Variety Report On VFX Issues

Variety has an article out discussing the latest issues in the VFX industry:

Everyone’s feeling squeezed. Vfx companies say the major studios are shaving their margins down to nothing, but fear retaliation if they try to form a trade organization. Artists, who receive no health or retirement benefits, say salaries are falling though demand for their craft increases, but worry that vfx companies would retaliate if they try to unionize.

Yes there is some fear but I think the majority of the sentiment is apathy. While one interviewee claims an average drop of 20% in VFX wages from the peak my research doesn’t seem to show that. The good news is it seems the trade association is getting some positive traction with various facilities according to Mr. Scott Ross.

This past week is a good example of how volatile this industry can be and how a trade association and a labor organization can help mitigate those crashes.

Shortly after last week’s post on Rhythm and Hues, rumors went around on Friday that around 200 non-staff VFX professionals were let go or asked to go on hiatus after a project went on hold. Really sucky situation as some were surprised to be let go with no prior notice.

A labor organization can help mitigate these situations by ensuring things like a 5 day notice before termination and health insurance that can seamlessly cover them and their families at their next job or for a long bout of unemployment.

Even though Rhythm, like other big facilities, offers very good health insurance, the nature of the industry is project-based employment. You need to have a system that allows portability of the health insurance or else you end up paying huge penalties when unemployed. SPIUnion has a very good piece on this. Check out the costs for COBRA. If you don’t know what that is it’s named after a venomous snake for a reason.

A trade organization could also help mitigate the situation by standardizing payment schedules, requiring completion bond insurance if a producer puts a project on hold or pulls it. I was a little concerned about Mr. Ross’s claim that the facilities could share capacity information. If a facility says “hey we are at full capacity so you other facilities don’t touch our artists” that could be collusion.

Finally Digital Domain CEO John Textor, who has bankrolled $100,000 towards the trade organization has placed focus on key filmmakers to help with the woes in the VFX industry. If reality is any indication, it seems many filmmakers are a part of the problem. Just a few weeks ago director Peter Berg claimed that “all the money is going to ILM.”

Soldier On.

71 Responses to Variety Report On VFX Issues

  1. !0 says:

    The trade federation idea concerns me. In my opinion this organisation will perform two roles for the VFX industry:

    1./ The lobbying of government for better tax incentives for VFX. Nobody seriously thinks any company is going to lobby for higher taxes / ending subsidies do they?

    2./ A means by which to make agreements about how to better collectively manage the wage and benefit demands of the labor force. Hollywood is a small industry. Most of the big producers know each other already. We know that all these studios share wage information with each other so as to get a sense of going rates. We’ve seen that even “noble” companies like Pixar and Lucasfilm collude to stifle wages in the industry: Most of the operators in this industry are far less noble than Pixar and Lucasfilm to say the least. What makes people think that this organisation won’t provide the ultimate means for VFX producers to further control and degrade the conditions of workers in the industry?

    If the workers in this industry don’t organize in some similar way they’re going to be picked off one by one and eaten for breakfast by this organisation. Think of it as a lawnmower that’s going to roll over you and all the people you work with. There needs to be balance. Put a steel rod in that blade and sign the union cards when they come around.

    • 839spi says:

      Better yet, don’t wait for someone else to distribute cards. Contact Steve Kaplan or Vanessa Holtgrewe, and they will bring as many cards as you want to you.

  2. Scott Ross says:

    Once again…. misquoted. I never said that facilities could share capacity information. I believe that was a statement made by Variety.

  3. Caleb R. Owens says:

    The title of that article says it all. “Fear”

    “As for artists’ unionization efforts, IATSE and the IBEW announced efforts to organize the vfx industry in November 2010, but public progress has been slow.

    Though there’s been a lot of Web chatter from vfx artists about the benefits a union might provide, many of those tweets, posts and blogs are anonymous. Some of those artists told Variety they’re remaining anonymous because they fear repercussions of being visible in the discussion.”

    The studios and execs have no fear of being heard or seen. The longer the vfx community stays anonymous the more the studios take advantage of that fear. We need more people to be brave and set examples and stop hiding, or all of this talk is for nothing.

    Imagine the vfx crew of Tranformers walking out just for a week, or even one day to make a statement?

    The vfx community is a ghost, one big internet ghost. I really hope that I eat my words and people really start standing up from behind their computers. I’m holding my breath.

    Blog on

    • Ashes says:

      If the vfx house working on Transformers walked out for even a day, that house would never work with the studio again. Other studios would also balk at bringing any work to that house as well.

      The only way it would work,would be if all houses walked out for a day. I highly doubt any other vfx house work strike for a day in unity.

      • Caleb R. Owens says:

        Unity, exactly the problem

      • skaplan839 says:

        I call BS on that one. That smells like fear mongering to me. If, hypothetically, an entire crew were to walk out for a day, I think you’d see the owner/management moved to act more than a production studio.

      • Ashes says:

        Sorry, but I think you are a bit naive it you think it wouldn’t scare off a studio. I know vfx houses who lost work because of rumors of finance trouble because it made the studio nervous. Caleb has it 100% correct. There has to be a untied front for a strike to work. Other houses have to refuse to work on a project if another house is getting abused.

        Do you understand that the owner of a vfx house is usually not the one abusing workers? Most owners would be more than happy to give everyone health insurance, make people staff, etc. It’s the studios that are shafting the artist, not the owners. An independent strike would only hurt the reputation of the vfx house and the studio would just be pissed off and not work with that house again. They would view as the vfx house can’t control their staff and they might not get the work done. They will nto want to take that risk.

        The studios are the ones holding purse strings and until they can be force to actually pay the actual cost of the work, things are not going to get better. This is exactly why I agree with Vfx Soldier and dislike the tax incentives.

        Look, the studio is like any other customer, they don’t want to worry about their work not getting done and they have options. If they get burned by one house and the have the option of using 20 other houses, then that’s what they are going to do.

        While I applaude your work to help unionize the vfx industry, it’s statements like the one above that make a lot of people nervous. You seem to dismiss, ignore, or not understand some of the very real issues that are in the vfx industry.

      • Three Blind Mice says:

        “Do you understand that the owner of a vfx house is usually not the one abusing workers?”

        Just wow. You’re saying that tort law applies with working conditions? Sorry, I think you a bit naive.

      • Ashes says:

        @Three Blind Mice do you understand most of the issues that artists are complain about have nothing to do with tort laws?

        I have no idea why you are even bring that into this particular thread. The ability to offer more health insurance, staff positions, higher salary, job security, etc. has everything to do with the amount of money coming into a house. These issues are not illegal nor are the viewed as gross harm to a person.

      • Three Blind Mice says:


        Purely wrong, and the wrong approach to the whole argument.

        Unfortunately you don’t understand law or business and you use conjecture in making statements, but hey, you’re probably right and all the lawyers and business people I talk to are wrong.

        My humble apologies and good luck!

      • skaplan839 says:

        I’m not entirely sure why you’re bringing strikes into the equation, Ashes. Maybe it’s because, like most people who think in the extremes, you believe strikes to be the only “Strength” a union has. If that’s the case, you’re wrong.

        And, in my hypothetical, if a majority of vfx studio’s artists were to support unionization, and that studio were to challenge that support, they’d be inviting a work-stoppage or some other show of leverage from the artists to move the shop’s management to the negotiation table. If studio wanted to avoid a work stoppage, it would be a simple matter of not challenging the support of unionization.

        No one is saying that the visual effects shop is the enemy, Ashes. The IATSE is well aware of the precarious nature of the business they’re in. Any contract that is bargained between the union and the vfx shop will take into consideration the nature of the business the studio performs when bargaining over “cost” items (ie. wage minimums, health and pension contributions, etc).

        I welcome you to sit and chat so you can clear your mind of the fear items that are obviously plaguing you. Once you get some answers, maybe you too will see that unification of the artists and vfx shops will bring the changes we so desperately need.

        Steve Kaplan
        Organizer – The Animation Guild, Local 839 IATSE

      • skaplan839 says:

        Do you understand that the owner of a vfx house is usually not the one abusing workers? Most owners would be more than happy to give everyone health insurance, make people staff, etc. It’s the studios that are shafting the artist, not the owners.

        Actually, no. I know a number of vfx shops that abuse artists. That’s not to say all do, but there are some.

        The point of unionization is to set standards and minimums for the vfx workplace. Some vfx shops will find that difficult for a variety of reasons .. some of those being the enforcement of state and federal labor laws. Some vfx shops, on the other hand, will not even notice the inclusion of a unionized vfx workforce. They may begin to notice a healthier and more content workforce though.

  4. edwardh says:

    I believe there could be some things to the wage research you did that may explain the difference in perception of wages today and that statistic. E.g. maybe the wages of the best paid artists increased while those of e.g. juniors have shrunk by just as much?
    Also – how is overtime considered in this? Because if e.g. unpaid overtime was maybe only 5% 10 years ago – what if it is 20% by now? It seems to me the statistic wouldn’t reflect that.

    At any rate, $83K average annual seems incredibly high to me. Now I know, people get tend to get paid more in the USA because a lot of stuff has to be paid for privately. Still, at least outside of the US, I think the highest I’ve ever heard of were maybe $70K. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever heard what seasoned supervisors make. Still… AVERAGE of $83K at 40h/week? Not very likely unless there are quite a few seasoned people making far more than $100K.

    • Clicking Bandit says:

      Just curious, where did you get that 83k figure?

    • vfxlies says:

      A good VFX Sup makes a minimum of 300K+ at the studio level, and the best Oscar winners at a facility make 8-10K/week.

      Now you know.

    • VFX Soldier says:

      40 an hour seems to be the minimum to me. In fact it’s the minimum for the union. This is why I’ve included the various percentages other than median.

      • Allegro says:

        Wow, it’s taken me three films to start earning more than 40 an hour.

      • edwardh says:

        Well… maybe things are different in the US. But in Canada, Germany and England, the absolute minimum is more like $10/hour (trainee, first job and things like that). I remember feeling INCREDIBLY lucky when I got a job where I was paid about $20/hour. I am now back down to $15 due to the switch to a LARGER studio. Where they of course have less money to spare…
        And I have confirmed it with quite a few people across said countries that that is not unusual. And that if you only have a couple of years of experience, the highest you will get is $30 – if you’re lucky.
        So… $40 average… still seems high, considering the many fairly fresh artists working at studios. But even minimum? I wish, man. I wish.

        (This should by the way not be seen as encouragement for people to let themselves be exploited. In fact, I almost didn’t take the job, negotiated with them for weeks and am not sure how long I will keep it)

      • VFX Soldier says:

        Get a better deal. Join a union. While many vfx facilities are not unionized they have to compete for talent at Disney and Dreamworks which have union minimums.

      • edwardh says:

        Oh and in case somebody reading this gets the idea “Well of course hourly wages would be that low, they have enormously high tax rates in those countries!”. Nope. That’s all BEFORE taxes, obviously.

      • edwardh says:

        Haha thanks for the advice but as far as I’m aware, there are no VFX unions in Europe and I don’t have that many feature credits yet that I could at least stand a chance at any given company. Plus – I don’t want to set foot on US soil (I hope you won’t take that personally. I don’t have anything against Americans per se but I just wouldn’t feel safe in a country where socialists and atheists seem to be considered less than second-class citizens).

      • edwardh says:

        Well… that was maybe a tad harsh. But the whole issue is just very complex and I very much doubt it would be of interest to you or anybody else here.

      • jonavark says:

        ” I don’t have anything against Americans per se but I just wouldn’t feel safe in a country where socialists and atheists seem to be considered less than second-class citizens”

        Ed.. don’t base your concept of America on the media. We’re ALL second class citizens here!

      • edwardh says:

        I don’t know what “media” you refer to but over the past couple of years, I’ve consumed so much US news that I feel like I know a lot more about it than my own home country.
        And I think there is a reason why the media landscape looks the way it does in the US. And why people prefer to vote for a cowboy than somebody who has slightly more substantial things to say. And why the percentage of people who believe that the theory of evolution is wrong is on a level nowhere near other western nation (on average 10-15%, US ~30%).
        Granted, watching news shows such as Democracy Now or GritTV made me realize that there are indeed quite a few decent people in the US trying to make a difference. Not that I ever doubted that in the first place though. But after watching the shows for a few years, there was also plenty of proof. However, there was also plenty of proof of how few there are.
        And when you take a look at what average people say in forums, in comment section on websites, what polling (and also cases such as Proposition 8) shows, etc. – it really confirms certain unfortunate aspects about the society as a whole.

        Another example: While you have many thousand German people (reportedly as much as 120k) building a human chain to demonstrate against nuclear power, how many muster up that energy in the US? A couple of hundred? Maybe a few thousand? And how many do you have who believe that global warming is a hoax?

        But on a more practical level that relates to my initial comment: Even if I was to see Americans more as victims than perpetrators (which is actually what I’m leaning towards… see e.g. “Manufacturing Consent” as to why), it doesn’t change the fact that I do not want to give up basic rights that are important to me (like having very low chances of being kidnapped and “interrogated” by the government or not having my house searched because I may think that war is not good and act on that belief) and enter that sphere of fear that is justified by a “desire for security”.
        Ironically, there is this nice quote by Benjamin Franklin which sums up this whole issue quite well: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

      • edwardh says:

        Jeez, did I just write all of that? I knew I should get into it 😉

      • edwardh says:


      • see how that run says:

        @ edwardh
        If one only reads about the sewerage system a country do you think one would visit it.

      • jonavark says:


        You made my point. If you don’t live here you should probably not comment on it. The media you are reading isn’t a gateway into the realities of American life. It’s just some editor’s take on one story or another. You actually don’t know more about America than your own country.

      • edwardh says:

        @ see how that run: Maybe not just visit but move there. I think a great sewage system is worth a lot. Wouldn’t want masses of bullshit clogging up everything.

        @ jonavark: Of course. Somebody who has invested many hours in learning about various aspects of a culture, things that are going on in a nation and contemplating those complex interactions from many points of view should keep his mouth shut while those who base their judgement merely on anecdotal experience should speak freely. Now why does this sound familiar…

      • see how that run says:

        @ edwardh
        I’ve seen quite a few vfx people spew the same stuff, EXACTLY the same stuff.

        If you think you’re independently coming up with your own worldview, think again- its just most likely different to what you grew up with- its always been there in one form or another.

        I’ve unfortunately seen these people literally go crazy, suicidal, depressed, withdrawn, angry when all they do is rant, and after many years, work out that they are ineffectual at changing anything- just saying 😉

        Many people know what you know, they read the same things and they know the limits of their power and know what they can and cant do.

        I’ll leave this conversation at this point. I’ve debated so many people in this area and I don’t want to relive a life I’ve already lived. Good luck!

      • edwardh says:

        @ see how that run:

        You’re probably right that if you think that a debate doesn’t make sense that it doesn’t. I myself almost let my last comment sit there for hours because I didn’t think it was worth it but then decided I still shouldn’t just roll over.
        And people like me in the VFX industry? That’s news to me. So far, I have met only ONE person who had similar attitudes. Everybody else were average, well-adjusted party people. It seems to me the only occupations more conducive to conformism are traditional working class ones. Which actually – combined with the issues talked about on this blog – makes me wonder whether VFX artists are the working class of the computer age. And really often quite removed from “art”. I remember this one co-worker quite well who said: “I don’t want to be called an artist because artists are losers who don’t earn any money”.

  5. Tom Atkin says:

    For the record, I have watched the VFX industry and been heavily involved for over twenty years.

    The problems within the industry are one area of concern, and equally important, the motivation of those who want to unionize it or make a trade organization or to be your industry voice. Most of the time, those claiming a strong interest in visual effects are not being totally honest.

    Even more troubling is the fact that VFX has already entered the global digital world. It is a global business plain and simple. So, which union or trade organization can truly have a fair and balanced global agenda…none.

    Even if the efforts to unite prove successful in the United States, by the time any meaningful entity is created, gains believable support, designs and implements ideas and regulations…the train will have long left the station. In fact, it is already well on its way.

    With all that is on the table, and has been for years, it is mind boggling that no group of individuals, organizations, facilities or studios have really accomplished anything but blowing lots of smoke.

    Everyone knows the single biggest issue would be to have a fair, standardized and balanced bidding system. Get a level playing field operating under the same rules would be the best place to start. And yet, there has been little or no progress on this for over two decades while the “publicity’ about the industry wanders all over the place from health care to ‘horrible’ working conditions (yet to be substantiated in any meaningful way) to low pay scales (not really substantiated either) to titles and so forth. Efforts have been made by the wrong organizations and/or individual to handle some of these with absolutely no tangible results. And, in some cases, the efforts have been made multiple times.

    The only way for the visual effects industry to make any meaningful progress if for the artists, technologists and management to come together ‘from behind their computers’ and to actively pay attention and get involved.

    Those sitting on the sidelines waiting for a knight in shining armor to save their jobs and their industry..are living in fantasyland.

    No one but you collectively can get anything done, and as long as you accept what is being done for you ‘on your behalf’ without your input and personal commitment…it will be what it will be.

    VFX Soldier has done an admirable job promoting good dialogue, but just look at the number of comments (and many are the same people) and you can see that a very few are even taking the time to comment. Those actively involved are dwarfed by those who are not.

    I truly hope there is an end game which will sincerely help the visual effects industry, but it seems to be the same thing over and over…lots of talk…lots of leaders/voices ..but, little accomplished.

    As Thomas Jefferson said, “People get the government they deserve”.

    And the visual effects industry deserves better.

    • Caleb R. Owens says:

      Very well said, and agreed. It’s all noise at some point. Unity is the only way anything will happen, and I’ve been very pessimistic for a LONG time about the vfx communities ability to come together. I think history has shown my pessimism is fairly accurate. It’s something people don’t want to talk about because no one wants to think they aren’t a team player or part of the problem. The VES is great for awards and everyone kissing each others ass, but when the serious issues arise people can only voice frustration, if that. OMG!? How dare you bad mouth the VES!?! You’ll never work again!!

      It’s really easy to complain at lunch among your friends and co-workers, it’s an entirely different thing to actually make a stand. Problem is that usually in the biz, when you take a stand, all those people echoing your words all of a sudden become silent. I’ve seen it happen, over and over. All in favor raise your hand. What? I’m the only one with my hand up? WTF?

      What can be done about that inherent fear or placating nature, and selfishness in our community? I’m not sure. I think it will take a really long time to weed that out somehow. A lot of it I think is cultural, a lot of it because our field is still relatively
      young. I hope for better things for people new to the game.

      • Tom Atkin says:

        Ronald Reagan once eloquently stated, “A man can do great things if he does not mind not getting credit for it.”

        Find that person. Trust me, far more than one are out there.

  6. vfxlies says:

    Vendors are making 25%+ profit margins on Tier 2 and Tier 3 work. Tier 1 work is often done @ 5-8% margin to maintain Tier 1 status, but with overages @ 35%+ margin, the overall gross usually works out to be around 20%+, sometimes more, sometimes less.

    Studio executives are not naive. As long as studios feel like they’re getting somewhat less than they’re paying for, no amount of lowball bidding is going to convince them that they’re getting a fair deal from vendors.

    The end of your so-called woes will come when VFX facilities collectively reveal their profits and losses to the studios in a way that creates a transparent relationship that is believable.

    Without transparency there is no basis to build trust and establish parameters for future collaborations together.

    In summary, Peter Berg was right about where the money is going with regards to Tier 1 work.

  7. Tom Atkin says:

    The good news is that I am a baby boomer age wise, so I may be losing my mind…the bad news is that transparency between the facilities and studios, which you ‘hope for’…will NEVER happen.

    So, if this is your demarkation point… do you have an alternative?

    • vfxlies says:

      Sorry, I did not mean to imply that I ‘hope for’ transparency. My intention was only to inform you that Tier 1 and Tier 2 vendors are profitable, the studios know it, and the artists are naive to the business going on behind closed doors. The notion that these vendors are going broke is absurd. If you want, as artists, to be profiteers in this game, you will need that transparency to eliminate the profit margins and increase your own bottom line, so to speak.

  8. Steven Young says:

    I am relatively new to the VFX industry and as a young artist reading all these comments about how everyone needs to get out from behind their computers and get involved, I am left with the question… What can I actually do?

    I’ve read many posts on the problems we are all facing and even seen opinions on what possible overall solutions might be, however I don’t see any comments on what specific actions someone like me (or any individual workers for that matter) can take on a daily basis to get the ball rolling. If everyone does a little something that is attainable then eventually it will add up.

    I am simply asking for those in the VFX community, whom are knowledgeable enough, to give me some simple steps I can take to help out (other than just blogging).

    Side note – If we are afraid to unify because of the threat that our work will be sent elsewhere, we have already lost.

    -Looking forward to hearing advice

    • Andreas JABLONKA says:

      Often just talking to fellow artist , signing a rep card and get others to do the same. Motivate, communicate, advocate and action taking (signing on the dotted line).

      Also 300k$+ for Vfx dupes is a bit high in my experience. Sure some may make 250k but it’s not the norm. I’d say 150-185k is the bulk I think. No I don’t have a source, it’s experience, yes opinion not fact 🙂

      • Steven Young says:

        Thanks Andreas!

      • 123 says:

        A good show-side sup with solid credentials and a proven track record will make around $300K. Some superstars get more. A few top facility sups make similar money – these are the guys who are asked for by name by directors and studios, but $150K – $200K is more the norm.

        The show-side guys can go for very long stretches without work – even the big names have fallow periods.

      • Tom Atkin says:


        If you and your fellow artists are signing on the dotted line, may I ask, what specifically do you think or know you will get for your signature. What are the details and benefits of unionization in your mind and those of your fellow artists. What is your motivation in real terms to sign the card and possibly join a union?

        What will a union give you, and at what cost?

        I believe it is critical for vfx artists to formulate and prioritize the key issues they hope to resolve. The list should be realistically three to five items, because any more will just dilute making any real progress.

        Finally, with respect to the artists, I am curious…do you and your co-workers favor a union or a trade organization? And…why?

        Thank You

      • Andreas JABLONKA says:

        First off I only speak for myself not others.

        I never had to work in sweatshops that did not pay any overtime. For me a union should solve these items:

        1) the second grade citizen status of Vfx workers compared to on set crew. I want to feel a driver and crafts person getting credit is as justified as the Vfx artist who made the big monster. A union can bargain with studios for guaranteed screen credit etc.

        2) portable healthcare as we all jump from job to job. I’m currently in Vancouver as most jobs have left LA on the feature side. While Canada and the uk have less issues with healthcare the US does.

        3) a level playing field for bidding. Not artificially created advantages that lead to moving locations a lot. This is more a trade org thing.

        I believe we breed both a trade org to get all Vfx shops in one page and give em leverage rather than. Cutting their own throats by underbidding. And a union do the artists are protected from collusion and a monopoly that the trade org might create. Together we can stand up to the big 6 studios and tell them their tent pole avengers 2 will not see its release date if they don’t play fair with us.

      • !0 says:

        Well said!!

      • Tom Atkin says:

        And, I only speak for myself. You, however, need to seriously get the dialogue going amongst yourselves. The artists would be so much better off with a brief list of agreed upon issues to present to any and all of the individuals, organizations and/or union people who want the power you all represent.

        Now, let me throw some response to the issues you outlined.

        1) The on set status is vague and difficult to frame any real action which would bring the personal results you seek. In my opinion, this is a very low priority.

        2) When it comes to credits, VES has twice prepared and distributed its titles as they want them listed. I sincerely doubt that this had any impact. More importantly, the on screen credits are controlled by the studios and are often negotiated with the vfx facilities. There are and won’t be any union or trade organization which can take the actual credit power away from the DGA or make the studios list all the vfx artists who may have worked on the film.

        Quite frankly, the length of the credits is proportionate to the length of the film. The bigger, longer films should have more vfx credits, but the timing must be such to maximize distributor screenings per day. Finally, although even I think vfx artists may be more skilled and provide bigger contributions, it is quite difficult for the vfx credits to jump over the others, and that whole process should also be down your list.

        Healthcare is the ‘rub’, and most importantly, how to keep it at a reasonable cost between jobs. There is no easy answer to this, but be aware that you will pay for it one way or another.

        Having standard, realistic and somewhat enforceable bidding practices is vital. You cannot stop under bidding, but you can greatly control all the extra shots and revisions that the studios/clients want…but, often do not wish to pay for these extras. This is the area which really impacts the bottom line for facilities and subsequently employees.

        Lastly, be careful of a trade organization created and run by the top facilities. Their agenda is the business and profit of visual effects. Their artists are only an aspect of this equation, and I believe, would often be second or lower on the priority list. And, I am not sure what leverage a trade organization can have without unionized workers to go on strike. Would the facilities become the ‘strikers’…don’t think so. I, too, am confused about what a trade organization can actually do at all…and, especially at the artist level.

        Whatever you do…keep it simple…keep it brief…and, make sure the artists are calling the shots.

      • 839spi says:


        Portable health insurance that continues during unemployment.

        A retirement pension funded from the residuals of the movies we worked on.

        Enforcement of unpaid OT.

        Wage minimums.

        Collective voice.

      • Tom Atkin says:

        Hey 839spi,

        This is good. Sure hope others list their three to five major issues to lay a common groundwork for all.

        I would throw out retirement pension funded from residuals because it is an unrealistic priority right now. And, honestly, I don’t think it will ever come into play.

        Enforcement of unpaid overtime is a reaction. Getting fair and proper pay for overtime…on far more proactive.

        Brief, simple and to the point…perfect!

        Get your co workers to make a list and post it here and other places where the discussion is taking place.


      • 839spi says:


        All of these things exist right now for workers at Disney , Dreamworks and anyplace else working under an Anim Guild or Iatse contract.

        MPTF retirement fund is real, and has been for 80+ years.
        This is what funds retirement for all IATSE members working on film.

      • Ashes says:

        @Andreas, agree with your first 2 points about why a union would help, but not the 3rd. How do you think a union would equal out the bidding process? Unless they are going to try and get rid of tax incentives, which IASTE has already stated that they don’t intent to persue that, there’s pretty much nothing they can do about help the bidding process.

      • Andreas Jablonka says:

        @Tom: Your opinion is your own, so is your preferred list items. I do think you demand a lot and quite frankly find it quiet aggregating reading your posts.

        To me the respect is important and the length of the movie argument is flawed. First many movies are over 2 hours long. 2-3 more minutes of credits won’t change the screening cycle much. This is a non issue. Kodak used to claim the cost of developed film is the issue which is equal bs. If they can list gardeners, they a list us. The studios negotiate with the Vfx house but this could be standardized by a union and a trae org: the provided crew list of the Vfx house will be in the film credits. Simple. Otherwise you won’t have a movie to show if we don’t do the Vfx. Nothing really stopping studios from it.

        Healthcare is solved already by Iatse. Build your hours which is easy and you have a portable health and pension plan. No need to reinvent the wheel here.

        The bidding model is there lea yes. There is nothing that keeps the Vfx house from charging overrides that were not bid. They don’t out of fear to piss off one of the only 6 employers/clients they have. If all facilities would be doing it, there be no fear.

        Thanks for not bringing up the “all work goes to India debate” as we know it won’t for a while and maybe never.

        I can’t he but feel ourost to be a strange mix between motivational and drill Sargent or nay sayer.

        The trad org controls the company’s being on one page to bid equally, the union would enforce the policy’s at those shops being abided too otherwise the workforce will strike. We need both.

      • Tom Atkin says:


        I have no list of issues. I am not ‘demanding’ anything. I requested details to have a better understanding what the key issues really might be rather than discussing specific salaries or whatever.

        If even just one of the others posting found my points valid and interesting…that’s enough to enhance the dialogue…and, that was the purpose of entering the conversation.

        Best wishes to you and your fellow visual effects artists. Without the great creativity and dedication of some of the best visual effects artists to ever grace the planet, I would never have been able or inspired to found VES.

        And, next week Trojan football begins so I will have another kind of artistry which will garner my support and conversation.

      • Andreas Jablonka says:


        I find the VES has good intentions but they way they try to stay “out of trouble” by hiding behind their charter is annoying. Ves 2.0 and the letters were a good start but overall I can’t but wonder if the ves is interested in artist good or business owner good. You know what I mean?

        This industry needs to help itself and to stand together there needs to be dialogue. I agree with what you said that every discussion where one point is raised and agreed is useful. I just felt a bit accused I guess. For that I appologize. What would you say is the reason that the studios strangle the Vfx shops into smaller margins and the houses accepting it? We have the power to put. Film on hold, it won’t come out, India can’t do The Vfx yet and still we are Afraid of the studios wraith? Why?

      • Tom Atkin says:


        I think it would be safe to say that VES has changed over the years. In the beginning the focus was on the art and the artists, but over time it appears to have turned its attention to business issues such as 2.0 and the “Bill of Rights”.

        VES is quite careful to state it is an honorary society and cannot get too involved in union/trade issues by its charter. Yet, it would appear this is where much of their energy is focused… becoming in their words ‘the voice of the industry’.

        I am not sure who or what VES is anymore. I will not say anything negative about the organization I founded and the artists who comprise it.. If there is one concern I have which has permeated some of this discussion is the ‘fear’ factor of speaking out. Truly, I hope that no members of VES or those interacting with VES feel this is any part of its culture. That would truly be sad.

        For some twenty years I have watched unions and others try to form entities to rightly assist the visual effects artists and the industry. It has always been a battle from so many perspectives and agendas.

        I hope Jim Morris, founding Chair of VES won’t mind two quotes he stated years ago, “Visual effects may be an industry, but I wouldn’t call it a business”. His other great quote was on Nightline when digital characters were the focus. The interviewer said, “It must be great not having to deal with the egos of actors”. Jim’s response (and he was president of Lucas Digital), “Trying dealing with the egos of animators (digital artists)”.

        Jim Morris’s elegance was his ability to accurately analyze, simplify and manage a most complex process during an exponential (almost out of control) growth period.

        I love the artistry and awesome commitment of the crafts people who comprise the industry. It is a complex group of folks, and if unionizing them were wanted or easy…it would have been done years ago.

        Visual effects are unique, and it will take people with vision supported by people who care to get something meaningful done. Something may be done anyway, but I just hope and pray that the end justifies the means and truly serves the artists.

      • Andreas has it right. If there were real solidarity amongst vfx artists, they would have the power to grind the industry to a halt if they wanted to.

  9. 839spi says:


    All of these things exist right now for workers at Disney , Dreamworks and anyplace else working under an Anim Guild or Iatse contract.

    MPTF retirement fund is real, and has been for 80+ years.
    This is what funds retirement for all IATSE members working on film.

    • Tom Atkin says:

      The statement you made is quite general. Each craft union and each artist operates under different agreements. For example, one would think that a major film composer would get residuals for his music every time the film airs in different media. I thought so especially since some in television have gotten quite rich just from a single tune or a few bars like Jack Jones (LoveBoat theme), MASH theme, and the best of all is Mike Post who wrote the few bars transition on Law and Order. So, I was quite surprised when I asked one of the most famous film music composers about what his royalties/residuals on a film were. He said nothing as his work is a flat buyout and the studio owns it.

      The point is that I think your response is quite general. Could you, please, explain it with more specific detail to paint a clearer picture?

      PS – I believe the MPTF hospital in Woodland Hills was scheduled to close last year. Katzenberg and others made huge donations to keep it going. Where did the contributions from ‘residuals and unions’ over many, many years go?

    • skaplan839 says:


      I believe SPIUnion was responding to this comment of yours:

      I would throw out retirement pension funded from residuals because it is an unrealistic priority right now. And, honestly, I don’t think it will ever come into play.

      The Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan ( is partially funded from the post-60s residual package that is negotiated between the IATSE and AMPTP during the Hollywood Basic Agreement negotiations. The reason MPIPHP (MPI) has been able to remain as strongly funded as it has been over the years of exploding heath care costs is in no small part because of the residual funding to the plan.

      That’s not to say MPIs funding comes only from those residuals. The majority of the funding remains from employer contributions as negotiated in term and production agreements. But, its quite accurate to say that a residual funded pension plan exists in entertainment and members of IATSE are enjoying participation in such a plan.

      SPIUnion confused MPTF with MPI, a common mistake. As you pointed out, the MPTF ( is a 90 year old charity organization that runs multiple programs to benefit the community. One of those programs that MPI participants enjoy (and a reason for the common confusion) is the MPTF Health Centers which PPO participants in the MPI Health Plan are eligible to use.

      As for the Woodland Hills MPTF center, its retirement village was slated for closure at one time. Generous donations from multiple sources, as well as a restructuring of MPTF management and fund allocation was able to stop the closing. The Woodland Hills location houses other MPTF programs, such as a health center and hospital, as well as their administrative offices.

      To be clear, MPTF does not receive funding from the IATSE residuals, MPI does. MPIs PPO Health Plan participants have access to MPTF Health Centers.

      As for residuals musicians get, I’d be glad to reach out to some AFM contacts I have to get a better understanding of the residual payout for your famous feature-film composer friend.

      • Tom Atkin says:

        Thank you for the clarification regarding residuals and the confusion over MPI versus MPTF.

        It is my belief that these kinds of statements are worth exploring so that others with more accurate knowledge can clarify any misunderstandings.

        The more detailed knowledge the community has the better equipped they will be in decision making.

        The bottom line is to seek the best solution for the visual effects artists to achieve their goals.

        Regarding reaching out to AFM or others to verify the composer statement, all I can say is that I spent three days with this composer, and I am fairly sure this was what he stated. I do not think, however, that this is key to the general conversation.

        If you do look into this, please, let me know what you discover.

      • 839spi says:

        Sorry for the confusion. Thank you for clearing up the alphabet , abbreviation and acronym soup.

      • skaplan839 says:

        Tom –
        Glad to be a participant in the conversation. I’ve stated on other forums, that its my belief that with all information available, as well as all myths and FUD arguments dispelled, visual effectsg artists will see that unionization will bring sustainability and viability to their career.

        I’ll reach out to my AFM friend and see if I can get a hold of the residual structure they offer their membership. Maybe that can shed some light on the example you gave.

        My pleasure. Its quite confusing to begin with, and then the acronyms have to be similar for an added layer.

  10. Billyshakes1492 says:

    right now i feel that pure apathy is hitting the vfx community… the revolution isnt going to happen on either the artist side or the owner side.. studios are using this apathy to walk over the industry… lets get the word out to both the artists and the owners… per zapata Viva la Revolución!:

  11. noIMspartacus says:

    You only have to read the comments on these blogs – mostly by the same small bunch of guys who bother taking the time to read and respond – to realize what the studios (and owners) won’t be losing much sleep…. To paraphrase Pink Floyd, the trouble is most folk – and not just in our “industry” – have become uncomfortably numb.

    Too much of all this ‘post’ analyzing smacks a lot of horse, bolted, stable door, close… just look at the state of the economy at large and – or rather because of – the criminally insane banking screw ups.

    Time for a reality check – idividually first then collectively – and unless there is a major reset across the world – let alone our industry – quite frankly, I think we are just pissing against the wind and, reretably after a big blue screen, the reset will come whether we want it or not.

  12. Valiant says:

    […] and it’s a sector that’s having a lot of problems right now. You mentioned briefly mentioned Digital Domain and the financial struggles they’ve had have […]

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