analysis experts and know:
      1) How the industry was going to turn out.
      2) That my student loan payments would be 1200 a month, Sallie Mae doesn’t give payment estimates.
      3)That the economy would just shatter, leaving banks NOT offering consolidation on private loans.
      4) That is industry specifically is based in the most expensive cities the world, and would force you to move at least every other year, to stay competitive.
      5) While the pay would be good, there is no standardized rates and it’s very difficult to know what you should be making so you can undercut yourselves very easily.

      I could go on and on. Im not asking for hand outs or for things to be easy. I just cant stand logic where people think anonymity on forums gives them the authority to be insanely heartless. When for all you know, I could be sitting in the room next over.

      • Craig says:

        Oh my gosh! How do you make any decisions in life? You mean you didn’t know for sure what would happen in the future? How does anybody live without guarantees! Making a tough decision and having to live with it if it doesn’t work out is called freedom.

        How about taking responsibility for your actions?

      • Jack says:

        Looks like your research and education was incomplete. the first lesson that should be taught is no-one knows the future, be prepared for it to different to what you thought. people predicted the economy to crash. if you learn about the expansion/destruction of credit and you’ll start to understand about the ‘system’ you are in. its an awesome system that allows many things to happen but also stops things.

  12. Ymir says:

    This is a slippery slope. Now producers won’t even try to raise money for an effects budget, because they know they’ll have a free labor force at some vfx school.

    • yet_another_anon_vfxer says:

      I have already been part of a project that tried to do this. A company involved in television programming contracted a production studio to do a show based on a topic. That production studio took the work but did not have vfx capacity, so they took bids. A company that does realtime game-style graphics won the bid, but didn’t actually know how to come through on the work. So they dug out contacts, and this was their eventual plan:

      Send the work to a local school for the students to do. Keep the money for themselves. Offer some old crap workstations from their junk room if needed, and send one of their guys to keep the project moving.

      The expectation was that the students would model, rig, animate, hair, sim, light and render the project (IIRC 25 shots) for free, allowing the realtime graphics house to keep the bid money.

      For those curious, the guy sent to keep tabs on it had a heart of gold and plotted from the beginning to force them into paying all of the students. Lawyers eventually got involved, but the students all got paid, and the rates weren’t bad, though they were day rates and he couldn’t ever convince the students to leave at the end of the day. Had a different guy been in charge that likely wouldn’t have happened, but in that case the project would have failed. In the end the project aired on TV with happy clients.

      Unfortunately, that scam did win the project away from houses and teams bidding honestly.

  13. Anonymous AAU Student says:

    I’d like to keep myself unknown for multiple reasons. Mainly, the fact I’m about to enter this industry and I’d rather not lose any opportunities; something that I could easily see happening by supporting the opposing party in this debate.

    I’m an Academy of Art University Student. I have worked on these projects in the past. I have a question for everyone who is telling us that we should go to community college and supplement our education with online training (fxphd, Digital Tutors, ect.).

    When recruiters look at reels, do they often pass by something they’ve seen twenty times before from some tutorial floating around the internet? From my understanding, it’s almost certain. So how does a compositor distinguish themselves from others when they have no footage to work with? Sure, you can make the argument that they can rent equipment, DIY a green screen, and by stock elements online to add to plates, but what student wouldn’t bite at the bit to work with 2K footage, shot professionally, knowing that you’ll be able to see it on the big screen? That’s not the point; the point is that the recruiter watching your reel is going to see something new. Something that he or she hasn’t seen on the last 6 reels. It shows that you know how to work intuitively in a compositing environment, not just follow along with a tutorial online to replicate what’s been done ten times over.

    Now, if Paramount came knocking on the door of the Academy of Art University and said “We’d like to use your students as free labor on Avengers 2”, there would be a problem. A big problem. I don’t want to steal someone’s job. I want to work on cool projects, but I also understand the importance of a well-structured union and the rights of artists.

    However, when an independent film that literally has absolutely no money left for visual effects comes along, and offers up great footage in exchange for spec work, and there would be literally no way to finish the film otherwise, why would we, as students, turn it away? I agree this can quickly become a slippery slope. Producers could just simply stop looking for funding and go straight to schools, saying “we have no budget”. I can’t think of a way to prevent that at the moment, save simply just trusting a person and having a good sense of their intentions. One thing people forget is, at least as far as I am aware, there are no contracts involving any sort of agreement of work rendered. It’s a two-way street. if the student-artists aren’t taken care of, a film could be crashed simply because the school decided to look out for it’s student’s best interests. And yes, our instructors at the Academy really care for us. I can’t comment on other universities, but I can comment on the faculty at the Academy.

    I don’t know. I could be wrong in my speculations. However, if I was a recruiter, I know that I would pay a bit more attention to the reel with a shot I’ve never seen before over the shot that’s come in 200 times, looking exactly the same.

    Also, the Academy of Art University and the Art Institute are not the same school. I’m not trying to troll anyone with this information, but I’d like to make it known as it could be misleading otherwise.

    • vfxguy says:

      You’re absolutely correct. What’s more, being able to talk at interview about your experience working with client-driven deadlines will make you much more valuable to potential employers.

    • Jack says:

      “when an independent film that literally has absolutely no money left for visual effects”

      Ha, ha. that’s like shopping for more than you have money for. ‘oh, mr checkout person. i have absolutely no money left but give me those clothes I want…’

      Putting it bluntly, they are literally lying to you. It’s your job to convince them to pay up with a good argument! Access to credit and crowd funding leaves no excuse to ask for something for free.

      • That’s like saying every single film out there has money to spend on doing everything. It’s just not the case. Yes, there are projects that are reasonably financed. Then there are passion projects where the director saves up money and spends our of their own pocket to make something happen. Favors get called in, and people are asked to work for very cheap or free. NOBODY is pressured into this situation. Some things cannot be done for free. Physical materials cannot be gotten for $0. They can be gotten for less than full price and that’s the negotiation. In the end the person doing the work for free/cheap needs to make a decision whether or not that project is something they want to be involved in some how. Maybe there is an end goal.
        I have been a part of very large scale productions and micro-budgets. It’s ultimately the choice. I made mine and in giving the opportunity to people to potentially improve their experience and work I hope that those individuals I worked with are happy with what they got out of it. If you are intentionally trying to mislead people with false claims of finances then certainly there is a problem but let’s talk about the banking industry as the real issue there versus the pittance that the visual effects industry contributes to that.

      • Jack says:

        Robert. There is no free lunch. an artist rents their time for money, physical material supplier sells product for money. can the materials can be free?!? if the supplier acts like the artist and supplies them for free they can be, who knows, maybe a film credit suits their business. i.e. “see that paint on that set, I supplied that. I supply high quality paints that the film industry uses” and just like the artist, the costs are borne elsewhere.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      Hi there,

      Thanks for the comment. Please read all of this.

      Here’s my point about the junior college and computer science thing: I wanted to give people advice on a cost effective sure fire way of breaking into the industry. It’s an immensely smaller investment compared to the for-profits and the ability to get past the recruiters and through the backdoor. Once you are in you have the inside track and can work (for pay) directly with artists and supes. They’ll get to know how you work and are more likely to give you a chance because you know the pipeline better than someone new.

      Give me a choice between a technical assistant and someone from academy of art and I’ll go with the technical assistant with the cs background all the time. Also remember, even if you are a good artist, you’re going to work project to project. If you are someone with a cs background you are more likely in
      My opinion to be kept on after a project. There is always a need for someone to help the next show on pipeline. This blog is about making artists smarter and getting a student reel together is nice but you are going up against alot of experienced artists with avatar on their reel.

      Secondly, I personally don’t think recruiters and supes review student reels that often. They don’t have the time! I see boxes and boxes of reels and usually when a recruiter is looking for someone they contact me and say “hey know anyone available?”

      If people are arguing that it’s good to work for free because the ends justify the means then why not do this: You pay me $10,000 and I’ll put your name in to the right supes ear and get you a job. It’s far less then what you paid academy and even they can’t guarantee you a job. My deal guarantees you a job or your money back! The ends justify the means right?

      Concerning your statement that academy is different because it was for an indie filmmaker:

      Well that indie filmmaker just got distribution with a major studio: Fox. He is going to rake in the moola and good for him! Will he share that money with you? Will academy offer to cover some of your expensive tuition?

      It’s great to earn their respect but you should also look to earn their reciprocity. Read my interview with bob oedy. We all love what we do but you have to give this industry tough love. It’s gotta love you back and the only way to do that is with reciprocity.

      • vfxguy says:

        “Give me a choice between a technical assistant and someone from academy of art and I’ll go with the technical assistant with the cs background all the time. Also remember, even if you are a good artist, you’re going to work project to project. If you are someone with a cs background you are more likely in My opinion to be kept on after a project”

        That’s just you, Soldier. Personally I prefer a varied team with a mix of skills. Your argument about being kept on holds some water, but depends heavily on the facility. If someone has a strong artistic background AND a good understanding of the technical side then that really is a great combination, but most people aren’t built like that and advising people to do a 4-year CS course, which many artists will hate, is ridiculous. It will work for a few, but not for the majority.

        “This blog is about making artists smarter and getting a student reel together is nice but you are going up against alot of experienced artists with avatar on their reel.”

        Flat-out wrong. I either hire experienced artists, or I hire students. They fill completely different roles in the team. And contrary to what you say, every place I’ve ever worked has put a lot of time into looking at, encouraging, and recruiting students. Maybe you should actually spend some time with some students instead of just lecturing them about how they’re ruining the industry by doing a few shots for free?

        “You pay me $10,000 and I’ll put your name in to the right supes ear and get you a job. My deal guarantees you a job or your money back! The ends justify the means right?”

        It’s not just about getting a job. It’s about getting experience that will give you a head-start in your professional career. If I was the supe whose ear you’d bent to get in some no-experience kid when I could have hired someone like Jack then you and I would be having a short, loud conversation.

        Your mercenary approach to looking at this, speaking only of reciprocity (most often in purely financial terms), says more about your cynical attitude to work than it does about the industry.

        To Jack, good luck finding the job that you want. Never sell yourself short, but never miss out on an opportunity because some old guy with an ax to grind told you it’s wrong.

      • vfxguy says:

        Obviously by Jack I meant Anonymous AAU Student. Dang abstract avatars.

      • Craig says:

        @VFX Soldier:

        I generally agree with your assessment. In this day and age, I wouldn’t advise somebody to go to an expensive trade school when there are much better and cheaper options.

        I also agree that reciprocity is a great thing, but aren’t those kids in school to get experience? Is that not what they got?

        OK, so one director makes it big from a short film, but most directors get nowhere and do not earn “moola” from their personal small projects. What does it matter if a director goes on to later earn money?

        Do you not believe there is something called a win-win?

        Sure if some director goes off to make millions, then it would be great if they tracked down people that worked for free on his early films, but that doesn’t mean that it was not a fair deal at the time.

        There are quite a bit of people here that feel that it is a zero-sum game. It is not.

      • VFX Soldier says:


        If you read my post you would’ve noticed that I suggested that a student major in computer science AND supplement their education by training themselves with various online VFX classes and DVDs. By default that makes them the more diversely talented person. Yes, most people aren’t built like that which makes CS majors with VFX focus such a priority to hire and keep on.

        You said I was wrong to point out that a student out of school is going up against experienced artists with Avatar on their reel because there are specific roles meant for inexperienced artists. While that may be true, those roles are usually assistant positions. Even in those circumstances I would chose the Computer Science major over the Academy grad above. Why? A computer science major can help write scripts and tools that help the bulk of team get shots through. It’s far more effective in my opinion.

        You said it’s not just about getting a job. While I wish that were true the WHOLE argument being made by those who advocate working for free is so you can get a job. The $10,000 thing was to point out that if the ends justify the means then why not bribe people for a connection to a supe instead? Why care about ethics?

        You finish your comment by regarding my plea for reciprocity as cynicism. How is asking for people to treat you fairly cynical? How is asking to be paid for work on a for-profit project at a for-profit school cynical?

        You tell the student above to never sell themselves short even though thats exactly what they did: Academy gets thousands of dollars from the student. The director gets work done on a project that will make millions. All I did was suggest an alternative that would have saved the student money and would have fast tracked him to a job.

        And I’m the cynic?

      • VFX Soldier says:


        Sure those kids are in school to get the experience. That’s what they paid for. The director is trying to get work done on his project. He didn’t pay for it. He’s going to make millions. That’s not reciprocity. My philosophy is pretty simple: You do for-profit work, you get paid.

        Whether the game is win-win, or zero-sum my argument is: Why play the game at all?

        I made a simple proposal that avoids getting into debt, gets you a more stable paying job, and gets you experience. You get all this without having to play the game.

      • Craig says:

        @VFX Soldier:

        Don’t get me wrong. I think your advice is almost exactly what I would propose also.

        And you have every right to your own philosophy, as well.

        “My philosophy is pretty simple. You do for-profit work, you get paid.”

        Yep, that’s a great philosophy. I happen to live by that at the moment, as well. However, back when nobody was willing to pay me, I had to adopt another strategy. One that worked out very well.

        This is about a person making a personal decision about their career trajectory. If they feel that working for free will give them valuable experience, then they have every right to take such an opportunity -whether you think they should or not.

        Interestingly, the more expensive a film is to make or the more potential it has to earn money, the more likely that the experience will be more professional. In a very practical sense, students have an incentive to want to work on real projects rather than student projects or exercises.

        Also, you seem to be approaching like this as a career choice, when in fact working for free is a stepping stone meant for a number of months, not years. I have friends that wasted summers in college goofing around. I had to work a blue collar job, but if I had the opportunity I would have jumped at the chance to work on a real project for free. I would have figured out a way to make it happen.

      • VFX Soldier says:


        I never said anything about the right to work for free or the right to make that decision.

        What I have written is that there are companies looking to take advantage of free labor: The director of the film.

        What I have written is that there are for-profit schools looking to rip off students: Academy of Art and Art Institute are examples in this case. There is a reason they are being investigated by the government – Fraud.

        I didn’t come close to making the argument that this is a career choice. Again I simply pointed out that there is a cost effective solution that yields better results. My objection is working for free is that it’s become customary to the point that companies are now adding it to be a part of their business model.

      • Craig says:

        @VFX Soldier:

        OK fair enough. If the for-profit schools are committing fraud, then let them burn.

    • Ymir says:

      “However, when an independent film that literally has absolutely no money left for visual effects . . . ”

      Why would a film have no money ‘left’ for visual effects? Just because vfx are part of post we are automatically assumed to be the last paid? And if there’s no money left, that somehow the producer/director should seek free vfx? Why not ask the rest of the cast and crew to work for free, and save the money for the vfx? That’s a rhetorical question, but the point being, the producer/director just didn’t try hard enough to secure enough financing to make his/her entire movie. That shows sloppy budgeting.
      This is not exclusive to independent films. Many times major studio films take from the vfx budget to cover cost overruns in other areas of a film’s production.

    • Craig says:

      There is no problem with this scenario. They could do it right now. They don’t. Know why? Because high-end VFX is difficult. You won’t be doing the majority of shots on Avengers 2 because you are not good enough yet. I don’t care if your whole school including the teachers are working on it full-time.

      There is this fallacy out there that if people agree to work for free, then all the work will be done by those people. It is simply not true despite the fear tactics of union reps. If it were true, it would happen. If the minimum wage were the only thing preventing a company from not paying its employees, then right now, all the employees would be earning minimum wage.

      What you hear is fear mongering. Plain and simple.

      The key is proving yourself valuable to a company. If you do that, no matter what way, then you will do well.

      There is no single best way to get into the industry. Some people go to expensive schools and graduate with amazingly good skills and reels. Others graduate and are much less impressive.

      If you graduate and don’t have enough footage in a reel to make an impression then I would suggest contacting a lot of companies and volunteer to work on shots for free until you get what you need. Of course, this is illegal because there are quite a bit of people out there that feel they know better than you how to run your life.

  14. Neil says:

    I agree that if you’re a programmer, there’s a higher chance of being kept on, and maybe even a higher chance of getting hired. But if you’re an artist type and want to get into vfx, it’s probably not the best idea to try and become a programmer. Not that having those skills isn’t useful (I am an artist who also does some scripting here and there). But it’s a pretty big crap shoot, if you’re drawn to the arts, then it’s probably best to spend your time to refine and improve those skills you’re already good at. If you choose the programming root, you have a decent chance of discovering that you’re not interested in programming, or just not very good at it, because that’s not where you’re passion is. I would assume there’s still a better chance of being hired if you’re a good artist as opposed to a mediocre coder.

    As for these schools, I got a regular fine arts degree in a standard University, but did all of my 3d learning at home (this was before there were many schools offering programs in digital art). Not sure these days if that’s the best route to take, it is a very different world now from when I started doing this stuff.

  15. I couldn’t agree with this article more. When I went to the Art Institute the availability of 3D Program tutorials and the breadth were just not there – so the for Profit School won because they had everything I needed to get into the field I wanted to. NOW – however there is absolutely no reason for anyone to pay $145k for an education that really could be gained by going to a traditional college or tech school and then supplimenting it with online and other courses. What really gets you the job is the demo-reel. Nothing else. Degree’s are nice and some places might be hung up on them – but if your work is stellar and if a company thinks you know what you’re doing a degree just won’t matter in the end. However – degree’s do help if you are looking to be promoted. I’m not discounting college education; I’m just in accordance with your article – don’t pay the upper tier price for an education you can get for way less.

  16. Matt Hartle says:

    I wanted to weigh in on this from a practical employer/ teacher standpoint. I’ve been in the industry for the last 16 years. For the last 13 years, I’ve been a CG director at various companies. In addition to this, I taught for 5 or 6 years at Gnomon as well as the Art Institute in Santa Monica as well as the Academy of Art in San Fransisco. Understanding my background will help you see my comments are grounded in reality and experience.

    The number one thing people must have when exiting school to succeed in this industry (outside of the obvious prerequisites of talent, passion and skill) is experience. When looking for a job within the industry, you have to be realistic about the environment you are entering into. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of people out there who are also looking for work. You must separate yourself from the pack. The best way to do this is by having experience and professional work to show.

    The obvious question is, how do you gain experience when you can’t get hired. That’s where these student participation projects come. These projects give you the opportunity and exposure of a professional engagement without actually being qualified. They provide critical, real world, hands on experience that you might otherwise be unable to acquire. So now that we know these are good opportunities… what if they don’t pay. Let me put it very simply. You should not be thinking about money when you are trying to gain experience. Money will come. Your only thought should be: how can I gain more experience and make myself more hire-able.

    As a new-comer or student, when you have an opportunity to work on a project, for profit or otherwise, you should jump on it, you need that experience.

    From an employers standpoint and as a person fiscally responsible within my company, I can tell you very simply, I would NEVER expend my precious budget on untested, student talent. Regardless of what others might believe, there is NOT endless money. Budgets are tighter now than they have ever been and thanks to the endless phenomenal work that is being produced, expectations are often impossibly high. This means I simply can’t afford to take a chance on an untested group. That being said, I would certainly make myself available to work with an untested group and mentor them through the process, helping them learn along the way and hopefully arriving at a usable finished product. I think you will find this paradigm to be the norm throughout the industry. People in this industry are mostly good people and they do want to help others when they can. So what happens to the budget that wasn’t spent because of the cheap/ free student labor? Personally I would (and have) looked at is as a wash. You were given invaluable experience, exposure and mentoring and you were given that without having to pay for it. There needs to be a worldwide STOPPAGE of the entitlement mentality and an evolution of a more positive attitude towards opportunities EARNED.

    Let me put my money where my mouth is. My first professional opportunity out of school was working for a tiny company in Hollywood on exceptional and exciting projects. I went to the Art Center in Pasadena and while there, I met a lot of great people. Through some of them I got onto a project with this studio. Fast forward a year and a half and I had a dozen fantastic projects on my resume including Harry Potter, Osmosis Jones, Scooby Doo, Batman, etc. Also, I was literally worn down to the absolute essence of my being. My boss at that shop EXPECTED me to work 7 days a week, minimum of 15 hours a day. Most days were far more than that. I once had a seven day stretch working on a promotional piece for the first Harry Potter where I wasn’t allowed to sleep a single hour. At the end I could barely walk. It got so bad, a producer from Warner Brothers actually bought me a futon so that I didn’t have to sleep on the floor anymore, using a maya manual as a pillow. I was paid, but after all the hours, it just was dollars an hour. NOT the most positive experience. However when I walked out of that place, I walked into a excellent 6 figure job, this a year and a half out of school. I also had the knowledge that no matter what, no one could ever ask more of me than I could give, and when I left that place, I left, I quite. It taught me to know when enough is enough and to look out for number one.

    I hope your lucky enough to have an instructor like Robert Nederhorst who would give you the opportunity and exposure to work on real projects. I would hope you walk in and say thank you to him every single day your on the project. People like him will probably be the reason you succeed in this industry.

    Never, NEVER listen to the people (fingers are pointing) that tell you that you should never work with out pay, that certain establishments are questionable. Go out there and learn that for yourself. Don’t cut yourself out of all the opportunities. I would love to wax poetic and spout moral platitudes, telling you to make this demand and that demand and except no less, etc. I won’t do that, it won’t help you. Get out there and get your feet wet. Your an adult, if find yourself in a questionable situation, get out of it.

    Above all, be positive. As this blog and specifically, skaplan839 proves, it’s pretty easy to be negative. Don’t be a victim, solve your own problems, make your mark and enjoy great success.


    • skaplan839 says:

      I’ll disagree with your point that people should work without pay. If you’re working on a funded project, there is no reason you shouldn’t be paid.

      Me? Negative? I think its easier to call what I do positive and my views formed from the experiences and people I’ve encountered. I would counter that everyone should trust their own research. Don’t believe a thing I say, or anyone else does. Verify it for yourselves.

      • Matt Hartle says:

        I’m not saying people SHOULD work without pay… I’m saying people should be WILLING to work without pay. There’s a significant difference there… No one rule will suffice for all situations. People are in control of what they will and won’t do… if you need experience but you can’t get paid for it… well, you have a choice.

        I completely concur that people should do their own research. There is no singular path to any particular goal and as such no point in trying to follow a paint by numbers plan.

        Thx for fostering a lively conversation, I hope people out there benefit from it.


      • skaplan839 says:

        I would argue against that as well. Willing to work for less, maybe. I’m not lost on the need to find experience where it is. I just will never agree to any suggestion that artists should allow themselves to be abused for “the greater good”. I find no value in artists, be they students, newbies or veterans, giving away their talents on funded productions. Personal projects, sure. Go crazy. But if its going to be something that hits screens where people are paying to see it, everyone should be paid to work on it.

        The industry is wrought with the opportunity for artists to be screwed. I will always advocate against that.

      • Craig says:


        ‘abused for “the greater good”’

        I can’t stop laughing.

        How about some kid just starting out getting some incredibly valuable experience? I worked for free to get experience that I had a hard time acquiring any other way. Are you saying I was abused?

        Here is a fantastic twist of irony:

        “I would counter that everyone should trust their own research. Don’t believe a thing I say, or anyone else does. Verify it for yourselves.”

        Your advice is perfect, though not for your intended reasons. People should definitely do their own research. Find out what opportunities are out there. If you have the opportunity to work on a project unpaid, make sure you find out what you’ll be getting into and make sure you will benefit. If not, don’t do it or quit. That’s called taking charge of your own life and it is how we live.

    • Matt,
      Thanks! One thing to note on this statement :
      “Never, NEVER listen to the people (fingers are pointing) that tell you that you should never work with out pay…”
      I have hired students for a job that did pay. That job was a real job backed by real studio money. Fair is fair and a days’ work is worth something when there is true financial backing as was the case with that job.

      I know you’re being complementary and I appreciate it. I just want it noted, for the record, that I have hired students and have paid them, when there is money to pay them. They got experience and pay, and we paid fairly, imo. The experience was that we had jello shot Fridays, Tie Tuesdays (wear formal wear..aka look good!) and we made an Epic Meal Time meal for lunch one time.


      • Matt Hartle says:

        Definitely no fingers were pointed toward you from my direction. You seem like a consummate professional and I think the students that have gotten to work with you have probably benefited greatly. You perfectly illustrate what I’m advocating; taking every situation as it comes and making choices that are right for you. I choose to believe that most people in this industry are like you and conduct their dealings with respect and consideration. Meaning, if you have money, you’ll give it and if not, you will give of your considerable experience.

        thx for your response.


      • Craig says:

        @Robert Nederhorst:

        I don’t think anybody would deny that it is definitely better to pay people for their work. Also, I don’t think it needs to be said that most people will jump at paid positions before unpaid. That is, unless the potential experience is worth the cost.

        It is great that you hired students and it is great that you paid them. Many companies would also pay without being forced to. The bottom line is that it is up to the individual to do the cost/benefit analysis of the opportunity.

        There may be a paying job that is a corporate infographic which is paid, and there may also be a short film alien invasion sequence that is an unpaid gig.

        Our entire lives are made up of weighing pros and cons. This is no different.

      • yet_another_anon_vfxer says:

        I think the real question here is whether the director would have found a way to pay if he knew he didn’t have the option of getting some students to hack away at it for free.

        Personally, I believe that only tiny projects can get away with free work without things imploding. I’ve seen numerous attempts.

        Let me bring an example forward. Director shooting “indie” film, shortened version, being used to try and bid a larger project. They want effects-heavy character work (smoke monster, no art reference, “like Harry Potter”) for five sequences. About 70 shots total. Problem is, they blew their vfx budget. They have $1500 left.

        Where did it go? They rented a Red, hired a bunch of actors, had lots of locations, props, lighting, costumes…. But Wups! Nothing left for VFX.

        What to do about it? Troll the local schools, looking for students. Each time a group of students fails or realizes they need money to, for example, eat, they collect whatever files that group had made, tell them they can’t pay the $1500 because they didn’t finish, and look again.

        An example of the level of work wanted here… one scene had full camera motion with zoom, depth-of-field, no track markers, and the fx-monster needed to be inserted tango dancing with a woman in a flowing dress. In a desperate attempt to save my friends from taking that project, I did some bidding numbers based on the skill levels present. It would have taken us about 1.5 to 2 years to complete.

        Another example I posted above, a TV show that contracted a realtime graphics house by mistake for their rendered vfx. That realtime house had funding, but decided to keep it and hide that fact, and instead get students at a local school to do the work for free, allowing them to keep the budget. The school was unaware of this and went along with it, going through the school asking who wanted to work on this TV show, although it was unpaid.

        Another project. “Director” (guy who was convinced he had the coolest story ever) comes to the school with a great project for the kiddos. Says he has personal contacts on the bidding teams at Dreamworks and they get to start on the team if it’s a success. Before long he has wrapped a bunch of them up in his project. Turns out he doesn’t actually know anything about anything though, and the project devolves into just about the worst thing you can imagine. All time wasted. Project was the most miserable of dismal failures. Total time wasted: about 16 to 22 students for 6 months, trying to salvage it. A core of 5 or 6 kept at it for over a year. Turns out he was paying the “leader” student and was pressuring her in several bad ways when the rest (unpaid) weren’t making progress.

        Another project. Guy has an idea for a feature-length animated visual 3D glory-fest, and insists he has a business model, but that right now he can’t pay for any work. But in the future, when he wins over all the investors, it’ll be the real deal. Went to a local school to find free work. Guy had $5,000 in his pocket that he offered bits of to this/that person when he needed them but they wouldn’t work unpaid, but didn’t tell anyone. What’s worse, if he did pay someone but they didn’t deliver his wildest expectations (such as fully modeled cities in three weeks) he would demand the money back as they had breached their contract, which as they found out at that point, was drawn up to say “artist will deliver whatever I want them to for $1,500.” No time limit or declaration of scope. Threat of daddy lawyer frequently dropped if he had problems collecting from an artist he had “paid” after they had used it all on living expenses.

        These are notable examples from about two years in school. I left out a lot more. This is becoming a business model.

        Here’s my take:

        Unpaid work completed = large share of residuals on any profits, and back pay at local living wage if it comes to light there was money and it was being withheld or kept secret, as above.

        Unpaid work in progress = Sure, if it sounds like good experience, but you are not allowed to be mad at someone for finding something better to do with their time. Do not expect that work to be completed, but be very happy if it does.

        Unpaid work from students in a school, = students get to work on whatever shot they feel is best for their educational experience. Try to make a case that it will be better for them if they pick up the boring stuff too and everything gets done, or maybe you need a certain GPA to get free pick, but in general that class is there for the students to educate themselves in their chosen specialty. You do not have the right to force them to work on something mundane and un-useful. That presents a problem: from what I’ve seen this type of activity takes multiple terms to complete. If completing that project means the first two terms through are crunching roto and matchmoves, you are not delivering them what they are paying for. Consider waiving tuition for that term. (Bet that doesn’t sound pleasant.)

        Unpaid work from someone living very well with lots of savings, he just doesn’t want to allocate them to the project = get out. now. That person is gaining from that project and has funding. He just doesn’t want to fund.

    • Craig says:

      @Matt Hartle:

      Love your post, Matt. Finally, somebody with some real-world common sense.

      You will never convince some people here, however, that there is some middle ground between being a student/amature and being a paid professional.

      Nope. They will even deny that it takes company resources to take on unpaid newbies and that working for free can be of mutual benefit.

      This is an ideological war. You especially won’t convince union reps, who would like to manage the affairs of all VFX workers.

      • Jack says:

        Craig, surely the middle ground is working for a company that is at your level of skills. not all companies need highend work. then move onto bigger companies.

      • Craig says:


        No, there is no defining middle ground. There are all kinds of middle grounds. Who are you to say that working for 20 bucks an hour out in the middle of Iowa for a straight-to-DVD title is better than working for free on an A-list superhero movie? One gives you money, the other gives you top-of-the-line experience and contacts -which can be better than money if it helps you leverage your next job.

        It all boils down to the individual. All I’m saying is that it is up to a person to decide what is right for them for their particular goals.

      • Jack says:

        agreed. good part of this blog is finding out the strukture and insentives that govern hollywood machine. who dossnt laugh at all the job ads when they say career opportunity in Baton Rogue or Vancouver. an opportunity fa sure but knowing its only there until the incentives get better elsewhere is priseless. ive turned down work from around the world knowing this.

      • Craig says:


        I stay away from areas that have government subsidies, too. The problem with government money being thrown around is that it really does displace jobs which makes it much harder for workers to make a good decision. For people just starting out, it may actually be your best bet to chase one of these opportunities around the globe.

        To me, if a company is not thriving in a particular location on its own, but relies of government subsidies, then it is hard to think about moving my family to such a place. I don’t trust it will be there for long. Just look at SPI ABQ.

        I am strongly against government subsidies distorting the natural market. Artificial monies turn rational decision making into a fun-house mirror and it is getting harder all the time.

      • Jack says:

        @ craig
        ” Artificial monies”
        to be clear, its not artificial money. it is the governemnt/tax payers whom are buying the vfx component via ‘tax credits’. when there is another government that pays more, or the incumbent stops buying, then the work stops. the ‘rational-market’ is crowded out by the governement. when said like this i find it much clearer to understand incentives/tax credits.

    • I believe in America says:

      I have some years on you in the industry, (yes I am pretty long in the tooth- yet the teeth remain and abide such as they are),. My experience may be a measure of certain changes in our industry, and the American workplace in general..

      When I came up, no one worked for free.
      And looking back, I came up several times.
      And everything I know about any line of work, with all respect to school that did the best that school can do, I learned on the job.

      For cash money.

      Let me say this again,

      No person I know,

      None of my peers.


      Worked for free.

      Much less payed for the ‘privilege’!!!!! What, dude???!!!!

      Not when we were students, and not when we were fresh out with no ‘tested experience’.


      Just like our landlords never let us squat for free because we had ‘no tested experience’. They would have laughed
      at the suggestion, or more likely, they would have pursued certain legal remedies. I will assume this remains true today but school me if that has also changed with the times.,,

      To be clear, that times have apparently changed in the American workplace in VFX or any other cottage or mainstream industry, is an argument against this kind of exploitation, not for it…

      It is not, contrary to some religions, the sign of an
      ‘efficient market’.

      And that’s one of the points of this blog, unless I’m mistaken:

      If times have changed, that indicates we in the United States are well on the way in our slide down the proverbial slippery slope ‘o fun. Hey, but at least we’ve by and large gotten rid of unions and commie labor laws here in the land of the free. (Land of the ‘free’ means different things to different people I’ve realized lately).

      I have never worked for free on a pro project in any industry a single day, hour, or minute in my life. And I’ve worked since I was 9 or 10. You need the floor swept? A lawn mowed? The trash taken out? A shot comped?

      Well guess what?

      Pay me.

      I graduated from a moderately respected college.
      None of my classmates worked for free when they started out- not those in live action, not those in vfx. It would have been a sucker’s bet to do so. We didn’t make six figures by a long shot- that came later. But even the lowliest independent filmmaker in a 5 floor walk-up on the verge of having the phones cut off, never had the unmitigated gumption to say, ‘roto this shot for free’ to any of us.- not if they were making a single dime on the deal.

      But of course, back in the day, no company ‘offered’ that kind of ‘opportunity’ in the first place. It was/is wrong.

      Even as students, when outside companies came calling for help on low budget projects, not one of them ever said, ‘today’s your lucky day, come help us meet our bottom line and work for us for free’. Because to say such a thing would have been low, illegal, and hilarious high comedy to all parties concerned.

      But, I guess in business, fashions come and goes in waves- indentured servitude much?

      • Jack says:

        @ I believe in America
        one of the major reasons is the easing of access to credit over the last few decades.

        the student who works for free is incurring real costs as they work. food rent travel. but they pay for it with credit. then director/producer says ‘the labor is free’ when its not.

        all the warning flags should go up when someone tells you the labor is free and goods cannot be. they are looking only at the costs side of the equation that affects them and not the economic realities that there is ‘no free lunch’ look up ‘milton freidmans the free lunch myth’ video for a good explanation of this.

        look at google. is the hardware and software they write free because the public can access it for free. no. the costs of that is paid for by the advertises who gain access to the audience generated by the free stuff on offer.

        someone always pays the cost.

  17. Marcus says:

    Aside from where this discussion went, isn’t it ridiculous to call 1.5 million a “shoestring budget” for an independent feature? Much respect to the director for pulling this off and getting the film distributed, but the Academy’s press release makes it sound like this was some act of scrappy renegade filmmaking. It wasn’t… a production happily accepted the offer of free work and I’ve seen trailers for that movie all over the place.

    I totally get working for real low budget projects during school. Hell, I’ve done the same thing, but EVEN THEN, the school still got thousands of dollars for new lab equipment out of it while us Grad students were able to put hours on the project towards the allocation for our assistantships (which paid a salary and tuition). This was work for TV formats, the entire film crew was like 5 people, and THAT was a shoestring budget.

    Of course, that was at a public research university…

    • Craig says:

      Who cares what the budget is. These people have not proven themselves to be worth anything. They are focusing on learning, not earning. They need experience, so what does it matter?

  18. Scott Squires says:

    Each person has to decide which project they want to work on and what they want to be paid.

    $1.4 million may not be a lot of money for Hollywood but it’s still a lot of money.
    Ed Burns shoot Newlyweds for $9,000. He paid the cast and crew under SAG. He gave them all a %. Do you think if he had visual effects he’d tell those people to work for free?

    If a project such as this didn’t budget for visual effects then someone messed up. That’s not your fault.

    Did they go to the stunt people and say “look, we knew we were going to need stunts, we just didn’t bother budgeting for them. We need all you stunt people to keep showing up day after day to work for free and provide stunts for free”?

    There are plenty of student films and other non-budget short film projects you can get experience on. But if others of the cast and crew are getting paid why aren’t you? They may have no more experience than you have. What makes visual effects so worthless to you and them?

    I’ve done my own projects and paid crews out of my pocket. These days with kick-starter and other funding there’s not any real excuse to be paying some of the crew or cast and not others.

    What other jobs require people working in a paid position for free?
    What other industry requires all people to already be fully experienced?
    Everyone starts with no experience for all jobs. If you’re an MBA graduate or you signed on a McDonalds as your first job. There’s nothing unique about visual effects that requires you to work for free.

    Now there won’t be a sudden rush to not pay vfx crews but don’t kid yourself it has no impact. If you go back to that same producer after the first free project will they be willing to pay you or will they simply say “We found some other guys who will do it for free” or “We’ve gone back to that same school and gotten more free work done”? I’ve seen this happen. You give a client a break and they will likely expect that special rate for all future projects. Don’t be surprised when the money and corporate people at a company start thinking “We’ll charge students and have them make up 30% of the labor”. While we know that wouldn’t work the people making decisions don’t. Because after all, they’ve gotten free labor before and it turned out fine.

    Are you encouraging bad habits of producers and directors to think that visual effects have less value than other crew positions? That it’s just a commodity? Those producers who have money and choose not to pay part of the crew continue to get projects. How many projects can you afford to do for free? Why should the producer pay you on the next one when they can continue to get free work done?

    Don’t sell yourself short and don’t assume you have to do a producer a favor to get into the business. Don’t let others or your school take advantage of you. You will have to weigh the information and what the value is to you.

  19. Daniel Hayes says:

    It occurs to me there’s a somewhat basic misunderstanding going on here on the part of a lot of people.

    Jobs that require experience pay well because experience is hard to obtain and consequently rare. Supply & demand, right?

    If experience becomes easier to obtain, it will mean less and wages based on that leverage will be lower.

    Arguments about ethics aside, the real problem with working for free is that it devalues everyone’s experience.

    I’m not going to waste time crying over the fact that my decade of hard-won experience wasn’t repaid the same way it was for people a few years ago, or try to suggest that we should reform the system to prevent the inevitable slide into an unsustainable labor market.

    I’ll only humbly suggest that maybe not every student or junior artist should be spoon fed the opportunity to work for free.

    People who want it bad enough will always figure out a way – I did, many others on this thread did as well. But if we serve up ‘professional experience’ to anyone who wants it on a silver platter, we’re only pushing the ‘professional’ bar lower.

    Sometimes the best lesson a student can learn is that not everyone succeeds all the time. Sometimes not even sacrifice and hard work isn’t enough. Sometimes you just need to be patient and get lucky.

    I’ve worked with a lot of recent grads on feature projects in the last few years and that’s the biggest difference between them and a seasoned veteran – they’re impatient, easily frustrated and will literally work all night on a problem that could have been easily solved by just asking someone.

    Just sayin’.

    • Craig says:

      You are absolutely right. The easier it is to get experience and become knowledgeable about VFX, the harder it will become to maintain high wages.

      This is definitely happening within our industry, but it is natural and nothing new. Back in the days where the average person could not run 3D software on their home computer and 3D was not taught at schools the insiders had all the leverage. You didn’t even have to be particularly talented. If you knew 3D software, you had leverage.

      Of course, people on the inside always have a gut feeling to make the barrier to entry harder for the people who come nipping at their heels. It is a natural self-protection mechanism.

      You can definitely make the argument that we should make it harder for newbies to get experience and break into the industry. That does work, but it is not particularly nice to drop rocks on those on the ladder below.

      If you really think your job is in jeopardy from a newbie working for free, then you had better beef up your skills.

  20. Dave Rand says:

    Why is it a musician or an artist are asked to “pay to play” but not these folks:

    Agricultural and food scientist
    Automotive mechanic
    Bookkeeping clerk
    Budget analyst
    Childcare worker
    Civil engineer
    Computer hardware engineer
    Computer support specialist
    Cost estimator
    Court reporter
    Database administrator
    Desktop publisher
    Financial analyst
    Fitness trainer
    Human resources assistant
    Loan officer
    Police officer
    Professional athlete
    Real estate agent
    Recreational therapist
    Registered nurse
    Social worker
    Software developer
    Systems analyst
    Urban planner

    Fun I tell ya, that’s why, we’re having too much damn FUN!
    Look at em, smilin an droolin, ah give em a sandwich and a soda pop an they’ll shine her right up for free.

    • Ashes says:

      Because there are more people trying to be musicians and artists than jobs available. That doesn’t even take into consideration the high number of people in the creative fields who consider it their passion and not just work.

      Plus, some on those list do work for free sometimes, pro bono, charities, etc.

    • Craig says:

      You are actually not wrong. Most people choose to work in this industry because they enjoy the work. Some even work on their own projects at home. I don’t know of as many secretaries, accountants, or judges that do that.

      It always amazes me how much people can take for granted. Guess what? If you are paid to do what you love to do, if you are paid to make cool VFX for movies, you have a dream job.

      Just ask normal folks, they’ll be glad to tell you.

    • Jack says:

      @ Dave
      are you sure of this? i know of mba grads and financial analists who are not paid. there is lots of money around to pay them but the boss does not pay.

      • Dave Rand says:

        As I posted above, some links would be helpful to see how widespread illegal use of free labor is.

      • Jack says:

        @ Dave,

        sorry, mine is from the real-world. no links. not know if its widespread but it happens. always another reason they are do this, they move to the country and then find out there is no pay, but they stay on because it is a better opportunity than at home- bad recession at home. others ones want experience. first unpaid internship for a few weeks, think it will become paid. then next interenship only little time unpaid for them. because bad economic times this is only way past everyone else. also with normal employment way, jobs ads full of more university-degree-holding people. so need different approach to get job.

      • Dave Rand says:

        I’ll start with an old saying…”A fool and his money are soon parted”, or in this case never there in the first place. Wages have always been supported by the level of organized (smart) labor in any industry and likewise eroded from the bottom up by removing that very intelligent foundation. Our entire middle class is shrinking, this is occurring because there was a greed-based assault on ordinary workers and a push for changes in labor law and even more impacting.. overlooked “practices” that test these laws. I’ll end with an older saying “Give them an inch and they’ll take a yard”

      • Jack says:

        @ Dave
        “Wages have always been supported by the level of organized (smart) labor in any industry ”
        huh?! in past the dock workers jobs were destroyed by innovation in technology not by a lack of a union. ie the shipping container.

  21. dingo says:

    The fundamental issue is not the exploitation of “slave labor” or whether a project is funded, or what students are exposed to or whose project it is.

    It’s the distortion created by calling a film like “Beasts of the Southern Wild” a $1.5M film when it managed to sneak away with $500K+ of (basically free) VFX.

    When these types of discounts are created for an already self-cannibalizing industry, filmmakers are given a new sense of what they can do with $1.5M using VFX, but it’s an unsustainable situation (and illusion) for everyone.

    I suppose one can argue that there will always be new students, and I’m sure Ponzi would agree, but at the minimum, some portion of the proceeds from a film like BOTSW should go back as residuals to pay for their student loans, to remind filmmakers and production and distribution that this stuff DOES COST REAL MONEY, and real labor.

    If the cost isn’t represented somewhere, then the budgets will continue to sink, while expectations continue to rise, which is no good for anyone.

  22. DucttapedOtisGrad says:

    Otis College of Art needs to be investigated too!

  23. Stephen M. Watts says:

    Before anyone gets to reading my commentary on this Blog and following discussion, I would like to make a few things clear so as there is no confusion or misconception as to the source of this commentary or its purpose.

    First, I in no way should be considered as an official representation of the views or opinions of the Academy of Art University in San Francisco or as an official representative of Studio 400a whether it be specifically stated or indirectly implied through my commentary. The views and opinions in the following writing are solely my own and based completely on my personal, professional and educational experience received during my lifetime. As the reader of this commentary you are welcome to disagree with anything stated here, I am merely providing what I consider to be a knowledgeable and educated opinion on the discussion here in.

    I would also like to state that I have many close friends and colleagues that are members of IATSE Local 600, Local 16, Local 6 and SAG among others. I support unions that are run intelligently and that support their communities whether that community includes members of their union or not. Any statement found here that is deemed to be inflammatory or derogative towards unions should be considered only aimed at IATSE Local 839 as Steve Kaplan is speaking as an official leader and representative for that union. If members of that union have issues with what I have to say here, then you may wish to question your leadership and the face it presents to the rest of the world.

    Normally, I would not consider discussions or writings of this sort to be worth the time it has taken me to read as I feel my time would honestly be better served working on my art whether it be for pay or not. I have decided to comment purely on the basis that this article and its following commentary directly touch on many parts of my life and everything I have worked for in the past twenty or more years of my life. I am not someone that is speaking from assumption or idealism. I am speaking from practical real world experience that directly relates to the subjects and topics here.

    Now to give you a little perspective of my background, let me provide brief summary of my history and experience of the past twenty or more years in relation to this topic.

    I have attended two different community colleges and done the work equivalent to receiving three degrees in very different fields. Studies for the first two were completed at my hometown community college and the last being completed at a community college in the Los Angeles area. Both of these schools held claim to having the highest success rate of transfer students in the nation at the time. Both employed teachers that were also known to teach at the larger more established colleges in the area. In some cases these teachers were also known to be successful working professionals within their field.

    Following the seven to eight years spent working on those degrees and doing every tutorial I could possibly find on the subject, I was able to find a job in a technology field doing work related to 3D animation, 2D animation and VFX. To be honest, the only way I received that position was due to the people I knew who had already been hired to work in that company. Why is this? This was because they knew me directly and they could speak from experience as to my abilities and knowledge.
    While working for this company I assisted people all over the world in finding solutions to their problems in relation to doing 3D and VFX work. I have had people call me back to thank me for my assistance and to tell me that without my help their project would have never been syndicated on national television. I have also laid out designs for other VFX artists in the world who have implemented those designs with great success and they have received great acclaim for that work. Only thing I ever asked from them in return was to remember my name. But when it came down to even doing the behind the scenes commentary on their film, their commentary was left to “we called a few 3D guys and asked them for some advice”. I have heard teachers, students and professionals alike all point to this design and say that it was like the “shot heard around the world for the VFX community”, that it changed how VFX was viewed and approached the world over. Few if any of them knowing I had any connection to the work at all. Now how much do you think I was paid for this? Did my name even get associated with this on any level or in anyway with this project? I talked directly to the VFX supervisor after the directors had him call me specifically. I laid out the majority of the design in detail and the small pieces added to it later came from a good friend of mine sitting in the next cubicle when this VFX supervisor called back. Did the VFX community look out for me in this matter? Did they even care to at least acknowledge my input? Now before you start thinking that I am bitter or resent this you should beware of forcing your opinions to be mine. But this will hopefully become clear as to why by the time I have finished here.

    I stayed with this company through good and bad until the day it closed its doors. I was able to leverage my experience and knowledge into better paying positions at larger companies and fairly successful cutting edge technology groups. After nearly ten years of working in the technology field and applying to VFX companies that I had dreamed about working for my entire life, I found myself miserable making plenty of money to survive doing nothing even close to expressing myself in the artistic ways that I so desired. At best I received a couple phone calls and one interview at PDI/Dreamworks. I felt even further from finding the artistic work I wished to be doing then when I had started. But I should be happy because I was paid well, right? You could not be farther from the truth if you took a rocket to the moon.

    After being laid off from my last company I was tired, worn out and emotionally broke. Let me remind you that these were not VFX companies that were employing me, they were technology companies and by no uncertain terms I was going down the very path that this blog is advising young artists to follow now. The work was just as hard and the hours just as long as any you might find in the VFX community. The work was minimally interesting and far from pushing my creativity or challenging for my sense of aesthetics or artistic output. In no uncertain words, I was selling my soul for a paycheck. It should also be noted that I was paid no more then I would have been paid to work as an artist at a VFX company. But where as a good profit margin for a film would be consider to be ten times what you put into it, a technology company considers good profit to be receiving one hundred times what they put into it. If that information doesn’t bother you, it should, as the advice here is telling people to avoid seeking work in the field they love and to seek out work in a field where people are making even more money off their hard work to still not pay them any more for it.

    After spending about a year to research my options and try another approach to seeking a way to follow my love and passion as an artist, the best solution to my problem was to return to school. I looked at multiple schools and training programs trying to find the one that looked to provide me with the best education and the highest possibility of putting me into the field I have been pursuing for at least a decade. My personal choice, of which I have not regretted for a single moment, was to enroll in the Motion Pictures and Television program at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, it was called a college at that time and has since then changed to a university. I spent six years working towards a Bachelors or Fine Art degree with a focus in Cinematography and Directing. In that time I worked on nearly two hundred projects in almost every position possible on a production set. I have worked as a production assistant, a grip, an electric, a script supervisor, a second assistant director, a first assistant director, a film loader, a second assistant camera, a first assistant camera, a director of cinematography (DP or Cinematographer), a director and a producer. Of those two hundred projects I received financial compensation for all of two of those projects. Note that none of those positions involved doing VFX work of any sort.

    Upon completing the work for my bachelor of fine art degree I immediately applied for and enrolled in the masters program at the same school in the animation and visual effects department. I helped to teach and tutor students that have been through both the motion pictures and television program and the visual effects program. Most of these people I helped to teach and guide in their studies provided no compensation for sharing my knowledge. Many of these friends and colleagues are now working in the VFX industry at companies such as ILM, Pixar, Dreamworks, Disney and Sony. The list of companies is not exclusive to those companies either.

    Due to recommendations from these same friends and colleagues, I sought out and volunteered my time to help the collaborative program found in Studio 400a. The very program that is so blatantly attacked and insulted by Steve Kaplan as being the example he wishes to use to support his points. This is were I have happily found a temporary home and group of hard working like minded artist who only wish to do the best work they can with whatever materials they can get their hands on.
    I have never regretted or been disappointed with any of the events or decisions that have lead me to where I am today. I welcome everything that has happened as a part of my life experience, as lessons, failures or triumphs that have made me into the person I am today. I do what I love and though I may live at the poverty line, I am happy with my life and the way I have lived it. I have not always lived this way, at one point in my history I was making the equivalent of six figures.

    Hopefully, this information will help those reading this to understand my background and to show that I am not only speaking from opinion but from actual practical experience that is directly and indirectly related to a majority if not all aspects of this discussion. With that said, let me get to the real commentary here.

    I would like to share a little personal philosophy of mine that I live by and have followed for many years. Follow your passion, do what you love and you will eventually support yourself doing what you love. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should demand money to do the things you love. When you do the things you love just for money, you become no different then any other profession that sells passion for money. The oldest of professions that sell passion for money is prostitution. When you demand money for the things you love and the things you would do regardless of whether money was involved or not, you turn your love into greed. Your heart and mind can only suffer in the end. There is no amount of money that can fix that kind of pain.

    I would mention that I only know Robert Nederhorst by reputation and have never met Matt Hartle. However, I would like to thank both of them for sharing their time, experience and knowledge with their students over the years. Thank you for trying to move the VFX field forward in a productive and intelligent way. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom on the subject here. You both have written and shared your opinions and ideas as true professionals without rudeness or need for insulting dialogue. You are the type of professionals I hope to find and work with in the VFX field someday.

    As for Steve Kaplan you are a prime example of everything I see wrong in any industry and your hardcore union line is nothing more then insulting, rude and ignorant behavior. Your behavior would be best left to bullies on elementary school yards and uneducated dimwits who spend their whole lives reading yellow journalism.

    Now let me educate you a little on Studio 400a from my stand point, which Mr. Kaplan has so clearly stated his great disdain for and pointed at the school where it is housed as being such a waste of time and money. It is obvious to me, not only because I am part of the Studio 400a workshop but from Mr. Kaplan’s comments here that he has spoken as an authority on a facility that he has not even stepped one foot into. Mr. Kaplan has clearly made several inappropriate assumptions and in so doing he has directly attacked and insulted me personally.

    Studio 400a is merely a classroom in which a couple specific classes are held. These classes are lead by an extremely caring and professional teacher with real world experience. It is not these classes on their own that makes Studio 400a such an incredible learning experience or that has lead to its small bit of notoriety at this point. Studio 400a has been accomplishing its notoriety through hard and dedicated collaborative, selfless work of the students who have chosen to enroll in the classes. The classes performed in Studio 400a are by no means required to get a degree. The projects brought into Studio 400a are found through personal connections and the Academy of Art University administration has no part in who or why any project is selected. Students are presented with multiple projects for which they are allowed to volunteer their time to work on based on their particular interest. These projects can range from graduate thesis projects and undergraduate collaborative projects to independent features, music videos or commercials. We actually make an effort not to take on projects that have the money to go elsewhere. So it is not possible for any random producer to walk-in the door and ask us to do VFX work on their film for free.

    Mr. Kaplan suggests that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” had some kind of money available to them to pay the people involved in working on all aspects of the project. But like many other film festival projects it had no spare cash to really spend on paying for VFX. It offered an opportunity to the members of Studio 400a and Court 13 to work collaboratively on a project that we were excited about, something that was a real world type of project. No one knew exactly what would happen with the project in the long run and the people who worked on it were more then thankful for the experience. It was an incredible learning experience for all people involved in the project.

    So it won some awards at some festivals, received a distribution deal and a few people will make some money off it. You might as well been betting on the horses at your local racetrack though. The project could have just as easily fallen by the wayside with the other thousands of projects that were submitted to the same festivals. It should be noted that many projects that have been worked on in the same studio have never made a dime or been given any notice. To selectively point at one project out of dozens and say this is why your industry suffers is just childish and irresponsible.

    None of the artists from Studio 400a that worked on the project expected to make a single dollar out of it. They all worked on the film because it had a story we could get behind. The Court 13 group had been nothing but kind considerate and gracious in their dealings with the artists involved in the project. This is something that is not found often in either the professional or educational world. You could not be paid enough or pay enough money to match this experience anywhere else.

    Maybe the students didn’t get any money from the project, but that does not mean that the experience and credits given on the project were not valuable to the students on this project. Rather the opposite, it was the kind of experience that is near unique to the industry and an experience that even with a ton of money you could not guarantee to duplicate in another project. The artist from that project can go to an interview and be considered on a professional level. So they are no longer the people competing with professional demo reels, they are the people with professional demo reels. You won’t get that working from DVDs and online training tutorials, doubt you could find that experience at a city college or in a computer science program either. None of them have regretted working on the project and not one of them has even mentioned any discontent with the idea that they would not receive pay for their work. Mr. Kaplan has no place and absolutely no right to tell them otherwise.

    The final result being that several have managed to find themselves work not just because of this one film project, but because of several of the projects they have worked on through Studio 400a. They are a community of hard working, dedicated individuals trying to find a place in the working world like everyone else. Perhaps the route does not fit Mr. Kaplan’s ethics or morals, perhaps they do steal jobs from people like him. But if these kind of projects are stealing jobs and putting Mr. Kaplan out of business then he has far bigger worries to take care of then what this group of dedicated individuals are doing. In comparison, Mr. Kaplan has been paid to do work on films that many of these artist dream about and while he worries about the paint cracking on his house and how he will pay for it, these artists come from around the world and are worrying about how to put food in their mouths for another day. Maybe their solution is not the best, but I don’t see Mr. Kaplan giving any reasonable or acceptable options. He is just pointing fingers and trying to blame someone else for a problem that is not their fault. They have more heart and more integrity then I believe Mr. Kaplan to have ever had in his life.

    The students in this program are what make this program so strong and they work as a collaborative group to help each other learn to advance their skills. They seek out and invite other student artists in the school to come help on these projects. Without the collaborative effort of all the students working under the moniker of Studio 400a, none of these projects would be even possible in a normal school classroom environment. It should also be pointed out that no amount of DVD or tutorial watching will ever come close to giving you an education on how to work in a collaborative environment. You definitely will not get that experience sitting at home surfing the internet either. If this program is successful, it is because of the students that are directly involved and participating in this program on a day to day basis. It is because of these students that support each other and help each other to learn on a daily basis that we see a good percentage of our graduates land positions at companies such as ILM, Pixar, Dreamworks, etc…. Can you provide an equal example of education that can be found by going to a non-profit school or other program that shares an equivalent level of success? I seriously doubt you can and that reason alone makes the fees for going to the Academy of Art University worth it.

    This is not a program that started yesterday and suddenly started doing work on small independent films that were making tons of cash. We are not stealing any significant portion of paid work from the industry on any level that a union or anyone in the VFX industry should take offense too. For Mr. Kaplan to paint this picture of a facility he knows nothing about is again insulting, ignorant, petty and a rude display of finger pointing at its worst. In fact, other professional companies within the industry lent their support to the group and they asked for no pay in return for their support.

    The union for which Steve Kaplan represents as one of its leaders should be ashamed of allowing him to post such unintelligent, uneducated and useless opinions. You are welcome to disagree but I can say that I have as much a right to my opinion in this matter as you or anyone else walking this planet right now.

    So let me continue with my opinions on the “Simple Advice” for anyone who has read this far….

    Avoid For-Profit schools. – Only a fool or an idiot would remove the option of going to a For-Profit school purely on the idea that it is a For-Profit school therefore it must be a waste of time or money. Research all your options regardless of For-Profit, non-profit or training program of any sort. Understand what you plan to learn from any path you choose to follow and don’t place unreasonable expectations on anything. Each persons choice in life must be sought based on what works best for the individual. Not everybody learns best by going to school, but some do. Know yourself and accept your strengths or weaknesses before you make any decisions of this sort.

    Attend a local community college – To some degree I can empathize and agree with this advice, but it should come with some caveats. I have definitely tried it for myself. Make sure that the community college classes you take will transfer to the college or training program you would intend to attend further down the line. Remember that you may save some money by getting several general education classes out of the way doing this, but not all courses you take may transfer and at that point is it not a waste of money to be paying for classes that you will not be transferring? You may also consider that should you fail to keep up a good GPA in your community college, you may find that you are unable to transfer to the school you were so hoping to attend in the long run. What will you do then?

    Supplement your education with online/DVD VFX training videos. – Ok, this is sort of a no brainer. Whether you are going to a For-Profit school, a non-profit school, learning from friends, trying to learn on your own in some basement in the middle of nowhere or you are an actual working professional, you should always seek alternate methods of assisting your learning and improving on your skills. This can range from DVD VFX training videos to online lectures or classes taken at conferences such as Siggraph or similar types of events. You are not doing anything different then the people going to school, in fact they are doing the same and more. No one method should ever be seen as the only route to learn and be the only path you should follow to educate yourself.

    Transfer to a traditional 4 year university and major in Computer Science. – Ok, this is about the worst advice I think anyone could give an artist that has no tolerance or ability to work with mathematics or more analytical methods. There are a large number of very talented artist that could never survive the mathematics a Computer Science degree would require of them. Also, it is far easier to learn computer science on your own from books and tutorials then it is to train your eye to be critical in the evaluation of what makes good art. You may spend less, but you may end up miserable doing database programming and never find yourself doing the work you so hoped to find in the first place. If people know you to be a computer science person that will be all they will want to hire you to do. Don’t forget that the people you are competing against for that computer science job are likely individuals who not only are good at computer science, they enjoy it and this will make them stronger candidates then any artist who doesn’t really like computer science and is just trying to get a foot in the door.

    This idea that it is an easier route to get into the industry with a Computer Science background than submitting a reel against the pros is an uneducated and poor assumption. Whether professional, student or independent, all a good reel will get you is an interview at best.

    While working at one of my previous jobs I talked to a man who told me how he had started as a janitor in a studio and after reading the trash for years he eventually was able to work his way into an executive producer position. There will always be these types of stories, does it mean you should bet your life and career on becoming a janitor to read trash mail because one day it will help you get a completely different position somewhere in the company? These stories are great for the movies and we are in the industry of making movies, but you will have to forgive me if I can see the difference between the odd instance and real life. My personal experience in trying to go the Computer science route, detoured me for ten years and I still ended up at a For-profit school in the end.

    I am closer to doing real VFX work in my life by going to a For-Profit school then I have ever been by following the Computer Science route to try and get a foot in the door at any company. In most cases the companies straight up tell you that they don’t like to move people out of the line of work they are originally hired to do. (This is directly from an interview with ILM.) Moving into another line within the company is far harder than Mr Kaplan would have you believe. They want you to work in the field you will enjoy as this means you are more likely to stay longer, work harder and do better work simply because you are less likely to resent the work you will have to do. Does this mean it is impossible to change positions once you are in a company? Absolutely not. Most VFX jobs are contracts anyway and if you do come up with a good enough demo reel, someone will take you seriously enough. But if all your resume shows is IT jobs, the company you applied to may not get to the point where they will even look at your demo reel. Unless you know some hiring company that will actually sit down and watch 2000 demo reels for every position they look to hire.

    Otherwise, the work I do as an artist is a labor of love. I do it because I am driven to do so from inside. I gain great pleasure and a great sense of self worth from completing any project whether it be for pay or not. It is the journey of creation that drives me, not the potential paycheck at the end of the day. No person in this world will ever convince me that I must be paid financial compensation to get my worth out of what I give to any project. This is my decision and not one I expect many to share, but I am sure I am not the only one. Regardless of whether this offends the morals and ethics of people like Mr. Kaplan, people like Mr. Kaplan are going to have to learn how to grow up and deal with it.

    In closing I would like to just say, that I do see that there are problems within our industry in how employees are treated and paid. I do believe there is much work ahead of us as an industry to solve these problems. But I don’t think pointing fingers and trying to assign blame to anyone will solve these problems. We must all find a way to work together to find an equitable as well as reasonable solution that will be beneficial to all parties involved. I am well aware that this is far easier to say then do.

    Respectively posted here for your consideration.

    • Jack says:

      more power to your artistic creations and like you say everyone finds there own way to make it in the industry. awsemse.

      the issue is in the title of the the blog post. it is talking about fiscal/financial issue. that is your frame of reference. the art of the industry is not in trouble there is awesome art being created everywhere it financial side. with free labor, government incentives.
      you may and many disregard the importance of sound finances but that is the over-riding theme on vfxsoldier. the industry is full of unsound business practices but very sound art. regards

    • Daniel Hayes says:

      Mr. Watts,

      I’ve read your post with much interest and I greatly respect your experience and obviously informed opinions about these complicated subjects. I also see that you have a lot of passion about where life has brought you, something I empathize with greatly.

      In reply, I only offer an alternate point of view, and I’ll keep it short:

      My family, and the families of my peers – we need to feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads. That takes money. It doesn’t make us a ‘prostitute’ to work for a paycheck because we’re the breadwinners in our respective households. Our souls are just fine with that.

      Passion and love for the craft is a wonderful thing, but mixing them with the *business* of the craft is a dangerous road. Consider that perhaps students working on a ‘professional’ film is robbing someone of an opportunity to feed their kids. That sounds like hyperbole, but you must see my point.

      Someday your students will be there, maybe they already are – having people whose lives depend on your students’ paychecks. I hope they aren’t disappointed if they find that the labor market has gotten worse than it already is and struggle to provide for the people they love.

      I believe Mr. Kaplan shares this point of view, though I’m sure he’s more than capable of speaking for himself.

      And lastly, you must have worked on enough films to know how budgets work. When a producer tells you, “there isn’t money for that”, he’s either very bad at his or her job or L-Y-I-N-G. There’s always money – maybe not a lot, but it’s their job to either find it or find a way around it. Trust me.

      Thanks again for you reply, and I hope we can all find a happy middle ground.

    • WR says:

      Mr. Watts,

      Although you apologized to Steve Kaplan, I would like to take a moment to tell you that Steve is not “unintelligent, uneducated and useless opinions.” Steve is not a bully on the school playground. Nor is he VFX soldier.

      I had the pleasure of working with Steve Kaplan over ten years ago at a company called Unified Film Organization or UFO for short doing vfx work. UFO did just about everything in-house, from writing scripts, editing, set design, vfx work and film out. UFO did low buget action-packed vfx filled features in the 1.7 million dollar range. The films had such actors as Roy Scheider, Lance Hederikson, Dean Cain, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, David Keith, and William Shatner to name a few.

      UFO would be best described as the wild, wild, west in film production companies. A lot of shady things went on there. A lot of injustice to the vfx artists. I am not going to air out dirty laundry here, but Steve Kaplan has been through the trenches.

      Steve Kaplan is an intelligent, educated, generous, likeable, and has had first hand experience dealing with the nonsense b.s. that plagues the visual effects industry.

      I am very proud of the fact that I was able to work with Steve. And more important, he is putting himself out there and trying to improve the vfx industry and help artists.

      Thank you Steve for being a voice!

      “If you want a make the world a better place, take a look at yourself in the mirror and make that change” -MJ

  24. Stephen M. Watts says:

    I have a bit of an apology to make to the readers of my previous commentary here. I made a bit of a mistake in my previous commentary as to whom certain parts of the commentary were directed at. Please read parts where I refer to “Mr. Kaplan” to read “VFX Soldier”, unless “Mr. Kaplan” and “VFX Soldier” are one and the same. As the commentary was a long write and posted somewhat late, I had failed to review it properly and some of the commentary may appear to be directed at the wrong party. For this I can only apologize to the readers and I will endeavor to avoid this sort of misdirection in any future postings.

    The subject and opinions being shared have not changed.

    My commentary was in reaction to not only the blog but the comments that followed. By including a project I have personally worked on in the subject of the blog, this implies that commentary that follows is related to or directed at the contents in the blog. It was the combination of the subject of the blog and the commentary that followed that felt to be an affront to my life and experience. My comments have drifted off topic and for that I must apologize as well.

    Jack – I see your point and can admit that perhaps some of my commentary is out of place. But the blog and the commentary that followed has only made me furious at the way I view the industry and disappointed at how I see some members of this community treating other members. My response therefore was a bit impassioned and a bit out of place, but one that I still feel is somewhat valid to the topics at hand.

    Daniel – I must agree that my use of the relationship to prostitution was a bit strong and it was written a bit hastily only as an example of how extremely insulting I felt much of the commentary here to be in relation to my life. I don’t think anyone can really disagree in the end that all people, no matter whether they are just starting out in the industry or have been there for a long time, have a need to earn money to take care of their lives. But it seems that people often do not consider that those they are blaming for their problems are only trying to feed themselves the best way they can.

    The Job market is bad in most fields right now. I don’t know many fields that are not facing the same problems.

    I have listed one of the positions I have worked in to be producing. So, I understand at least a little about what it takes to produce something. Not all producers can get funding when you need it, there are other constraints that may come into play in regards to time, access to resources or abnormal issues that lead to higher expenses then expected. Not all producers are liars either. There are honest producers who are good that don’t always have the funds they need when they need them. They also can not promise funds in the future when they don’t know what will come of it.

    You suggest producers sometimes must find a way around getting stuff done without the money. You must admit that there are then some cases where trading credits and experience for work on a film would then fit into this category. The producer is not lying that they do not have the money, this is why they are asking if the students can help. Their is a risk that the work will be poor or uncompleted because of this. With projects like these, the teachers and the students intent has never been to hurt the industry and I still find it hard to believe how anyone could see it that way.

    • Jack says:

      “You must admit that there are then some cases where trading credits and experience for work on a film would then fit into this category.”

      no expect where friedns work together. do things for low cost but not free. you should be shocked at the prospect at working on someones elses prodction for free. what, they dont value your time. that is an insult. why are they hiring you then!

      how many buildings are built for experience? how many planes are built without money. how many schools teach for frree. none. this is the rot in the industry. it has come to roost because the leadership that say it ok. there is no free lunch. write that down 100 times so you remember it.

      there is a trasnfer of risk and costs from the peopel who want stuff done. that is the producers and director. to the people that who can least afford it.

      . can there be something done for free,sure as friends. there is a simple rule no money, no guarentees and no control. if you dont pay the cmaera person you cant demoand tehm to do something. if you dont pay the 3d artist, you cant demand them to do something. it called being a group of friends where you all collaboarate and noone is in control. you work hard but you cant command that friend to do something. there would be other things like group ownership of the final product. just like a group of friedns do. i gurantee directors and producers have to be in control to get the product they want.

      when peoepl say there is nomoney. what they are really saying there is no money allocated for you. if they literally cannot get the money becausse they have no assets to sell. no credit they can get. and noone wants to invest in their production then there is no money and they should not be asking others to be under their command to produce something. they should eb working for someone else! remember a collaboratino- a friendship, yes, but not working for someone else.

      when people say the job market is bad right now it implies that it will change back soon to what it was before. that by all professional accounts is false. this is a 1920 reccession, not the recession of the your parents, or grandparents. but of your great, great grandparents.
      the market has changed and it is not going back to what it was ofr a long time.

      • Stephen M. Watts says:

        Perhaps you should look up the definition of Volunteer….

      • Jack says:

        @ stephen

        can you volunteer to be a doctor, lawyer, builder etc. you cant.

        you are paid to be those.

      • Jack says:

        @ stephen
        volunteers pay their own costs and labor for others. there is no fiscal economy of volunteers. it is ‘free’ labor for the organisation that you labor for but it costs you money to do it. that is the centrle and fundamental issue here on vfx soldier. offseting the cost burdan onto the worker via credit/debt or savings.

      • Jack says:

        @ stephen
        i looked up the definition. it certainly is not the answer to the problems afflicitng the industry. regards

        •a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.
        • a person who works for an organization without being paid.

  25. […] last post of working for free generated an emotional response for free-workers at various schools. Work-for-free advocates usually argue that the reason you should work for free is because it can […]

  26. Catherine Tate says:

    Hi everyone. I’m Catherine Tate, and the article in the Chronicle was about my class. I wanted to post a few things about my class to clarify some things. I don’t have time to get into it on this forum but at least wanted people to have a little more info before making their decision whether it is right or wrong. I also admit I haven’t had the time to read every post, but I know I have worked with a few of you and hope that you will read this before you finalize your opinion.

    If feel like the quote that was posted from the article was out of context, along with the header, and deliberately meant to spin things according to the authors agenda here at vfx soldier. It took me awhile to figure out whether to take it seriously and respond or just ignore it. I chose to finally respond because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea of what we are doing at the Academy of Art.

    We are a class in a university. We expect the students who are in the class to put in the required homework hours, as dictated by the syllabus. Some put in more, some put in less. Our pace is slower than a studio at most times. If you were in a class, wouldn’t you want to work on real projects with real filmmakers other than canned student projects?

    I think independent filmmakers are the last people you want to be going after. I have seen independent film go through ups and downs while I’ve been working on them for the last few years. The filmmakers often have been struggling and pouring much of their own resources into the films. These films are usually made with love, passion and commitment. There are not a whole lot of people getting rich here. We have really helped some struggling filmmakers out. Beasts of the Southern Wild has put independent film on the map again. I feel really good about it, but even its budget is not typical of most independent films. We have been doing this for over five years and have worked on several projects on many different levels, from student thesis projects up to other Sundance and Cannes projects . The fact that this one has been more commercially popular is rare. I’m so happy for the filmmakers that it has done so well. The filmmakers have a huge amount of integrity and did pay for some of the visual effects work through other vendors.

    We are not contractually obligated to deliver anything to the client. It is all in good faith. If you work with us you take the risk. We take it seriously, and we have generally delivered what we’ve been asked to do, but there is huge amount of good faith that goes into the arrangements we have.

    We are not a studio and do not have the full support of a studio. We do the best we can. The classes that I run as Studio 400A are only a portion of my job at the Academy.

    The reason why I run this program is because I care about my students and I have a passion for independent film. If they come here, I want to give them the best education possible. I’m not involved in recruiting students. My students know I care deeply about their well being. I think about them with every bone in my body. They have helped build and grow this program. We are minimally impacting the visual effects industry and the job market.

    I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years and understand the anger and frustration with the vfx industry as much as anyone. Outsourcing, tax breaks in other countries, short term contract work and studio profits seem more topical. Also, this isn’t only limited to visual effects, this is more widespread in other industries as well. The problem is huge. I have an obligation to serve the students paying to be in my classroom, and I take it very seriously.

    Thank you for listening.


    • VFX Soldier says:


      Thanks for commenting. My agenda is simple: I want people to be paid.

      I also want people interested in becoming VFX professionals to realize that there’s a cost-effective way to get into the industry that doesn’t involve debt of 6 figures.

      If independent filmmakers want to draw upon students to get VFX done on their films then those students should get a hefty chunk of the earnings if it goes on to get a distribution deal the same way beasts has done.

    • Scott Squires says:

      Hi Catherine,

      Hope you’re doing well. Thanks for coming on the board and sharing. I know your commitment to the students.

      I guess the key points here for most people, working at the same pay level as everyone else on a project is fine. If it’s a no budget project that students can get experience with and no one is getting paid then that’s ok as an educational tool. At SIGGRAPH i’m reminded again that there are quite a few student and amateur short films of excellent quality and experience in visual effects. Same for the VES student entries. They don’t have to be canned projects.

      The problem is when a project does have money and others on the crew are paid but not those working on the visual effects, that just places a zero value on the contribution relative to the other work. And since the students are paying to go to school it’s as if they are in fact paying to work. Given more and more situations like this it sets a bad precedence for upcoming producers and others regarding the worth of those doing visual effects. It’s a big puzzler to them going from free labor to the amount of labor and cost involved in visual effects. And obviously there are always those who simply try to take advantage of these situations.

  27. vfx artist says:

    This all touches on the common equation of what is value in VFX. Value. I will say it until I’m blue in the face.

    Now working in vfx, we’ve all seen the level of commitment and concentration we need. Should I take a break or continue to grind away? Should I go to lunch or eat at my desk, since I can continue to work on the project. We PERCEIVE that we are being more productive by working through breaks, past quitting time, through holidays; as if we are in some way we are gonna, some how, end up ahead of the curve. Now it may SEEM logical to just push ahead and damn your breaks and holidays, lets steam ahead because we rock and we are bad ass and we are dedicated. Now it may seem that you are adding value to the project. You really aren’t. In fact you are creating a false economy by working ghost hours and giving the perception that all of the work done was capable in the time given. When it wasn’t. But that’s what being bad ass is all about, right? Sure. But that not what being responsible is, and for that matter, being a proper businessman.

    Lets take this equation to the example above with the schools. Have the students work on a mock production in the school, or an actual production (be it and indie film, a tv ep of Fringe, or a feature like Green Lantern). Well it would SEEM logical to have students work on an actual production even if Its for free. I mean they get actual production experience, they are eager, the production can use as many bodies as it can.. it seems that all parties are helped here. But they aren’t. The students get a false perception that working for a major film is worth making sacrifices for in dignity and self value (“Isn’t it cool I get to work on my favorite TV show/Movie! I’m so bad ass! I rock!”). The studio get the idea that this is a viable way to supplement the labor force. The employees of that company suddenly are valued less because the entry level bar of say $22/hr just got lowered to $0/hr. The teacher …..isn’t teaching.

    This is what IATSE has been doing for the past century. Creating a clear delineation as to what is labor, what is “chargeable”. Bring up these abstracts to discuss & negotiateon their own merit, because in the hot seat of the directors chair , writers chair , producing chair or the maya artist chair, it may not be so clear. And this goes back to the value equation. Chris DeFaria, VP of Warner Brothers said it best: VFX has to define its value. And we’re not. Not at the bidding process, not at how we execute projects, neither at the vendor (no trade organization) or the the artist/labor side ( no union) , and now not at the schools.

    What Mr Kaplan is trying to point out is that clear delineation which may not seem logical to many of us entrenched in VFX because we’ve been so delinquent of it. We have no work life balance. Mr Nederhorst even said that he didn’t have time for his students because he was supervising three commercials. The students paid for your time, not to have them take a back seat to the teacher’s career pursuits. VFX is always overbooking and over grinding away and not stepping back to get a birds eye look to see what the real problems are. Its a culture problem.

    But you know what? production makes a really clean delineation. They defend that value equation, that’s why they have rules for shifts, breaks and even meal penalties. Even on big productions. That’s the “culture” in production that are unionized and that’s what Mr. Kaplan is trying to point out. While it may not seem logical to have student not work on actual productions from strictly and narrowly a PERCEPTION of training someone quickly, it makes a lot of sense in the medium and long run for the reasons above. And maybe people wouldn’t be so sensitive about it if VFX wasn’t so far off the reservation compared to other disciplines in production that have these definitions and delineation’s already set. This is why when we have the SAG strikes or the writer’s guild strikes, what may seem so destructive to the industry is a small amount of pain the the long run for the gains. They have residuals and health insurance. What do we have in VFX? Not even portable benefits, or even a business plan…

    Besides, why is it so hard to replicate the work environment in schools? You have the same base tools (maya, nuke, pc’s, etc). Have guest producers and supervisors come in and offer mock set ups, talk about their experiences. In fact it makes more sense to have students work on past project, not current projects. Have studios donate assets … crappy blue screens, rushed renders, tracks assembled from multiple calculations.. show students that perhaps the intended path for executing the shot ended up being different than the actual solution used. That in the real world problem solving isn’t that straight forward. that’s how I learned. Redoing shots, having the instructor there asking me why i was going down a particular way. That’s teaching. There is plenty to learn from past shows. There is no shortage of material. Having student who PAID for a class work on a production for free is exploitation. Its NOT a teaching tool. Period. Whether you are a lone gunman or a 200 million dollar production.

    For the folks who want to understand more about the history labor and how it relates to animation, I Keep posting this book in almost every post because it teaches just that.

    Us VFX artist are notoriously ignorant of this because it was never taught to us and because it seems counter intuitive:

    (“What, take a lunch break? I’ll be more productive if I stay at my desk!”).

    But even with 16 core desktops, 64 bit software, a seasoned labor force, mature pipelines, i see the squeeze.. the continued SQUEEEEZE… from the studios to the vendors:

    (“If I don’t put a visual effects shop out of business I’m not doing my Job”),

    …from vendors to artist:

    (“Can you work a day rate?”),

    …from sup to artist

    (“What, you’re not staying late? your not dedicated!”)

    To now students.

    Whats next.. Child labor? Bring your kid to work day? No serious.. we’re gonna put your kid to work.. it will be great.. you don’t have to watch him… he’ll/she’ll be working…. look we even made small keyboards…

    I see the squeeze.. the constant squeeze… because its never enough, its never fast enough, and I see shows defaulting and/or the end product suffering, because every reserve has been taken up. every waking hour, every weekend has been taken up to get the project out the door. Despite every advantage I mentioned above, the efficient hardware, software, worker.. its never enough… why?

    No line was drawn in the sand. And that line is the Value equation.

    The value of having breaks, The value of having the time to teach your students and not be booked on three commercials. The value of having time with your family. The value of having a trade organization to give the vendors the tools to manage client expectation. the value of having a union to define clear labor practices

    So what are you gonna do?.. keep defending this way of working? Insanity is doing the same thing over again thinking the result will be different. If you honestly think that the ONLY way to work in vfx is to work exhaustive hours, not see your family, and now have students as part of the labor force.. do your self a favor. Yourself, your family and your industry. Read the above book. Learn from what has come before because this is history repeating itself.

    • went up the hill says:

      the vfx industry is ‘creative destruction.’

      Such innovation, however, is a double-edged sword:

      The effect of continuous innovation […] is to devalue, if not destroy, past investments and labour skills. Creative destruction is embedded within the circulation of capital itself. Innovation exacerbates instability, insecurity, and in the end, becomes the prime force pushing capitalism into periodic paroxysms of crisis. […] The struggle to maintain profitability sends capitalists racing off to explore all kinds of other possibilities. New product lines are opened up, and that means the creation of new wants and needs. Capitalists are forced to redouble their efforts to create new needs in others […]. The result is to exacerbate insecurity and instability, as masses of capital and workers shift from one line of production to another, leaving whole sectors devastated […]. The drive to relocate to more advantageous places (the geographical movement of both capital and labour) periodically revolutionizes the international and territorial division of labour, adding a vital geographical dimension to the insecurity. The resultant transformation in the experience of space and place is matched by revolutions in the time dimension, as capitalists strive to reduce the turnover time of their capital to “the twinkling of an eye”.[38]

  28. Today you are a student, taking a paying job away from some working person trying very hard to make a living BUT tomorrow you will be that guy/gal. When the shoe is on the other foot…
    There are many professions that have pAid internships and those are the ones to strive for. Being an unpaid worker is giving your work away for free, and thus worth nothing!
    The only one who benefits from this deal is the movie maker! If you think otherwise, stay in school for you are too stupid to graduate into the real world. In addition, don’t expect to make many friend or get referrals in this close industry when they find out. Talent is a plenty in L.A. and you will find that the vxf studios have not been waiting for you!

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