VFX Soldier Criticizes ‘Beasts’ Free Labor In Wall Street Journal

WSJ Video Report Here

Steve Hulett came across this WSJ article about “Beasts of the Southern Wild”:

Thirty-three students from San Francisco’s Academy of Art University worked for months to craft most of the post-production visual-effects for the independent feature.

VFX Soldier, a visual-effects blog, criticizes tuition-sponsored programs like the academy’s that have students “pay to work for free.” The anonymous blogger, a practicing visual-effects artists, said it takes advantage of students and institutionalizes free labor.  “If you’re okay with working for free why would you need overtime, health insurance, retirement benefits,” the blogger said in an interview with WSJ.

I wrote about this issue last year:


I hope they’ll be ready for the Beasts of the VFX Wild.

Soldier On.


19 Responses to VFX Soldier Criticizes ‘Beasts’ Free Labor In Wall Street Journal

  1. Time to act says:

    I find this interesting…


    Yet we have VFX artist still working for free at R&H.

    Ready to make a stand.

  2. Twain says:

    Unbelievable. Until we stand up for ourselves, this will continue to happen. Artists, let’s start acting like what we’re worth!!

  3. Paul says:

    it’s seems on twitter that pixomondo uk is dead ?

    12 h larrifari ‏@larrifari
    #vfx pixomondo London is dead. Facts tomorrow but most likely office ceases operation”

    if it’s true sad news…

  4. (disclaimer: I came through studio 400a at AAU)

    I really do believe the 400a model is very different from the model at DD or any other pay for work/tuition thing.
    The films worked on in 400a are true independent films. No or little budget, worked on by young/early film makers who have called in every favour they can muster.

    Beasts was a freak. It was amazing and part of the reason is that everyone who worked on it, from production, on set to vfx believed in the project. It was a beautiful story and vfx is nothing without a beautiful story.

    The big thing that this program really does is teach students to work with directors. After this class, I was ready for the critiques in dailies, to hear a Director talk about their project but most of all, I was ready for the unplanned, unknown work that we get.

    Studio 400a gives it’s class NEW challenges every semester. I took the class 3 times cause every sememster it was a new opportunity. I worked on roto, comp and even lead a small team. Without that knowledge I would not have had the opportunities I have had. I am now well paid, in a staff job at a company I love working for. I realise I am extremely lucky and I honestly believe that Catherine Tate and 400a made me into the VFX person I am today.

    Many of our projects would die. We would work on something that would loose funding, or had no funding and the momentum died. I worked on at least 2 movies that ended up completely ending before we had a chance to finish. It was independent film.

    I am biased as I came through the program, and when the DD thing came out I really sat down and thought, why am I so pro 400a and so against DD. The reason is that this is not about creating a profit for other people. It is about being a part of the film process with people who also hope to be professionals and make a career out of this film thing. It is not a place where we do roto for huge studios who are using the work as another subsidy. Beasts has shone a spotlight on 400a, because it was successful. It was successful cause it is a great film. But of the 50 or so films, student thesis projects, shorts and labours of loves that have come through, this is the one that people talk about because it was a freak and did so well.

    I get sent reels from AAU students all the time. So many of them have the same projects on them (AAU students, I dont want to see the pumpkin or the door knob thing ever again), but 400a class members reals are all individual, they stand out cause they are different and new.

    It also creates a community. I am still close with 90% of the people I did 400a with and when I go back to school to see the new vfx people’s work at the spring show, I still see that solidarity in the current 400a.

    I believe this class is making the next generation of VFX soldiers. People who love and care about their industry and the people in it. Every person who did 400a in my time who should have got a job after school got a job. It is an amazing place.

  5. […] VFX Soldier – VFX Soldier Criticises ‘Beasts’ Free Labour in Wall Street Journal […]

  6. Count Zero says:

    I know more than a few professional artists that worked on this feature including myself. If the students and interns think their work made it to the screen they should be apologized to. This was definitely a pro job done on a scrap budget. I seriously question the motives behind this article.

  7. Qwerty says:

    Beast had a $1.2 million dollar budget. Funny how you can’t cut corners on the production end, but you can on the vfx side. I see what AA and DD are doing no different. It’s still free work.

  8. Jason M says:

    I worked with 400a on half life, it was the first film done there, Tate is an amazing teacher. And 400a is better than interning for free, as this gets you screen and imdb credit on actual films, it also allows you to build your reel while in school, with actual shots. There isn’t an honest person can say is good about aau, but the one thing that can be said about it is its visual effects department is the best in the world, no school anywhere comes close to it. It is in fact the only program at aau worth anything.

  9. vfx_duder says:

    i think the issue here is that you PAID to work for free. Why would you PAY to do work on a film? I think nearly everyone in the VFX biz has worked for free, but not too many have PAID to work! How many VFX companies charge you to intern? Sure you dont get some flashy plates on your reel, but any plucky student can find a way to work on something worthwhile. I’m curious as to what the fees are for this school/class?

    • This is a good point. The class is expensive, as every class at AAU is. A liberal art class is the same as a VFX class.

      I think I havent ever considered it paying to work for free cause I honestly learnt more in that class than ANY other lecture based class at AAU.
      One of the things that isnt mentioned often is that we also worked on other student thesis projects (including some of the people in the class’). We worked with mates, with other students and honestly, it was just a lot of fun and I learnt a lot cause it was always a new challenge. I was graded for my work, like a real class. Beasts was a freak, a rarity (I didnt work on Beasts, you will not know any of the projects I worked on cause they are student thesis projects, fun shorts or films that showed at indy film festivals or died… never to be seen again).

      With regards to being charged to intern… As a foreigner (Australian), I also did an internship as a class, which means I paid for an internship. It was the only way to get a ssn before school ended. Many foreigners who have been to school in the USA have had to do this to get any chance of getting a job to stay in the country.

      I was thankfully paid by the employer, but it was my only way of getting work at an studio before school ended. I was lucky to be paid, cause the employers were great people and they didnt have to, but I was more angry at paying for an internship than ever considering I was used by 400a. This is not a VFX only issue. This is an issue for any foreign student trying to do an internship. Which is a whole different issue.

    • Jason M says:

      Agreed if your internship is a real internship you will receive school credit for it, and you’ll pay the same as you would pay taking the studio 400 class, the only exception is instead of getting coffee for people you’re actually working on real shots, and getting real imdb credit, and getting something people will recognize on your reel. Catherine worked really hard to set this class up, she did it for the students not for the school and not form the films the student’s work on. AAU is a joke with the exception of their VFX program which is without question the only vfx program in the world that actually teaches the students what it’s like in the real world. this is because every one of the instructors are long time seasoned pros.

      so interns and studio 400 pay the same tuition,
      Studio 400 gives the students more instruction more credit, and a greater chance to get a job than any internship with the exception of maybe PIXAR’s intern program.

      I don’t see a bad here.

  10. Jason M says:

    We really need to stop getting on tangents here, The VFX world is in some serious hurt, we need to focus on fixing this each and every one of us. There is only one fix, a VFX Guild, that works with SAG DGA and the other Hollywood guilds, every time there is a side fight, like this or the Whitehouse.gov petition asking the government to do something they don’t have the authority to do, we hurt our cause. We need to focus, each and every one of us. Focus on a guild, Focus on uniting our guild with the others so that the major studios would have to use guild vfx houses, if they want to use SAG actors and DGA directors.

  11. Yas Opisso says:

    I agree with Jason M:

    I’m a student at the Academy of Art as well, and it really strike me to see to what level we’re wasting energy on an issue that is far from the main problem.

    I’ve been attending to the Academy for about 2 1/2 years, but I didn’t have the opportunity to work With Catherine Tate until last semester; I dare to say that I have learn at her classes more that I have learn in all of my other classes combined. The main idea behind Studio 400A is so students get the feeling of what it is to work in the “real world”. I am from Cuba, where you get paid 10 dollars (yes, ten) a month. So I know what it is to work for free.

    This class has given me the opportunity to come from a third world country and yet, feel like by the time I graduate at least I get a chance for an interview. Never, and I mean, never, I’ve feel like I’m working for free. I personally don’t think that we’re taking any jobs away. If the Industry were going like some years ago, It wouldn’t have matter that a low budget film that students worked in, was nominated for the Oscars. I’m sure that instead, it were something nice to talk about. So please, lets use all our energy to “fix” the Industry instead of attacking each other.

    (Please don’t ask me how did we survive with 10 dls/month, I still don’t know how)


  12. Johnny says:

    I agree that VFX artists should be paid to meet their talents but this argument is beyond ridiculous. A college student or intern with the opportunity to work on a real feature film is invaluable. I can’t imagine, as a college student thinking, o wow, I have this opportunity to work on the new film “Beasts…” in my classroom. O, they are not going to pay me….nevermind. They are 19 year olds with no real experience given a golden opportunity. Let’s focus the fight somewhere else.

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