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Worldsourcing: A Prime Focus on Global VFX Collaboration

COW Library : Art of the Edit : Mike Fink : Worldsourcing: A Prime Focus on Global VFX Collaboration
"Worldsourcing" A Prime Focus on Global VFX Creation
A Creative COW Magazine Extra

"Worldsourcing:" Focusing on Global VFX Collaboration

Mike Fink

Mike Fink
Prime Focus
Hollywood, California
© 2010, All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
After winning an Academy Award® for his VFX work on "The Golden Compass," Mike Fink's next direction could have taken him literally anywhere in the world. Here is the story of how a man who helped invent the concept of freelance visual effects supervisor found himself part of a company that is helping invent new kinds of global collaboration. It's not outsourcing. It's WORLD-sourcing.

[Ed note: Mike was so articulate in his telephone conversation with us that we're happy to present this to you as he told it to us.]

I started my career working on crews, more as a special effects guy than a visual effects guy, including for Douglas Trumbull for a while when I was just starting out. I wound up freelance and, along with one other guy in the business, pretty much invented the category of digital freelance visual effects supervisor. At that point, really didn’t exist.

In 2008, I joined Prime Focus, which is based in Mumbai. The branch here in North America was originally Frantic Films, and it was founded and run by a fellow named Chris Bond. I worked with Chris and his team while I was the Visual Effects Supervisor on “X-Men 2.” This was for about a year and a half, spanning 2001 to 2003. Frantic did almost all the pre-viz in the movie, as well as a number of complete sequences for the film, so I gained some appreciation for the company, and stayed in touch with Chris.

When I finished “The Golden Compass,” I came back to the US. I was working on “Tropic Thunder” when Chris gave me a call, and he told me that his company just got bought by Prime Focus, that things were getting really exciting, and what do I think about going back to a facility again and doing that kind of work. I said, “Actually, I’m really thinking about it.” For some reason, so were a lot of other people were also asking me the same question. There was a point where I had a chance to pick-and-choose, but because Chris was a friend, and I trusted his abilities and the people that he had built at Frantic, and I love the idea of a global visual effects facility, I joined Prime Focus.

Some Prime Focus projects. See here for more.
Prime Focus spot
Prime Focus VFX
Prime Focus international projects

My role is basically to be everybody’s conscience, and to keep people focused. It’s difficult when you’re working globally across cultures — and when I say “cultures,” I don’t just mean North America and India, which is what everybody thinks. There are also differences between the United States and Canada, differences between the United States and the UK, the UK and India…and yes, between the United States and India.

Part of my job is managing people’s expectations, getting them to understand what’s necessary. Really, my job is to try to frame all of that in a program that moves us forward, and lets us become the global company we want to be. Sometimes I’m recommending a certain software or hardware infrastructure. Sometimes I’m just saying that we need this person in this country, and that person in that country.

I was hired by Namit Malhotra, who’s the founder of the company, and the CEO of the global operation. He said, “We want Hollywood work to go from the United States to India, or Canada to India, or from the UK to wherever.” That’s great, I said, but before we do anything else, we have to make sure we can actually send the data back and forth — because at the time, we couldn’t do that.

It was very important to me that we have the basic infrastructure in place, because you don’t want to start recruiting artists, and training them to work globally, only to have them defeated by the network. That makes no sense at all. You want to have the network in place so that when these people start to crank out shots, you can work transparently between any offices in the world.

It took very little time to get our bandwidth up, because that’s fairly well-known technology. But to get everything in place around the world, getting all the software that we needed to talk to each other, and get people used to using it — it’s been a process over the last year and a half. We’re now at the place where we’re freely sending data back and forth between any of our facilities. We’re also starting to send much more work to India, because now we can.

It used to be that a lot of things got tried in commercials or music videos, and if they worked, then they would migrate into film. That was true until probably 10 years ago. But now the pipelines are so different now that there’s probably less migration from commercials to film, and more film development finding its way into commercials.

An example of how it used to work: the phrase “bullet time” is actually a trademark of Warner Bros., but the first bullet time shots were not done on “The Matrix.” We tested it when I was running Warner Digital in the mid-90s, and we used it on “Batman and Robin,” the last Batman movie that Joel Schumacher directed, which was released in 1997. Arnold Schwarzenegger played Mr. Freeze, and froze people while the camera kept moving – only nobody noticed because the people were frozen! Nothing was moving.

But BUF Compagnie in Paris was doing some really innovative stuff with the technique in the mid-90s, in commercials and music videos. That’s where people started to notice it, and that BUF technique is what migrated into “The Matrix” in 1999.

Another example: I directed the first Coca-Cola polar bear spot in 1993 -- which actually had nothing to do with the polar bears I worked on in “The Golden Compass.”

The Golden Compass
Courtesy New Line Cinema. Click for larger.

When I first started working on that movie, I went to dinner with one of the producers. In the middle of dinner, out of nowhere, she asked, ‘Who did those Coca-Cola polar bears?’ I said, “I did the first ones,” and she said, “Oh, that figures.”

Coca-Cola polar bears
Courtesy, The Coca-Cola Company.

When I did those Coca-Cola commercials, nobody had really seen 3D furry critters before. Rhythm and Hues had done some tests, and seeded the few bits of that into some movies, but there had never been a full-on furry 3D CG character. If you look at the spot today, it's laughable. It looks like pre-visualization! It’s so rudimentary, it's awful. But in 1993, it was absolutely groundbreaking.



In the meantime, I was invited to come to India to direct a commercial. I directed the live action in Mumbai, and worked for about a week with the animation team there to make the CG characters in the commercial.

Click image for larger
Mike Fink commercial for Prime Focus, India


I came back to the United States and continued to review work wherever I was. With less than two weeks to deliver the spot, I was in London, and I was still trying to get a certain kind of animation out of this one character. I was giving them notes while I was actually reviewing the animation on my iPhone. To be honest, I downloaded the spot and was sending notes back to Mumbai while my son was playing his jazz recital in London!

This process helped the team in India to realize what they were going to have to do to reach a certain level of quality and finesse for Western market. It made them appreciate a certain kind of workflow that they weren’t as familiar with. For a project now, we’ve actually sent three people to India, working with the teams there on software, production, and everything else to make sure that work on the project goes smoothly back and forth.

We’re about to start another project which will be much bigger, which will have a major Indian participation in visual effects and that’s going to be coordinated mostly between Vancouver and Mumbai. We have a team leaving next week for Mumbai and they will be working for about a week or two with the team in Mumbai getting all the last bits tied up on coordinating who does what, and when, and what happens between Mumbai and Vancouver.

It’s a complicated process and requires teams of people traveling from one place to another and it’s really starting to bear fruit. It’s exciting.

Beginning in 1997 with four core team members in a garage in Mumbai, Prime Focus has grown into the world’s leading Visual Entertainment Services group, employing over 1,200 staff in 15 offices, three continents and five timezones. Work includes film VFX and post, commercials, broadcast, music videos, corporate video, restoration and digital.

The first port of call was the UK, through the acquisition of VTR plc for GBP 4.7 million. Three more companies were also acquired and consolidated in the UK – Clear Post Production in the summer of 2006, then Machine and Clarke Associates in January 2008.

In 2007, Prime Focus expanded its reach into North America with the purchase of Post Logic Studios and Frantic Films for USD 43 million. These acquisitions allowed Prime Focus to offer cutting edge services and technology in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Prime Focus VFX software tools, developed in North America to solve complex production challenges on feature film VFX shots, are in use in many leading 3d animation and VFX facilities worldwide.

Prime Focus has North American offices in Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver and Winnipeg. Projects in these offices includes Avatar, Clash of the Titans (featuring the Prime Focus technology, View-D), The Twilight Saga, Tooth Fairy, I Am Yours (Beyonce), GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Storm (NBC), Who Was Jesus? (Discovery), No Fry Left Behind (McDonalds, DDB Chicago), and the restorations of Hondo and The Rules of The Game. Here are many more US examples.

UK offices include 37 Dean St. Soho, 58 Old Compton St. and 64 Dean St. Work done in UK offices includes: Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, 28 Weeks Later, The Last King of Scotland, Kingdom of Heaven and 28 Weeks Later in film; Wonders of the Solar System, How Earth Made Us, Poppy Shakespeare, Channel 4 idents, Superstorm, and Lost Cities of the Ancients; spots for Stella Artois (Mother), Battersea Dogs Home (The Love Commercial Prod. Company), and Canon EOS 7D ‘Take Stories’ (Dentsu London). Here are many more UK examples.

Prime Focus has Indian offices in Mumbai (4 offices), Hyderabad, Chennai, Goa and Bangalore. Film work there includes Paa, Kurbann, Wake Up Sid, Love Aaj Kal, Luck, Kambakkht Ishq, Tales of the River, Chandi Chowk to China, Ghajni, and Blue. Commercials include Volkswagen Beetle ‘Valet’ (DDB Mudra), Minto Fresh (DraftFCB Ultra), Bingo ‘Flying Kiss’ (Olgilvy & Mather India), and Champions League Twenty20 (JWT India). Here are many more examples from India.

And it’s not just one way. We are also learning from India. First of all, Prime Focus has a very large software development team in Bangalore, so on the technical side, there’s quite a bit of help that we’ve gotten from them. We also have a software team in Winnipeg as well, and we’re starting to bring those teams together so that they become more powerful by actually working together.

We are working on bringing teams of artists from India to the United States and Canada to work here. That is only difficult because all the visas are required, but everybody is eager to do it. The difference between artists in North America, London and India is really one of style — and their level of experience. That’s why getting people together really works, because people glean things from each other when they work together. “Oh, you can do that? I never knew that!” That often happens when we work with people from India. There are people there doing things we never knew could be done, because nobody told them that they couldn’t do them!

In North America, we have Siggraph, we have courses and papers. We hear, “This is the way you have to this.” And so our TDs often begin, “No, no, you can’t do it that way. You have to do it this way.” But the guys in India, they just do it their way, and it has worked. They tend to be bigger risk-takers. They’ll dive into a project or develop a look that’s different from anything we’ve seen before. We find the same thing whether you work in the UK, or Canada — the artists there have a different mindset than artists in the US, and so all of us have been learning from each other. It makes for a very interesting soup.

I’ve worked on big pictures, like “The Golden Compass,” that were global enterprises. It doesn’t get bigger than something like that, not really. The difference at Prime Focus is just that it never stops. It’s not just one project. It goes on forever.

That’s why pipeline and infrastructure are insanely important in this business. If you can’t move data efficiently between artists and between facilities, you’re not going to succeed, because you don’t want to be wasting artists time while they’re waiting for material to render, or while we’re waiting for material to transfer from one place to another. You simply don’t want them waiting. The biggest single cost we have is labor, and these are creative, innovative people. They don’t like to sit. They don’t want to be held up by their machine. They want to get iterations out. They want to see changes.

Prime Focus software, "Deadline." Click image for larger.Prime Focus Deadline

Data management often comes down to maintaining enough space on your servers, and maintaining enough access on your servers, that they aren’t being hit so badly on the network that the servers actually go slower, which can happen. You also have to have enough render nodes, and manage them so that you don’t wind up with a render queue 6 miles long. Otherwise, an artist puts a shot into render, and by the time it finishes, he forgot he was even working on that.

And then, when you’re trying to manage it internationally, it’s the same thing on a much larger scale. Prime Focus has a product called Deadline, a tool for managing renders and data flow. We sell it, and it was devised by Frantic because of the headaches in trying to keep all this stuff coordinated.

We used it on “Avatar,” along with some other software we developed. We did these rooms with huge numbers of graphic displays, huge numbers of elements within any shot.

Avatar screens“Avatar,” photo by Mark Fellman, courtesy Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

These shot could easily have a hundred or more rendered elements composited into it, so to know what to put up on what screen, at what time, down to the exact frame — we developed software for that. Otherwise, you would have a person assigning assets to every screen, maybe 50 of them, with the camera moving through the room, and multiple takes. The software that we wrote manages that, keeping track of continuity so that graphics are updated properly. Computers are great for mundane tasks, so we try to get them do that.

For all of the processes and products we develop, the goal is to let the artist be the artist.



Mike Fink, Prime Focus


Mike Fink is President, VFX Worldwide at Prime Focus, and works with VFX production on three continents, in five time zones. Mike was recognized in 2008 for his role as Senior Visual Effects Supervisor on “The Golden Compass” with an Academy Award®, a BAFTA award, and a VES nomination.

His award-winning career spans over three decades with a BAFTA nomination for “War Games" in 1983, four nominations for the Saturn award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, and BAFTA and Academy Award nominations for “Batman Returns” in 1993. He is also a founding member of the Visual Effects Society, and a member of the Executive Committee of the Visual Effects Branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


Mike Fink will also be participating in the panel discussion, “Complex and Competitive: Creating Visual Effects in a Global Economy,” at the National Association of Broadcasters Show in Las Vegas, Monday, April 12, 2010 5:00 PM. This session is presented in association with the Visual Effects Society.


Justified Shock and Awe among US artists
by mandeep singh
Hello there being a hardcore creative cow user i just happened to open this link as it had name Prime Focus in it. Being an Indian, i was interested to see was up with Prime Focus. But it seems that the article is becoming a hot bed for arguments regarding benefits and disadvantages of outsourcing or world sourcing or what ever you may call it. For the USA it simply means more job loss and insanely falling salaries. And even though i am indian and would love to see more US or Global work here, i think we as Indians would be feeling the same if say all our vfx work starts getting outsourced to even more inexpensive China, for example. As far as quality of work is concerned, it is undoubtedly the US artists whose work we take inspiration from , and who are in my opinion almost 15 years ahead of any other part of the world. VFX training in India was almost nill 12 years back , it was only when some US instructors showed up in private universities, younger people like me then started to consider vfx as real oppurtunity. But I think Mr Fink is just bieng too much criticised. Right now very handful of professionals can deliever quality of work but Prime Focus uses them mostly for local Film Industry. Which i would like to bring to notice to some of the arguing people , is second biggest next to Hollywood. Companies like Sony, Universal, Warner brothers have entered the indian market, they have by default become the biggest production houses. anyone or any company that was biggest earlier was almost eliminated coz they didnt had the money like these US giants. I dont think too many Indians made a fuss about it. But regardless of all that is said in this board. That yes if jobs from my country would start to be outsourced to china(coz it wont get any cheaper then that could it?) i would be worried. Its human nature, and rather then boldly adopting new outsourcing processes companies would really need to restrain themselves and study the overall implications of jumping into world sourcing free ride train. It's equally important for one to safe guard ones own countries industry. And i would say its pitty if someone blames Indians for this as Indians dont blame US companies of taking over major corporates in India. But definately companies need to think beyond simple logic of more cost savings.
My Apology
by Peter Gagnon
Ron, My remark was not meant to offend you and I do offer my sincerest apology. As I said earlier I do know the mighty good that you and CreativeCow have done for our community... for the industry as a whole and for me, I guess this article came at a tough time for our industry and for me and it struck a negative chord, as I hadn't seen anything else, not saying that it was not there... I just hadn't seen it. In addition I had also just read Mr Stranahan's open letter to James Cameron and the whole issue raised my hackles. It is very present in my day to day life as well, not only with productions leaving New York to go overseas but also leaving to go to other states. We here can't seem to win from losing.

You are an intelligent and well spoken debater, I have learned a lot from what you said and I know now that I need to seek even more knowledge to secure my future in the VFX world. My remark was off handed, it wasn't directed at you but the industry as a whole... but in my passion, I did not make that clear and I again I am sorry for that. Creative Cow has, for me, since it's inception been a source of inspiration, hope and knowledge that has helped me achieve my status as an Artist and for that I owe you a debt of gratitude. I think we both got overly exuberant in our debate, I too was hurt a little by your commentary... I realize know that it was not meant that way. I also have to point out that until now, I did not see your direct responses to my comments. Thank you for putting some personal perspective on where you are coming from, myself I just had twins and almost lost my wife in child birth, on top of that the job market here in NYC has been scary at best and the future is cloudy.
Peter, why turn this into a beligerent exaggeration of what is being said?
by Ron Lindeboom
We realize things are not going well for some people. BUT... It has been that way for someone somewhere for a long time now. (Try recorded history.) Unfortunately, this seems to be your turn. We agree it's painful. We wish we had all the answers. We don't. But as we have said repeatedly and you do not seem to want to address the point, it isn't going to change because we don't like it. To be honest, I wish the solutions were that simple; I'd have a lot more of them -- and you'd have yours, as well. As my dear ole sainted Dad used to say: "Don't like something? Do something about it. Bitchin' about it ain't gonna change anything." You know, the old man was right, as he often was.
All the Answers
by Peter Gagnon
Very well then, nothing is wrong... all is right with the industry and no one is being outsourced, everyone is altruistic and the little guy is doin' fine. If the VFX jobs moving outside the U.S. is a 'straw dog' then why are the majority of companies that are hiring now outside the U.S.?

Like I said before, this is a very complex issue, but can we see the artist perspective as well? I'm not saying that I am 100% right... I can only speak from my perspective and what I have seen in the industry and many times decisions are based on the bottom line, when I have seen that a lot of the time when you make decisions based on what is the right thing to do... artistically, story-wise, people-wise... that often turns out to be more lucrative in the long run. (I.E. Pixar, Google, Psyop, etc.)

BTW - the two US jobs listed at Prime Focus are systems admin and sales executive... I don't see any artist positions, perhaps I am going to the wrong link.
World turning...
by Tim Wilson
First, let's acknowledge that this is no longer about Prime Focus.
  • All four regions are robust
  • Each region is doing most of their work on their own region's productions
  • As many creative job listings for US as for India
  • Indian company sent $43 million INTO the US

That's fine, because the article, and the NAB panel that Mike will participate in, is meant to highlight issues, not present solutions that will apply to every circumstance.

For some of those, please discuss in the COW Business forum.

My problem with calling these world changes "unethical" reminds me of that scene in "Grapes of Wrath" where the guy brandishes a shotgun when his farm is foreclosed on. The guy doing the foreclosure is actually his neighbor - "You really going to shoot ME?" They talked through it together, and neither could figure out who to shoot.

So who's unethical? The American producer who chooses WETA because of their expertise? The studio whose budgets are shrinking? The investors who demand profitability? Canadians who are willing to forego tax revenue in exchange for jobs -- just as many American cities and states are doing?

How about the post people who are putting SFX artists and model shops out of business? Virtual sets that are shutting down location scouts, drivers, and others in local economies? The digital production and distribution pipelines that are decimating the celluloid film business?

At the end of the day, these are decisions that people make for the sake of preserving jobs, including jobs in the US.

Most important for framing the "follow the money" part of the discussion, many American jobs are being preserved by foreign investors. MGM's $3.7 billion debt is being held in Russia, Israel, the UK, Japan and India among many, many others. Those guys are going to take a bath - current sale prices for MGM are running in the $1.5+ billion range, but well short of the $2 billion those investors were hoping for - yes, hoping to limit their losses to only 50%. Lenders have not made clear whether they're even going to allow movie production to continue after the nearly inevitable restructuring.

Disney is trying to sell Miramax to cover debt, and getting literally nowhere. In the meantime - you guessed it - foreign investors...but also US stockholders who are also losing out.

Again, note that there are billions of dollars of foreign investment in EACH studio, exponentially outweighing the money being spent by US studios outside the US.

Where did all the money go? Much of the value of studios like MGM and Miramax is in the equity of their titles - but demand is falling, prices are falling even faster. Are audiences unethical for preferring iTunes and lower DVD prices?

So the studios suffer, and look for ways out. Is it ethical for them to let mothers and fathers lose the nest eggs they've invested in their love of the movies? Or is it more ethical for the studios to do what they can to make good on that trust?

Finally, I think that jobs leaving is something of a straw dog. Look at the credits on your favorite movies. Yeah, money is going to Canada, New Zealand, the UK and elsewhere, but most of the VFX in American movies is still coming from American artists. And the handful of jobs going out of the US are preserving many, many more jobs in everything from craft services to makeup to accounting to electrical - the hundreds of people in the credits of every movie who rely on movies getting made at all.

Outsourcing may be the best way -- maybe the only achievable way for now -- to preserve the *greatest* number of US jobs and the most stockholder value...and yet, you can see from the credits of movies that it's not happening as often as you think. And even where it is, it still has benefits. For an extreme example, "Avatar" outsourced some work - but are you really going to say that its production or post processes were unethical, or that they didn't add considerable value to the American VFX community along the way?

Look, nobody is happy to see anyone suffer from these changes. But it's not unethical for anybody to do what they can to secure the most good for the most people -- including their own families.

I'm giving the article another five stars for sparking such energetic replies. :-)
Creative COW Business forum
by Tim Wilson
re: NA creative jobs at Prime Focus: 3 more added today.

  • Editor. 3 years of VFX Production Experience, Advanced AVID software skills.
  • Nuke compositor. 4 years of VFX production experience required. "Experience with traditional drawing, painting, photography, and/or color theory a plus."
  • Stereoscopic producers (Peter: note plural). 5 years of VFX production experience required. "The ideal person will have worked on VFX Feature Projects, Commercial VFX, Music Videos, or Episodic VFX projects. Prior Stereoscopic experience is a big plus. The demands on the producer are extremely high."
  • Digital Restoration Technicians. 2 years experience required, strong roto/paint skills. Multiple positions, but freelance -- quite common of course. (The other jobs listed here are permanent positions.
  • DI Producer. 3+ yrs. DI experience, 5+ years overall post experience.
  • Digital Matte Painter. 5+ years experience. Long description, but I love this part: "...examining the film or tape plates, clips and stills of the background and/or principal action, as available; examining and evaluating the look of computer graphics, animation, 3D modeling and technical effects in an effort to integrate the digital matte painting."
  • Max/Maya Generalist. 3 years experience required. Special skills in lighting/rendering.

Those are just the ones open right now. Since 3 were added today, after 3 in March and 2 in Feb, I can only assume that a few more are coming soon.

Anyway, feel free to mock my positions - everybody else does! - but you also *exactly* reversed them in the process. The good news is that that saves me a bunch of time replying to you again (hahaha). Instead, I will use the time to invite you once again to start this conversation in the Business forum. The folks who frequent that forum really are very helpful, and are dealing with issues like these every day. Your perspective will be an invaluable one to add to the mix.
Human Nature
by Peter Gagnon
So it's human nature, so that makes it acceptable? For that logic... it's human nature to kill your competitors... why is that not still acceptable? Why? Because we all got together and decided that it was wrong, we still do it, but we accept that act as wrong and the 'good' of this world do what they can to prevent and combat this. I am not bemoaning the fact that the world has changed Mr. Lindeboom, I am saying straight up that what is happening is unethical and wrong. I am saying that promoting this behavior without looking for other solutions (not saying that you are not) or not talking about the struggle of artists in your country of residence is wrong. I am not saying that business should not be international, nor that all artists throughout the world shouldn't have an opportunity, I am saying that we should do more to compete as well as leveling the playing field. I am only asking for the opportunity to let my art speak for itself. I will ask for what the market will bear and I will do my best to save my clients money... but if I'm not even considered because I am an American, by American companies tell me... is that equitable? Or is it just human nature? This doesn't make me uncomfortable Mr Lindeboom, it threatens my family and that makes me angry... it makes me angry that in the corporate culture this behavior is promoted... it may be human nature, and it may be the best thing for business, but when will it be right? You are right about the real issue being the answer that will best provide for our family, but thus far I have not seen any insight into that issue. Once again, I have to say, because this is an emotional issue, I am sorry if my responses come out as vitriol. I do very much respect you Mr. Lindeboom and what you have done for our community as well as Mr. Fink but in this instance, I must respectfully disagree.

P.S. - I would love to go to N.A.B. to discuss this further, but I can't afford it as I am fighting to get work.

Ron Lindeboom replies directly: Peter, I never said that just because it is human nature that it makes it okay. I NEVER said that and the entire implied logic of everything I said is to the contrary. I was expressing the belief that humans judge things by what's expedient for us. We slide the relativistic scale of "justice" to favor whatever benefits us. Does that make it right? No. But it's a fact. Was it ethical when we took far more than our fair share of the world's productivity and resources because it benefited us? Did that make it right because it made it expedient for our circumstances -- helping us live well while much of the world lived below the poverty line? We weren't alone in this, and many of the more advanced cultures for hundreds of years oppressed poorer cultures around the world. That's ethical? Was I born with a silver spoon in my mouth and am I one of privilege who has done so well that I have no stress and can say these things because my life is easy? No. I have so little in my retirement fund that I will never be able to retire. Why? Kathlyn and I got sick with pneumonia 15 years ago and it destroyed our health for a few years and cleaned us out. Lost everything. Even today, we can't get health insurance without paying $8,000 a month for the two of us, which we can't afford. But we have to pay nearly $200,000 a year in taxes, of which an argument could be made that as a Californian and American, at least some of it is going to pay for people's health care that are not even citizens of the USA. Fair? I don't think so. Fought our way back in spite of health issues and carved out a way to make a living and hopefully build something that sustains us in the days ahead. And because of it, I look around the world and I see others struggling to do the same kinds of things and do it under the same kinds of adverse conditions, and I realize that the world is in a cycle of trying to address some of the longstanding issues and injustices that have been happening. Am I blind to the fact that NAFTA has shipped off many formerly-USA jobs to Canada and Mexico, and that while they can ship things into the USA without inspection or reservation in many cases, I can't send a magazine to Canada without filling out Customs papers -- and forget sending a COW t-shirt to a member in Mexico, even one from Hanes that says right on the label, "Hecho en Mexico." The world is full of insanity and injustice. Does it make it right? No. Is it fair? Hardly. But someday, we better learn to co-exist and compete with one another equitably or we will just keep killing each other endlessly. People deserve a chance to make a living and feed their families -- all people. And trust me, I am NOT saying that I don't agree with much of what you are saying -- merely that neither you nor I will stop the train by standing on the railroad tracks and shouting at it that it shouldn't be going this way. And neither am I saying that it's right.

End of soapbox. End of line...
Thanks Ron
by Peter Gagnon
This begs the question, am I not doing something about it? I am Ron, I do everyday... I struggle and I hustle and I make things happen... I keep it going through hard work, perseverance, and hopefully, talent. You have missed the point of what I am trying to say and instead decided that I am a whiny rube. I am not sir and frankly you have taken this to a place it did not need to go. You have not answered any of my direct questions. My point as you so valiantly deflected and skillfully misunderstood was we can put artistry, loyalty and talent above the quick buck and still be lucrative.

Ron's reply: I don't think you are a rube, Peter, and if that is how you are reading this, then I am sorry and offer you my apology. Like you, I am trying to figure this all out and while I am obviously looking at it from a different angle, I have said in a number of places that I understand your frustration and agree with it in many places. You are understandably frustrated -- and in many ways, I don't blame you for that. As you might have surmised from my own points, I too am quite frustrated with many things in the way things go in the rapidly changing world. But to answer the comment above: yes, we can have a world where artists rank above accountants and all we have to do to get there is change the way that business operates (which is in response to stockholders who expect a return on their investment, not a story about loyalty and artistic talent). That is not a slap at you, just the stark reality of business when your craft is part of a major business like the film industry.

I believe my other point was that I wanted to know if the Cow had any news articles, like this one... discussing these issues and their solutions for the artists. My Grandfather also had a couple of sayings, "Always fight for the little guy, and defend the weak." I'll try out yours if you try out mine.

Ron's reply: Wow. Now this one offends me. I have spent many millions of dollars that I have funneled into building a site that has a mission of helping people and trying to help make sense of the rapidly changing world of business and the crafts related to this field. Defend the weak? Been doing that for 15 years and for nearly half of that, it was in the red and we should have quit. People talked down to us, treated us like dirt, made it out that we didn't care about anything but money, and we kept doing this anyway. So, pardon me if I ask you for an apology now.
Business & Marketing
by Peter Gagnon
Mr Lindeboom, I will definitely check out the Business & Marketing forum and seek knowledge there as to how to stay on top... as I somewhat stated before I am not trying to disparage CreativeCow and I love the Cow, the cow has helped me out more times than I can remember but I still must take issue with some of your statements... "15% of the world's population, it consumed 40% of the world's resources" a very important factor left out in that statement is that we have provided 90% of the innovation, invention and standardization. The issue is that now it has become acceptable for American companies to maximize profits by cutting out those who created the innovation and selling the knowledge of that innovation to those that can mass produce it cheaply, this is completely understandable, but I as an artist can not do the same, therefore I am in a compromised position. I also would posit this to you as well, I know that the Business & Marketing is a place to discuss these issues and find knowledge but where are your articles, like this one discussing both sides of these issues? (I just haven't seen any, I'm not saying that they do not exist... I would like to read them so that I can be more knowledgeable about each aspect)
Dear Misters Monroy and Gagnon, et al...
by Ron Lindeboom
Peter Gagnon asked where our articles are on protecting jobs in the USA? To that, I would offer our Business & Marketing forum where we daily offer people ideas on how to compete and win in today's world -- though we would never reduce the argument to one of such parochialism.

I stare at a fast-changing world that is quickly becoming so inter-connected that the words "disruptive innovation" do not even come close to describing the almost bone-chilling degree of chaotic change that I see -- and I view it all from the perspective of a guy approaching 60 whose father lived in a world where Americans, Europeans and others lived in comfort while consuming far beyond their proportion of the world's resources. (I will leave Europeans to assess their own histories, but I once read that when America was about 15% of the world's population, it consumed 40% of the world's resources -- if my memory serves me well.)

I will leave it to you to argue that you think this is something that should have remained in place. But as for me, I think it should have been easy to predict that this kind of world couldn't continue in the face of such equalizing technologies as the internet and fiber-optic cables tied in a worldwide telephony system.

Something that I have learned over the years from the internet, is that as the old saying goes: it's hard to oppress educated masses. As peoples around the world become increasingly educated, they are competing for their piece of the pie. And as the internet grows into The Great Leveler, it becomes harder and harder to "put the genie back into the bottle."

I read somewhere that since the advent of the Internet, hundreds of local dialects have disappeared in less than a couple of decades. As things grow ever more inter-connected, languages disappear, cultures and histories are ravaged, and peoples and industries suffer from the disruptive technological forces that are reshaping the world in ways and at speeds never before seen in human history.

The days of my father's world in which 15% of the world's population enjoyed the benefits of 40% of the world's resources is gone. The playing field is being leveled. You are not going to change that.

Is it painful? Yes. My house dropped 40% in value in the past few years. (Though the payment hasn't and we pay the "merciless mortgage.") I work longer and longer hours just to make a living. My family is suffering and my son recently lost his business and he and his family had to live in a small travel trailer on his mother-in-law's property. We are not immune to the changes happening around us, I assure you.

Looking back at The Good Old Days seems popular today, more than ever. Memories are a good thing, they enrich our lives and they teach us things...but I sure don't want to try to live in them. I live in the world of today and will also occupy the future for as many days as God chooses to give me. But my father's world is gone and with it, all the guarantees, retirement programs, strong unions, and benefits that it enjoyed. I look at it longingly and wistfully, but I can't get back there. In its place is MY world and MY time in which I had better learn to compete and become a part of the answer, or like the dinosaurs, I will be replaced if I cannot change and adapt to this world of change -- and crying about it ain't gonna change nothing, as said my dear old Dad.

Some people choose to fight for their place in the foodchain as they've known it and I can't blame them for that. But others fight for their place in the future and do it from a different perspective and from a point of view that is borne of something new. I can't blame them either.

The puzzle is changing and we had better learn that we live in a new world of interlocking pieces and that we need to find how to make our own piece interlock with others with whom we can work effectively, productively and profitably.

There are no easy answers, though some answers may be found in our Business & Marketing forum. The future is coming at a breakneck pace that you can't escape and in ways that have even the experts scratching their heads in befuddlement.

The past isn't moving, it's dead. The present is in a state of flux that tries even the heartiest souls. How we ride these Times and Tides of Turbulence will determine our place in the days ahead.

The answers are not just technical, nor are they industrial. The fundamental shape of human interaction is on the table and is being dissected and reconstructed. Guttenburg had his printing press and it changed history. We have the internet, and I would argue that it is changing humanity itself.
Complex and Competitive...
by Tim Wilson, after all, the name of the panel on which Mike will be presenting at NAB. If you're going to be there, I suspect you'll find the conversation at least as lively as it is here!

As a moderator kind-of-guy, I appreciate that the conversation here has been respectful on what are admittedly hot issues.

Here are the North American job listings at Prime Focus. Two senior Hollywood jobs have been added just this month. Sure, not a ton of job listings, but a similar number of high-level creative positions at PF in the US as in India, which has a much, much larger film industry, as well as more people looking for jobs in general, in Indian offices that have been around far longer than in the US.

(Note that when I refer to India's film market being larger that this is not an issue of outsourcing - there are four times as many movies made in Bollywood each year as Hollywood, and a lot more TVs with spots to fill as well....)

Of course, the North American jobs are a few clicks further away those Indian and UK positions, hence my direct link. Overall, it appears that the UK is hottest right now - but how many jobs do you hear about being outsourced from the US to the UK, where costs are much higher? Each market has its own conditions.

And again, as a global organization, the COW has a slightly different perspective. The majority of our members will find the news that there are new positions in Canada, the UK and India to be GOOD news. And as the full picture of Prime Focus job listings shows, these are not necessarily, and certainly not always, at the expense of other regions -- at least at PF.

We've been working on another article about a UK company that has become one of the biggest players in the Chinese animation market. Traffic is moving in every direction. Complex and competitive indeed!

Thanks again for keeping it civil, even in disagreement and frustration. For some potential solutions for one's individual condition, it may be worth moving some aspects of these conversations to the COW's Business & Marketing forum. Issues like these are the bread and butter of that forum, and may be a bit more on-topic there.
And another thing...
by Peter Gagnon
I too, would like to express my deep admiration for Mr. Fink and also the work that he has done to expand the Visual Effects Industry. I would also like to point out having just gone to Prime Focus's recruitment site, it would appear that every single artist related profession that is open is in Vancouver, India and the U.K. My hope in saying this is not to cast myself in a poor light but to point out the disparities in our industry.
NOT outsourcing...
by Mauricio Monroy
Hello Mr. Wilson,

Let me first and foremost state that it is by no means my intention to spark a debate on what unfortunately has become a thorny issue in the visual effects industry.

I sincerely appreciate your additions to the article, they certainly shed more light on the subject at hand. However, based on my personal professional experience I would like to bring up a point.

The point I want to bring up is the inequality in competitive terms that arises from the unavoidable economic discrepancies between countries like the US, the UK, Canada or Australia, which are all in a quite equal, and competitively healthy playing field, and other countries like India, Malaysia and ever so growingly China, which are considerably less favourable for the general individual on economic terms.

I would never even dare to think of looking down upon any of these countries in terms of artistic/technical quality. I have several friends and colleagues in the industry that come from all of these countries or are actually working in them right now, and I have nothing but praise and admiration for their talent and skill. I myself studied VFX in Canada (Vancouver), and I am now currently employed by a mayor studio in London, so I understand and appreciate the benefits and wonders of a global VFX comunity. My point takes more form by mentioning that since neither the VES, ACM Siggraph or any other organization that gathers the VFX community is able, hopefully willing but just not able, to standardize salaries for the GLOBAL VFX industry, then it is just simple enough for an American producer to realize that there is no financial logic, in order to maximize profit, in keeping the VFX work for a film within the US or "western" effects houses, as there's simply no way we can compete in economical terms with the studios in Asia. Now, I am not saying that there is no work being done in the US or other "western" countries (that'd be downright silly), but every year that goes by I see less work available in the US and an increasing amount of shots being handled to asian shops or western subsidiaries in Asia. It started with very basic tasks like rotoscoping, but now Asian shops are also taking care of a bulk of matchmoving AND some of them are now even tackling basic composites. So I think it is time to raise a hand. I know very well why the "stereo conversion" rage is perfectly suited for a company as Prime Focus; because it takes tons of rotoscoping to do it, and they have a huge amount of artists at their disposal to do just that. But let's consider that just right now big name American trainers are providing top of the line VFX training to artists over there, and if it continues like this for a few years more it won't make sense for a producer to debate the point of where to assign the project's VFX budget, again, to maximize profit as much as posible.

In your article you mention what Mr. Malhotra said to Mr. Fink, and I want to read into it as objectively as posible. Allow me to quote him:

“We want Hollywood work to go from the United States to India, or Canada to India, or from the UK to wherever.”

That to me Mr. Wilson reads like: Yes, we want to be able to get work form anywhere in the world into India. Period. Now, I understand and respect his position, after all he is the CEO of a great company whose sole responsibility is to make it as financially successful as possible, and that unfortunately comes hand in hand with beating your competition in order to obtain the available business. And unfortunately the easiest way to do that (once all our talent has instructed the artists over there in the technical know how) comes in the form of doing the available work for much less than your competition.

You see, my biggest issue here is that we are NOT playing on a level field in the global VFX industry. I believe Asian artists are tremendously talented both technically and artistically, most of them surely more than I am. But unfortunately I have to say this bluntly: I simply cannot survive with what a Compositor makes in Mumbai. Period. Their local VFX salaries are laughable by western standards and some of the local studios don't pay them overtime or any other basic benefits. And some of them know that they can get rid of anyone at anytime and 10 more people will be waiting to fill up that space for even less pay. But the fact is that none of this matters to western producers, who just really don't care about that. They will gladly give that Asian company the job just because of the simple fact that it will cost them less. Period.

So? Am I supposed to move to Mumbai? Are we just supposed to every year keep lowering our salary standards, just to keep ourselves competitive in the "global VFX industry"?

I know many junior guys in the US who cannot get a job in the industry because "Jr positions" are incredibly scarce. And the reason for this is that most of the "Jr positions" work is being sent to Asia! Now, how are these guys supposed to grow professionally? Should I tell them: "Pack your stuff and move to India"? Is that it? Even a few years ago you could still start out as a roto guy or a matchmover, and then work your way up to becoming a compositor, while making enough to pay for your college loans or for your first car. Nowadays, that is simply just very very hard to do, but the problem is that this is not happening because these kids are not qualified or talented enough to do the work, or because they don't put the effort required to excel. No. This happens just because they simply have been "pushed out" by the lowest bid from a company who really can easily afford to do so.

Please tell me Mr. Wilson that I am completely wrong. I truly respect your opinion, and I honestly don't want to sound off like a biased fool. I say all of this based on my personal perspective and professional experience, but you are by far more more experienced than I am. Since I finished film school I have always worked by the canon of doing as much as posible with whatever resources you have available; optiize, optimize, optimize, but this train of thought never meant: "Give the people that work to materialize your vision less than they deserve, so you can keep more in your pocket for yourself".

I also want to ask you something that always pops in my mind when dealing with this issue; Please tell me how many Indian productions are sending their VFX shots to western shops and how many go the other way around?

I honestly think that as long as we don't standardize VFX salaries GLOBALLY, we will not be able to be competing globaly on a fair basis.

Thank you in advance for your time, and please forgive me if at any point in my text I sounded rude. It was by no means my intention.

by Peter Gagnon
I am sorry, I am not trying to disparage, Mr. Fink... nor Creative Cow... nor Prime Focus, my comments come more from a personal stand point. As an artist it is always a struggle to find work, especially at these difficult times. There seems to be a plethora of work in the U.K., Australia and Canada but I can't work in any of those countries because of their strict work policies... but it is very easy for American productions to send their work there to be done. This to me is very inequitable... therefore my commentary.
by Peter Gagnon
I am not trying to be argumentative, nor flame this article... I do agree that it does have it's benefits and a greater pool also means better art. But that doesn't mitigate the fact that we are losing jobs here I would also point out that, overall, this is the same excuse that all companies use when the send work outside the U.S. Can you point me to one article that Creative Cow has put out on VFX Producers/ Supers doing what they can to keep jobs in the U.S.? (not being sarcastic, this a serious question)
NOT outsourcing....
by Tim Wilson
...but WORLD-sourcing.

As the article's editor, I may perhaps take some responsibility for not being as clear with you as Mike was with me. I have added a "sidebar" in the middle of the article to underscore a critical point: there are 15 offices. The four North American offices are indeed working on North American projects, UK offices on UK projects, and Indian offices on Indian projects. Please, follow the links in that sidebar to see for yourselves. Every region is robust on its own terms.

However, if you look at the article again, you'll see that Mike most definitely talks about it in those terms. For example, he went to India to work on a spot with Indian teams. He also points to one of the primary advantages of "worldsourcing," that the regions have strengths that support the entire company -- their software developed in Canada and India helps all of the offices (and indeed is available commercially anywhere in the world), and styles of working in each region adds dimensions to work being done in the others.

Other advantages include global offices for global companies, including ad agencies and movie studios. As Mike observes, feature film VFX has been global for many years: the Harry Potter films are British productions with VFX done in the US and Canada, and while much of Avatar's VFX were done in the US, some was done by WETA in New Zealand. As a result, productions done *outside* the US are also feeding VFX artists *inside* the US.

The observation I'll add from the perspective of Creative COW, a US company that draws two-thirds of its traffic from outside the US, that one of the keys to business success moving forward is the ability to work with less and less regard for national boundaries. Global collaboration is the best hope for growth in every region it touches. American businesses need more of this, not less, if they are to propser.

That part is my opinion of course. As for Mike's point, note that the story of Prime Focus so far has been that global collaboration has driven the development of even more business in each region, creating and preserving jobs in each of them.
Mr Fink
by Peter Gagnon
I want to re-iterate what Mauricio wrote, there are so many talented VFX artists in the U.S. and many of them are struggling to find work. We are not like any other film workers, we are not protected by unions and we do not have the benefits that they provide therefore in most cases it is not a money issue as many producers and production companies might make it out to be. Additionally with all of the new software and tools it is that much easier and cheaper to make great VFX with artists here in America. It deeply saddens me in the increasingly competitive world of VFX that the opportunities in my own country are quickly shrinking.
Humans can always justify whatever we do, no matter the injustice involved...
by Ron Lindeboom is part of human nature and is, to quote Peter Gabriel from the song Supper's Ready, "as sure as eggs is eggs."

But the REAL issue is this: today's market is NOT going to change because we are uncomfortable with it, or because we do not like it, or because we are stressed by it. Regardless if our neighbors/competitors are across the street or around the world, and no matter how good or bad they may be doing, the real issue is can we find an answer that will provide for our family today?

Being a transplanted Dutchman who hails from a long line of Frieslanders that live close to the dyke, we are perhaps predisposed to look for ways to "plug the leaks that flood our lives." If the dyke were to break, I wouldn't be one of the Dutchmen trying to use my proverbial finger to stop the flood -- I'd try a new and different tact.

If you wish to bemoan the fact that the world has changed, I can understand that and can sympathize with you -- though it won't accomplish anything. The industry's money people are not going to change the way they do things for either of us because it makes us uncomfortable. We have to find our own answers. In today's world, Prince Charming ain't coming riding on the white horse at the front of the Rescue Cavalry come to save us all to preserve the American Way of Life. I am sorry if that is too callous and stark a reality but as far as I can tell it's the truth. I wish it weren't and I wish people didn't have to hurt and go through all this.

Sadly, humankind has never been so good at looking out for the interests of others weaker than themselves, have we? Justice is always far easier to desire when it is our own justice we are after.
Mr. Fink
by Mauricio Monroy
First of all I want to say that I admire Mr. Fink's work. He is the kind of person who really pushes the limits of visual technology in a successfully artistic way. I had the pleasure of working for Rhythm & Hues as a Digital Compositor, so I am particularly fond of his work.

Having said that, I also have to express my deepest sadness and frustration at seeing how we keep outsourcing Hollywood's work to places like India. Providing them with not only the projects that should be handled by American artists, but also giving them the know how and tools that the whole US film industry has paid so much to obtain, without getting anything as valuable as that in return. It's so sad to witness how short sighted the studios and the producer's vision is, as they are perfectly willing to shatter the American VFX industry in order to make productions cheaper, and therefore have an even larger profit margin (as if films made in the US were not profitable enough). It is even MORE tragic to see this right now, when we need to do everything in our hands to protect US jobs and our artistic/technical leadership as much as posible. But who am I kidding? Evidently producers and some visual effects professionals just really don't care about that at all, and they just look at their personal gain. They just want to make more profit individualy and are willing to sacrifice our local industry in the process.

You have my artistic admiration Mr. Fink, you really do. I just honestly wish we could share a common vision in how we should preserve America's visual effects industry.
Mr. Fink
by Jim Jones
Mr Fink,

Thank you for this insightful Collaboration Article,
I have known about Prime Focus for some time,
But now I know much more and will be looking forward to
working with "Deadline" when the opportunity comes my way.

Thanks again for this article, and your professionalism.

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