VFX Industry’s “March to the Bottom” and the Halt on ADAPT’s Legal Efforts


VFX becomes a film’s main attraction. Via Art of VFX.

Visual effects (VFX) is a front runner in film today, so it’s about time VFX workers get a little respect! Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality, written by Stephen Prince, invites readers to take a second look at the big bad world of moviemaking through the digital realm of visual effects. Prince starts the book by deconstructing the average moviegoer’s thoughts on visual effects, CGI, special effects, etc. Today, it is a popular opinion for some to not like the types of movies that feature a huge portion of computer-generated images (even though Prince makes it very clear that that term is not descriptive enough of what people think of when they think CGI). Consumers and creators alike have many complaints about the way that digital creation is detracting moviemaking from keeping to our true reality. They are severely ignoring, not only the plethora of visual effects used in even the most realistic of movies, but the ways in which digital creation specifically has further brought life to stories that, once before, we could not have done. Making a movie just a couple of decades ago required a lot of filmmaking that would try and circumvent or shorten the video time spent on a piece of visual effect so audience members could not see the “seams” of the creation. But today, as creators perfect the artistry and excellence of digital visual effects, the line between what is real and what was generated through digital technology is growing ever smaller, and filmmakers can spend more time featuring and spotlighting the digital effects, rather than eschewing them.


Scott Ross speaking with VFX industry workers. Via Animation Magazine.

With a rise in movies featuring a greater portion of digital visual effects, you’d aspect the VFX industry to be booming?! But quite the contrary! Per usual, the great behemoth that is the Hollywood movie industry, has found yet another way to not share the wealth with creators and artists who put tireless hours and inventiveness in their creations. Since studios and companies usually become the sole owners over the final product of a film, hundreds and thousands of VFX editors and designers are being used up for their creativity while “the studios that take advantage of subsidies and as a result, harm the domestic VFX industry and its workers” (Lay). This meant a call to arms was in order to help ensure VFX workers were getting fair shares in the wealth distribution of their product.  And the call came! Scott Ross and Daniel Lay, prominent figures in the VFX world, paved the way by creating ADAPT (Association of Digital Artists, Professionals & Technicians), a trade organization that was implemented in order to carry forth legal court cases in defense against the rights of VFX workers from studios’ use of harmful trade distorting subsidies. Ross and Lay spent numerous amounts of time and money in order to lobby their case in front of government agencies and movie industry VFX organizations alike, looking to garner interest and donations in their growing legal defense (securing a law firm, as well, in the process). With such a prospective buildup – you’d think these guys would have a potential win on their hands! But sadly, with most underrepresented workforce factions of the film industry, there were not enough donations and funding in order to pay for legal representation and continuing expenses. January 19th, 2015 marked the day the VFX legal campaign had to be dropped. With no means to support the case, Ross and Lay unfortunately had to pay what little they could to the law firm (which lowered costs in support of the case) and bring an end to taking of donations.


Protestor at the Oscars VFX Protest in 2013. Via Deadline.

What went wrong here? It seems like just another way that the studios will continue to hold precedence over the VFX workforce and not enough individuals in the VFX industry was willing to help the cause. Lay brings a few possible issues to light in that VFX workers may have changed industries by now, and even moved their work to Canada in order to secure a better living. Without an organized VFX community, it seems those who choose to continue to work in the United States will have to suffer the consequences of overpowering movie studios. Lay shares his regrets over the failed case implementation and also brought to light how the same week that ADAPT announced an end to its legal effort, DreamWorks has decided the immediate closure of one of its main studios, PDI DreamWorks, eliminating more than 500 jobs in the VFX industry. These are hard times for the VFX worker, so if you wish to take on this career – know your stuff! Know that actions need to be made before you can experience steady pay and comfortable living!


Amidi, Amid. “BREAKING: DreamWorks Will Shut Down PDI/DreamWorks Studio; 500 Jobs Will Be Eliminated.” Cartoon Brew. 22 Jan 2015. Web. 21 Mar 2015. <http://www.cartoonbrew.com/business/breaking-dreamworks-animation-will-shut-down-pdidreamworks-studio-over-500-jobs-will-be-eliminated-108161.html&gt;

Lay, Daniel. “ADAPT Legal Effort On Subsidies Ends.” VFX Soldier. 19 Jan 2015. Web. 21 Mar 2015. <https://vfxsoldier.wordpress.com/2015/01/19/adapt-legal-effort-on-subsidies-ends/&gt;

Prince, Stephen. Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality. 232: Rutgers University Press, 2011. Print.

Featured Image via Animation World Network.

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