VES Summit 2012

On Saturday October 13th the Visual Effects Society (VES) presented VES Summit 2012, EVOLUTION at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey. This was the fourth year for this conference which is focused on the business of visual effects. The Summit is not really designed for Visual Effects artists like the VES Festivals of many years ago were. It’s not a gathering of artists sharing techniques, rather a unique opportunity to hear from studios and technology leaders about new directions and business issues.

The VES added two sessions this year billed as “conversations with…” that in speaking with other attendees seemed to be much anticipated. The first was with Ed Ulbrich, CEO of Digital Domain and the second was the final session of the day billed as “A freewheeling conversation with Scott Ross”. Given DD’s recent time in the news it seemed like a good opportunity to hear directly from the source. Meanwhile, Scott Ross, former head of ILM and co-founder of Digital Domain has been very vocal in the last couple of years about the business issues facing the industry and has been leading an effort to get a Trade Association started to represent the industry. Ross is a dynamic, passionate speaker with a unique perspective and resume in our business.

Breakfast Roundtables

Breakfast Roundtables

The morning started with Breakfast roundtables, topics included: Coordinating VFX with the Final Post, Kickstarter: Raising Funds Online for Your Project, Open Source Development/Trends, Cloud Computing, Fair Use of images, Working with Tax Incentives…there were over a dozen to choose from. We attended two, the first one was titled “By Intelligent Design: Maximizing the Dynamic Range of the Production Designer and Visual Effects Supervisor from Pitch to Post” which was hosted by Thomas A. Walsh, Production Designer & President, Art Directors Guild (Local 800). It was a good discussion about how important teamwork is, how a film crew essentially becomes a temporary family and how that family functions and the tones that are set are critical to success. Joining this roundtable were Visual Effects Supervisor, Richard Edlund ASC (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ghostbusters) and Production Designer, Rick Heinrichs ADG (Pirates of the Caribbean, Lemony Snicket, Sleepy Hollow) who shared their experiences. A good discussion about getting more of the dollars available onto the screen by sharing assets and problem solving through collaboration.

The second roundtable we attended was titled “Staff Retention and Company Culture” moderated by Gaston Bitar, Senior Vice President, People & Organization, Sony Pictures Entertainment. A wide range of people attended this roundtable including folks from Sony Imageworks, R&H, Luma Pictures, Digital Artists Agency, Look Effects and Digital Domain. Issues like core staff vs. freelance, aging workforce vs. younger artists were discussed. A theme that would recur throughout the day was the importance of great work and how important that is to artist satisfaction.

George Whitesides, CEO and President, Virgin Galactic

George Whitesides, CEO and President, Virgin Galactic

The VES Summit has always challenged people to think outside the narrow focus of visual effects. Starting the day’s sessions was George Whitesides, CEO and President, Virgin Galactic who talked about the relationship between what they are doing and visual effects: “… you know, I am a space guy at heart and I view this community as the keepers of the flame in terms of keeping the public excited about space”. Whitesides said that to date 528 people have gone to space, their goal is to increase that significantly and already have 540 people signed up for flights. SpaceShip Two is a six passenger spaceship that is launched from a platform called WhiteKnightTwo that is capable of carrying SpaceShipTwo to a certain altitude and then releasing it. Anyone 18 years or older can sign up with a $20,000 deposit for a $200,000 flight. They also can use WhiteKnightTwo as a launch vehicle for payloads to space like small satellites. Air travel has not significantly changed in years in terms of flight times, this technology could also be adapted to faster, shortened flight times. A London to Japan flight could be 45 minutes – Whitesides joked that may be Richard Branson’s main goal, as he travels so much.


Albert Cheng,
EVP & Chief Product Officer, Digital Media, Disney/ABC Television Group

Albert Cheng, EVP & Chief Product Officer, Digital Media, Disney/ABC Television Group

Albert Cheng spoke next starting with the adoption rate of technology: “The last six years have seen an incredible amount of change in that it has transformed the way we interact, socialize, tell stories… it’s a very exciting time to be in the world of media and entertainment”. Cheng explained that  the advent of the “second screen”, personal computers, tablets, smartphones  “… allow the consumer, the people we are trying to tell the stories to, to have a little different experience in how stories are told”. There are vast changes in the way people view media, moving from the strict time and physical location requirements of the traditional television model. Cheng shared how they moved from adding content to iTunes to launching their own iPad app, allowing their content to be available to consumers in new ways.

  40% of the time people are watching TV they have another device like a phone or an iPad near them

Nielson research says that 40% of the time people are watching TV they have another device like a phone or an iPad near them: “… how do we capture that engagement with the second screen?”. Disney/ABC has done special apps for the iPad to more completely engage the fan, the app can listen to the audio in the room and sync with the show to provide quizzes relating to the show, provide exclusive additional content, chat rooms and other social engagement. The ultimate was an Academy Awards app they built that allowed the viewed to switch between many special purpose cameras and really create their own experience, following a favorite nominee from red carpet to back stage. Cheng shared that they have learned that these type of interactive experiences work best with Award Shows, Sports, News and Reality/Competition shows but consumers were not as likely to use them along with serialized dramas or comedies where the attention to story is more focused. A question came up during the Q&A period about the focus on Apple products – Cheng said those decisions were made based on market share but also on the development environment. Specifically he said the iPad developer environment is very good and compared it to the Android experience where they have to spend significantly more time and resources supporting many different tweaked variants of an operating system.

YEKRA: A new digital content platform


Next on the schedule was to be a session with Jim Morris from Pixar on the state of the industry. Morris was involved in a bicycle accident and was unable to attend, Eric Roth said Morris is doing well and we wish him a speedy recovery. The replacement session on digital disruption was the morning session highlight as Lee Waterworth, Founder & President and Miles Romney, CEO explained the daunting business of getting content into the world under traditional models and what YEKRA is doing to offer an alternative.

Waterworth started off with a bold statement: “The studio system is being disrupted and the traditional model for distributing films is, to put it simply, broken. And it’s actually worse than you think. It’s the wild west out there right now, everyone is trying to find a new model that works, and most are trying to apply the thinking of the old paradigm to the new renaissance period that we’re actually entering.

  Lee Waterworth
  “… the traditional model for distributing films is, to put it simply, broken. And it’s actually worse than you think.”

Others are recognizing the very real opportunity to create a transparent meritocracy for us all. What I will say is this, however bad you think it is… I say it’s actually a whole lot worse out there right now.” To illustrate this, Waterworth explained that 95% of films do not get a distribution deal. Even for the lucky 5% the complexities of global distribution and the way the game is rigged is not to the advantage of the filmmaker. A detailed description of the process of working with sales agents followed and showed how this process is seriously flawed and often works against the best interest of the film frequently culminating in “…just about the time all the hype surrounding your movie is gone, you’ll get your rights back”.

Miles Romney next spoke about consumer behavior, “…changes that make the traditional model totally impractical for the 21st century”. Theatrical sales are down by 19%, on the home entertainment side a 16% decline since 2008 in DVD sales and 51% of consumers have either “cut the cord” or would consider canceling their cable subscription and getting all their content online. Romney shared his personal experience now that he is married and has kids – a night out at the movies quickly becomes a $100 plus night (babysitter, tickets, dinner) versus a $4 online rental. On the mobile devices side “there are roughly 6 billion people in the world, next year there will be more web enabled devices than there are people in the world.” Looking at the increase in online video usage “today 30% of internet traffic is video, it is estimated that by the end of 2013 90% of traffic will be video or video related,” adding, “in the next decade we’ll see an estimated 10x increase in online video streaming and VOD sales”.

“Consumers expect their entertainment when they want it, where they want it and how they want it,” Romney continued. “The current major online outlets are really extensions of the old world distribution model and tend to do well for mass market content for major distributors, but they totally neglect the vast opportunities presented by shifts in consumer behavior, tech innovations, and the marketing paradigms made possible by these evolutions. There is an opportunity and a hunger in consumers for the right original content, that content just needs the exposure and accessibility to reach the audiences where they are.”

  Buckminster Fuller
  “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

Walterworth moved on to the opportunity presented by these shifts in consumer behavior sharing this Buckminster Fuller quote: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.” Walterworth added that is exactly what they are trying to do with YEKRA: “… a model that puts the control back in your hands, a model that takes your content to the communities that actually care about it, a model that allows you to build your own brand, your own audience and your own bottom line at the same time”.

Miles Romney returned to show a case study – a film called “Thrive” (with 300 effects shots) that received 7 million views using YEKRA, at $4.99, with no middle man. They work on a transaction fee basis, 25 to 50 cents per transaction. Pricing is up to the filmmaker, using tiers they have identified. YEKRA provides tools for exclusive promotions, gifting, discounts, ordering DVDs, social media campaigns and much more. They are in an invite only phase and invited people to submit trailers for them to consider.


Sean Carroll,
Senior Research Associate in Physics, California Institute of Technology

After lunch Sean Carroll gave a half hour, entertaining talk on time travel from a physics perspective, relating it often to how time travel is portrayed in movies.

Tax Incentives Around the Globe:
The Whys and Wherefores of Domestic and International Incentives

Eric Roth, Ruth Hauer and Mary Ann Hughes

Mary Ann Hughes, Vice President, Film and Television Production Planning, The Walt Disney Company and Ruth Hauer, VFX Executive, The Walt Disney Company presented many slides illustrating tax incentives around the world. Hughes and Hauer work in tandem to evaluate credits and capabilities in selecting visual effects houses. Hughes started the discussion with the US market noting that thirty nine states offer a viable production incentive, but while production can bring specialized crew and equipment with them for a shoot visual effects requires local infrastructure and talent. Out of the thirty nine states offering incentives only seven offer stand alone visual effects credits and of those seven only four have realistic large scale visual effects capabilities. Hughes: “This to me is a missed opportunity.” She also said, “when the legislatures come in session, we really need to do a better job supporting what you guys do in the world of visual effects, these are permanent jobs, they’re high paying jobs, they are highly skilled technical positions that young people want and those are all of the right buzzwords when we are talking to politicians…those are the kinds of jobs they are trying to keep”.

 Ruth Hauer
   “…we don’t do it based just on the numbers, much to everybody’s disbelief. It’s filmmaker driven, location driven, we’re looking for the best houses that do a certain type of work.”

Moving to the rest of the world there are stand alone visual effects incentives in Canada, the US, Australia, and New Zealand. In Europe the EU requires a cultural test and credits are tied to principal photography. “Right now there is no way to access stand alone visual effects credits in Europe.” Looking at Canada there are three provinces, BC, Ontario and Quebec. “The Canadian government really sees and appreciates that these are visual effects houses that have high paying jobs, higher education. They see the value of having this kind of work in their country.” Credits in Canada are stackable meaning you can use multiple credits together, a 16% national labor credit can grow with local incentives. Using the example of a $1 million dollar project – in BC a production could get back $379,000. In Ontario credits can be combined to return $437,000 and in Quebec the return rises over 50% to $572,000. Hauer said it is not as simple as looking for the biggest number, “…we don’t do it based just on the numbers, much to everybody’s disbelief. It’s filmmaker driven, location driven, we’re looking for the best houses that do a certain type of work.” While the Canadian credits are stackable there are residency restrictions, if your project requires you to bring workers from Quebec to BC, you will not receive all of the credits for that work.

Hughes stressed to the members of the audience from California that an upcoming ballot measure, prop 30 is very important as it will determine what the governor is able to do regarding local tax incentives. See ballotpedia link here.

Hughes speaking about California says: “I’ve read every economic impact study about the impact of this industry in the state of California and there is not a single economic impact study that does not say that a dollar in credit given for production does not deliver greater than a dollar of actual tax revenue benefit to the state. So you would think this would be a no-brainer if it more than pays for itself, why can’t we do something to bring production and jobs back home?”. She explained that the issue is convincing the legislature who is concerned about giving away free money, that productions will and do leave.

An active Q&A followed which brought up issues like the Illinois tax credit which has a one day principal photography requirement, which effectively eliminates it from consideration. Some states have minimums that must be spent to access credits. The only state that has stand alone visual effects tax credits (30%) is New York but they tied it to a requirement that you spend 75% of your vfx budget in NY. On that Hughes said, “who here is willing to say I guarantee that there are enough houses available in New York that I can guarantee 75% of visual effects to New York knowing that if you hit 74%, you fail the test and you get none of it?”

A Conversation With…
Ed Ulbrich – CEO, Digital Domain and Mothership

Ed Ulbrich, CEO, Digital Domain and Mothership

With all the recent events in the news about Digital Domain including bankruptcy and emerging with new owners (70% Galloping Horse from China, 30% Reliance Mediaworks from India) VES invited Ed Ulbrich to speak. Eric Roth, VES Executive Director started by asking “what happened?”. Ulbrich: “We were a visual effects company, we were a very good visual effects company, in 2006 the company was sold and we had some new management, some new money, an entrepreneurial spirit and we did things like opened a school, in Florida, we launched businesses around military simulation, medical simulation, an animation studio… a very big animation studio… I won’t shock anybody by saying this but – the margins in the visual effects business aren’t so good.” Ulbrich continued: “We can go back and kind of dissect each one of these initiatives, any one of them, quite honestly, perhaps had legs and made sense. But when you put them all together, it was just too much.” Ulbrich spoke passionately about keeping focused on core business, adding, “you can’t lose sight of a culture of frugality”. Ulbrich said now it is about looking for opportunities that make sense as opposed to being extreme or hyper aggressive, “I learned a lot about the whole process, about extreme capitalism”.

The accelerated bankruptcy process was pushed to only 9 days instead of the normal 30 to 60, in fact the case set records for a case clearing federal bankruptcy courts. The goal was to assure the studios quickly that DD would come out the other side of this process and not jeopardize delivery of any projects. On the creditor/investment side the goal was to achieve a maximum value for that part of the company and for the resulting new company to be a viable entity that could continue under new ownership. Ulbrich explained that process was made even more complex by confidentiality agreements with the studios that had to be honored even in court: “our contracts with the studios… we can’t say we are working on a certain movie for a certain studio… even in federal court those NDA’s prevail”. Ulbrich found himself in court describing communication with “studio A” about the fact that they would pull work for a movie he could not even name.

    “one of the things I’m proud of is that of the 733 men and women on the west coast of North America, we didn’t miss a beat. Not one single shot, not one single frame, not one single artist was affected…”

In addition to dealing specifically with the intensity of the bankruptcy process there was also having to keep in constant contact with clients in some cases elevating to discussions with the CEOs of the major studios. Ulbrich reflected, “one of the things I’m proud of is that of the 733 men and women on the west coast of North America, we didn’t miss a beat. Not one single shot, not one single frame, not one single artist was affected…well they were affected – there were a lot of people very stressed out, but there was no interruption of service on any show. I kept saying the medicine is to do great work and deliver great service, give them no reason to question you. Focus on that.”

Roth asked about the Florida operation and Ulbrich explained that as he was
not part of the board of DDMG or the executive team that made decisions for
the Florida operations, he could only speculate. “Those initiatives were
really pre-revenue. It was a startup… and then there is an entity that has a
business, has been in business for twenty years, is a going concern, that
business makes sense and has value, so the decision between the creditors
and restructuring company was to cease this operation in Florida.”

Ulbrich said that the company that Scott Ross founded 23 years ago with James Cameron and Stan Winston was DDPI, or as he likes to call it now DD 1.0: “in 2006 the business was sold to Wyndcrest Capital, so that’s 2.0 and what I’m calling 2.5 was the public (stock market traded) company, and two weeks ago I began a business – Digital Domain 3.0. 2.5 was the public entity called Digital Domain Media Group that was based in Florida, DDMG based in Florida owned Digital Domain Productions Inc., the original Digital Domain 1.0, that business I am thrilled to say is intact.” The 2.0 and 2.5 parts are now separate from DDPI and part of a separate bankruptcy in Florida.

The subject of the pledge made by John Textor of funds to help start a Trade Association was brought up by Eric Roth. Ulbrich explained that as CEO of DDMG John Textor had made a comment at SIGGRAPH pledging $100,000 to do that adding, “on a personal note, I believe the industry is long overdue. That was Digital Domain Media Group the assets of which are still in bankruptcy court, that is a different thing, a different conversation…. Digital Domain Productions Inc, now as 3.0, did not make that commitment and at this point we’re not in a position… we’re still cleaning up.”

Asked about the future, Ulbrich said “3.0 looks a lot like 1.0,” adding that he still believes in the co-production model with projects like the continuing Enders Game. “We still own 37.5% equity in that movie, we have a service contract on the movie, that movie is in full swing production right now, it’s a very large movie for us, we’re very proud of it. We’re making a tentpole movie as an indie film.” He added that they are not in a position to do them all the time or tackle multiple co-productions at the same time but he believes in the concept going forward.

     “The world wants high end cool content, we can provide that…49 of the top 50 grossing films ever are visual effects movies.”

Addressing the question of the new ownership being based in China and India, Ulbrich said the priority now is to focus on the core business that DD 1.0 started and then moving forward they have new opportunities with two strong partners who have needs for visual effects, produce films, want to raise the quality of visual effects and as a new company can explore new ways together to grow in other ways. Ulbrich summed it up talking about the global market for visual effects. “The world wants high end cool content, we can provide that…49 of the top 50 grossing films ever are visual effects movies.”

Is Television VFX the Future of Feature Film VFX?

Bill Desowitz, Andrew Orloff, Sam Nicholson, Steve Pugh, Mat Beck

This was a large panel featuring:
Bill Desowitz (Moderator) Owner, Immersed in Movies.
Andrew Orloff, Founder, Creative Director, VFX Supervisor Zoic Studios
Sam Nicholson, CEO, VFX Supervisor, Stargate Studios
Steve Pugh, Executive Producer, Pixomondo
Mat Beck, ASC – VFX Supervisor, Director, DP, President: Entity FX

The premise of this panel was as visual effects for television push the envelope of shot count and delivery time – Andrew Orloff told of a recent show with 500 visual effects shots done in 15 days – does that impact the expectations and model for feature film vfx?

Andrew Orloff started stating that they tend to use artists who are more generalists as they cannot afford the time for handoffs between different specialties, in features pipelines often depend on artists being slotted to very specific tasks. Mat Beck also addressed the generalist topic: “We like generalists who have an aggressive overall problem solving idea about getting the shot done, but sometimes we’ll configure a pipeline to do one thing and then switch them up because it’s important – you not only have to keep your clients happy, you have to keep your artists engaged. If they are just doing one thing for months on end, it can be a problem.” Beck also said that often on the TV side the limiting factor is time, not money.

  Matt Beck
 “you not only have to keep your clients happy, you have to keep your artists engaged. If they are just doing one thing for months on end, it can be a problem.”

Many panelists talked about having satellite offices, Andrew Orloff echoed a sentiment expressed earlier in the day about Vancouver by Ed Ulbrich that it is not outsourcing, but rather the north campus. Sam Nicholson talked about Vancouver’s education system and the ready availability of artists and people coming out of schools and compared that to experiences he’s had looking at other locations where finding a pool of artists can be very difficult.

Virtual production already has a strong hold in TV work, Orloff talked about the show “Once Upon a Time” where often the episode is largely shot on a complete green screen stage, averaging 200 shots and growing to 500. They already have a library of 45 sets to use for the show, he stressed the importance with this workflow of realtime compositing on set taking it a step further by developing their own iPad app to do tech scouts of virtual sets and pass that data through the pipeline. “When an artist sits down they are already 30-40% there, it’s the only way we can get it done,” said Orloff. Talking about this move to virtual sets, Sam Nicholson joked “reality is not getting any cheaper, last time I checked, sets are incredibly expensive to take a unit out on location it’s ludicrous, to step outside the stage your page count cuts in half. There is a big push to employ visual effects to save money in production.” Nicholson explained that this shift also changes the role of what was traditionally considered post production and visual effects because if the set is virtual it really needs to be perfect when you walk onto the stage to shoot.

Intellectual property also came up with regards to building libraries of elements that can allow you to react quickly, Sam Nicholson compared it to shooting elements as a DP that you can own and license repeatedly: “We’ve created the virtual backlot library, we’ve got shooters who go all over the world shooting very high resolution 360 by 360 plates at huge resolution, we own those things – many times we partner with studios so we co-own them or we get the asset at the end of a series. After five years of the Las Vegas series if anyone needs plates of Las Vegas, let me know!”.

A Freewheeling Conversation With….
Scott Ross, Co-Founder, Former CEO Digital Domain

Scott Ross, Co-Founder, Former CEO Digital Domain

Eric Roth filled in for Jeff Okun, VES chair who was unable to attend due to a family issue. Scott Ross started by congratulating Ed Ulbrich on successfully navigating Digital Domain to continue its legacy. Later in the Q&A when asked if he was interested in getting back into visual effects business he said no but said he looked into making a bid for DD with a group in hopes of being able to allow it to continue. Roth asked Ross about his early days as a sound engineer and his early love for music which led him there. Ross said he felt music was the social networking of his generation but added, “I stopped being in music because I had recurring nightmares that I would be 40…wearing a shiny black suit and playing “Hava Nagila” at Bat Mitzvah’s.”

Roth was curious how he moved from One Pass Video in San Francisco to running ILM. Ross said he was recruited by a headhunter and went through 87 interviews over nine months to get the job. Moving on to creating Digital Domain, “my interest in creating Digital Domain was to create a content company, it’s funny how things happen, I was in a bar, Lou’s at the Burbank airport waiting for my plane to go back to northern California and at the bar is a loud noise, it’s John Lasseter, Ed Catmull and Ralph Guggenheim from Pixar and they are partying up a storm, and they are not partiers generally speaking if you know those guys, so I walked over to them and I said ‘guys, what’s going on’?.” They told Ross they had just signed a multi-picture deal with The Walt Disney Company. “So the intention of Digital Domain was to be the analog to Pixar, but not in children’s PG or G rated films but in live action films.”

   “The truth is this: that it is a business, it needs to be treated like a business.”

After selling DD and working non-stop Ross took some time to focus on family. Roth asked him what drove him to recently to start blogging and pressing for a trade association. “Business is a very critical part of the industry you are in, although business has never really been focused upon. I think Richard Edlund came up with the line that there are three legs to the stool, one leg is creative, one leg is technical and one leg is business. For some reason or another this industry has not celebrated, focused, addressed, dealt with the business part. The business part has sort of fallen to the side and you talk about how wonderful the creative is and how fabulous the technical is and the luminaries in the industry are those men and women that really focus on creative and technical. But at the end of the day those great creative and technical people, if I said to them whether it was at ILM or Digital Domain – ‘I tell you what, you know what you guys are great but you’re not getting paid, there’s no pay’. The old George Lucas comment ‘give them enough pizza and beer they are going to come in and work’, well that’s just not the truth. The truth is this: that it is a business, it needs to be treated like a business.”

Earlier Roth asked Ross about his tough reputation: “I think this industry has been much too warm and cuddly, we deal with the rest of the industry like ‘oh sir, mister Director please can we possibly help you out, as far as those change orders are concerned, that’s ok we’ll address them’ – because there’s only six clients. We haven’t really come back at the clients and said ‘you know what you need to take responsibility’.” Ross told a great story about a project where the studio refused to tell the director he was no longer making the visual effects decisions and wanted Ross to do so. Both he and studio refused to do so and for a short period they were making two sets of shots, one addressing studio notes and one the directors – until of course this blew up in their faces. Ross expressed that it is the clearly the studio’s problem when a director is not finaling shots in a prescribed turnaround time, not the visual effects company: “for you to bear that weight is just not fair.”

“… the problem is not your competitor, the problem is your client, because your competitor isn’t making any money either…but your client is making a fortune”

On the trade association topic: “There’s the DGA, The Association of Independent Creative Editors, the PGA, AICP, the ASC, the Four A’s, the MPAA, there’s even an Adult Entertainment Trade Association. There is an Association of film commissioners, our industry does not have that voice. We don’t have the ability to sit down with Chris DeFaria (Warner Brothers) and say ‘listen, it doesn’t cut it Chris, we’re not going to be able to do that’. And we happen to sit at a point of time within the industry where we should have more power than we’ve ever had.” Ross referenced earlier comments by Ed Ulbrich that several studios came to DD’s aid in the bankruptcy case, really stepped up to help rescue the company,  Ross added: “…that’s because they understand that you guys are box office, you put butts in the seats…now the question is, maybe you should get paid for it. The competition we have, that each one of your studios has with one another is important and good and reasonable, the problem is not your competitor, the problem is your client, because your competitor isn’t making any money either…but your client is making a fortune.”

  “Mark my words, the problems you have in California today will be the problems that London has in a very short period of time. It’s going to happen all over the world because the nature of what the business is, is to be able to crush the vendor.”

Speaking about globalization of the industry, Ross mentioned he had a conversation with people in London about the trade association idea who expressed the opinion that it’s just an American problem, they don’t have those issues. “Mark my words, the problems you have in California today will be the problems that London has in a very short period of time. It’s going to happen all over the world because the nature of what the business is, is to be able to crush the vendor. I’m not sure which studio exec said it – ‘I’m not happy until I put a visual effects facility out of business’ – the whole sense and genetic code of the movie industry is ‘I don’t trust you, you’re lying.’.” Ross told a story about a conversation with a studio where it became clear that every time Ross mentioned “overhead” the studio heard “profit” realizing. “…because every time he says the word overhead, he really means profit.”

Asked about the future – what to do, Ross again championed the trade association concept which he has been pursuing for years, making clear that he is not interested in running it, “…but there needs to be a group put together that has the resources, the funding, the wherewithal and frankly the chutzpah…to be able to stand up against the studios and say ‘let’s come to the table’,” adding, “…you do know by the way that the studios, at least they did in my time, have meetings once a month where the head of production of every one of the studios got together and they would talk about how they could benefit their business. I don’t want to make the studios out to be the bad guy, they’re not bad guys…they’re just out to make the most amount of money that they possibly can for their companies, as should you.”

Ross brought up the recent speech by Carl Rosendahl at the VES annual meeting and expressed concern that Rosendahl was taking a 20 year view adding, “right now today when your kids are going to school, you have to pay the mortgage and you have to fly around the world and be gypsies, it’s just not right.” Read the transcript of Carl Rosendahl’s remarks here.


The Scott Ross interview was by far the highlight of the day, in fact it put a quite a point on the fact that a lot of the day was not spent discussing such urgent matters.

As in previous years this proved to be an informative and strong day, it is always such a pleasure to be able to see passionate professionals coming together sharing ideas, common problems and even stretching a bit in new ways. The thing with conferences that is hard to document is the value of time spent in casual conversations at the coffee counter, at lunch, during breaks, even sharing knowing glances to fellow participants throughout the day. We are such a united industry on so many fronts, open source initiatives, workers moving between companies, conferences like SIGGRAPH, FMX, IBC and NAB where sharing information consistently goes to new levels. Perhaps we should listen to Scott Ross and strengthen the business leg of our stool.

2 thoughts on “VES Summit 2012”

  1. “one of the things I’m proud of is that of the 733 men and women on the west coast of North America, we didn’t miss a beat. Not one single shot, not one single frame, not one single artist was affected…”

    This statement is simply not accurate. Many freelance artists locally and regionally remain unpaid. There are in fact many artists deeply hurt financially as a result of these recent events. Ask Brian Begun. While I truly appreciate DD is around today and many jobs were saved and while Ed may or may not have anything to say or do about those who were hurt by this, an apology while “celebrating” would at the very least, be the stand up thing to do.

  2. Pingback: As CA Film Subsidy Passes, MPAA Prepares To Raise Stakes | VFX Soldier

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