DD & FuelVFX Soldiering On, DD Institute Classes Suspended

Wild few days in the VFX industry. I can’t even keep up with the news. First off, a cliffhanger in bankruptcy court as DD fights for survival:

Digital Domain Media Group Inc .’s new chief executive, Ed Ulbrich, has found himself starring in a good old-fashioned cliffhanger, trying to save the award-winning special effects company that, virtually, helped sink the “Titanic” on the big screen and put deceased rapper Tupac Shakur back on stage.

FuelVFX looks like it may have a buyer:

All 80 Fuel VFX employees has been let go on the appointment of the administrators.

Administrators Jirsch Sutherland Partners said that while a number of salvage strategies had been canvassed including a possible white knight investor, the most likely scenario was now the sale of the business or assets following a recent call for expressions of interest.

The good news for Aussie VFX pros is that Method Sydney is hiring. Also good news for DD Florida people is that Legend 3D is looking to hire some of them.

A big piece of news that was missed by many is that DD Institute has suspended classes:

Digital Domain Institute has suspended its certification classes indefinitely, leaving 16 students in the lurch, the first in West Palm Beach to feel the effects of the digital animation company’s bankruptcy.

Soldier On.

32 Responses to DD & FuelVFX Soldiering On, DD Institute Classes Suspended

  1. John says:

    Obviously Ed Ulbrich is really worried… about his own paycheck.
    This guy deserves as much blame as Plumer, Miller and Textor.

  2. Ean says:

    why’s that, john?

    • John says:

      As a top exec and member of the board, all the decisions
      were approved by him and he was/still is
      very highly compensated for making those decisions.

      • julie says:

        Ed Ulbrich has never been a member of the DDMG Board of Directors.

      • Anonymizer says:

        Ed is much more respectable than Textor by a very long stretch. He is someone who has been at the back-end of the production trenches for the past 20 years. If you don’t have the solid facts, please do not make such false speculation or accusation.

        There are many people and their families that will be affected by this outcome. Ultimately it will eventually affect all of us. It’s a very small industry; direct and indirect consequences will be large.

      • Ashes says:

        Yes, Ed’s a good guy. Very well respected by the artists at DD. Also, he’s not CEO of DDMG, but DDP, inc.

      • Thad Beier says:

        Ed Ulbrich is passionate about the work at Digital Domain, skilled in the pursuit of it, and has 20 years of his life invested in it. He’s a very good man. Great choice.

      • Scott Ross says:

        Knowing Ed as I do… he had little to no knowledge about Textor’s shenanigans or he would have blown the whistle… Ed’s a good guy, a great creative exec and has the Pirate soul. Let’s root for him and DD!

  3. Dave Rand says:

    I have it from good sources that payroll at DD has come close to not being met on more occasions than the recent news. Having had plenty of experience not getting paid…especially in Canada, I thought I’d post this. In Canada I’ve had many missed paychecks the only times I got paid were when I took advantage of the only leverage I had, and i left immediately….At Meteor studios they strung us along on deals with completion bonuses for three months. Meteor, although Canadian, was owned by two American corporations, one worth almost 8 billion at the time yet…. we all got zip…two weeks before Christmas, many owed over 15k….as their main motivation was to deliver the show, not pay us. In Canada you are an unsecured creditor and will end up at the bottom of the credit list…in Quebec for sure BC law may be different, I’ve inquired about that and will post info later. There’s a new Canadian program the will cover up to 3k of lost wages due to your employers bankruptcy

    http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/sc/wepp/index.shtml

    I’ve also heard that as a foreign freelancer you may be eligible for unemployment in Canada, payments that are quite substantial.

    I’ll try to find out more about this also.

    I pray DD makes it and this is no opinion on those in management there that are trying their hardest to keep this thing going. The great work, the great artists …it’s a sad situation for everyone…but their is no reason to not be prepared on your end as an employee no matter how loyal you are, in the end it becomes just business in these matters. Just ask Florida.

    Good luck to all involved.

    • edwardh says:

      “I’ve also heard that as a foreign freelancer you may be eligible for unemployment in Canada, payments that are quite substantial.”

      Only if you volunteered to pay into the EI fund – see here (one should really pay attention to the numbers. Because in the text, they downplay this option a LOT while you actually get 55% of your average weekly income for just paying a 1.73% premium of your yearly net income – which sounds like damn great conditions to me!): http://www.personaltaxadvisors.ca/TMT/TMT.html
      … and you did so for the time specified here: http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/ei/types/regular.shtml#Number

    • edwardh says:

      I have to say I find it very unsettling what you say about Canadian companies. It has always been my goal to settle down there. And now besides those bed bugs, one also has to deal with companies who don’t pay?!

      It should really become customary for artists to hire debt collecting agencies and add those costs to the studios’ bill. And interest on top of that.

    • Dave Rand says:

      Thanks for clarifying that Edwardh . I also just learned that since Meteor studios debacle some legislation was passed that makes employees first in line in case of bankruptcy. Canada is a fine place just needs some labor reform, seems that is shaping up a bit. Sadly some companies were using bankruptcy to close, get rid of debt(like back payroll), and reopen under a new name, often the very next day. It spread through Montreal like plague. There’s articles covering all this on my website (press tab) BC has had a great track record so far, and Montreal has shaped up as well. Don’t give up hope. It’s all about the artists..always has been but because we have no leverage compared to the rest of the talent we get the shit end of stick, law of the jungle…but that can change.

      • edwardh says:

        How? I doubt that the popularity of our industry will decrease soon. So one will always be easily replaceable. Unless you are a really exceptional artist, of course.
        The only way that I can see that that could change would be if work conditions become SO bad that people don’t even want to work in the VFX industry any more. But that’s not exactly something that sounds desirable to me. Especially since I already find it amazing that the industry still manages to attract such huge amounts of people, despite what it currently offers. I really don’t want to see what it would have to look like for people to actually be deterred.

      • Dave Rand says:

        This is were that argument fails…..SAG, DGA, and all the other IATSE and IBEW guilds/unions that exist in entertainment (everyone except VFX) have plenty of people wanting those jobs also yet they all are union…

  4. Frank N. Stein says:

    I truly feel sorry for all the employees of Digital Domain Florida, as well as the students at the Institute who are victims of Textor’s inept business practices.

    Just because a company can make effects shots does not make them a full fledged animation studio. I mean, did DD even make a short film or two to test the waters and prove that they can make a complete entertaining tale? The lack of wisdom, and the arrogance that they can just jump into the feature animation business without proper funding was a train wreck waiting to happen. Epic Fail.

    Even though DD Florida is supposed to be a separate entity from Venice and Vancouver, most likely they will all go down. Studios will be very reluctant to award any future effects work to a company that is teetering and likely to go bankrupt. And DD management is clearly clueless, why should the studios risk trusting them? Which will lead to more mass layoffs of innocent VFX artists who don’t deserve this kind of treatment. Sickening.

  5. anonymous says:

    I need to share this somewhere. Sorry to hijack the thread. With FuelFX having gone down, DD in flux, I hate to say it but Zoic looks to be next. Two of our owners just left. They’re lowballing artist just to get more work in Canada… which no offense to you guys but we constantly have to redo their stuff. Anyone know how Imageworks doing?

    • Paul says:

      care to give more detail? not sure I understand, are they asking everyone in Culver city to move to Vancouver?

      • Anon says:

        Imageworks’ Vancouver office is growing quickly, and as shows wrap and ramp up again, there is considerable pressure for new hiring (and transfers and contract renewals) to happen mostly in Vancouver, in some departments more than others. But it seems impossible that “everyone in Culver City” will end up there, if for no other reason than the total space in Vancouver (around 300 seats, including floors still under construction) is less than half of SPI’s usual size when multiple big shows are in production. It’s more plausible that there will be around a 50/50 split between LA and Vancouver within a couple years.

    • Ymir says:

      A large chunk of ‘Oz’ is now at Luma . . . .

    • Stan Bower says:

      Can you give more detail about Zoic? You mean Loni and Chris have left? Is there anyone else that can confirm whats going on at Zoic?

  6. ion says:

    shut the venice office down. They can use the salvage money to pay off the missed pay checks and severence pay. The canadian arm can resurface as a separate entity and continue there. Its a listed firm. Impoosible for Textor to have made individual decisions.. and since most of the voting board has been based out of venice, and taking huge renumeration, despite shafting the workforce, …. seems fair now to just draw a line under it and sell off lock-and-stock, return some money to the staff. Wonder if Ed tells the kids at bedtime stories “you gotta get ahead son! Gotta shaft that guy before he shafts you!” Probably not … they all sleep like babies at night, for sure.

    • marty says:

      What the heck is wrong with you? I hope you are just being sarcastic. DD Venice is what made DD in the first place. Even if they were not financially profitable, their work is amazing. I don’t know why you have so bad for Ed. I hear positive things from the artists there.

  7. edwardh says:

    While thinking about our industry a bit, inspired by a conversation about “relaxed 10-12 hour days, rarely something like 16 hours”, I wondered…

    Considering the MANY applications that big studios apparently receive every week, why on earth do they insist to squeeze out e.g. 20 people with 60h weeks if they could just as well hire 30 people doing 40h/week?!

    At least if the company either pays overtime or at least gives days off as compensation. If they don’t do that, it’s obvious why they would prefer to squeeze the life blood out of every artist they got. But I’ve also heard this about companies that actually do provide some sort of overtime compensation. And that simply doesn’t making any damn sense to me.
    Can anybody here explain that?

    • edwardh says:

      That should be “insist on squeezing”.

    • Werk says:

      More people require more overhead. Applying overtime can be cheaper when looking at high overhead costs and the burden of each employee to the company. For example, if you lease a building you’re paying for it 24/7 and the more hours of use you get out of that building the lower the cost per hour will be.

    • edwardh says:

      The overhead cost can’t be much compared to the total payroll. Especially since many organizational tasks related to managing employees are automated these days anyway. So if you have an additional overhead of a couple of percent in exchange for well-rested, satisfied employees that are able to concentrate 100% – so what? I bet that overworking people actually ends up costing those companies more than that overhead would be.

      And the building argument (if I understood correctly) really only seems to make sense from a point of view very much removed from reality. Because exactly because of what you said (that a building gets leased 24/7) it doesn’t make any difference WHEN you actually use it. Whether you have 20 people working 60h or 30 people working 40h, in both cases, the building is used for 1200 man hours.
      It makes a difference in terms of equipment costs but as with the organizational overhead, I think that it is still negligible.

      • ion says:

        Keep thinking that there is something screwball about many of these setups though. On a small scale, when you get a manageable production with an owner-operatorion, it can work damn well. I really hope that someone else can make a magic formula for leaner operations to tackle large scale work. But that mega level of multiple-vendors mega-cg productions seems to only happen in the current setups and I’ve always thought to myself – whay are there so many levels of bucreacracy in these current models? Layers upon layers of producers, co-ordinators, production management, modern trend of VFX and CG supervisors who come from producer/non-hands on background, etc. etc., I remember sitting down once on a production and calculating maybe 5-6 people per artist or engineer who just seem to shuffle paper and attend meetings …. then come to you and say “I have no idea how you are going to get the task done, I am a little hazy on the briefs and what the client wants to achieve tbh, just do something for us and see where it takes us, etc., etc., And they are all usually on a decent wage on fulltime contracts, not a small overhead…
        Maybe smaller and easier vendor-financing options on individual film productions, like a penny-share market, faster technology, a next-gen production co-ordination software based on VPN, could make a vendor-creator business model viable. Because as it stands, the big losers are always the artists and engineers.

    • NWang says:

      Maybe because the number of people a studio will actually trust to do something is fairly small?

      Sadly the recruitment process is very hit and miss, perhaps because our industry is so poor at standardisation, so if you were a studio…and had 10 good people…how can you guarantee that hiring another 10 people will mean your original 10 can go home on time?

      Truth be told, we celebrate how our industry allows talent to rise, and how we avoid the hierarchy of more traditional industries…so we can’t really complain when we have difficulty scaling up as the demands on our jobs grow.

      I’ll wager that if you asked someone who ran a small company of semi-skilled labourers you’d find that they’d have the same difficulties making sure people didn’t need to work overtime. Anyone good is worth their weight in gold.

    • Ymir says:

      Because supervisors and clients will always fill capacity. If they have 10 more artists to play with, they ask more of those artists and their time. There’s no way to say the work will take 1,200 hours, so divide it up the most economically. If you give the decision makers more capacity, they will use it to it’s fullest.

      • edwardh says:

        Well… at least as far as I’ve seen it so far, supervisors will still obviously work within the confines of even higher management. If that management tells them to make use of overtime, they will. If that management says they have to make due with regular hours, they will as well.
        I’m sure there is that tendency you speak about but I’m also convinced that it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that.

  8. VFXjitsu says:

    check out Deluxe and their recent purchases in the last 1.5-2 years and alot of this will make sense to you.

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