VFX Students: Get Ready to Work for $600/mo.

I was talking with the owner of a mid-sized effects house in LA last weekend. They’ve always done most of their work where they could get subsidies to pay for part of salaries… Canada, Singapore, etc.

However, the staff for a new production is in Indonesia, where the artists are making $600/mo. They’re already doing production work and it may not be top tier, but it’s good.

Prices for VFX work have been going down for quite a while and it’s probably not going to stop. Yes, there are still jobs in the US, but the trend is moving towards countries where staff can be had for a lot less. The effort to unionize may help, but probably not as much as folks think. An electrician has to be on set. Most VFX work doesn’t require that. It can be done anywhere.

So, where does that leave students? I don’t have a lot of respect for the schools promising careers in VFX. They don’t mention the state of the industry while they’re happily telling students how to fill out the government loan forms. The end result is that you have students graduating these places with a lot of debt and not a lot of job opportunities.

There are jobs for the top graduates, but it’s been my experience that these students would be better off doing online training (www.fxphd.com for example), working on their own projects and getting an internship. They’re probably going to excel no matter where they’re at. These are, of course, the folks that get featured in ‘Alumni Stories’. But instead of ‘Alumni Stories’ I’d much rather see the percentage of ex-students working full time in the VFX industry. The reason you don’t see that statistic is that it’d be pretty depressing.

So if you’re thinking about a career in VFX, before you sign up for $20,000/yr in debt, consider the $600/mo the VFX artists are making in Indonesia. There are other ways to break into the industry than an expensive school. As an artist you may not want to think about finances, but I can assure you… once you have to start paying that back, you’ll be thinking a lot about it.