‘Noah’ VFX Firm Loses a Bundle on Biblical Epic (Exclusive)

'Noah' VFX Firm Loses a Bundle on Biblical Epic (Exclusive)

“We over-extended ourselves considerably,” Look Effects President and Co-Founder Mark Driscoll tells TheWrap

Darren Aronofsky's “Noah” is awash in water, and the complicated work required to bring the biblical flood to the big screen has left one special effects vendor scrambling to get out of a financial hole.

Look Effects President and Co-Founder Mark Driscoll told TheWrap that the company lost “a lot of money” on the ambitious project, which took longer to complete than expected.

“We over-extended ourselves considerably,” Driscoll said of the company's “Noah” work. “We took on a bunch of work in our interest to be world class artists and to take our company to the next level and extend our capabilities, and it ended up taking more than we thought it was going to take.”

“It was a labor of love, and Paramount was extremely impressed with the work we created, but what it meant for Look is we ended up losing a lot of money,” he added. “It was hard and challenging to get through it, but it definitely caused some financial difficulties.”

Also read: Darren Aronofsky Knew Nothing About Paramount's Last-Minute ‘Noah’ Changes (Exclusive)

The “Noah” work was done in Look's New York facility. Driscoll said his company has been able to soldier on, because it has made a profit on a series of other projects from its Vancouver, Canada; Stuttgart, Germany and Los Angeles branches, including such projects as “Game of Thrones,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” However those profits have gone to cover the overages on “Noah.”

The company has roughly 80 employees worldwide and during peak times employs more than 100 people.

The visual effects business is a notoriously low-margin one. It's made more difficult because the system requires vendors such as Look to submit fixed bids on projects. Many cost-overages become theirs to shoulder. In the case of “Noah,” Driscoll said his company did not ask Paramount, the studio behind the project, to assume the extra costs. He said the only discussions they had about additional money had to do with extra material that the production added after the bids had been accepted — a standard procedure in the industry.

“Paramount was fabulous to work with,” Driscoll said. “They knew we were taking it in the shorts and they were extremely supportive. They did what they could to ease the pain in places.”

Also read: ‘Noah': Middle East Censors Block Release of Biblical Epic

He said Look Effects’ core creative team has remained in place and that its work has not flagged despite the cash flow headaches associated with “Noah.” Future projects include the World War II drama “Fury,” AMC's  Revolutionary War spy thriller “Turn” and the upcoming season of “Game of Thrones.”

“I've been honest with everyone who works here and I've set expectations properly,” he said.

  • Dave Rand

    Noah, how long can you tread water ?

    • Daniel

      for your job and mine, I hope a long time.

  • Quality vs quantity

    so is this their explanation for missed paychecks or forced 4 day weeks?

  • Mary

    So, they are bragging. I mean, what was the point of this story? That they did a good job? That their love for their work is more important than money?

    • vfxfan

      It's more of a comment on how broken the system really is. VFX houses see little to no return after giving their all in a labor of love while creating the majority of the VFX that drive audiences to the theatres in the first place.

      • Rick Sander

        The margins are so tight and then a mistake blows the budget. It's aweful.

        • You Derptard

          I'm all for more shops working remotely as freelance shelters. Freelancers are responsible for their own gear/adequate bandwidth and work is done remotely. It's being done at some places.

          • Rick Sander

            Full disclosure, I have a studio near Culver City and deal with these sorts of issues all day long. It's very easy to grab at these types of solutions, but there are a lot of reasons why remote work, among similar ideas, doesnt work. First, work needs to be archived, raided and backed-up one off site. Film studios also impose, and are right to do it, a lot of security restrictions to ensure work and proprietary info doesn't leak, and that again, work is archived properly. Second, this work is very collaborative. You need a lot of people all in one place talking and cross checking constantly to ensure everyone's efforts will actually produce results. Imagine being a supervisor, checking remote work across 24 time zones, discussing the work and progress separately with people who cannot benefit from each other's learning. Now, add in how to track that work, pay between a dozen and a hundred artists separately, deal with their immigration and tax status around the country or world. You can see how this gets out of hand quickly.

          • Michael

            Yeah, that's going to work really well with huge alembic caches and deep data which is exactly what this show was about. Are you even in the industry, or are you just completely out of touch?

  • Mary

    They CHOSE to lose money on this project. TMI. Everyone just loves posting something about Noah.

    • You Derptard

      Yes.. everyone does… YOU included.

  • Sioxie

    I wonder if the Director, producer, exec producer, star will be willing to cover the financial loss? This fixed bid crap has got to stop. At least when the work goes beyond the scope, it should be classified as a change order and then either charge more or give the studio the shot that they paid for – if more VFX houses did this the industry wouldn't be so strife with these stories.

    • Rick Sander

      VFX companies have very little power to insist on various financial arrangements. It's a rough business and there are always other companies willing to take the work and lose money on it.

      • VFX Companies are Terribly Run

        You can make more money opening a 1-800-got-junk franchise and work for better people too.

        • Rick Sander

          That i do not doubt. :)

        • Ross

          You can also make more as Plumber, a Welder, a Pipefitter, a HEavy Duty Mechanic! :D

  • Michael

    Look Effects may have been pressured in the same shitty way all studios put pressure on vfx companies, but they fucked their bid up. They are a company that thought they could turn in mediocre work, cutting corners and they got in over their heads. They are not used to work of this technical complexity and did not realise the resources required. In the end, they paid more digging themselves out of a hole than they would of if they had paid up front for the required resources needed by the NY office. They are now using their employees and freelancers for an interest free loan by withholding pay. Some freelancers are 6 weeks overdue, and staff are dipping into their IRA's.

    • Mel Lewis

      Really Dude? You just sound like a bad disgruntled VFX artist who was part of the problem and couldn't cut it on something this complex. Were you responsible for mediocre work?

      • Michael

        No, I wasn't “responsible for mediocre work”. It seems you've misunderstood my post “dude”, I suggest you re-read it.

        • Sandy

          From your comments above, as well as below, you're either a current or past employee. I agree it doesn't sound great, but we also shouldn't assume unless we have all the facts. Whats written online or in print is permanent. Visual effects, whether its here in NY, LA, or anywhere around the world is in a challenging place. Speculating only hurts our cause.

        • You Derptard

          no. we understood correctly. Chances are you didn't land the work and you're pissing on those who did the work for the film. It's great when asstards like yourself can backstab others in the industry just because you didn't land the gig.

          • Michael

            Who is “we”? LookFX LA? Are you senior management doing damage control? I worked on Noah in NYC. Despite all the shittiness from LA, I did good work on the show, had a fucking blast in Williamsburg and got some nice shots for my reel. I'm cool because I finally got paid. The method I used for payment of the last few months Look owed me was that I threatened to go public about the backpay issue that we all experienced. I also said I would call the IRS and/or the Dept of Labor since I was misclassified as 1099. A check appeared in 24 hours for all money owed. I'm disgusted that some senior freelancers and staff who contributed amazing work are still unpaid by this shitty company.

          • Sandy

            “we” was in the visual effects community as a whole. You took something private and now involved every other employee at the company by going public. I'm not saying you don't deseve to be pissed, I'm just saying the article isn't read just by NYC – the community is a bit larger than just your city, and “we” (the community) should pause before doing something that affect fellow artists.

          • scottjt

            Somebody should have told the producers of Noah that you can't scale water…..

            If the job cost more but netted real results for the studio, give the effects ccompany a payment corridor on the back end. Either that or a low interest loan for the company so they can pay the workers.

            The executive irresponsibility is inexcusable. But with the mistake already made, the only solution is to work together to make the workers whole.

            Als

      • Jason

        Lol, ‘part of the problem'. Loving this stupid crab mentality.

        • You Derptard

          make sense when you cut people down..

      • Rick Sander

        As a very disgruntled VFX artist, I will share this. There are very few jobs that various governments started to subsidize at a loss in net benefits to themselves within the past decade like production work generally and vfx specifically. We're not all sour grapes because something, like printing vs digital, has passed us by and we couldn't adapt. There are hundreds of millions of subsidies for some reason spent by various state, provincial and federal governments to artificially pull jobs to one place or another. The problem isn't that I can't get a job. The problem is that I'm sick of having to move every six months to be part of whatever the latest government scheme is to draw temporary jobs to their doors. And seriously my friends. We're all just talking. We dont all need to deal with the judgement you might be casually throwing around. I assure you that if tomorrow, another state, city or foreign government decided to start paying 40-70% of the costs of doing your job and you had to uproot to follow the buffalo, you'd be pissed too. We didn't make some mistake or expect welfare. We chose a 21st century, creative and technically skilled career that millions of people get the value of – except for us – thanks to your local governments. Don't blame us for not keeping silent while big business and big government collude.

  • aanonn

    It just keeps happening. Again and again and again.
    It's very depressing because VF are over 90% of some movies and the only people collecting cash and awards are people that have little to do with the actual making of the projects.
    There is a great video to watch : LIFE AFTER PI

    • Helder Pinto

      Yeap, no one said life was fair but this is one step too far.

  • Nicholas Mills

    80 people isn't many.. at all.

    • Big Dog

      This is really rough

    • You Derptard

      tell that to each of them individually. Have fun, insensitive prick. I hope that promotion at Dominos comes through for you. Hack.

      • Nicholas Mills

        You've jumped the gun and misunderstood me completely here mate. 80 people working on a feature film doesn't seem like a lot to me. Considering at my work we peak at 2000 when the pressure is on.

        ~ that said the article could be missleading in that while the company employs 80 to 100 people, it has a wealth of contractors (as is common practice).

        ~ insensetivity is the last thing I am on this issue, it's my livelyhood too.

  • Jason

    Big surprise there. More and more VFX studios are going out of business while VFX artists pay the price. Meanwhile said VFX movies make record breaking profits.

  • joe

    Sounds like the management and producers at LookFX are either A) incompetent, and can't bid a show. B) have no balls to stand up to a client that is pushing for work that wasn't paid for or C) both.

    • Michael

      LA bid two weeks to build a bird feather pipeline. That's what you get when guys who work on Bones do the bid.

    • Rick

      You left out D) More facts are needed

    • You Derptard

      Hahaha sounds like another derpy web know it all. Studios (aka clients) are pushing ALL shops to do fixed pricing.
      Studios knowingly understand that fixed pricing will kill off shops but don't care as long as the shots are delivered. Why don't they care? Because they know the mentality of the artist is to move to another shop or stand up their own, thinking they can manage it better. It's a vicious cycle where the only people winning are the studios. The bottom line is, a shop pushes back on the studio, the studio goes elsewhere..and guaranteed some other place will do the work, even if the work is subpar in places like China or India.

      • Benoit Delaunay

        Why so much fuss if vfx houses know it and are okay with it ? The day they start turning down shitty offers from studios, things will change.

      • Rick Sander

        Hey there, the work isn't really going to places like China and India. The work is going to British Commonwealth places with government paid tax incentives.

  • VFX Companies are Terribly Run

    “Paramount was fabulous to work with,” Driscoll said. “They knew we were taking it in the shorts and they were extremely supportive. They did what they could to ease the pain in places.”

    So easily gulled, you naive soul.

    • You Derptard

      and yet you Derp-speak. The last thing Driscoll needs to do is bad mouth a studio he is still waiting for a check from. You never burn bridges in this industry, especially with those who have the money. You should just quit responding.

    • Rick Sander

      What's he going to say, the client sucked? Remember, everything you read is PR.

  • Ru

    The second most discerning aspect of our VFX demise is how cynical we are as an industry. Just reading some of the comments on this article is pretty rough. Instead of grouping together we sling comments back and forth at each other.

    • Benoit Delaunay

      This applies to vfx houses too. I was told countless times to turn down a job offer when the paycheck is shitty because it is a no-win for everyone in the industry. That's grouping.

      • Rick Sander

        I dont think people make decisions about what is shitty for the industry. People make decisions about what is good, or what they might believe is good for them at the time. Sometimes, you just need to get some cash flowing and you want to survive a little longer with the hopes that there will be overages or that more work will grow out of the current crappy contract.

        • Benoit Delaunay

          Someone has to start saying no for the prices to go up. The situation atm is not sustainable.

  • James Griggs

    If VFX firms are continually taking a hit, why not change the model and work for free? My suggesting is do the work for free and only take a percentage of gross boxoffice revenue. Again GROSS revenue, not NET.

    • http://www.google.com/ haydesigner

      Any exactly *which* studio do you think is going offer that…??

    • Roger Doger

      Better yet, why don't the actors work for free, and the DP, and the director, why not everybody?

      • James Griggs

        I'm proposing that too. As a matter of fact William Shatner made a lot of money that way from Priceline.

  • Cement Head

    I wonder how often they got from the Studio brass “Could you change this wave to go that way and the rain to fall that way?”

  • Benjamin Roussey

    This movie sucks. They warped the real version. God punishes man for sinning (prostitution/immoral marriage/gambling/extortion/fighting/gangs/conflicts/fraud/lying/deciept) – not for environmental reasons. The liberals in Hollywood are wrong again, sorry Crowe, you chose the wrong script this time. The gorgeous Jennifer Connelly will not save this film. This is not the first she has played in a dud (The Day the Earth Stood Still).

  • Benjamin Roussey

    FDR's policies prolonged Depression by 7 years, UCLA economists
    calculate Two UCLA economists say
    they have figured out why the Great Depression dragged on for almost 15 years,
    and they blame a suspect previously thought to be beyond reproach: President
    Franklin D. Roosevelt.

  • Benjamin Roussey

    “Give
    a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for
    a lifetime” New White House Proverb: Give a man a welfare check, a free
    cell phone with unlimited free minutes, cash for his clunker, food stamps,
    section 8 housing, free contraceptives, Medicaid, 5 years of unemployment
    checks, free meds, and they will vote for Democrats the rest of their
    life…even after they are deceased.

  • Vfx Marco

    Interesting, this article says LookEffects lost a lot of money but “soldier on” thx to the tv shows they got in post… The comments on the other hand say artist didn't get paid or are still waiting to recieve their backpay… What does “soldier on” mean, I wonder… -rhetorical. I feel for the artists that are kept waiting.

  • aanonn

    I know someone with an AMAZING resume, hired by a Canadian firm, then suddenly “let go of”, just so the Canadian company could get in a high profile project through the door.

    The person was intentionally let go of when the project arrived so the previous management didn't feel threatened by the new guy.

    The people running VFX are playing tricks and evil games on employees. Intentionally.

    Why ? HUGE subsidies. Low profits.

    That Canadian company could not afford high quality people, but now they can (for a few months) if they offered them a lower rate on top of the subsidies.

    VFX is full of backstabbing games.

    It's really become an evil worthless industry controlled by the most political, most cliquish and least talented. The VFX society in LA is it's rat's nest.

    All smiles, all lies, all games, all OT and no money.

    WORTHLESS.

    I know vfx academy award winners on major projects, that made billions for the studios, who have been blacklisted and now struggle for work.
    It's the “tallest poppy syndome” : if you are too good, people compete with lies and games.

    Competition with the director for the VFX sup's is a major issue.

    Why do you need a director (name) when some have very limited creative ideas, very limited technological knowledge and their only innovation seems to be new forms of meme replication ?

    It's become a sweat shop, of cheap labour, doing repetitive tasks who are hyper-politicised for the smallest actions.

    On top of the long hours, mental strain, and politics, what is left but beautiful images, no company and reduced value of the labour by politics.

    THAT is the real VFX “industry”.

  • Steve Bodiford

    What a dishonest headline. I wonder why?!! The movie isn't even out and the take on its gross has to be figured in unless VFX agreed to a set amount with no box office gain.

  • Bk

    In theory the solution is pretty simple but hard to practice. You can blame studios,VFX houses, or anyone else but the problem begins with us The ARTISTS….
    STOP GIVING AWAY YOUR JOB FOR NOTHING, because it is cool to work on this or that project this won't secure your future. This kind of mentality must change.

  • bussiness guy

    um, is this guy a dipshit ? this is what it cost, you invoice it. period. you order 10 entre's in resturaunt, you pay for that. not one .if it takes 500 man hrs instead of 100 you bill for that. in fact if you are any sort of 1/2 brain business person at 125 hrs you stop work and tell you client what its really going to take because at that point you know. you stop, tell them this is going to be the real cost and be ready for them to walk. period. end of story. don't be a dipshit !

  • Byah

    new documentary life after noah cause sounds like a rhythm and hues situation

  • Eddy

    I just had my car in the shop. At one point they said “you can have us do X however it will add 2 hours of labour to your bill” it will cost you Y$. It's your choice. Why on earth do VFX shops not operate the same way?

  • Shmonster

    I worked on this film at Look Effects and we just had a cast
    and crew screening last night, which I greatly enjoyed. (Nice to see
    everyone and also thank you Darren Aronofsky for taking the time to say a
    few words at BOTH screenings – there were too many of us to fit in just
    one.)

    Now, I'm a pretty feisty lady so I completely understand
    everyone wanting to put their 2 cents in, so I guess it's my turn to
    share now:

    I'm incredibly proud of the work that we did at
    Look Effects – we were a small crew of vfx professionals with few
    resources, and we did work that stands proudly alongside work by the
    greats like ILM.

    Everyone I worked with was talented,
    smart, enthusiastic and compassionate, and I'd gladly come back there to
    work with those same people again. My fantastic 3D supervisor, the amazing
    staffers and freelancers who united to get this done, everyone I worked
    with.

    I started as a New York VFX-er, but have worked at a lot
    of different companies, at different places in the world, which provides
    a frame of reference for comparison. At LookFX, we really utilized that
    common NYC VFX mentality where we each know how to do a variety of
    artistic and technical things, and we know how to jump in there and just
    make it work. Many of us having a lot of experience working on commercials
    contributes to that resourceful approach.

    Without huge
    preexisting pipelines, our team here just had to build it as we went.
    Being a small team, we had to each jump onto any task at hand as it came
    up, to utilize the time and resources as best we could. And I loved
    it!!

    I also found them to be respectful of my time. It's a
    delicate balance,
    because we really had to push and yes there were some periods
    of long hours. But I loved that if I needed a break or if I wanted to
    come in late because I had stayed late – this was accepted without
    question. My work was getting done, and that's what mattered, not
    wearing myself out to the point of exhaustion. I was lucky to have a
    supervisor that understood our work will be WORSE if we burn ourselves
    out, not better. This kind of attitude is an incredibly positive thing
    for our industry.

    The financial issues discussed in this
    article are problematic, yes, and I hope our industry can work to fix
    them. I, for one, try to do my part. But I would hate to see some really important
    positive results that we've seen here – particularly for the New York
    vfx scene – get overshadowed.

    There is a lot we here in NYC, and specifically
    the smart and talented Look Effects team, bring to the table. I proudly stand behind what we all did on Noah. I just wanted
    to share that.