Scott Squires: Visual effects service – The Big Picture

Another response to the issues that the VFX Townhall have brought up, Scott Squires writes a long post on what he sees as the big picture of the visual effects industry. This is required reading, folks, there will be a test.

When I think of a service I think of a dentist, a car shop where they work on your car or a plumber that comes to your house. In these cases they do work but don’t tend to produce anything. The costs are based on time and materials.

Custom manufacturing?
Should vfx be considered as custom manufacturing? We actually create something when we finish our work, whether it’s from scratch or a montage of material provided. That’s what the studios want, not the actual service part.

Here is where things get crazier. Each shot is unique like a snowflake. It’s own little world of issues, handwork and tweaks. You try like anything to make shots as consistent as possible and to be able to run them through the exact same process but it’s never full automated. For all the talk about computers in our business it’s still a very labor-intensive process. The number of people and the time required to do a shot from start to finish would astound most outsiders.

If you go to most manufactures and request custom work you will be required to make specific requirements in writing. (I.e. you want cabinet style 32 but in this specific color of blue. You want a custom cake that says Happy Birthday. It will be yellow cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate frosting.) And that is what you will get. They seldom show you the work in progress or have your input at every single stage. The other thing is a custom manufacture will tell you when it will be done. They dictate the schedule. In the film business it’s the opposite of all of this. The studio specifies when the delivery will be. It’s almost always less than the time that would have been arrived at by a normal scheduling process for the facility.

Scott wrote another article tonight which is equally worth your attention: Unions

I know some people are concerned a union will cause studios to leave the area and go elsewhere. Hey, it’s already happening without being a union and if you’re working under poor conditions or getting substandard pay it does it really matter if they leave?

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I think its pointless to try to fit vfx into an existing paradigm of business, VFX is the fusion of technology, design and arts. It is highly dependent on human beings who are trained to assess problems and create content with compelling results. I don’t think it takes a scientist to figure out that VFX is not like manufacturing in the broad sense. While there are pipelines and systems in place to facilitate the process, the actual process of vfx work requires a much more fluid environment than an assembly line. No sane director would ever throw a bunch shot list to an assembly line and expect coherent content to be created. VFX is a new field and it will require its own unique set of practices and standards. I think the entire industry is unsustainable as of right now. How many 40+ year old artist do you see doing actual vfx work at your office/studio? The thing is its too exhausting to work in this field and have a family and raise kids and be attentive to other things other than work.


I agree with Ruoyu1, Interesting ideals, but I think comparing the VFX industry to architecture is a bit more apt than cake and cabinet making. In the architectural process, the client involved every step of the way, they help determine the schedule, and budgetary concerns often dictate the creative — just like VFX. You wouldn’t hire an architect if you couldn’t have input. Cake and cabinet makers produce products that are the result of customized production templates, and creating those kinds of templates in VFX, by the author’s own admission (each shot is a snowflake, very true), is not how the process works.


As a motion graphics vfx guy in his late 40s i couldnt agree more about the state of the industry. I see young designers getting work here in sydney that pays less on an hourly basis than laying bricks for a living. Some sort of unionised system would protect the new guys and give a longer career to the old guys. Theres an extremely strong historical record in other careers that backs this up

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