Daemen College Prez Wrong On VFX Solutions


Last summer a number of readers emailed me about a college in Buffalo, New York partnering up with a subsidy induced VFX startup called Empire VFX. I largely ignored the story because if you knew the intimate details of NY’s subsidy program, you’d realize it was actually a woefully ineffective program.

Well, now the President of Daemen College, Gary A. Olson, has written an article in The Huffington Post piggybacking on ADAPT’s Oscar March to proclaim they have a solution to the problem. We Can Keep the Visual Effects Industry Here in the U.S.:

The college has signed formal agreements with several community colleges in the region agreeing to enroll those of their students who graduate with a two-year digital media degree into our certificate program in visual effects. Once enrolled, these students have the unique opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals in our partner company on actual projects for the film and advertising industries. A Daemen student intern, for example, just helped resurrect Charlie the Tuna for StarKist.

Unfortunately Mr. Olson is on a road to hell paved with good intentions. If you’re a reader of my blog you’ve known about the Digital Domain Institute fiasco where Florida State University tried a similar student program that bankrupted Digital Domain that left Florida taxpayers with a $100 million hole in their pockets.

Secondly, Mr. Olson wrongfully believes he is saving the VFX industry by utilizing a tool that is actually destroying it: Subsidies. The Oscar march was not about protesting foreign outsourcing, it was a demonstration for an end to the subsidy race that causes an infinite cycle of displacement and to generate support for our legal effort against subsidies.

Mr. Olson also fails to recognize how unattractive his school’s program is for VFX. Does anyone seriously think a company that employs students that just learned roto, paint, and matchmoving is somehow going to even compete with New Zealand powerhouse Weta Digital?

New York’s film subsidy program is also very unattractive for VFX. In Canada, they have a permanent uncapped subsidy program that pays 60% of resident salaries. The program in NY is capped at a measly $7M a year going up to $25M in 2015. Why would a producer want to do their VFX work there when you get more bang for your buck and more free money across the border?

The real reason why Governor Cuomo is giving away NY taxpayer money to the movie studios based in Los Angeles (even though his own tax commission seriously questioned it) is because he and other NY politicians have received so much money from the film industry.

Last January I had the pleasure to meet with NY VFX pros and I said I hope to work together more often on these issues. If you are a NY VFX pro with the same concerns I have about this program, please send any comments to Thomas Regan, Associate Counsel at tregan@esd.ny.gov by 5pm on Monday, March 31, 2014 as they are reviewing the program.

Soldier On.

7 Responses to Daemen College Prez Wrong On VFX Solutions

  1. Eric says:

    I just read the article. I will say that the fact that they are located in an area with extremely affordable overhead/cost of living is a step in the right direction.

    However when I read this: “Porcari said. “There is so much of a backlog of production work in New York they are looking for options, and from our initial contact with our clientele, they are very excited about this project. They are just waiting for us to be ready to accept work.”

    Bullshit. There is no backlog of production in NY. That’s a soundbyte.

    I don’t know who all of these people are at Empire VFX. I don’t know what they have actually done in the industry, but what I keep coming back to is the method in which VFX jobs are run. Too often there is a fundamental lack of understanding how the process works and until there is something in place that rewards well educated and prepared film makers, nothing is going to change.

    So what are the odds that these folks will be offering work at a drastically cut day rate? Probably pretty high. The problem is that I don’t expect it to be any different. The majority of people will not be staff so you’ll just have another transient worker population. I think at it’s heart you have a company and a school that no one has ever heard of trying to get tax dollars to help them get started in a city that no one really wants to relocate to. At the end of the day the company’s VFX executive staff that will do really well financially, subsidized by the tax payers, even if the company itself will barely make a profit on it’s own. The school looks to gain tax dollars, students and prestige. It also won’t hurt the college president’s resume and potential for a nice fat raise if he pulls it off. So in the end what does it do to change the root of the problem with VFX? You’re still gonna have directors and producers wasting millions of dollars and thousands of man hours perpetuating this fly-by-the seat-of-your-pants, we’ll-fix-it-in-post method of film making. Perhaps if there was language written into any subsidy agreement that would benefit the VFX talent and the tax payers in case they try to pull a fast one (like that fuckwit Textor from Digital Domain perpetrated in Florida), I would be a lot less pessimistic.

    I could be wrong, I don’t think I am very far off base.

    • Call me crazy... says:

      Live in Buffalo where the cost of living is less and have to deal with or live in Vancouver where it costs more? Sorry NY, I’ve lived upstate before. I’m heading to Vancouver.

      • polyphemus says:

        VFX is more mobile than a lot of aspects of film making but who the heck wants to live in Buffalo in a one studio town? The Imageworks New Mexico thing was a great idea as an argument for cost of living until… Sony went away. And the cost of living… well that gets used against you as well.. talk to anyone at Reel Fx and they bring up how cheap it is to live in Dallas but then they offset that with a much lower wage so there is no advantage.

        If living in a cost effective city is important, I’d move over to Gaming and have way more choices on places to work. Of course you know what they say about grass on the other side of the fence….

  2. obles says:

    And Framestore Bournemouth. This seems to be the big trend now in production cost costing, mixed in with some regional education funding from the taxpayer. Just have a look at some of the brochures these institutes fill their students heads’ with. Financial brokers couldn’t make these kind of claims if you were selling investment products but its just the kind of language and marketing used to entice naive students. You don’t want to study stuffy old law or engineering, no, you need a degree in maya and nuke! Of course, we are assuming that are presentation will so emotionally entice you that you will forget to research the viability and state of all this to the industry and your career prospects. And while you are studying, we let you work for us for free on out productions! Hot diggerty!

    Seems like John Textor was a visionary after all.

  3. tiki says:

    The same thing is happening here in SF with the Academy of Art: they’ve done effects work for free on Beasts of the Southern Wild and Fruitvale…more are in the works. http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Academy-of-Art-students-work-on-Beasts-3743278.php

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