VFX Students Paying To Work, May Help The Industry Overall

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A recent batch of articles and blog posts has brought attention to the fact that Digital Domain VFX studio in California, are now running a VFX school and having their students work at the their studio for free.
While this seems like this could be a negative move on the part of Digital Domain, the bigger picture may reveal that it could be beneficial to the entire area and could actually help increase the number of employment opportunities for these students in the long term.

In Quebec, Ubisoft did something similar to this a few years ago. They created a “Ubisoft School” in Montreal and the Government Of Quebec subsidized that school. In a very similar situation to what is going on at the DD, the institute was making money and generating more students than the number of job openings that were available in the company. Ubisoft also received about a 35% subsidy for the salaries of their employees. These were for all employees of Ubisoft, including juniors, interns and senior staff.

Scott Squires is a blogger for the popular VFX blog, Effects Corner. He had this to say about the situation:

“Getting into visual effects is hard. The visual effects industry is going through some rough transitions currently. Be ready to move elsewhere. No school can guarantee employment.”

He is right; it is a difficult industry that is going through some tough transitions, but subsidizing artists to get their first job is a factor that attracts business to the same area in which those schools are located. The more employers that exist in that area, the more schools will be created to satisfy the employment demand. In the case of Ubisoft, they ended up helping to create an industry cluster and thus attracted the attention of many other video game companies including Eidos, THQ & EA. Having a school, which consists of many students who will graduate with a higher quality of education, helps to increase the amount of companies who want to be in the area of those schools. This creates more employment and increases the chance of success for the graduates of these specialized schools.

Scott goes on to say:

“The CEO makes the mistake that labor is simply a commodity. If you went to school to be a painter of fine art, would you be happy when the school says at the end: “Sorry, there’s not much call for fine artists but there is a large need for house painters. Enjoy it.”

Here at Talk Management, we don’t think that unions solve the problem, and neither does raising government subsidies to establish a long-term vision. There are many examples of other Montreal based companies (in other economic sectors) who took the subsidies from the government for as long as they could, and when the subsidies ran out, they ended up closing shop and moving on to other areas where they could continue to receive other subsidies. Below are few examples of these companies:

  • General Motor (still haven’t repaid their 110M$ loan back to the Quebec Government)
  • Electrolux (still haven’t repaid their 2M$ loan back to the Quebec Government)
  • Montreal Shell Refinery

All of these companies closing up shop have had a significant impact on Montreal’s employment situation. The companies are now stuck when it comes to deciding where to establish productions in the various economic sectors. The idea is to “give us the money and we’ll create jobs in your jurisdiction,” but there’s no guarantee that these jobs will remain in the long term.

The Digital Domain institute (much like the Ubisoft School), is an unprecedented public-private partnership with The Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts. The institute gives students a “best of both worlds” experience. Through the program, students earn an accredited, four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the FSU College of Motion Picture Arts, while at the same time earning a Digital Arts 3 year Diploma in specialized areas of digital media production from DDI. This program could help to increase the quality of the education to fit the employment needs of the industry.

We believe that having effective and creative production management is the key to long-term success. This is done by establishing strong relationships with producers and keeping the positive cash flow for all production and postproduction vendors to stay out of the negative. You can also make a difference by respecting your workforce, and fighting for change orders, to help keep the studio’s ”head” out of the water.

In the end, whether you have subsidies or not, creating quality work and being receptive to the needs of your clients, is what will keep a studio in business. Today, one way to ensure that quality of work is to hire employees who have been properly educated to perform the allocated tasks, but also understand the artists and corporate responsibilities that come with facing challenges. Collaboration and communication between the workforce and the corporation is now the key for the survival of all parties.

What are your thoughts on this story? Please tell us your comments below.

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