The anonymous blogger behind an influential visual effects industry website called VFX Soldier revealed his identity this week while protesting foreign subsidies that he argues are decimating Hollywood jobs.
Daniel Lay, a 33-year old visual effects artist who has toiled for nearly a decade at such companies as Sony Pictures Imageworks, DreamWorks Animation and Hydraulx, said publicly that he is the force behind the blog that began in 2010 as a forum for discussing the business challenges that led to a spate of bankruptcies and outsourcing. Over the years, the site has chronicled the failures of Oscar-winning shops like Rhythm & Hues and Digital Domain, and has helped organize demonstrations, such as the protest that drew more than 40 visual effects workers that greeted President Barack Obama when he visited DreamWorks Animation on Tuesday.
“It was the right time to do it,” Lay told TheWrap. “I’ve been amazed by the outpouring of support I’ve received.”
Lay declined to identify where he is currently working, but said he was not concerned that his decision to turn a critical eye on the visual effects industry would limit his employment prospects. He said he was partly inspired to “come out,” because he had learned that people were actively trying to figure out his identity and was concerned that those individuals might misidentify the person behind VFX Soldier.
“They were actively trying to blacklist and intimidate people,” Lay said. “It made my blood boil.”
VFX Soldier was launched, because Lay said he believed that the media was falsely reporting that the visual effects industry was losing work to countries like China and India that offered cheaper labor. He said that the real culprit was not lower labor costs, but tax subsidies that made expensive cities like Vancouver and London more palatable for studios looking to reduce production costs.
“It wasn’t outsourcing, it was subsidies that were distorting the market,” Lay said. “People were talking about where the next subsidy would come from and asking where will I have to move next?”
The forum quickly grew into a gathering place for visual effects workers who were fed up with having to pack up and move to New Zealand, the United Kingdom or states like New Mexico — whatever far-flung locale was offering a more appealing package. It also became a focal point for discussions about what actions workers could take to stem the tide of outsourcing, from forming trade organizations to unionizing.
“We helped change the narrative,” Lay said. “We made the media aware of what the real issue is.”
Lay is moving beyond advocacy and into action. Last summer, he and other members of the visual effects industry commissioned a study from the D.C. law firm Picard, Kentz & Rowe that found that countervailing duties could be imposed on films that have benefited from foreign subsidies. If that happens, it would theoretically make the incentives offered by other countries less financially attractive to studios.
Whatever the next step will be, the blogger formerly known as VFX Soldier, has stepped out of the digital shadows to advocate as Daniel Lay.