Bobby Beck: A Vision for the Future of Animation and VFX


By: Animation Mentor
Mar
01
2013

Bobby Beck Speech Bobby Beck: A Vision for the Future of Animation and VFX

Rhythm & Hues … gone. Layoffs at Sony, DreamWorks, and other studios. What is going on here? How can Hollywood — the industry that literally creates the most successful films of all time — be struggling so badly?

WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? to name a few …

  • There is no real protection for visual effects studios and artists like there is in nearly every other area of filmmaking; i.e. actors, voice talent, editors, cinematographers, grips, etc.
  • Production studios want the lowest bid possible. This pits the VFX houses against each other, forcing them to underbid the work just to get the job. This, as we’ve seen, can backfire and allows VFX studios to either scrape by or, at worse, forces them to close.
  • Subsidies are distorting the actual costs of VFX work. Subsidies seem to be only benefiting the major production studios and not the VFX studios or artists themselves.

SOLVING THE VFX CHALLENGE ISN’T EASY
There are many conversations, protests, and petitions happening at the moment that are pushing to create the change needed to reinvigorate the VFX industry and improve the lives of artists.

Jeff Okun, chair of the Visual Effects Society (VES), in a recent blog post explains, “It is not enough for one company or one artist or one city, state, or country to do it alone. We must all do it. VES is committed to bringing the leaders of our industry together to take a fresh look at what a sustainable business model for the most people could and should be moving forward.”

A DIFFERENT FUTURE FOR ANIMATORS AND VFX ARTISTS
While I fully support the efforts to protect the animation and visual effects industry, I believe in a different future for VFX artists. To be clear, this future does not attempt to solve the challenges that the current VFX studios are having, which needs to be solved, nor is it an attempt to replace them. I alluded to this future in a recent blog post regarding my thoughts on the industry, and feel the need to share the vision I see and am dedicated to.

Every artist I know has a film idea, or watches a film and says, “I could make a better movie than that.”

What if there was a future where artists were not merely cogs in the wheel? What if — instead — they became the wheel itself? What could they do? Could they create the next Avengers? The next Life of Pi? What if artists owned the intellectual property and could work with alternative distribution channels wherein everyone was sharing the whole “Pi?” What if working through these alternative channels gave these artists the right to receive residuals, profit sharing, or royalties on the IP? What if there was a way to do this in a fully-distributed environment that accessed a super talented global network of artists? What if these artists could collaborate easily to create their visions without the burden of funding studio overhead? What if it wasn’t the same old “work-for-hire” game? What if animation and visual effects artists own the work they create?

This is the type of globalization I was talking about embracing in my previous post. It is an attempt to see an entrepreneurial future for artists that is built for the artists and supported by and large, by the artists themselves.

Is naivety getting the best of me? I think not. We were told that creating studio quality artists, forming friendships, and establishing professional connections would not be possible to do in an online, remote, and distributed network. Eight years later, we have proven that learning, creating, and collaborating online creates some of the most incredible work relationships, friendships, and work output ever.

The online, distributed, and remote production pipeline model is scalable. We know — we’re doing it right now. Why not take this and apply it to solving the VFX challenge?

The Animation Mentor vision is to create the future of filmmaking. We are passionate about being part of an artist-driven, filmmaking community that gives artists the recognition and reward they deserve. We have been working for the last two-and-a-half years to bring this future to life. We see a different future for animation and visual effects artists. It’s a bright future, and it’s closer than you might think.

Please contact me directly if you would like to get more involved: bobbyboom@animationmentor.com.

— Bobby Beck, CEO and Cofounder, Animation Mentor


  • Baba Farshnu

    Hi I am Baba Farashnu, I know you hate VFX in India because we also do VFX for 100 USD but that is the future and you need to destroy all the money in the world to change that. Good luck !

    • ibrahx

      You need to stop being so cheap and realized that you need to be respected and that you have more value than $100 usd a month, You need to respect other animators too, It’s obvious that you don’t really care about your future…so Good luck with that.

  • daren

    This sounds a lot like Image comics back in the 90s. Certainly a hopeful outlook

  • Elf

    It is difficult to stay optimistic about the state of the VFX industry if you are one of those many struggling artists out there. Where else if you are already a veteran, lucky enough to still be staying in a studio for many stable years, obviously you would stay optimistic and believe many others can be like yourself too. If you are one of those struggling artists out there that had to move everywhere for the past 10 – 15 years, affecting your relationship and family as a whole, maybe your opinion would differ.

    I think it is a very bad timing for Animation Mentor to open up a VFX class at a time like this. Artists are already competing furiously for the little to no job within USA, what’s next? Create even more competition for them and making money off hopeful students that majority will be graduating without a job? I have known seniors having to compete with juniors over cheaper wages, since studios are willing to take in cheap labor and train them from there instead of hiring a senior at a higher price to do the job. At the same time, what happens to students who can’t get the job? What do you do to help them after taking their money? Continue making more money off them by offering even more advance/ master classes?

    The VFX industry looks as though it’s glorious to work for, but doesn’t protect it’s dignity enough to not underbid on projects and let it snow ball to it’s current state. The price to pay for that few seconds of credit fame, is horrendous work hours for years, stressful relocation again and again, potentially a broken family or never able to start up one. Is it worth sacrificing your ‘life’ for this industry that doesn’t even get any respect in an award ceremony?

    In fact, training even more artists to this damaged industry is not going to help with anything, but make it worst. If you can figure out how to create more jobs than unemployed artists, that would have been better.

  • Jay

    I applaud your hopeful and sincere thinking. But I’m not sure how by pumping out VFX artist every 6-9 months out of your school is going to help the VFX industry. The industry is already flooded with a talented pool of artists as it is. All Animation Mentor seems to be doing is throwing more wood to the fire.

    • James

      I Jay, just to comment on the issue of not enough work… I am not sure if you work in the VFX industry but most people work about 50-90 hours a week. What happens when you divide that in half? You get 25-45 hours a week. Many health issues are caused by the extreme sleep deprivation, and lack of physical activity for months at a time, so I ask you this… why do you think there too many artists when in reality there is too much work? It is because of the underbidding, that forces less workers to do more work, not a lack of work itself. Double the workforce, and you have allowed ALL the artists to now work and share that load… and trust me there is plenty of money. Hope this insight from someone in the industry helps!

  • J

    It is easy to see how AM is flooding the market with more and more animators, possible even more future unemployed animators. But remember that AM had provided a lot of GOOD animators in recent years that helped to raise the bar. I myself am an AM alumni (one of the earlier graduating classes) and even I feel threatened by the newer, cheaper graduates coming out of AM. It’s extremely hypocritical of me to feel this way, but it’s human nature to think self-preservation. Anyway, what I’m saying is that it is unfair to think AM has any part in “ruining the industry.” The problems now are based on many many factors, and it’s tempting to pick on AM as a scapegoat. And remember that AM is a BUSINESS first. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. No one is forcing students to sign up. But I do agree…this is very very unfortunate timing, even though they’ve been working on the VFX program for years, with no knowledge that all this would happen.

    • J

      HUGE Lol’s over here on, “…With no knowledge that all this would happen.” Anyone in the industry could have seen this coming at least a few years out. Unless no one else saw it coming but me haha. I feel smarter now thanks J!

  • Bobby Beck

    First off I wanted to reply and say, “Thank you” to everyone who has emailed me in response to this post. It’s great to see so much support and that makes us know we’re headed in the right direction.

    We can’t think of a better time TO get into VFX education. We have the opportunity to really have a voice in all that is happening and truly help to shape a better future. We have made many strategic decisions to make this move consciously including forming an incredible board of advisors who have strong voices in the VFX world.

    The problem with the VFX industry is not that there are no jobs, there are jobs, the problem lies in the mechanism that funds the work itself – pitting studios against each other to get the lowest bid – and that must change.

    We waited to release our VFX program until we had something that was not just another VFX school – about 3 years. We wanted something that actually supported this vision of the future and we believe we have created this.

    It is in this very moment where the opportunity to shape the future lives, the tipping point. It will tip, and we have to believe there is something better and work towards building a strong future for artists and not throw our hands up and give in. That is simply not an option.

    • Tam

      Hi Bobby Beck,
      Thank you for your insight on this. I agree that it is not that there are no jobs, and there are jobs. But they are most often extremely short term jobs. They don’t last. I know ILM are mostly contract base, animators come and go. Many of them only get to work on a project for 2 to 7 months maybe, and left unemployed for the rest of the months in a year while struggling to find the next job. Same applies to a lot of other studios. Some feature studios also have a lot of Temp animator position too.

      The future of VFX industry at the moment looks grim, and no one should want to be a student at a time like this, or to actually fully invest into it. With the lay offs at DreamWorks, there will be a lot of artists out there competing for the same job as well. Students will have to realize that they have to compete with them, and some times some seniors are willing to take lesser wage just to put food on the table for their family.

      It’s not about throwing our hands up and give in, but this is to raise awareness and to understand that this industry is in a rather critical state. It is not a desirable industry for many to strive for right now, and it is not wise to delusion people into being optimistic about this VFX industry. It just will not magically turn better by turning out even MORE students, only to have many of them graduate, and face a horrible market. They could have invested their future into another field that they may have a better career in and maybe have VFX as a plan B or plan C that maybe it’d work out some day when it turns better. It’s people’s life we are talking about. Yes people make choices in their life, and are responsible about it. But I wouldn’t say that there’s a lot of opportunity for the VFX artists in the coming one or two years at least.

      And again, pumping out more students is not the answer to fix this industry, it’d be interesting to see if you can do the alternative that is to create more job than to create more unemployed artists.

      I have heard several of my peers tell me about how they never realize the industry can be this bad, and that the school never said anything about it. All they say is there’s jobs. Students were pumped out being optimistic, only to be slammed with the ‘horrendous reality’.. One famous animator I knew even say things like “got to pay your due” to the struggling student, well that was a huge slap in the face for students who are paying even more for the classes than that animator could have paid back in the days, worked even harder to keep up with the current standard of animation quality and works.

  • Paul

    As a new student I love Bobby’s Vision. I love the idea of being a TRUE part of a creative team. How cool would it be to write, direct, storyboard, concept design, model ect…. I know that in current situations the possibilities are slim to none. Besides, with all that I have been reading, what other choice will most of us have. As for younger competition, I have never liked to look at creativity or art as competition but it is what keeps us sharp. I have been looking at alumni’s amazing work and it inspires me to be better and excited me to start! As for AM doing something wrong by training students for this field. To me that makes no since. I am already an artist. They are just making me a better artist. After a lot of looking into schools I picked AM because I believe that they are the best fit for me. I want to be as good at what I love to do as I can be. Do I want to make money and support myself at the end of the day? Sure, BUT I can not control that. What I can control is my effort in being the best that I can. I don’t even officially start my journey with AM for another 3 weeks and I already know for a fact that I made the right choice. I truly hope the best for all directly effected by the recent down fall. it sucks and makes no since to me how the VFX industry in being treated. I can not imagine life without it!

    • Will

      Want to live in your reality. What land do you call it?

  • Will

    Studios only want AM grads and top A-List Animators. God help you if you’re one of the guys in the middle. The guys with experience but without the “power creative” or “A-List” label are quickly being deprived of opportunities. That’s what Animation Mentor and iAnimate are doing to this industry. This is not just about VFX studios competing for the lowest bid, and compensating with long hours, low pay and hire-to-fire practices. There is a significant group of experienced, hardworking talent that is being replaced with cheap labor. So if you’re a prospective AM student reading this, by all means, sign up! The odds are very likely that you’ll be hired upon graduation And yes, I know ..”Bitter, party of one, your table is ready.” What can I say.

    • will

      Last thing to add. My advice to the AM students. Stay cheap. Or be ready to knock off the top dogs.

    • http://twitter.com/bobbyboombeck Bobby Beck

      For the entire history of the industry, there has been competition for jobs, and all we are doing is giving our students the best possible chance of any student on the planet to be prepared to step into that job. The best artists will always be constantly striving to improve their skills, and those are the artists that will continue to find work. Our entire existence is dedicated to helping those who want to improve.

  • juancs123

    “What if animation and visual effects artists own the work they create?” oh no! the commies are coming! hahaha i’m joking. yea what bobby is saying sounds nice.

    I just believe that the 50-60-70 etc hours per week thing HAS to end. i don’t care how much you love animation, art, etc., you need a life. it’s not healthy to work so much, for me it makes me dislike animation, i really don’t like it as much as before. we should really divide work, 35-40 hours per week, hire more people.

  • http://www.facebook.com/animepauly Paul Borawski

    I am an AM Alumni from 2008, and I want to say while I still don’t have a job in the industry, I still think AM is a wonderful school, and I for one am very glad they are teaching VFX now. The reasons for me not being in the industry is that I am one of the mediocre animators and I live in Chicago, which doesn’t have a lot of work yet in this field. But I digress, and none of those factors are AM’s fault. The reason I am commenting on this is I am not understanding all of these naysayers and people whining about too many students. Bobby is talking about empowering artists to have their own IP and sell it and to collaborate with people all over the world to create their vision. So to the people that are complaining that AM is pumping out too many students that compete with lower wages, you are looking at it all wrong. Game studios are going through the same problem right now, but the indie game movement is exploding due to the turmoil at the big studios. I feel that VFX and animation could and should be going the same way. It’s hard to make it on your own and not everyone can do it, but if you collaborate and work together, you can probably make a beautiful film with 20 people that goes straight to netflix or some other channel. Yeah your film won’t be seen by as many people or make the millions, but that’s not why you are in this industry, right? Plus there are already sites out there that help you collaborate online, one being theoryanimation.com, whom most if not all the guys that started it are AM alumni. (Full disclosure I am working on a film right now in theory, but I have no affiliation with those guys other than through AM). We just want to make art, get paid, and go home and be with family. Nobody is an artist to be rich. Who knows, maybe AM will produce some films in the future? I like Bobby’s optimism and forethought on this subject. I think we need more forward thinking people in the industry like him.