With all the fuss around the bankruptcies of Visual Effects giants Rhythm and Hues and Digital Domain in the last few months, the Visual Effects industry seems like a scary place right now.
Yes, they did fire all those artists and yes, competition is raising and it really sucks if you’re caught in the middle of it. However, I think there is a more positive way to see it.
Let me be clear though, I completely believe that artists should be treated fairly, and even though, I haven’t had a ‘regular’ job in a long time and I’ve never been laid off, I do think that if you do, you should be notified with enough time and be compensated.
However, I am a believer in the free market and I tend to think more like an entrepreneur than an employee. So if you tend to have an employee mentality, this article might not be for you (read this one instead).
I already know I’m probably not going to win many friends in the Visual Effects industry with this article anyway, but here’s my theory:
I think all of this is a natural progression of the industry, I’m not saying the studios are saints, but you can’t blame them for looking for cheaper prices. That’s how free markets work.
The same thing happened to the optical effects houses back when they were displaced when digital effects came by the very same companies we’re talking about now.
Digital Domain and Rhythm and Hues were both founded in 1993 and 1987 respectively. Those were the early days of digital effects. Every effect had to be coded by expert programmers which meant VFX companies had to be software and hardware developers as well, which is in part what made visual effects incredibly expensive and specialized. (Why do you think Steve Jobs bought Pixar in the first place? He originally wanted to sell their software and hardware).
This incredibly high barrier of entry is exactly why those companies flourished though. Yes, it was very expensive to get in and develop everything, but at the same time, it meant that there were only so many companies around. And you know the thing about little competition, it means you can charge more… way more.
Of course, those days are long gone now. The most powerful tools like Nuke, After Effects, 3D Max and Maya are everywhere now. Any teenager with an internet connection and some determination can get and start learning those programs before they even start dating (trust me, I know). I was 17 when I started working as a 3D animator for Disney’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and by then, I had already been learning and experimenting with those programs for several years.
This abundance of access means that there are hundreds and hundreds of visual effects artists around the globe opening dozens of companies and creating tremendous competition for the traditional visual effects houses, and the main beneficiaries are of course the filmmakers, productions companies and studios, but also the visual effects artists, at least the ones that can learn to adapt to this new world.