VFX Artists need to Break their own Shackles


Hope you don’t mind my adding to the something different conversation today, but I’ve been wanting to contribute to the turning-green VFX movement since it began. I would change my profile pic in support but I’m semi retired, and in disguise.

Something I think that’s often overlooked by VFX Artists is the importance of the context in which a your work belongs. Or in other words, the choice of project you work on, and how important its presence is to the future of the industry.

One of the reasons the industry has, in my opinion, lost its way, is because of the desperate need, and willingness on the artist’s part, to work on any old film which needs something made in 3D.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily include the likes of films like The Life of Pi, which arguably couldn’t be realised without the technology we use.

But, at the same time, it’s clear that there’s a lot of films out there which many humans wish could be wiped from memory, many of them created by a short, bearded American whose name rhymes with Morge Bukis…

Lindsay Tanner describes Australian Politics as being like a Hollywood blockbuster – all FX and no plot. Unfortunately, an accurate and sadly less than glowing observation.

I know we don’t all have the luxury of being able to pick and choose which films we work on, but it’s arguably because of this very fact that the industry has gone the way it has.

If we spend our time clinging to a life raft of our own creation (holy smokes – what an apt analogy), sooner or later we’re going to wash up on some beach we didn’t choose, which I think that’s where we’re at now.

I’m no historian, but I think the same thing happens to any industry when it loses its way. A period of loss, hopefully followed by a period of growth when the direction forward is found.

This is not to say that examples of this are not readily available – brilliant films, games and pieces in other formats appear every day, but so do the former. Ie – giant loads of crap which leave audiences dissatisfied, letting down the artists like us who work on them, and the audiences themselves, who probably won’t come back again.

Something I’ve always felt dismayed by whilst working in the VFX industry is the lack of connection between the worker’s life on the film, and an appreciation of that film within the outside world.

In other words, remembering that this project is going to be out there alongside a whole lot of other crap, and not everyone in the real world gives a dang about either a) How awesome the new Z-Brush toolset is, b) How awesome that explosion looks or c) How many hairs there are on The Hulk’s nutbag at any one time. (some may care about this last criteria).

It’s more than likely that Joe Citizen doesn’t actually give a tit, and is either there for the story, or something equally non-VFX related. A few nut jobs might come back to see the next bad film in a series, but the problem is, a lot more of them won’t. (I, for example, will not be returning to the cinema for Star Wars part LME, only to be invaded, once again, by George Lucas and his merry band of money-pinching ass-hats).

The way out, or at least forward, is for us artists to remember this, and, like any other practitioner in the creative world, exercise a bit more care in the projects we choose to work on while the rest of the world is at the beach, or in bed.

Great Actors, Directors and DOP’s, for example, are made not just by their talent, and ability when the camera is rolling, but their ability at every other moment to choose which roles to take on.

Take Daniel Day-Lewis. The dude uses Oscar Statues as door handles. But not because, or only because, he’s a pretty good actor, especially when it comes to playing angry, dominant white males. It’s also because he’s a notoriously picky s.o.b, who once told Lucas to ‘get off my front lawn, you grovelling little worm!’. (true story).

We need to remember that the films we choose to help create are out there with a hole lot of others which have brilliant stories, characters, plots, imagery and sound – all without a lick of VFX. The trick is picking which ones need people like us to make them happen, while forgoing those which don’t.

Of course, this goes against good economic sense. Organisations like Animal Logic, ILM et al will always need the mega-blockbusters to maintain a bottom line. But let them worry about that. (Sorry, Zareh, but I honestly ain’t going to give up my artistic integrity just so you can enjoy your retirement one day.)

We, as artists, have more to worry about, but we also have the ability to choose. Spend your time working on the same old Hollywood pap that every other Maya/Nuke-trained technician has on his reel, and guess what – when the economic crisis hits town, you’re gonna be out with them on the job line.

Or, invest your time and efforts, like many of this list have clearly done, in creating your own unique abilities beyond what 3D has to offer, and beyond what VFX needs, and guess what – you’re that much more able to resist the crashing wave of job cuts that’ll hit every industry sooner or later.

Just don’t whinge about the company directors, or about Ang Lee’s lack of appreciation for how many nights you sat there sculpting The Hulk’s nipple while you’re girlfriend was hanging out with her uni pals.

It was your decision to become a VFX artist, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to hold your hand the rest of the way.

Directors, Producers and Writers get the credit because they’re the ones out there making the deals, meeting with investors, wrangling government grants, wooing suppliers, scouting locations with no pay, selling their parents teeth to pay the insurance, etc, etc, etc.

VFX artists have their time cut short on stage because, for the large part, we show up at 10am and ask the Producers which film we’re working on today, take a break at 11, eat a Brady Lunch (industry knowledge), work until our sleep-deprived supervisor says you’re done, and then ride our new Ducatti off to the Dive store, disgruntled that our dreams of Oscar greatness have turned into a Fox Studios life-time membership.

Now, I’m not saying that ain’t a great life – just don’t go having a whinge when the shit hits the fan, and you end up at Mastic Shax, or whichever studio it is you spend your twelve hours a day, watching the boss leave in his Lotus, while you wonder what your girlfriend looks like these days.

Go make real films, and grow some nuts.

Sorry for any offence,

jm

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