It’s been a while since I’ve actively been blogging. A lot has been going on…Some good, some bad, and some that was necessary even if it didn’t feel good at the time.
As many of you who visit here regularly know, I’ve been working for Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic division since since 2006. That is no longer the case, officially, as of June 2, 2013 I’m no longer part of the company.
The company was purchased by Disney in 2012, Disney is taking the company into different directions, integrating a lot of operations from Lucasfilm into Disney’s extensive infrastructure, etc., etc. … Most of the stories are out there in the trade press, and you’ve probably heard about most of it already. It’s all very sad, a lot of folks lost jobs, and the company that George built is now a completely different place than it was six months ago.
What does that mean for me?
Well, a few things…First, I’m looking for work. Part of that involves examining my options, skills, strengths, and passions. I still have a lot of decisions to make. It would be very easy to fall back on my pre-2001 career, fully embrace traditional Information Systems and IT, and have a relatively good chance at winding up my career, here in the Bay Area, on a relatively safe path.
The thing is I didn’t switch careers all those years ago to follow a safe path…I did it because I was unfulfilled with what I was doing in IS Consulting, saw an opportunity to follow my passions back into film and video, and because my experience across both fields could allow me to do some very interesting things in the emerging field of digital media. I did it to follow people who inspire me, and who get me excited about getting up in the morning, and allow me to live a passion-filled, somewhat obsessed, life doing things that I actually give a damn about.
So yeah, to say I’m a bit conflicted right now would be a bit of an understatement.
The biggest thing this change offers is hope, and options. I’m no longer constrained by an employment agreement where any IP I create (artistic or technical) is automatically presumed to be the property of my employer. I no longer need to seek permission to work on web video, or any other projects, and am pretty much free to create whatever I want, for whatever audiences I want, any time I want. Likewise with my blogging…I am no longer constrained in topic or subject matter.
That’s a pretty big upside.
As for the Visual Effects industry itself, there is not a lot of upside there. What I’m seeing now is very similar to what happened to the IS consulting field in the U.S. during the ’90s, when corporate execs started seeing Information Systems as black-boxed commodities that were necessary, but deemed as too costly due to the (perceived) over-paid button pushers creating them, so everything started to get outsourced. Third-World vendors in China, India, and Russia, seemed to pop up overnight, and jobs were lost in this country to far less experienced, and far less costly, workers on the other side of the World. It took about 10-15 years for corporate execs to understand that, when it comes to IS, or anything else, you get what you pay for, and most of that ‘low cost’ global workforce turned out to be far less cost efficient, both in terms of product quality, and operational efficiency, than previously envisioned. A lot of the work has come back on-shore now, but not before playing havoc with hundreds of thousands of lives for the displaced workers in the interim.
Right now in VFX, we have a worldwide oversupply of creative capacity, and a studio mindset that doesn’t understand what VFX artists do. They know they need VFX to sell their tentpoles, but they don’t understand why they have to pay so much to have VFX artists in the U.S. create the effects…To these execs, it’s the computers that do the work, and their is no recognition, or understanding, of the marriage of artistic, technical, and aesthetic skills necessary to coax these machines into creating art. As a result, more-and-more work is being sent overseas, while domestic vendors are being driven into insolvency by having to underbid work just to keep cash flowing, with additional VFX shops closing their doors every month.
The result? Thousands of workers and their families faced with loss of jobs, incomes, and benefits, while the studios continue to rake in cash by the armored car loads.
There’s a lot of talk right now about trade organizations, labor unions, and other mechanisms to help mitigate some of these issues, and these are all good ideas that can help, but the reality is simple economics: As long as there is an oversupply of capacity creating downward pressure on VFX bids, the studios will continue to drive companies out of business, and artists out of jobs, until enough companies have folded, and enough artists have left the business, for the situation to correct itself.
It is a pretty damn bleak picture.
More in days to come…