Hollywood's VFX Sweatshops

Hollywood's VFX Sweatshops

(See the 100 best movies of all time.)

Their place in the credits says something about visual effects (VFX) artists' place in the Hollywood pecking order. Ironically, just as they are peaking in creativity and propelling box-office hits, VFX companies are facing a crisis years in the making. Thanks to fierce global competition, the hangover from Hollywood labor unrest and a lack of negotiating power with studios, many VFX firms are closing up shop or outsourcing to stay afloat.

 

"Fundamentally, visual effects is a crappy business," James Cameron told me when I interviewed him for my book, The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron. "You don't make much of a margin. A good year for us was 5%. Sure, we were doing huge volume but at a low margin." In 1998, after the VFX company he helped start, Digital Domain, won an Academy Award for its groundbreaking work on Titanic, Cameron resigned amid dispute about its direction. Since then, Digital Domain has emerged as one of Hollywood's leading VFX shops, alongside George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) in San Francisco; Peter Jackson's Weta Digital in Wellington, New Zealand; and Rhythm & Hues and Sony Pictures Imageworks, both in Los Angeles.

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