Digital Domain, one of the largest visual effects companies in the U.S. has been going through some rough times. They were purchased by an investor a few years ago and went public a year ago with the mentality of creating an animation group to make their own movies (the IP that everyone says will save a visual effects company) along with setting up a school for visual effects students in FLorida with students paying tuition to actually work for free on some of the projects Digital Domain Media Group was planning to make there. They chose Florida because they (John Textor, head of DDMG) was able to talk the state and local governments to pay for much of this. And of course that all fell apart and the company went bankrupt... but not before they were able to sell the core of Digital Domain, it's visual effects company, to Galloping Horse (a media company from China) and Reliance (a huge company in India).
And of course this last week the employees there were given ultimatums to work at reduced salaries or consider themselves resigned. They have to decide by Monday. Evidently this applies to even those with contracts and at all ranges of jobs there. This occurred while they are working on large Hollywood projects.
Why was this done? I'm sure 'business' people in the acquiring companies looked at the numbers and wanted them to be even better. The easiest thing in the world to do for company management is to lower wages. That avoids the time and hassle about thinking about how to cut waste and how to be more efficient. Focus on the short term, ignore the long term issues. Forget the fact that the most important part of a visual effects company are the employees. Otherwise it's just a building with computers which anyone can setup.
I'm sure over a year ago most people working there thought everything was going reasonably. Not great and with need for improvement but at least they had jobs and DD was still in a reasonable place. No one would have predicted what actually happened this last year.
Those who signed on to work on the animation project and the 2D to 3D conversions and moved themselves and their families to Florida had no idea the rug would be pulled out from under them with no notice.
Those working at DD in Venice would have no idea that their company would go into bankruptcy and acquire new owners.
Those working at DD had no idea they'd be asked to reduce their wages out of the blue while working on a project.
I'm sure those working at Sony's New Mexico facility had little notice before that was closed. Or the Sony artists who were told they could work in Vancouver or quit.
And Double Negative recently laid off quite a number of people that didn't expect that to happen.
I think the key lesson here is no matter how safe you think you are, even if you're with a large company, even if you're in an area with plenty of film incentives, you may find the rug pulled from underneath you at anytime. You can't keep your head buried in the sand forever. You can't live in a magic bubble. Your incentives will not protect you forever.
Will you be willing to move to China and work in poor conditions at a fraction of your wages? Because that's where it's all headed at this point. The Chinese company that bought DD will be using it to train people to work in China.
And yet most of this seems to fall on deaf ears. According to many commentors on other forums they have no issue moving every year and dragging their families with them for no logical reason. Good luck with that.
In a short time most visual effects artists will have to make a decision if they haven't already.
Those at DD will have to make this decision by Monday.
1. Suck it up, roll with the punches and let the companies and studios disperse you randomly around the world for whatever wages and working conditions they choose.
2. Quit. Give up what you love. Go into something with more stability and less crazy hours.
3. Stand up and do something. Speak up. Group together. Stand together. Join a union. Think of better solutions.
Starting a visual effects company is not a solution.
Welcome to the new world order.
Site by and for Digitial Domain artists in regard to this issue
From VFXSoldier Digital Domain pay cuts
From this blog VFX Artists don't need to be taken advantage of
DD Info from VFXSoldier
Digital Domain purchased
DDGM files for bankruptcy
Digital Domain financial problems
From this blog:
Digital Domain plans to have paying students make up 30% of work force
Visual Effects Industry overview
Pass me the nail
Reminder for those in Southern California tomorrow:
Understanding Unions: The Good, The Bad & Unknown Of Forming A Visual Effects Collective Bargaining Organization
Be sure to RSVP at VES Event page
Saturday, December 1, 2012 from 9:30AM to 12:00PM
Los Angeles Film School Theater
6363 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028
Hopefully it will be clear and informative and not be rants about the auto industry and other chestnuts.
[Update 12/3/2012 fxGuide has a write up of the meeting. Video should be available at some time in future at the VES website for members. And yes, the auto industry was mentioned.]
Visual Effects Guilds
Visual Effects Union, Take 2
Unions, the Middle Class and Visual Effects
Using the nail
Unions, VFX working hours and environments
How do these things tie together?