We've Got Hollywood Covered

Why the Bidding Process Is Killing the Visual Effects Industry

Guest blog: The studios want to keep visual-effects artists and vendors in a weakened state so they won't organize

The visual-effects bidding process just makes everyone lazy.

Face it, no one is bidding on anything on this planet the way visual-effects vendors have been. Rhythm & Hues was grasping its Oscar in one hand while its feet were standing in bankruptcy court. Shameful, really, for the industry to allow that to happen. We were all bankrupt that day. No other component of the production comes anywhere near the fatality we are seeing in visual effects.

Visual-effects vendors build skyscrapers based on a napkin drawings and then are told to tear them down and rebuild them on their own dime. They say they’d need to examine our books if we worked on billable hours? Lawyers and plumbers and construction contractors don’t have to. Why should we?

Talent and branding is proof enough. No one else in production or in post-production are bidding themselves into bankruptcy. Who masterminded this stuff?

Also read: Why Videoconferencing Is Killing the VFX Industry

Hollywood is wearing its fear on its sleeve? What are they so afraid of? That visual-effects artists and vendors will organize if not kept in a weakened state? Prize race horses don’t ever get beaten or purposely run into walls. We try to make sense of this.

Doing visual effects on fixed prices seems advantageous to an oligopoly but contains vast undercurrents of deep disadvantages to the story, promoting dilution, waste, lack of direction and the resulting and immeasurable financial loss. I think we’ve seen enough proof of that. No need to repeat the experiment. Math classes won’t help the masters of subtraction.

Directors are no longer required to be involved with the visual-effects talent. They are spoon-fed their monthlies from the black box by a creative hierarchy. They are just an occasional spectator. Direction has been subcontracted and lost.

Stories are manufactured assembly-line style, based on last years bestselling model — and all out of fear instead of creativity. The eye candy piñata will hang tight for one more round. The meter is off.

In this world, the lonely visual-effects artists will make what they think is the right image based on a paragraph, an email, someone whirling their hands about in a circular motion on a fuzzy video chat or, worse, with a little red laser dot or a transmitted and childlike mouse drawn overlay. After this guesswork, their lead will suggest changes, the sequence supervisor will suggest changes, the shops VFX supervisor will suggest changes.

The artists find themselves on version 50 and the VFX supervisor on the client side has not even seen a thing yet … never mind the director, or the studio executive holding the strings and stirring the pot. Supervisors add their colors to the mix until the palette is a bland brown. Wash, rinse, repeat this waste.

Wasted time, wasted energy, wasted creativity and eventually the most valuable software you have, the mind of the artist, gets the virus of apathy, and valuable creativity is stunted and lost. The system that is in place becomes a creative tomb, the movie gets a cryptic version of what it could have contained and this all slips past us and cannot be measured … until if fails.

Next, I'll discuss why visual effects artists are being abused…


Dave Rand is a senior visual effects artist or 20 years. He has been a spokesperson for his industry for several years and helped recover funds for many unpaid artists, mostly outside the USA. He has helped develop successful alternative business models (cost plus productions) and worked on many profitable shows because of them. Currently a member of the Animation Guild, he has worked for union and non-union shops, internationally and domestically. He was worked for a many shops and studios and was on the staff of five major effects companies that have suffered failure. He has created VFX content and often supervised such films as "Life of Pi," "Seventh Son," "Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon," "The Matrix" and "Fantastic Four."

He will be speaking at SIGGRAPH along with some of his colleagues on July 25.